I never take a taxi anymore. Since, I'm counting my pennies, it's become a luxury, quite far away from necessity. But tonight, I DJed for a bar and was given a few dollars in return and figured it was late enough, subways were running slow, I should probably just take a cab. And so I did.
Every time I take a taxi, I attempt to make some form of conversation, i.e. where the driver is from, does he own or rent, where does he live now, etc. I generally hear a lot of interesting back-stories and attempt to focus on giving my thankless driver a few minutes to speak about himself. These drivers are so frequently on the end of demand that any respite from it would be welcome.
But tonight was different. Tonight, I was interviewed.
The taxi driver, Saayid, was a man in his late 40's, and despite his seemingly lowbrow occupation, the man had an air of sophistication about him--I could imagine him wearing an ascot, drinking a Cognac. And even though he was sitting, I could still tell that he was tall, his head almost reaching the pitch-black roof of the taxi. He was charming and inquisitive--I was certain that he was once a restaurant host or a maitre de in his past homeland.
Saayid asked me how I was before I even had the chance to tell him our destination.
I told him, I was a bit stressed. I rarely make small talk with a taxi driver. Instead, I get straight to something significant because I generally consider them temporary therapists. Except we'll never see each other again and this ride will cost significantly less.
He asked me what I was stressed about, so I told him that I was starting school soon.
"Ahh, at NYU," he said. "That will cost you a lot of money."
Exactly the source of my angst, I explained. He was under the impression that I was rich or had a scholarship. I told him that a) I wasn't and b) I didn't have one. Saayid almost lost control of the wheel from surprise.
"You're spending all that money on an education in Social Work?"
Please, Saayid. Don't make it worse.
For the rest of the ride up, the driver quite literally questioned my intentions in regards to my social work education. I didn't immediately have answers for all his questions and suddenly, I found myself doubting my new career choice. Was this the right decision? Do I really care about people more than I care about myself? Did Saayid have something here?
I explained to my metered friend that I needed to do something perhaps more meaningful and this seemed like one of the many righteous paths. And yeah, maybe he did have a point. Maybe, just maybe, that I am another self-centered, self-involved New Yorker with a decent apartment and a more-than-decent life. Perhaps this was my sub-conscious kicking me in the direction of the less-fortunate, reminding me that not everyone has it so good. Be more appreciative, my sub-conscious said. I will, I said back, I will.
We talked more and more. I further explained myself for the rest of the ride and therein justified myself to Saayid successfully. After all his questions and challenges, he was finally satisfied. He quite "literally" wished me all the luck in the world and blessed me.
"May you live a fulfilling life, my friend. You deserve it."
I thanked him and told him I needed his blessings and luck.
Saayid pulled up to the corner and thanked me for my time. Our trip together was over but my journey was just beginning.