Of a taxi ride and what happens half the world away

posted at 2:30 pm on November 11, 2011 by Tina Korbe

It took just one 30-minute cab drive to remind me why I love to travel: I’d never have met a young Ethiopian taxi driver who loves football — and thinks Newt Gingrich is looking good — if I hadn’t ventured to Denver for BlogCon 2011. We never exchanged names, but, by the end of the trip from airport to hotel, I felt as though we were old friends.

Our conversation began as such conversations usually begin — with a quick exchange of small-talk-type questions. How are you? Is this your first time to Denver? Why are you visiting the city?

It was my answer to that question that propelled our conversation outside the realm of humdrum politeness. When I told him I was in Colorado to attend a bloggers’ conference, he was especially enthusiastic. He’s a big fan of the blogosphere, he said, because he no longer has to rely on “the mainstream media” for information — and he’s able to do his own fact-checking. He recognizes echo-chamber-danger, but would still rather have the freedom to choose his own sources.

Plus, the Internet connects him to his childhood home in Ethiopia — and provides a window into the U.S. for his family. He didn’t know Chris Brown and Rihanna broke up (he didn’t even know they were dating!), but a young relative in east Africa did — and brought it up to him when he was home for a visit.

From the minute the driver expressed his eager embrace of what I do, the conversation flowed freely. We talked politics briefly, treading lightly until we figured out we had more in common than not. He said he’s been impressed with Newt Gingrich lately, but mostly just wants to see politicians stop acting like children and putting their own reelections ahead of what’s beneficial for the country.

As I realized how much I was enjoying the conversation, it occurred to me that what we were doing is presumably what he does day in and day out. I asked him if he likes his job and he told me he loves it for much the same reason he loves blogs: It brings him into contact with all kinds of people.

Yesterday morning, for example, he drove the sportswriter Rick Reilly home. He’s a big sports fan, so that was a highlight. So, too, was an experience he had in Ethiopia about three Super Bowls ago, when he found himself watching the game in a bar with a few American expats, other Ethiopians who had lived in the U.S. and various tourists. It was the middle of the night there and the entire night seemed a little surreal to him — even as it reminded him people are the same the world over. Everybody’s partial to their own home, their families, their sports teams — and, while “my home,” “my family” and “my team” are different for everyone, the sense of attachment is the same, he mused.

“The world is becoming smaller and smaller,” he said.

He’s right — and the Internet is a big part of that. It’s cool, really, but, sometimes, I’m not so sure it’s all positive. As expansive as the Internet is, it can sometimes also feel limiting, a technological trap of sorts. With the Internet, fewer and fewer reasons exist to ever leave home. Virtually whatever I need I can order online. Virtually whomever I need to talk to I can contact online. Virtually any question I ask Google answers.

But what my cab driver reminded me of is that, when we do venture “outside” again, we’re able to build on the connections we’ve made online. Even when the mediating screen is gone, the knowledge we’ve gleaned or dished out remains — and facilitates human interaction. We have more to talk about, more to share — in person.


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Your best post yet.

ButterflyDragon on November 11, 2011 at 2:36 PM

Tina, I just finished reading Ira Berlin’s “The Making of African-America: The Four Great Migrations.” The Fourth Migration is the one we’re experiencing now; Berlin calls it the global migration. He notes that in the 1990s alone, 400 thousand people from Africa came here–like your Ethiopian friend. Berlin says a challenge they face is that a lot of the black establishment doesn’t embrace them because of a “your not one of us if you didn’t descend from American slaves” mentality. He also wrote that this is something Obama had to overcome, since he has not a drop of slave blood.

radjah shelduck on November 11, 2011 at 2:37 PM

I guess Tina, you’re relating an experience of yours, as there’s no further accreditation given.

listens2glenn on November 11, 2011 at 2:38 PM

Tina spends more time talking to cab drivers than responding to our comments. :(

lorien1973 on November 11, 2011 at 2:38 PM

I agree that folks are pretty much the same all over when you find something to connect with.

Except people in Nebraska. Those folks are just weird.

Keyser-Soze on November 11, 2011 at 2:39 PM

Your best post yet.

ButterflyDragon on November 11, 2011 at 2:36 PM

I quite liked it, too.

Abby Adams on November 11, 2011 at 2:41 PM

Nice. A friend once explained TV by saying it allows us to see what the world would be like if we turned off the TV and went outside to experience it. The same is true for our computers. It’s good to be reminded that real life experiences trump just reading about them.

Scotsman on November 11, 2011 at 2:45 PM

Did he mention the on-going drought in the Horn of Africa? I think it’s still horrible over there.

SouthernGent on November 11, 2011 at 2:45 PM

I am dealing with young ladies half a word away and finding that they are- on their own- coming to many of the same realizations that we Tea Party types have.

michaelo on November 11, 2011 at 2:46 PM

I wonder how much of this conversation actually occurred?

Pablo Honey on November 11, 2011 at 2:49 PM

Did he mention the on-going drought in the Horn of Africa? I think it’s still horrible over there.

SouthernGent on November 11, 2011 at 2:45 PM

The worst drought in 60 years. Even worse than the one in the 80′s that got all the press.

JadeNYU on November 11, 2011 at 2:50 PM

It’s 2:51 PM Friday. Not long ago we would have had a gay conservative thread or an atheist thread, if not both, by now. This place is going straight to Hades.

Akzed on November 11, 2011 at 2:52 PM

I wonder how much of this conversation actually occurred?
Pablo Honey on November 11, 2011 at 2:49 PM

She’s not a liberal, so you can pretty much trust her.

Akzed on November 11, 2011 at 2:52 PM

With the Internet, fewer and fewer reasons exist to ever leave home.

Well, there is that pesky real world out there.

whatcat on November 11, 2011 at 2:52 PM

She’s not a liberal, so you can pretty much trust her.

Akzed on November 11, 2011 at 2:52 PM

Wait are you implying that foreigners are not walking up to David Brooks on the street and asking him about what is socially acceptable in the U.S.?

Ditkaca on November 11, 2011 at 2:58 PM

Well, there is that pesky real world out there.

No kidding. Calderone just “lost” his second next-in-command in a Mexico air crash.

Francisco Blake Mora was appointed Mexico’s Secretary of Interior in July 2010. President Felipe Calderon lost another interior secretary, Juan Camilo Mourino, in a plane crash in Mexico City in November 2008.

But then, it was Tina’s taxi ride in Denver that made HotAir.

maverick muse on November 11, 2011 at 2:59 PM

GREAT POST TINA!

GarandFan on November 11, 2011 at 3:03 PM

I’ve me quite a few conservative leaning can drivers over the years. And it’s not like I say hey I’m a conservative and he says ME TOO in hopes of a bigger tip. They tend to bring it up themselves or they’ll have on talk radio while driving.

Driving a cab is hard work. People who do that for a living are not the sit at home on your ass waiting for a check types, ie Democrats.

angryed on November 11, 2011 at 3:04 PM

Wonderful work, Tina. You are really finding your voice.

carbon_footprint on November 11, 2011 at 3:08 PM

Well, there is that pesky real world out there.

No kidding. Calderone just “lost” his second next-in-command in a Mexico air crash.

Francisco Blake Mora was appointed Mexico’s Secretary of Interior in July 2010. President Felipe Calderon lost another interior secretary, Juan Camilo Mourino, in a plane crash in Mexico City in November 2008.

But then, it was Tina’s taxi ride in Denver that made HotAir.

maverick muse on November 11, 2011 at 2:59 PM

That’s important, but I’m not thinking so much on the grand global scale as I am the personal, e.g. getting together with friends and/or family for a nice little picnic.

whatcat on November 11, 2011 at 3:16 PM

Gee Tina you should probably travel.

lexhamfox on November 11, 2011 at 3:20 PM

I Like Turtles!!!!

BigWyo on November 11, 2011 at 3:33 PM

@ButterflyDragon, @AbbyAdams, @Scotsman, @GarandFan, @carbon_footprint: Thanks so much for the positive feedback! I really appreciate it.

And, yep, @listens2glenn, this was just a personal anecdote that I felt compelled to write about. The whole conversation happened, @Pablo Honey — one of those rare occasions when someone else spoke directly to what I’d been thinking for some time.

@lorien1973, I’m trying to make it up to you with this comment! =)

Hope y’all are having a happy Friday!

Tina Korbe on November 11, 2011 at 3:36 PM

The internet is also a superhighway of filth and depravity, a gateway for legions of morons, right into our homes. As much Bad as Good. It is whatever you make of it, or allow to have impact on you.

/and I hope BlogCon security is prepared to pepper spray the hell out of those Occupy creeps, when they show up.

rayra on November 11, 2011 at 3:42 PM

Fantastic read, Tina.

Such a pleasure having you on Hot Air.

The Ugly American on November 11, 2011 at 3:55 PM

This one was a pleasure to read, and evokes similar experiences I have had when traveling.

I tend to forget that sometimes. It’s much easier to just assume that all Yankees are liberal sheep.

Thanks for the wake up call…there must still be hope out there.

connertown on November 11, 2011 at 4:06 PM

Hope y’all are having a happy Friday!

Tina Korbe on November 11, 2011 at 3:36 PM

Hi Tina!

*waving*

Great story!

I’ve me quite a few conservative leaning can drivers over the years…

angryed on November 11, 2011 at 3:04 PM

Me, too, I had an unexpected experience with a Greek cabbie in Chicago. It was retold here.

Fallon on November 11, 2011 at 4:12 PM

That was refreshing! Thanks for sharing.

scalleywag on November 11, 2011 at 4:15 PM

nice post,Tina….cabbies are always a surprise..took a cab in Chicago last year, the driver was Asian…when he heard my English accent he began talking about cricket and we spent the long drive from the airport into Chicago prodding each others memories about great moments in the game….surreal as we drove through the place that spawned Obama…

callingallcomets on November 11, 2011 at 4:21 PM

Tina Korbe on November 11, 2011 at 3:36 PM

HA!

Abby Adams on November 11, 2011 at 4:30 PM

well, tina, sound like your taxi driven is more fun to talk to than Tom Friedman

r keller on November 11, 2011 at 4:34 PM

Funny coincidence. I had an Ethiopian taxi driver in Dallas. Safe to say, his skin was a few shades darker than mine, so I was prepared to tread carefully when he asked me what I thought of Obama. He must have sensed, and grasped the reason for, my hesitation, because he launched into a savage, double-barreled critique of the man and his policies. He showed no mercy on any of it, but saved his choicest words for Obama’s tactics of racial division and his Marxist ideology.

This young man came to our country to start a business and to have a better life. He felt that he was being cheated by non-contributors and vested interests, and felt that the TEA “party” was the natural avenue by which he could participate in effecting change. He looked at me incredulously, as though the thought had never even crossed his mind, when I asked him if he felt the TEA “party” was “racist”.

mr.blacksheep on November 11, 2011 at 5:23 PM

There was a point back in the 80s where colleagues actually got a decent amount of info and leads relating to West African issues from DC cabdrivers (even though Ethiopian/Eritrean drivers predominated). I do recall one particular Nigerian guy I had more than once who was quite charismatic, and “right wing” to say the least – he had several advanced engineering degrees but was doing the cab thing for a while because the extended family needed support.

Was lucky to have a fantastic vacation in Eritrea (yes, really) back in 1995 – after that it was especially fun to chat with Eritrean drivers, as none of them had seen as much of their country as I had, and their astonishment at my stories was genuine.

Then there was the time a friend was visiting DC to stay with me for the first time; I told him his driver would probably be Ethiopian, so to please check with the guy on the quality of the restaurant where I would be waiting to meet him as he came in from National Airport (Meskerem, in Adams Morgan). My friend was a bit skeptical that I could know he’d get a driver of a particular background – but of course his driver was Ethiopian, and heartily endorsed the restaurant. My friend still marvels at this to this day.

Then there was the time I had an Iranian Armenian on the way to Dulles, when I was heading to the Armenian enclave of Azerbaijan for guvamint fun and games. He offered some pretty good observations on the politics within the Armenian communities of the neighboring countries regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh question.

Depending on your line of work, you’d be amazed what gems can be found from the right taxi driver ….

IceCold on November 11, 2011 at 6:42 PM

My brother and sister in law and I had a great cab ride a few years back when we went to D.C. for a family wedding. The cabbie (native D.C.er) raved on and on about how this was the Redskins’ year.

He’s still waiting.

One of my alltime favorite Blues Music albums is one from 1995; New Orleans cab driver Mem Shannon, who moonlighted playing guitar in tiny clubs, finally recorded and released his first album, which had his original songs intercut with conversations he recorded with his cab fares. Fascinating stuff, and still available.

http://www.cduniverse.com/productinfo.asp?pid=1006246

And no, I’m not Mem’s relative or manager, just a fan!

Del Dolemonte on November 11, 2011 at 7:00 PM

With Google Street View, you can scope out unfamiliar places before visiting, even if they’re thousands of miles away. You can navigate better, but you lose the fun of exploration.

The psychiatrist has a speech at the end of the play Equus (I don’t remember if it’s in the film), after the disturbed boy has recalled what prompted him to blind the horses.

I’ll give him the good Normal world where we’re tethered beside them [animals]–blinking our nights away in a non-stop drench of cathode-ray over our shriveling heads! I’ll take away his Field of Ha Ha, and give him Normal places for his ecstasy–multi-lane highways driven through the guts of cities, extinguishing Place altogether, even the idea of Place!

JimC on November 12, 2011 at 2:12 AM