My cab driver this morning was pretty quiet, until he asked me what route I wanted to take (about 10 minutes into the fare). I told him “I don’t care… you guys know better than I do what the traffic and construction is like in the city. Take whatever route you think is best.” That somehow seemed to open us up for conversation.
He began asking me the usual: if I’d always lived in Chicago, why I moved here, etc. I find these questions are often an inroad for these immigrant men to talk about their own lives, so I’m always happy to oblige. I answer their questions and then turn the same questions back on them. He mentioned he was from India, but had lived in the U.S. now almost 20 years.
“What do you do for a living, ma’am?” was the next question. “I work in technology. Educational technology.” He nodded in acknowledgement, then remarked about the scarcity of jobs these days, and asked if I thought getting an education was worth it any more, with college tuition now so high, and income so uncertain. I responded with my industry standard (as someone who works in a for-profit educational institution) “I think the youth are going to have to focus on professions instead of liberal arts.” And then I paused, because I was feeling a bit dishonest. “Liberal arts are important, and give you a broader perspective on life. But it is very hard to start out in such deep debt. I don’t know. To be honest, my heart says kids should definitely get an education, but my head knows it is very hard to pay for.”
He looked at me skeptically in the rear view mirror. “Look,” I said, “You are talking to a woman who did doctoral work, but is working in a completely different field now just so she can pay her student loans.” He seemed surprised. “You have a doctorate in technology?!?!” he asked with more than a hint of incredulity. No, I reassured him. I studied theology.
He stared straight ahead and said nothing more. Then I noticed his shoulders began to shake. A hand reached up and he wiped his eyes. Finally, he simply pulled over, apologizing the whole time. And that’s when I realized he was laughing.
“You spent 20 years studying theology and you manage a technology group?!” he roared, cracking up. “That is the best thing I’ve heard in a long time. This is the story of immigrant cab drivers. Not of a white American women.”
And I had to laugh too.