Friday, May 11, 2012

Of Books and Covers and Pakistani Taxi Drivers

One of the extraordinarily great men of wisdom and true philosophers of the 21st century drives a taxi cab in Chicago.

It's true. I met him.

I travelled to Chicago on business this week, and I providentially found myself in the backseat of a taxi driven by a man of Middle Eastern descent. Let me first state that I do not have a tremendous amount of taxi experience and am hardly the world traveler that might come to mind when I refer to travelling "on business." In fact, I have ridden in a taxi less than 10 times in my entire life. I will say though, that the majority of taxi drivers I have encountered have likewise been of Middle Eastern descent, and most have driven in such a manner that my automatic chicken brake foot ends up utterly exhausted by the time we reach our destination.

But this man was different.

I got the hint of something different when I mentioned the hotel I was going to and he referred to its architecture. Incidentally, I stayed at the Radisson Blue Aqua, which was built in 2011 and is known for its flowing water-like architecture. I then asked him how long he had been in Chicago. I confess I did this mainly to try to figure out how fluent he was in English, in order to determine what level of conversation we could possibly have. It turned out that he had lived in Chicago for 25 years, and I later found out he had lived on the West coast for another 10 years prior to that. So this man who it turned out was initially from Pakistan had actually been in America longer than I have, and had seen much more of the country during that time. How about that?

Thus began one of the 10 greatest conversations I have ever had. If only I could have somehow recorded the conversation to transcribe it verbatim here, each and every one of you would be better for having read it. The conversation took about 45 minutes to an hour as we travelled from O'Hare to downtown Chicago. I could have happily tripled the drive and am sure there would have been no lull along the way.

We talked about Education and advanced degrees and the divergence of those degrees from the eventual occupations we live out.

We talked about Social Media and the ongoing isolationism of our youth and the continual disconnect from reality.

We talked about Theology and the history of Christianity, including the origins of the 12 tribes of Israel.

We talked about Ecology and the potential results of our fossil fuel addiction, along with the natural purposes of oil and the potentially catastrophic direction our abuse will take us.

We talked about Religion and the place of the mind in the healing process.

We talked about Science and how it interacts with faith.

We talked about Philosophy and the perspectives we prejudicially hold.

We talked about pornography and it's ramifications on the marital state, the objectification of humans, and the damage it is causing to the youth of today due to its unlimited accessibility.

We talked about Science Fiction with a particular focus on the pessimistic future casters like Huxley, Orwell, and Toffler.

We talked about the changing face of America and our fears for the future generations.

It was amazing.

I asked him how often he had conversations like the one we were having and discovered that they were extremely rare. I did not find this surprising since I found them equally rare in my sphere of influence. He said that the majority of people take one look, assume he just got off the boat, give him their destination and go straight to their Smart phones.

Those poor slobs. Their lives could be so much richer.

His name was Osmund, and he gave me a card on which he wrote the name of two authors I should read. I directed him towards a few of my favorites as well. I tipped him a solid 20% and we shook hands in parting. I got the impression that the handshaking was at least as unusual as the conversation had been. He let me know that I was one of the great conversationalists he had met, even rating me at a similar level of a Neurologist who taught corporations how to practice humility, which he had the fortune of having driven a few months earlier. What great company we are sometimes blessed to keep.

I suppose the moral is to not judge a book by its cover. Or perhaps to look beyond the race or the profession of a fellow human. Or maybe even that we should count our blessings because our professions do not always align with our intelligence. But then the next day I was driven back to the airport as though the very hounds of hell were close behind by a man who frankly frightened me a little bit. Our conversation didn't get past where I was going and what time my flight was.

So there might not be a moral at all.

Tip your drivers.

You just don't know.

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