I had called for a taxi from my office to my hotel on my first day using a direct dial number available in the office telephone. The taxi came up on time & when I walked out, there was this elderly person, in his early 70s driving a Dodge Grand Caravan who had stepped out of his cab & waiting for me with a big smile on his face. He was heavy built with lot of wrinkles on his face & my first impression was - "Is he going to drive me back to my hotel? No way!". He had this big smile & asked me the address. I promptly told him the hotel name in Schaumburg, IL which would be around 8-10 miles from my office - And he said he is not very sure of the directions and is trusting on my spatial orientation!
Gosh! I started thinking why I got into all of this... a very old man who could barely carry himself, driving a minivan, trying to take me, who has no clue of the geography of Chicago, to get into a hotel where I checked-in the previous midnight! Anyways, since it was too late for anything and I didn't want to dissappoint this elderly gentleman, I decided to hop in & take the risk.
He was very happy that I threw in my bag at the back & joined him at the front (I wasn't sure where I will end up - if I leave the whole navigation to him) and he started off with a conversation. A wide range of topics starting from foreign policies to tax rebates to war in Iraq to price increases to everything that is currently going on in America. I just kept on listening, occasionally giving my opinion when asked. Few things that really stuck with me are :-
- Dave had served in the United States Navy for a brief amount of time
- He was an electrician by trade & had worked as one for around 35-40 years before retiring
- He lost 2 of his children in the War (One in Iraq & the other with some peace keeping initiative elsewhere)
- He started to work AGAIN as a cab driver after the fuel prices started shooting up and it became increasingly difficult for him to meet his ends
- He had undergone 2 open heart surgeries & has been advised not to go to work for more that 4 hrs at a stretch.
- If he had a chance to get Mr.Bush near him sometime, he will smother him to... (God knows what will happen...)
Though I had read a lot of horror stories on the impact that the wars have created on familes, this was the first time that I got to meet a person who has a first hand experience and it moved me a lot. This gentleman, who had spent the whole of his life working, paying his taxes regularly, served time in the armed forces, lost 2 of his children who were just out of college to the wars because of the power politics in the international arena.
I felt very sorry for him & was thinking what I would have done, if I was in such a situation. I am definitely sure that I don't have that levels of resilience. Who knows, I might turn one if subjected to such a treatment... remember Senapathy in the Kamal Hassan movie - Indian? Somebody rightly said - Criminals are not born, but they are made; by the society...
I used the google maps application in Blackberry to figure out where we are & used that to navigate back to the hotel. He was impressed by the device & mentioned that his employer had given him a GPS, but he is too old to learn how to use it... I did not know what to tell him. Finally, I reached my hotel, thanked him for his company & hospitality all through the drive. I took his number and told him that if I am in the city again & wants a ride somewhere during his working hours, I would call him.
The conversation left a hangover in me, which took more than a couple of days to get over with...