I Talk To Strangers

I Talk To Strangers

I’m not a writer; I’m just a good listener.

When you’re in the backseat of a stranger’s car your entertainment options are pretty limited. Let me rephrase; when you’re in the backseat of an Uber driver’s car, so not just any stranger but rather the stranger that you purposely summoned, things can get weird. They almost have to though because you’re getting into someone’s car without any idea as to what’s about to go down. For me, it’s a great fucking story, or a wreck-less, edge-of your-ass-cheeks, near-fatal ride, but it’s usually the former.

This has become my thing now; ordering Ubers and hoping for a sweet ride like a Bimmer or a Tesla (obviously I cancel that shit if I get the Dodge Caravan).
Once the car pulls up, I make a quick observation of the driver and space.
If the driver has an accent I know I’m in for a good-ass conversation, especially given the political state of this here country. It’s not that locals can’t provide reliable entertainment it’s just that the international drivers can offer a unique perspective from outside the bubble that is the United States. This was very much the case with my driver who picked me up in a Ford Fusion.  It wasn’t a Tesla, but I’d never been in a Fusion before so I thought, fuck it, let’s ride homie.

I opened the door, saluted the driver as I confirmed my identity, gently placed my backpack on the floor and listened for the click of the seatbelt. I’ve got this shit down pat, including traveling out of my everyday backpack for a week but that’s for another day. The Fusion was crispy-clean comfy cloth city. Something about cream-colored cloth seats and a fallen night sky that go so well together. The driver had smooth control of the blue four-door as he held the wheel semi-tightly and knew precisely how to get me to point B. He checked the rear-view mirror and fired off the first question every driver starts off with; “So where are you from?” After I answer it, “Chicago,” it becomes my turn to pass the ball back, and so begins our story.

The answer isn’t as simple as mine, however, because his family has been through numerous countries in what seemed like an annual tradition. It was a bit hard for him to say where he was really from because of all the moving around. He even paused for a half-second, crunched his face together and slowly nodded back and forth as he thought about how to respond. “Greece, I was born in Greece,” he says finally. But see, he said he was born in Greece; he didn’t say he was from Greece. Think of it what you will but those can be very different proclamations.  The more he went on about his family’s story, the more complicated it became. Meanwhile, he was eloquently telling this complicated story, practically an episode of Game of Thrones, all while driving down the I90/94 without skating beyond our lane. Impressive. Suddenly my face was the one crunching up because this guys’ story was so amazing.

He was born in Athen’s Greece to Iraqi parents and yet he is and isn’t Iraqi. See his mother was born in Iraq but his dad was born in Italy. He mentioned his grandparents had left Iraq for some time due to a lack of work and other unmentioned reasons.  Although he grew up in Greece, his family didn’t settle there for long as they always moved around Europe for work. Being born in Athens, he learned Greek and spoke it alongside Arabic, arguably two of the most difficult languages on the planet. While he was only a kid, the entire family moved to Italy for a couple of years before leaving for Germany, Denmark, and eventually landing back in Greece. After his last journey in Greece as a young adult, he and his brother moved to the US. In my mind, I had to create a chart just to envision this thing. My brain was placing me in an investigative office with a map of the world covered in thumbtacks and red string. The entire setup inside my head looked as if I was trying to solve a fucking chain of murders.

While living in each one of those countries, he picked up the local language to some degree. So to recap, he speaks Greek, Arabic, German, Danish, Italian, and English. That’s enough to make the average human adult feel fucking stupid.

So why is he an Iraqi but also not indeed? This is the part of the story that most fascinated me. His customs, heritage, and bloodline all lead to Iraq but the place where his life began in Greece, and more importantly the place he now calls home is the United States. After living in Chicago for over 20 years, he considers it the most beautiful city in the world and having lived in so many cities around the globe you have to consider his opinion on the matter quite highly. For a man with such an intricate background, it’s not easy to say who he is or where he’s from. In fact, just trying to label people is shitty. He is a well-traveled intellect, a versatile polymath, a family-loving Chicagoan and a bunch of other things. His passport is only a geographical indicator used for travel, not a definition of who he is.

So, the Uber driver who took me home from the airport in his blue Ford Fusion is a goddamn polyglot. That old phrase about judges, books, and covers? Alive and doing well,
thanks for asking.