Mark and I have recently come back from a quick trip to Boston. Mr. Smartypants Scientist was invited to a collaborator's retirement events at Harvard.
How do two bumpkins from Kansas secure that gig? Well, he worked his tail off for it. I tagged along like I belonged there and made a note to myself at the reception to ixnay on the Speckled Trout chattay.
In a decades long commitment to cheapen any experience we might have, The Big Daddy secured lodging a bit away from Boston proper to save some bucks. As in so far away that getting anywhere via public transportation required a hotel shuttle ride to the mall, from the mall getting on a public bus to the train station, once arriving at the train station taking the red line to Park St., once arriving at the Park St. stop transferring to the green line. The Big Daddy would say it wasn't that big of a deal but in the couple of times I was involved in this escapade it took two hours. The last time took all of that and then a 0.8 mile walk (due to a M.I.A. shuttle) from the mall back to our hotel, weaving around construction cones and then crossing the entrance and exit ramp to the highway.
Always the adventure with that guy.
Our return home was via an early morning flight and so there we found ourselves sleepy-eyed in our hotel lobby at 5:00 a.m. meeting our taxi driver for a ride to the airport.
He introduced himself. We helped him put our bags in the trunk and set off for the quickest, calmest ride of the trip through a quiet Sunday morning Boston with few cars on the road choking traffic. A most welcome departure from the experience we had seen all weekend where sitting in traffic regardless of the time or day was as frequent as the seafood restaurants.
Our cab driver (which was the fourth of the trip) chatted with us as he made his way to our destination. A former hotel manager for 14 years for the Intercontinental, he then spent 26 months in Afghanistan as a cultural liaison and interpreter for the U.S. Marines, and that's when this very interesting man became ever more so.
He told us of the time when the unit he was working with was trying to bring basic services to a village and met with a young Taliban fighter to discuss the most urgent needs of the people. He introduced the Afghani to the Marine Corps Lieutenant and he refused to shake his hands.
"Why will you not shake his hand? " our driver asked him his native language.
"Because he is a non-believer and Allah said to never touch the hand of a non-believer."
"Oh he did? Really? Did he tell you that himself?"
"No," the Afghani said laughing. "He's been dead too long for that. My mullah told me."
"Well your mullah is full of shit. Allah never said that and you don't disrespect a man trying to bring you clean water, do you hear me? You shake his hand."
In many ways this taxi driver of ours reminded me of the main character in House of Sand and Fog. A man of such dignity that his words carried the weight of gold. A man who made you want to stand a little straighter and parse your thoughts more carefully.
As if reading my mind that was curious to know how he came from all that and was now driving an airport shuttle he said, "I came back and went to work for this company because it allows me to set my own hours. After fourteen years in the hotel business and more than two years in Afghanistan I am home more for my kids. That is what I wanted for my family. To be there."
Inside that taxi the world became a smaller, more manageable place. Nothing was solved but common ground wasn't so difficult to find and we agreed that many things done in the name of his religion and ours have been the recurring source of too many problems in this fragile world we all inhabit.
Mark folded a generous tip and extended it our driver and we three stood on the curb for an awkward moment. I felt like hugging the guy but opted instead for a handshake.
The universal first step to respect.