Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Veteran Cabbie

I was in NYC last week checking on a friend who was briefly back in the US from Cairo. I had several NYC adventures. I seem to be incapable of traveling there without adventures. The friend I went to see would say that I am incapable of traveling ANYWHERE without adventures. You see why I’ve kept her around for over 15 years.

Anyway, as I was leaving town I splurged and took a cab to the airport. I had a loquacious cabbie as my escort. In the first five minutes I thought a few uncharitable thoughts, I am ashamed to admit. I wanted to ride in silence. I was very tired, homesick for my family, sad to be leaving my friends, and a little carsick. My cabbie wanted to talk politics and religion. In depth.

“Just my luck,” I thought, “a well-read, extrovert cabbie with a yen for heady gab.” And a very difficult accent to decipher to boot. He was raised in Pakistan and, although American for 20 years, he still had a very thick accent. There would be no partial attention for this man. It was all or nothing. Then he said something that really grabbed me.

Think in a very thick Pakistani accent. Got it? Now read on.

He said, “As I tell my friends at the VFW, our country must be careful in these areas.”

Now that's something I don't hear every day. Turns out my talkative taximan served in Desert Storm in the US Navy. He reminded me of the incredibly diverse men and women with whom my husband served. When he was in, there were Samoans, Puerto Ricans, and Native Americans in greater concentrations than represented in the general population. At the time this upset me, because I felt it was illustrative of how some cultures are pigeon-holed into the most dangerous professions. After meeting my cabbie, I do not completely abandon that earlier presumption, but I've realized that the draw to military service is a more complex combination of factors.

My husband went into the military for the education benefits. I was interested in the military because I had so many relatives who were veterans. (Ultimately, my service was only as a military spouse. ) My cabbie said that he was so proud to be an American, he considered serving in his country's military an imperative.

I am now a pacifist. The cabbie, although a proud and active VFW member, is completely against this Iraq war. I do not know what became of the mixing bowl of people with whom my husband served. I can only hope the best, but in that speeding, swerving car what stood out to me was that we all had a shared American experence: the military. The cabbie and I came out of it with many of the same conclusions, in spite of our differences in age, religion, gender, and culture. The wake of war leaves strange patterns, but meeting him reminded me that not all of them are awful.

I am grateful to that talkative lead-footed man for pointing this out to me. I only wish I had pointed out that thing called a turn signal to him.

No comments: