Monday, June 25, 2012

Taxi ride home

I rarely take a taxi from the airport: if I don't get a ride I take the bus. Even though there's a wait and it take longer overall, taking public transportation delights me because it's so cheap and there's actually a bus drops me off a block from my house. But I came down with a cold-flu type bug amid the sun and sand and shows of So Cal this weekend so I was taking it easy. I waved down a Prius Taxi at the head of the stand at OAK and eased in for the 15-minute ride home. There's a road between the airport and our place which is far more scenic and quicker than taking the highway.
photo by Pete Prodoehl
The cab was quiet until we got to an intersection midway into the short trip. I looked out the window to see a chain link fence covered in brightly covered hand-painted birthday signs.
"Happy Birthday Elaine!" the newest one read.
"Yay, it's your birthday, John!" read another. A few, having weathered a some time outdoors, were starting to peel away from the fence. I'd never noticed them before.
"A lot of birthday day signs," I commented to the driver and pointed out the window.  I was pleased by the sight, something about the bright colors, the clearly hand-made-ness of the signs.
"Yes," he said with a heavy accent, "They are from the High School. The kids put them up so everyone can see."
"They aren't for the taxi drivers?" I said, half joking.
"No," he laughed, then: "I wish I knew when my birthday was."
"You don't know your birthday?" I asked. "Or how old you are?"
"No, I'm from Somalia. My dad kept all the records. When he was killed they were all lost. There is no government there were you can find records." He shook his head.
"I'm sorry," I said, as the taxi made its way over a bridge separating the San Leandro and San Francisco Bays.
It was a beautiful day and we could see pelicans and terns flying over the water. The houses lining the street looked bright and well maintained. Some children rode down a sidewalk accompanied by their parents.
"Yes," he said. He told me about coming here first, followed by his brothers,  then bringing his mother over and how she was happy to be with her sons. "But she wanted to return (to Somalia) and we let her go. She didn't make it back here."
"When I got my residency," he made a motion with his hand stamping a paper over the steering wheel, "The man said, 'this is your birthday.'" He'd made a guess as to his actual age. I guessed he was somewhere between 40 and 50 years old, but who knew? Given what he'd already lived through.
I thought of all the atrocities going on in the world right now that I'm fortunate not to be near. I thought of the remarks I'd read recently made by President Obama at the Holocaust Memorial Museum.
"never again" is a challenge to nations.  It’s a bitter truth -- too often, the world has failed to prevent the killing of innocents on a massive scale.  And we are haunted by the atrocities that we did not stop and the lives we did not save...We recognize that, even as we do all we can, we cannot control every event...."
This statement depressed me anew when I read it. Then I went on with my life. Hearing the cabbie's story,  I remembered how fragile it all really is.
"I'm glad you made it here." I finally said. It was exceedingly small consolation but at least it was true.
"Yes!" he nodded.

No comments: