The View from the Driver’s Seat

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“Do you think my son will want my job? No way!”

One positive thing about being stopped in traffic in New York is the opportunity to talk with the driver. During a recent visit, we were trapped on Eighth Avenue near Strawberry Fields in Central Park, a detour because the normal route was blocked for a parade. I didn’t mind the wait because it was a beautiful fall day, the sky deep blue, the leaves golden.

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Inevitably, as travelers do when they’re stuck, we fell into conversation. He opened, asking for my opinion about the elections, and I cautiously responded, unsure of his reaction. He gave his opinion with force and said how proud he was to be an American and that he strongly favored one candidate who was also my choice. He went on to say he never missed a televised presidential debate or other political debate or neglected to vote. I didn’t admit that I’d missed a few debates even though I always voted. I asked where he was born. Bangladesh, he said, although he’d emigrated from the country a number of years ago and seldom returned because of the continual social unrest. The conversation was a good reminder how so many native-born Americans take the benefits of democracy for granted.

The traffic didn’t move so he went on to another topic: He asked what I knew about Native American culture. I told him about a recent trip to the Southwest and the pueblos I’d visited, the beautiful desert Southwest, and about the distinctive pottery made by the women in New Mexico’s Acoma Pueblo. The traffic began to move before I could say more although I wanted to tell him about the tribal culture in the Pacific Northwest, the basketry and even totem poles. He stepped on the gas and swerved around an aid car blocking the road and turned into one of the cross-park roads. As we reached Fifth Avenue he began to talk about his hopes for his son’s future. All his Bangladeshi cohorts’ sons were studying to be engineers or computer scientists. He expected his own son, a seventh-grader, to do the same. Before I could ask about his views on girls’ education he pulled up at my destination – The Neue Gallerie which houses the famous portrait of Adele Bloch by Gustav Klimt, known as The Woman in Gold. The fraught history of the painting and its “rescue,” another demonstration of the ebb and flow of peoples and culture.

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“People don’t read any more.”

On another trip, short in distance but long in time, my chariot driver offered his opinion on American culture. We were stuck in front of Carnegie Hall, funded by Andrew Carnegie, who ironically in the case of this conversation, was the patron of so many libraries. This time the speaker was a native of Morocco. And, like so many immigrants, he spoke a number of languages: unaccented English, Arabic, French and Italian. He wanted to talk about books: how he disliked reading electronically because as a reader he wanted to know and understand a book as he held it in his hands. He wanted to assess the quality of the cover – front and back, check the feel of the paper, decide whether he liked the typeface and book design before opening it to read the first chapter. I said I did the same.

The conversation moved on to Italy, inevitably including food, and we lapsed into Italian (his fluent, mine fractured) after we talked about Italy, the conversation returned to books. I mentioned I was a writer, and said electronic media is good for travel, but at home I, too, wanted a “real” book.

Do you agree?

 

 

 

 

 

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