My father drove a city bus for a living. I loved riding in the seat right behind him as we would go around and around the same blocks in our town of 40,000 in Southern Indiana. It was an adventure for a 5 year old little girl as I listened to the people who got on and off and my father talking and laughing, exchanging the few formula phrases that contained acknowledgement, comraderie, and support, the traffic of social exchange.
I began driving after retiring from teaching a few months ago. If anyone doubts that America can accommodate diversity, ride along with me for just one day.
My first fare was an African-American 30 something woman getting off from her 7am-2pm shift at a nursing home. “Do you mind going past Oaks apartments so I can pick up my son?” She’s glad to get out into the fresh air. Her little boy is tired and fussy when she brings him back to my car. He is letting her know both that he missed her and also that he wants to rest. It’s not easy for either one of them. I put on some children’s songs that I play for my granddaughter and he settles down.
Next Adama (meaning “glory” I find out) hops in. He’s a Kenyan who I mistake for a Nigerian. “No,” he tells me, “Nigerians have thick accents.” He’s been driving for Uber for two years but he’s impressed that I have a comfort box in the back seat, with tissues, Hershey’s kisses, notecards and pen for passenger use if they need them. His car is being repaired and I am dropping him off. “Keep track of your mileage,” he advises me, “it will help with your taxes. And I am going to give you 5 stars and a compliment.” And when I check my ratings later, he has.
Wal-mart is next. A Middle Eastern lady and her two daughters and small son think I have passed their door and wave me down. I can tell even though I don’t understand their language that the oldest daughter and her mother are having a difference of opinion. The little boy peers up between them.
I choose to take only four riders a day, so my last fare is a blind man without his cane. He explains he has mislaid it as I help him into the car. I share that my daughter’s friend doesn’t want to use his cane because he feels it makes him a target in his poorer neighborhood. Allan explains that he was told to go to the workshop to make brooms and he would have none of it. He became a radio jockey in a one-man station which he ran by himself. He’s telling me he’s not my only passenger too as we pick up his two friends, a lady and her husband, also blind. Her Labrador guide dog Sally curls up into an impossibly small ball at her feet. They are going out to eat tonight. I help them into the restaurant and turn off my alert system for today.
My father would not believe that strange inventions – a satellite, a cell phone, and something called the Internet – could help him connect with passengers who could see his vehicle coming to pick them up as I can today. He was proud of his 14 year safety pins on his cap. I am proud to be a safe driver too, but I am immensely proud that, through public education, I do not fear others from different cultures as he did and my grandparents before him. I hope we can all keep driving that goal home. To me it is the astounding and best achievement of America.