I fall in love with every taxi driver I meet. This Bangladeshi guy told be about the cheapest places to buy tea — “if it’s over $2, you’re doing it wrong” — and the effects caffeine has on the body. His son is at Columbia Med. His face looks like Jackson Pollock painted it, with wrinkles as the brush.
Every time I start to complain about the inevitabilities of living in a large city — the inconveniences, the stress, choosing friendships based on proximity and jobs based on your network — I take a minute to remember every taxi driver I’ve ever met.
I always ask them where they’re from. My father did this, my grandfather did this, and I never understood it until I tried it. I’ve learned something about close to 30 countries. I always tell them that I’m first-gen and they always want to know why my dad immigrated, what I love about Greece, how my parents challenged me to never take my citizenship for granted.
And I hear about how the NYPD treats them, about how drunk patrons treat them, about how they had degrees and certifications in their home country that did not transfer. One Algerian man told me that he never sees his daughter because he leaves for his second shift before she wakes up and comes home after she’s in bed. One time she refused to get off the school bus until he came to meet her because she hadn’t seen him for so long. A man from Ghana told me that I was his first customer and that he was taking classes online in order to try to get into law school while raising his younger sister.
Most agree that ‘The American Dream’ is a bit antiquated. A lot of immigrants I meet want to return after being continually slapped in the face by Lady Liberty. And some argue that they withstand the discrimination, the hardship, working three shifts to be able to send money home to a family they never see, because they feel that they couldn’t do it anywhere else. Not the Land of Opportunity, but the Land of Suck It Up.
There are so many things I can appreciate about this city. I feel as though I’m in the center of Newton’s cradle, constantly finding myself trying to both conserve energy and trying to defend myself against the exuberance of others. I don’t know when New Yorkers sleep other than on the train at 6 a.m., trying to wipe the fatigue away by rubbing their hands over their eyes enough times.
But it’s not much of a microcosm. I sense the same racial tension that I felt in the small Midwestern town where I’m from. There are probably more advanced degrees per capita, yet just as many trust fund babies. The economic disparity is so visceral. Itʼs a homeless man sleeping in front of an eyeglass store that boasts Prada and Gucci behind Swarovski-laced display windows.
I see people try to inch away from the uncomfortable truths of a metropolitan area. I find myself doing this progressively more and more. When I first moved here, I was taken aback by the gentrification, the social problems, the corruption. And now I don’t bat an eye. It seems like an appendage of NYC. A tumor that has grown grotesque, leaving oncologists in awe. Where to even start.
I like the glamour. I like brunches, strolls, shopping sprees, working hard for your money and then taking advantage of the luxuries. The accessibility and the culture. The Met. Expressing White privilege left and right.
I struggle with working a corporate job because I hope to one day wake up with the sense that I have left an indelible mark on someone. I want to be more than empathetic — I want to be altruistic and find balance. My conscience is a subway troubadour singing out only to be drowned out by the clamor of the incoming train.
For now, I’m hoping to make rent.