Informal life-long learning

... you should see my world, meet my kind
before you judge our minds
BTO, Blue Collar

I was running behind on Saturday, as usual, and so I grabbed a cab uptown. It was a company I don't often use, and the first thing I noticed when I opened the door was the driver's struggle to right himself on his seat. Admittedly, he was doing well for a man who appeared to be a hundred-and-five years old. But my eyes fell on the package of cigarettes and medical puffer stuffed down between the seats, and I faltered.

But then, after we got going, and I had a chance to breathe in the mixed and chemically enhanced scent of the three different pine tree air fresheners hanging from the rear-view mirror, I found it easier to ignore all that and just hum the better parts Crosstown Traffic from the third Jimi Hendrix album.

Taking cabs always provides food for thought.

Often, I use a company that employs people from the middle and farther east. I flatter myself that I do some good engaging them in conversation; repeating their uncertain questions in the Queen's English and answering in plain language. But this is sheer vanity on my part.

These are very smart men and women who, when they find out what field I work in, seize a couple of moments of one-on-one tutoring for their own reasons. My only advantage in these conversations is that I'm not going anyplace I haven't already been, and I'm insisting on doing it in English. These cab drivers speak three, four, five languages, and are constantly heading into new territory. (The gentleman who started the company speaks Uzbek, English and Russian, and is a trained oil and natural gas technician.) I find their confidence and courage astounding - all the more so given my sheltered existence.

There have been a couple of times when I've been, um... less able to connect successfully. Usually, the trouble pops up when a driver misspells my destination on their dash-mounted GPS device; at which point I'm forced to argue against evidence provided by a computer.

Truth be told, I feel a little embarrassed at times. Could I change jobs, languages, continents without having a complete nervous breakdown? For that matter, will I have the strength work full days when I'm a hundred-and-five?

Seems unlikely.

This, by the way, is what authentic life-long-learning looks like: struggling to make a buck or a life in a strange place, time and language. I'm sure it's almost always difficult. I'm sure it's chiefly driven by economics. And I fear it's practised least often by middle-aged, English-speaking, fully employed white guys like me.

So, here's to cabbies from everywhere. :)

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