In cities like ours, there are a lot of immigrants. I've spoken with many that have come from various places. Malaysia, Haiti, various parts of Africa, Russia, all points of the Middle East and on and on. The conversations are almost never boring and it is a great way to learn not only about the world, but a different perspective on our country.
One night I got a call to take someone from his apartment to a trucking yard. Truck drivers often call us to take them to or from a truck terminal so they can leave their personal vehicle at home. I pulled up to the apartment building and a man who looked to be in his late fifties entered my cab.
He was about six foot tall, lean, shaved head and a beaming smile. As we did the general pleasantries and confirmed his destination, it was hard to miss his thick accent. While making small talk I asked him if he was Russian. He told me he was Georgian. He started to explain where Georgia was on an atlas and I told I was familiar with home country. I asked him how long he has lived in the United States. He told me a little over 20 years.
He went on to tell me that he drove a cab for the first 8 years he lived here. He said how hard it was to learn english when he never had time to go to classes. He then took a job driving a small bus for a senior center for 10 years after that. He had time to take english classes and the conversations he had with the residents made great practice. He said they all talked at the same time so it was hard to keep up. He then got his CDL license and has been driving a truck ever since.
I asked him what he did when he was in Georgia. He paused or a moment and said. "I was KGB." I said no way, really? He said,"Yes, I was KGB for a long time." I asked what he did for the KGB. All he said was that he had a good position, but had seen many things. Too many things. He then spoke of how when he left, his original plan was to one day bring his wife and son to the US. He said it happened for his son, now 24, last year. He was never able to get his wife over and now it is too late. She has passed. He said how he would have given anything to be with her. To say goodbye. To hold her and let her know how sorry he was that he broke his promise. That he could not bring her to America. The American Consulate did not honor their deal. I asked him if he ever missed home now. He said he missed his family and some friends, but he could never return, even now. He said in some ways it was better when the Soviet Union had control and the freedoms there now are still not the freedoms here.
I asked him if the separation and loss is hard for him.
"It used to be. Now I have fun."
I asked him what he meant by that.
"I had been driving cab for three years when it happened. I was in the North Suburbs, so it was mostly airport runs. Midway, O'hare, General Mitchell. My English was poor and it was hard to understand customers. Sometimes they would get mad or I would get frustrated. One day I was driving a man to the airport. He looked like an important businessman and I was trying to make a good impression for a tip. He was trying to talk to me and I couldn't understand him. He was talking too fast and I was getting frustrated with myself. He could tell. He put his hand on my shoulder. I know you know how uncomfortable that is in a cab when someone does that. But he did it just right. It felt like comfort. He put his hand on my shoulder and said slowly. 'Hey, it's ok. You are in America now. Have fun. If you don't have fun, you'll die inside.'" He paused.
"So what did you do?"
"I took his advice. I stopped having fun when I came to America. He was right. I could do whatever I wanted. I was free. I should have fun. So I had fun. I try new things. I eat foods. I travel to different parts of this country all the time. It's big and the people are different, but they are the same. It's wonderful to see how they are different in different places and the same. I've been to more places here than most Americans. I don't have much money. I don't need money for fun. Every town here has a library and something interesting to see. Small museums, bowling alleys, local sports teams, festivals and parks. People love to tell you why their town is interesting. Maybe a movie was made there once or someone invented something or some famous person grew up there. I meet people. I eat foods from everywhere. I buy ice cream. Oh, I love ice cream."
We got to his semi. Before he got out he said one more thing.
"You should have more fun. When you have fun, the things you lost are no longer missing. The things you did no longer happened. You don't worry about next week. You have now. Now is good if you want now to be."