Life Lessons From a Taxi Driver

International portraits

I emerged from the airport terminal into brisk February air and accelerated my pace towards the open trunk of a minivan in the taxi queue. “Taxi?” the exceptionally tall driver asked rhetorically as I approached the van.

“Yes” I confirmed, lifting my suitcase into the trunk.

I climbed through the side door of the minivan and placed my backpack on the floor between the cargo seats. I sunk into the chair and took a deep breath to release the hurried pace of the airport. The soft scent of mint in the van seeped into my senses and triggered memories of a long-past trip to Morocco.

“Where to?”

“I live off 94 and Hennepin/Lyndale exit.” The door slid closed beside me and we pulled away from the airport. I instinctively reached for my phone. “How was your flight?” the driver asked as I texted my Mom to let her know I was back in Minnesota.

“Easy. We even landed early! There were 10 minutes of bad turbulence – one jolt was so bad that everyone gasped – but other than that everything was good.”

I opened Facebook and started to scroll. “Where did you go?” I looked up from the phone, fighting between the urge to be polite and the desire to stay in my own little world. Politeness won.  I turned off the screen and set the phone in my lap.

“I was in Florida visiting my parents. It was really nice – good weather, relaxing. It was great to get some sunshine and warm air! Although it feels pretty good here tonight. I’m hoping that the really cold weather is done for the winter.” My words echoed the common desire of every Minnesotan for an early spring.

I took a closer look at the man driving me home. Most of the taxi drivers I’d encountered in Minnesota were from Somalia or Ethiopia, but it was clear he wasn’t from eastern Africa. His perfect English was accented, so I knew he had started his life elsewhere. Intrigue over this man’s story quickly prevailed over the pull of my Facebook page. “Where are you from originally?

“Turkey.” His tone was warm and invited further conversation.

“I’ve never been, but I would love to visit Turkey! Where in Turkey are you from?” The country was near the top of my travel list.

“A small town near the coast 200 miles from Istanbul. We own a big house there and used to raise Arabian horses.” I had a vision of this broad man riding an equally broad horse in the Turkish countryside with a large white Mediterranean-style mansion in the background. My curiosity was piqued.

“What made you move to Minnesota?”

We veered right onto 35W and headed north towards downtown Minneapolis. “My brother is a doctor at the University of Minnesota and we came here 11 years ago for our kid’s education.”

Quite a selfless act to move to the other side of the world for your children’s education. I wondered what other sacrifices he had made.

“My oldest son is a professor at the University of Arizona,” he continued with pride in his voice. “My daughter is also in college and my youngest son studies soft computer engineering at the University of Minnesota.”

I noted his first mistake with English since starting the conversation. “Software engineering! That’s a great field.”

“Yes. My wife and I will be going back to Turkey when he is finished with school.” His resolution was clear.

“Do you like it here?” The Minneapolis skyline came into view through the windshield.

“Oh’ yes,” he assured me. “Minneapolis is a beautiful city. Clean and very friendly people.”

“Good. I’m glad that people have been nice to you.” I was relieved to hear his experience in my home state had been positive.

“Oh’ yes,” he repeated. “Beautiful people here.”

“Sometimes I think Minnesotans can be hard to get to know.”

“Well, all people are just people. They become your friends; your family.” His words lodged squarely in my heart. Goosebumps spread down my arms.

“I think you’re right. All people are just people. No matter where you are in the world.”

Our conversation turned mundane as we drove the last mile to my condo. I asked his favorite Turkish food. He responded that it was kebab and lamented the fact that there wasn’t anywhere in the Twin Cities to buy good kebab.

He stopped in front of my condo and took my suitcase from the trunk. We exchanged the suitcase for taxi payment. The tip I included didn’t come close to covering the worth of the ride.

The taxi driver and I were as different as you might imagine. Gender, age, nationality, profession, and probably a thousand other factors separated us. We may have been one Turk and one American, but, as he said, all people are just people. Connected by the simple state of being human.

 

Heather Whelpley is a coach working with people that want to have a meaningful career and live up to their own potential, but feel stuck in their job. See her home page to learn more. She is also the host of Destination Soul Shine, a community dedicated to nourishing your soul and making your spirit shine. Like Destination Soul Shine on Facebook or follow us on Instagram @destinationsoulshine for resources to inspire you to live a meaningful, healthy, creative life. 

A Paris Sunset

Paris Sunset

I had visited Paris twice before; once as a 10-year-old on my first trip outside of the US and a second time as a college student after completing a semester in Spain. Both were whirlwind tours of the highlights – the Louvre, Musee D’Orsay, Eiffel Tour, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur. This weekend, 13 years after my last visit, I had to no itinerary. My plan was simple – walk and wander.

I arrived in Paris at 4:30 pm on an October Friday and enacted the plan immediately. I dropped my suitcase in a worn room in a tired, but perfectly situated hotel in St. Germain du Pres and headed back out to the streets, camera in hand. The skies were gray, but the air was unseasonably balmy.   My jeans and casual burgundy suit jacket were too warm for the humidity hanging in the atmosphere and I began to sweat as I crossed the Seine towards Ile de St Louis. Autumn travelers crowded the narrow streets of the tiny island, licking ice cream cones and applauding street performers. I weaved through the crowds, pausing occasionally to snap a photo, no particular destination in mind.

I found my way to the right bank of the Seine and turned left in the direction of the Louvre. I walked along the surprisingly quiet sidewalk, the Seine flowing peacefully below to my left and the high wall of the Tuileries on my right. I enjoyed the movement after sitting all day at work and two hours on the train.

I glanced down the Seine through an opening in the trees that lined the sidewalk. I looked west, towards the Eiffel Tower in the distance, and saw a distinct break in the clouds along the western horizon. The walk and wander plan was immediately put on hold and I had a sudden and clear destination – make it to a bridge where I had a chance to see the sunset with a clear view of the Eiffel Tower. I quickly consulted my map, counted the bridges until the turn in the river that would afford me a view, and started to run. Three bridges to Pont Alexandre III. The running shoes I had unfashionably paired with my jeans and blazer now served me well. I clutched my purse tightly against my midsection to avoid jostling the Canon camera inside. The light sweat I had broken earlier began to stream down my face. I passed a few pedestrians, but I didn’t pause long enough to look at their faces and know whether they were bothered or confused by my sprint. I was focused only on making it to the bridge.

After several minutes of running along the Quai de Tuileries the road veered left and I knew I was close to my destination. I arrived at the Pont Alexandre III just in time to see the sun emerge from the clouds, its bright rays reaching out towards the top of the Eiffel Tower.

I paused for a moment to catch my breath and wipe the sweat from my forehead. I snapped a few pictures to capture the moment just in case the lighting unexpectedly deteriorated, but everything in the sky told me the show was just beginning.

After digitally preserving the scene, my eyes moved away from the sun and towards my fellow revelers. A young Parisian man leaned against the ledge of the bridge, as if he couldn’t be bothered to turn around and witness the sunset. He wore a fitted green jacket and tight cuffed beige pants, the kind of outfit that would be immediately recognizable as European anywhere in the US, where men prefer an extra inch or two in the circumference of their clothing. His right foot stood firmly on the ground and his left rested on the inside edge of a skateboard turned on its side. The cigarette that hung in his outstretched hand completed the picture.

An Asian woman stood to his right dressed for the season and not the weather in a beige trench coat and burgundy scarf. She snapped photos of herself in the sunset with the aide of a selfie stick, undoubtedly searching for the perfect Facebook profile pic or jealousy-inducing Snapchat to her friends at home. She delivered pose after pose – smiling, gazing dreamily towards the camera, head turned slightly in one direction, then the other. She even flaunted duck lips. I was so amused by this scene that I started taking photos of her. She didn’t notice.

Another man dressed head to toe in dark gray and carrying what can only be described as a purse spread out a large map along the railing of the bridge. He stared at it, perhaps planning his dinner location or plotting the way back to his hotel after the sunset was complete.

I transferred my attention westward as the sun sank closer to the horizon and adjusted the white balance on my camera to prepare for the perfect moment ahead. The empty spaces on the bridge filled with accumulating onlookers that had paused their evening plans to enjoy the show. Thick clouds hung eastward from Eiffel Tower, but there was a half circle of clear sky perfectly positioned above the Seine that created a frame for the live film unfolding before us. The sun flamed in orange, the fiery backlight accentuating the crisp profile of the Pont des Invalides in the foreground and the Eiffel Tower in the distance. A long barge of tourists glided under the bridge below me and added another texture of silhouette to the scene.

The rippled waters of the Seine flickered fuchsia and orange as the sun traversed the horizon. Wisps of clouds painted gold, mauve, and ginger streaks across the sky where the sun had just passed. I adjusted the aperture on my camera several times with the hope of capturing at least one photo that would accurately reflect the landscape around me.

The colors faded quickly after the sun disappeared. I tucked my camera back into my purse and enjoyed a few minutes taking in the view without my lens. I left the bridge and turned back in the direction of the Louvre with the sky still bright in the early dusk. The relatively short run became a rather long walk back to my hotel. The air chilled and I was grateful for the blazer that had caused me to sweat earlier. I considered tomorrow and wondered what surprises my walk and wander plan might reveal, but the city did not need to do anything else to impress. Three hours into the weekend and my trip to Paris was complete.