Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Moral Universe of a Weary Driver

I just dropped off a man who knew Steve Jobs at a government-subsidized retirement home in a rundown suburb of Cincinnati.

Fate connected me with a gentleman who used to set up and run international call centers for Apple; and as well as encountering the corporate behemoth's founder at the firm's cafeteria, he also worked with and knew the company's current CEO, Tim Cook.

My passenger labored for the makers of overpriced electronics with a pseud-Zen aesthetic in Zen's homeland of Japan as well as Ireland and Apple's offices in California.

Lets face it reader, there are social classes in America. And without an ethnic core to keep those classes somewhat together in spite of the gaps in income and education, America's class divide is pretty steep; and people on all sides of the many fences of separation are pretty easily identified and classified. Especially when you drive people for a living and have a propensity to classify and analyze everyone who enters your life anyway.

All of which was my long-winded way of saying that I knew this man was worldly, educated and would feel at home in America's upper-professional echelons, unlike most of the good folks whom I drive. Thus a natural question arose in my mind, "why am I driving him at all?"

The American meritocracy ideal would suggest that this man, with his intelligent demeanor and a career of hard work in management for one of the country's corporate giants would preclude the possibility of him being driven in his golden years inside a medical cab that specializes in ferrying poor folks who rely on government assistance for survival.

The people toward whom many of my less enlightened coworkers adopt a condescending attitude that includes using hand sanitizer after every encounter and a dispensation of a special type of explosive devise at the end of the work week that fills the inside of their work car with some sort of a chemical that kills any potential and feared bedbug infestations in the vehicle.

There was no delicate way for me to ask him why he was here and not, say, at some fundraiser for a Democratic Senator in San Francisco. So I went with, "I bet you had a nice pension at Apple."

"Oh, no," he laughed, "Apple didn't believe in pensions. We did get stock options, but I stupidly cashed out before the stock really went up." He then went on to cite some facts about the stock, how much it was when he left and how much it is now, as well as a story of a man whom he hired and trained who now gets thousands of dollars each month just from dividends.

"Steve didn't believe in dividends," he said with a smile, "but now its different."

Steve, you enigmatic man, who made some nerds believe in you as a messiah because you had a talent of adding some falsely spiritual dimension into the things you sold em at a nice profit.

Something told me that there was more to his story than bad investing decisions with Apple equities he had access to. But our short drive was coming to the end and all the crevices on his life path will remain a mystery to me. I scratched the surface, got the outline. My curiosity was peaked, but eternity will keep its hungry mouth will unfed when it comes to this morsel of insight.

Earlier, I mentioned how much I love the west coast to him and how I dream of returning to Seattle. I often mention this desire to return to Seattle to my passengers. One the one hand, its a bland piece of small talk to bring up, but also the girl I love lives in that city and in a way repeating this intent to return is a magical act, a deep and fundamental longing answered through repetition to clueless strangers.

This man seemed less clueless. "I hope you make it to Seattle," he said with a gentle smile as he was leaving my car, "I will be thinking about you."

"Thinking about you"

What does that mean?


I was angry when I received my next pickup from my work phone. The bastards were sending me to drive a man from a University of Cincinnati hospital, all the way to his home in a halfway house in a rural town, an hour and a half away from the big city.

Normally, I would be happy to get away from Cincinnati's narrow, crowded and depressing streets and take a pleasurable, long drive through the farm lands of Ohio. But it was 4:40 pm. I started work at 6:30 am today and by the time I would get back home from this trip it would be well past eight pm. I normally end my shift at around five and it usually takes me an hour before I am home. "Fuckers, beasts," I mumbled under my breath as I was fumbling with my GPS.

I drove this man before. He wasn't the most talkative of my clients. But he did talk and -as usual- this made the commute go a little faster. The rural sky was filled with a battle between sunlight, clear skies and sharp, dark clouds prophesying rain. The resulting contrast was scenic, I mentioned this to my passenger but he didn't seem too engaged with the sky.

Periodically he would moan. He has a throat cancer and a coming operation would permanently confine him to consuming all his food through a tube. He was returning from his first chemo session. The procedure involved one of Steve's revolutionary handheld inventions. the Ipad -provided by the hospital- on which he was watching Netflix as doctors were pumping his veins with poison.

On the way home, he needed to use a restroom. I pulled into a gas station parking lot and accompanied him inside the building where I had my own call of nature to answer to.

I saw him emerge from the restroom a little befuddled. The men's restroom at this gas station has a toilet and a urinal and did not posses a functioning lock. When he entered it a man was pissing into the toilet.

My passenger's men's restroom ethics -quite reasonably- suggested to him that he could saddle up at the urinal but this premise contrasted with that of the pisser in progress, a fat man of medium height, who crudely told him to "get the hell out." I guess pissing together with a stranger was a threshold of intimacy this asshole wasn't ready for.

And why exactly not? Pissing together is the underlying premise behind all public restrooms. True this was a small room but the same notions seem to apply. Would he be less inclined to protect his sacred pissing turf if the bathroom contained a divider between the toilet and the urinal? Would he be accepting of a stranger pissing alongside him if this small room had two urinals? Did the intimacy of shitting implied by the presence of the toilet made the act of communal pissing seem like an unpalatable heresy now?

Being a sensitive soul myself who often dwells on awkward encounters like this for hours if I am involved in them, I could easily emphasize with my passenger. The bathroom had no lock and he was a sick man wanting to relieve himself.

I wondered if the perpetrator in question would reconsider his act if he knew that it was directed at a cancer patient in pain who just underwent his first round of chemo and carried with him a prescription for heavy duty painkillers.

Eastern religions hold that we are all bound by an iron law of karma and only enlightenment will set us free. This law would suggest a price to be paid by the rude man but it could also be used to imply that my passenger had the sort of karma that would prompt him to have this petty and foul event as one of his first experiences after undergoing one of the most serious and damaging procedures know to western medicine.

Something happened in that gas station restroom but whether that something is a crossing point for two bursts of spiritual energies linked by their respective karma's in a world of suffering that only metaphysical awakening can destroy or a meaningless act of inhumanity in a meaningless universe where all ideas as false in the end... well that I can't tell you and even if I could it wouldn't take anyway.

Live and see.


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