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October 16, 2016

How an Uber Driver Taught me to Be Proud to be an American.

I was in an Uber on my way to the Ace Hotel to study for my final exams.

On a Monday afternoon, the lobby of the Ace Hotel is like daycare for hot people. Why I decided to choose a distracting locale while needing to focus on analytical reasoning, I am unclear.

My Uber driver was a smiley Indian man in his early 40’s named Ashtok. We were stuck in traffic for 19 minutes, going from midtown West to the Flatiron.

Normally, I prefer to ride my Ubers in silence, either taking in the scenes outside the window, closing my eyes and breathing, or checking Twitter. Usually, it’s the latter. But this ride began the way I always dread: questions.

Lots of them.

First, Ashtok asked me where I was from. I told him California. Then he asked how long I’ve been here. I told him about a year. He then asked where I lived and I answered, “Bushwick.” Classic one word responses tipping him off that I’d really rather not interact at the moment. But he was so chipper and probably starved for communication being in a car all day, so I decided to engage him.

I asked Ashtok how long he’d been living here. He told me he moved here two years ago, after working in Dubai, and before that he was working in Saudi Arabia. Then he met an American woman and they fell in love, got married, and moved to the United States. Ashtok was beaming talking about his newfound citizenship.

“My wife, she is American. My kid is American. I am American! I am no longer India, I am American citizen.” He said it with so much pride and joy it made my heart swell. It’s rare these days, in the thick of a nasty election, to hear this country spoken of so highly.

“So you like America better?” I asked him.

“America the best,” he said. “You can do anything in America. If you follow the rules, you can do anything. Business, sports, technology. Anybody can do what they want to do. It doesn’t matter where you come from. Everybody same here.”

“Amen,” I said.

Then, unable to contain myself: “So you’re voting for Hillary, right?”

“Hillary? Of course! Me for Hillary, my wife for Hillary, my parents, my kid.”

“How old is your kid?” I asked him.

“He 15 months!” Ashtok started howling with laughter. “But he know! He put his hand up and say, ‘Hillary, Hillary!'”

“Woooohoooo!” I said. It felt great to get some Clinton enthusiasm up in here after pneumonia-gate this past weekend.

“You vote Hillary, too?” he asked me.

“Of course. I’m in New York, duh. Everybody here’s for Hillary.”

“Yes, no Trump! Nobody want Trump. Trump think some people this, some people that. No. We are human. We are all same. He wants boundaries. We no boundaries! We human. Of course, some people have tails, you know–you and I, we have no tails–but some people have tails and that okay. We still all human. America for everybody. All religions, not one. All kinds of people. I am America like anybody else. This is my country.”

I almost started to tear up hearing him describe this place we live in, a country so riddled with dark scandals and turmoil. Ashtok was seeing it in a different light, a view many of us have lost sight of, perhaps taken for granted. It shows that, despite how far we’ve yet to go, America is still so great in so many ways. It’s still the land of opportunity for those that work hard, follow the rules, and contribute to society.

This was a real, unscripted moment from a person beginning his own version of the American Dream. Today, he’s driving for Uber and supporting his wife and kid. He wants to work in technology down the line, as he did before he moved here. In the short term, he just hopes to save enough money to buy a Harley Davidson, something his wife wants as much as him, so they can ride around together like they used to in Delhi.

This experience reminds me of a quote by another former presidential candidate. When Bernie Sanders, who is of Jewish descent, was asked by Anderson Cooper about his religious beliefs, he responded, “I believe that as a human being, the pain that one person feels impacts you and impacts me. My spirituality is that we are all in this together.”

Or, to use Ashtok’s words: “We are all same.”

 

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Author: Stephen Wickhem

Images: Flickr/Carlos Pacheco ; Elephant Journal

Editor: Erin Lawson

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Stephen Wickhem