Strange Wisdom

photo by Lauriel

by Zachary Bosart

An informative series of chaotic events.

It was seeming like the start of another day of perpetual mistakes. Upon awakening at 4 AM, I was supposed to drink coffee and prepare myself for a mandatory work meeting at 6 AM. To get there in time, I would have to grab the first bus of the morning, that I might beat the 6 AM deadline.

However, none of this actually happened. Instead, I awoke to the vague light emanating from my living room, a sure signal that the sun was up, and I was not. In realizing I must be late if the sun is up, I twisted over to check the clock.

7:45 AM. Late. Badly so. The two hour meeting was almost over.

I recall swearing, and stumbled out of bed, called my boss with the update. Trundling out of the house a bleary-eyed six minutes or so later, more or less clothed, I approached the main street just in time to see my bus barreling past. Looking down the numbers after it, I saw my alternate bus also pulling away. Meaning, I was at least fifteen minutes away from being an hour and a half away from my destination.

This was simply unacceptable. What can I say? I’ve been conditioned quite well to find my proximity to my work place an emotionally distressing issue. Some quick pre-coffee number crunching told me that waiting fifteen minutes for a cab would beat fifteen minutes for a bus, so I bit the bullet and called in my need. A mere five minutes and a purchased coffee later, John arrived to pick me up. He struck me initially as a man with more summers behind him than ahead, but saw no reason to let that disrupt his spirit. He calculated my destination, suggested a route, and we were off.

As we travelled down the main street, he got nostalgic for how the boulevard used to look when he “was my age”. I wasn’t awake enough at this point to do anything more than listen, as he pointed at which buildings existed when he grew up in this area, and which did not. Traveling down Hawthorne, I was informed that the New Seasons was once the Daily Grind (Which I knew), and before that it was a Piggly Wiggly (Which I did not know). As the ride rolled on, he told me of his exploits in the neighborhood since the 60’s, and the changes to the landscape since.

John had bought his first Schwinn bike using money from a paper route in the building that now housed a pizza parlor. The bike enabled him to do his job better around the Hawthorne area. Back then, they pulled the fenders off because that was the thing to do, before us modern kids realized that fenders served a purpose. Sure enough, the Fred Meyer’s had always been there. Gas station was always a gas station, and the Coney Island place was there back in the day too. But John only eats there once a year, on account of the cholesterol. Same with the Baghdad Theater, but that kung-fu place used to be a bowling alley. Just 12 lanes, but was fun anyways. And that place over there was an 88 cent store, like the 99 cent stores we have now. After several blocks of examining landmarks and taking a trip through time, I began to wake up a little and joined the interaction. The coffee must have been kicking in, but I became interested in this man who was guiding a verbal tour of his life experiences.

He told me of Hawthorne in the 60’s and 70’s, and how he joined the National Guard during the Vietnam war. John went through basic training, despising the fact that they shaved your hair all off, and then charged you a dollar for it. For a period in service it grew back out, and he was required to string back his hair and wear a wig to look as clean cut as possible. Though they cared little about his mustache after that point. The tides were changing.
After showing his competency with a Ham radio and an ability to type, he became a typist and secretary for the Oregon National Guard. John was grateful that he was never drafted or shipped to Vietnam, because the radio operators were the first targets of any mobile infantry moving through the jungles. After he left service, he put his skills to work in protest against the war. He let his hair grow long, and refused to shave his mustache. It was his open defiance for the system that tried to repress his spirit for the sake of forced conformity.

We spoke back and forth for the ride, talking about the similarities between what happened then, and what was happening now. He shifted the conversation toward the Occupy Movement, and told me about watching the raids upon the Park Blocks in November from his television. He told me about how the bicycles surrounded the blocks, a moving buffer between the campers and the police, and how he cried.

He explained how he didn’t cry because they were about to be evicted, he cried because of the beauty of the support from people who came out of nowhere on their bikes. He knew it wouldn’t last, that eventually the police would break it up, with water cannons as they used to. But they didn’t, and John was thankful. He saw the beauty of support, without the level of violence that oftentimes followed.

Since the can of worms was open, I asked his opinion of the Occupy movement in general. While I cannot recall precisely his exact words, they were along the lines of it being the best hope we’ve had in a long time. When he said “the best hope we’ve had” I got the distinct impression he meant “we” as a commentary on our species. That the Occupy Movement was the best hope that humanity has had in a long time. John had spoken of people he’s met from around the world, and no part of his descriptions led me to believe that he referred to then as anything less than an equal human. It was one of the only moments during our ride where our eyes met, through the reflection of the rear-view mirror. There was blunt honesty in his eyes, and not the kind you can brush off as being dramatic. He meant what he said seriously in that moment, and I took it as such.

John went on to talk about the connections he made when writing, and other activists he had met along the way. I spoke of writing I had done regarding the current climate, and what I hoped to do in the future. He told me to keep it up, and never stop. He told me that there will be people who tell me I’m fighting the wrong battle, that I should put up and shut up, but that I shouldn’t listen to them. That I should follow my heart, because it never leads you wrong.

I thought about that, like I think about all things, in the space of a few moments. My mind was flooded with scenarios, chance encounters, and powerhouses of authority that had stood in the way of my creative expression over the years. The things that held me back from recognizing my true potential.

John looked at me, jarring me from my internal analysis, and I nodded. Indeed, to some extent, I had been influenced in my thinking to go for the safest route with the minimal personal damages. This simply won’t do, not anymore. We don’t live in that world any longer.

I saw in him a moment where a man was grateful that the present was not as bad as the past, though it was still bad and in dire need of fixing. In that moment, I saw a man who had seen so much change in his life. A man who had nearly dared to think it was all going south, before he saw a reason to hope again. I saw a man completely change his attitude in the space of a single cab ride of 7.63 miles.

We had arrived. I was at work. Giving John a hearty tip, and thanking him for the ride as well as the talk, he surprisingly thanked me in return. For the conversation, and the hope that people are doing something in his stead now.

My workplace suddenly seemed a paltry place to be so desperate to get to, when all I wanted to do now was write what you are about to finish reading.

John the cab driver, you influenced me today, and I wish I could thank you for it again. I can only hope that we are all so influenced to share with each other, and listen more often. I’m filled with a new perspective to learn from my elders, and to share in words, the experiences that led us toward discovering what we truly stand for when we look in the mirror.

For the record, my day at work went smoothly. Sometimes, a little perspective goes a long way toward brightening one’s day. May we all be privileged enough to gain such wisdom during the course of the time between home and work. For those of us without work, may we gain even more in our time.

Make every moment worthwhile to you and those around you, because we all have something to gain, even in those chaotic chance encounters. Even if it only lasts 7.63 miles, in the span of a mere thirteen or fourteen minutes, there is something to learn in every moment.

It’d be a shame to watch that potential pass unnoticed. So grab it. Not for your own agenda, but to actually listen to a stranger, and share in the experience of a real conversation. Stepping outside of the societal roles of customer and servant, and recognize that this servant is a human being.

And a human being is someone from whom you might learn something.

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