I opened the door and threw my laptop bag and purse down the expansive backseat of a weathered American sedan. “NPR, please”, I said. The driver looked at me in his rear view mirror, eyes crinkling.
“They are building a new building.” His voice was low and lovely. I instantly relaxed, as I often do, when I hear the lilt of an accent.
“NPR? Yes, they are.”
“I hope they tear all the walls. It’s just a warehouse, that thing was old.” He pronounces thing like “ting”. I love it.
“You’re awfully opinionated about a company you don’t even listen to,” I teased. “Isn’t this WTOP I’m hearing?” He decisively punches one button on his radio, and the car is filled with the Diane Rehm Show. “I work for WAMU,” I tell him.
“I switch from time to time. Whole thing is great. Rehm is doing well, Kojo is doing fine. You work with Kojo from time to time?”
I mention that I work on the same floor but that no, I don’t work with him. He changes the subject.
“How was this guy they fired? The way they fired him was a wrong one. And the other statement, that it is ‘between him and psychiatrist’…that was inappropriate. But she came later and apologized. If somebody does wrong, they apologize, then you forgive them.”
Now it’s my turn to change the subject. “How long have you been a cab driver?”, I ask.
“Almost ten years now. I once drove Geraldine Ferraro. She was with her husband, going to the airport. Also, that Donaldson guy.”
I ask him where he is from and he tells me, “Sierra Leone. West Africa.” Then he mentions that he has lived here for quite a while. I clarify– does he live in the city? He nods, twice, then mentions his neighborhood in Northeast. I’m surprised. The majority of cab drivers with whom I’ve spoken live in Maryland or Virginia.
“Before that, I lived on 7th Street.” He gestures towards the Convention Center, which we are sailing past. “I don’t think I’ll leave D.C. I like it here. The only thing is gentrification. Moving people from where they have been living for a long time, for these new condos…these luxury apartments. But eh, such is life. It’s not a good thing, but what can we do?”
I ask him about the Mayoral primary and it’s like giving him several shots of espresso. Suddenly, he’s animated, passionate, raring to go.
“To tell you the truth, most cabdrivers didn’t like the mayor. No one in my house voted for him, anyway. I think Vince Gray is a more respectful guy. Fenty became arrogant after he became Mayor– he changed completely, doesn’t listen to anyone, does what he wants to do.” He punctuates this last statement with a vigorous, disapproving shake of his graying head. I ask him about the divisiveness of the campaign…and am surprised and confused.
“They say white people liked Fenty, blacks liked Gray. I think the bike lobby liked Fenty. Wasn’t about race. The way I look at it, both of them are biracial so I didn’t pay attention to that, both have one parent who is white.”
“Vince Gray is biracial? I didn’t know that.”
He scoffs at this, impatience furrowing his brow.
“Grey is lighter than Fenty. One parent must be light.”
“I don’t know…I’ve met black people who are really light, who aren’t biracial.”
“Then each of their parents has one white parent!” he answers, triumphantly. I decide to drop it, which is fine, because he’s moved on to his next point.
“Anthony Williams left a lot on the books, Fenty only had to go along with them. Dog parks? Yeah, that’s Fenty’s idea, but fixing the schools and other things? Already on books! Fenty didn’t support baseball thing, he was strongly against it! And now he is enjoying! It was Anthony Williams’ idea to bring baseball right where it is. And now that place has changed, it’s so clean and nice.”
He makes an illegal left turn to enter NPR’s driveway and after snapping off the meter, he puts the car in “Park” before ducking down, across the front seat, to peer up at the building through the passenger-side window.
“I think this place has become too small for you all.” He smiles at me and tells me to stay “good”.
“Be happy,” he exhorts, and then he waves, before driving away.