Friday, December 13, 2013

Postcards from a taxi - Sao Paulo and Boston...

So I am in Boston for a few days this week for personal and business reasons. I went to college around here and grew up in the next state over so it almost feels like home even though I haven't lived here in 20 years. Yes, it is cold but it's sunny and I've been in a whirlwind of visits with college and high school friends and a soul-strengthening morning at my alma mater. 

Yesterday as I was leaving the alma mater which sits about 12 miles from Boston, I had to call a taxi because my next visit was to a school remote from public transportation. I had taken a metro-commuter rail combination to the college, and that will be another post because I loooooooved it. Anyway, it took a while for the suburban taxi to come and when it did, there was a woman driver who reminds me very much of an actress that I am forgetting the name of for the moment. Someone who play gritty characters with hard lives. 

And of course, I started chatting with the driver because I have never entered a taxi in any country where I speak the language without having a chat with the driver. I always do this in Sao Paulo -- especially in Sao Paulo, where unlike the  US, there is no plastic barrier between you and the driver. I can't NOT talk to the driver in Brazil.

Back to JFK Taxi of suburbia. We talk about where she grew up (Framingham), how nice but weirdly Stepford Wive-y is the town where my alma mater sits is, and then of course, we talk about our kids. She mentions two small ones, and then after I say I have twin boys she says "me too! Mine are 15 years old." And it turns out that the kids are identical except for a small mole on one's cheek. 

I had been talking about how I would love to send my kids to public school if I move back to the US, and with so many great public schools around, why anyone would send theirs to private. She glances in the rear view mirror at me and says "my older boys go to private school." And I ask why she decided to send them there and she says "they're blind." It turns out her boys are at Perkins School for the Blind and are paid for entirely by the Massachussetts Public School System. If you are not familiar with Perkins, it is arguably the best and certainly the first school for the blind in the US and is in Watertown, MA. Helen Keller is one famous alum. 

The taxi driver told me that the school system where she lived first tried to include her sons in regular classes but even with an assistant, it was not possible. So, in a country where education truly is the responsibility of the state, they are now sponsored at Perkins. They will graduate with the technical skills to become DJs which is what they want.

Later yesterday I was returning from my brother's apartment in Boston to Cambridge where I am staying. The taxi driver was Ethiopian, had been in Boston for 2 years and loved everything about it but the cold. We talked about World Cup soccer and the fact that Ethiopia had been knocked out of contention by Nigeria and had not qualified this year. The taxi driver had been saving money for two years to see his team play in Brazil and now, that particular dream was over. I asked him if I should cheer for Nigeria then as cheering for Africa, and he said yes, they could all be friends now. 

When we reached the hotel, I asked how much I owed him and he said, no, that my brother had already pre-paid the taxi. Yep, taxi apps in the US are still better than in Brazil--this one was called "uber" which my German friends should enjoy. And I asked him if the tip would be included and he said he thought so, and not to worry about it. He helped me get out with all my bags and boxes and he drove off into the dark Cambridge night.

Snapshots of a taxi life. Love it in Brazil. Love it here.

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