The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, October 26, 2001

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Only connect

Unlike many Americans, I've been flying a lot lately. Last summer, amid post-retirement euphoria, I planned three trips and my fatalistic self refused to cancel them after September 11. The long queues, empty airports, and half-filled planes were part of the travel experience, but far more important were two taxi drivers whose lives and mine connected, fleetingly.

It was early October, in San Francisco. My friend and I hailed a Yellow Cab for a trip across town, and met Lali, the driver. She was about 45, with curly dark-blonde hair and an angular, pleasant face. We struck up an immediate conversation about the horrors of September 11. As we crawled through city traffic, Lali told us that she moved to San Francisco from Brazil a year ago with two grown daughters and a granddaughter. Two months ago, her 25-year-old son was killed in a motorcycle accident in Brazil. She began to cry and we murmured condolences, fighting back tears ourselves.

Then, three thousand miles away, the twin towers collapsed, leaving Bay Area business and tourist travel in the rubble. Without lucrative trips to the airport, Lali's income slowed to a trickle. She told us these things not to win our sympathy or a large tip, but simply because we were three women who connected suddenly, emotionally. We asked Lali to take us to the airport early the next morning for our flight to Los Angeles. She arrived at our hotel promptly, bringing pictures of her family including her handsome lost son. At the airport, she gave us her address, we wished her well and hugged her, and in an instant she and her Yellow Cab were gone.

Later, flying home from L.A., I took a taxi from Logan to Alewife. The driver smiled as he loaded my luggage into the cab. He was a Muslim, about 40, from Pakistan. I do not know his name. As we rolled through the Ted Williams Tunnel, we talked about terrorism, the scanty airport traffic and his dwindling earnings. His expenses just for the taxi were $450 a day, he told me, and some days he didn't earn even $100. He was a family man with a wife and two young boys, and Boston-area rent to pay. He was very, very worried.

"Have you heard the news?" he asked. My heart sank. What now? "We bombed Afghanistan today," he reported, and we shared our misgivings about the inevitable retaliation. He turned up his radio tuned to NPR for the latest news, and we spoke with urgency and sadness. We reached Alewife all too soon, shook hands and wished each other well. Our conversation hung in the chill night air as I waited for my ride to Carlisle.

Living in Carlisle, we tend to associate with people like ourselves. We don't often have or take the opportunity to communicate with people from other cultures who lack our privileges. "Only connect," wrote E.M. Forster, and I had. Two strangers and I had forged cross-cultural links across a bridge of unparalleled tragedy, personal loss, sorrow, and growing anxiety over an uncertain future.

If we all can connect, the terrorists will never win.

Forum

Only connect

Unlike many Americans, I've been flying a lot lately. Last summer, amid post-retirement euphoria, I planned three trips and my fatalistic self refused to cancel them after September 11. The long queues, empty airports, and half-filled planes were part of the travel experience, but far more important were two taxi drivers whose lives and mine connected, fleetingly.

It was early October, in San Francisco. My friend and I hailed a Yellow Cab for a trip across town, and met Lali, the driver. She was about 45, with curly dark-blonde hair and an angular, pleasant face. We struck up an immediate conversation about the horrors of September 11. As we crawled through city traffic, Lali told us that she moved to San Francisco from Brazil a year ago with two grown daughters and a granddaughter. Two months ago, her 25-year-old son was killed in a motorcycle accident in Brazil. She began to cry and we murmured condolences, fighting back tears ourselves.

Then, three thousand miles away, the twin towers collapsed, leaving Bay Area business and tourist travel in the rubble. Without lucrative trips to the airport, Lali's income slowed to a trickle. She told us these things not to win our sympathy or a large tip, but simply because we were three women who connected suddenly, emotionally. We asked Lali to take us to the airport early the next morning for our flight to Los Angeles. She arrived at our hotel promptly, bringing pictures of her family including her handsome lost son. At the airport, she gave us her address, we wished her well and hugged her, and in an instant she and her Yellow Cab were gone.

Later, flying home from L.A., I took a taxi from Logan to Alewife. The driver smiled as he loaded my luggage into the cab. He was a Muslim, about 40, from Pakistan. I do not know his name. As we rolled through the Ted Williams Tunnel, we talked about terrorism, the scanty airport traffic and his dwindling earnings. His expenses just for the taxi were $450 a day, he told me, and some days he didn't earn even $100. He was a family man with a wife and two young boys, and Boston-area rent to pay. He was very, very worried.

"Have you heard the news?" he asked. My heart sank. What now? "We bombed Afghanistan today," he reported, and we shared our misgivings about the inevitable retaliation. He turned up his radio tuned to NPR for the latest news, and we spoke with urgency and sadness. We reached Alewife all too soon, shook hands and wished each other well. Our conversation hung in the chill night air as I waited for my ride to Carlisle.

Living in Carlisle, we tend to associate with people like ourselves. We don't often have or take the opportunity to communicate with people from other cultures who lack our privileges. "Only connect," wrote E.M. Forster, and I had. Two strangers and I had forged cross-cultural links across a bridge of unparalleled tragedy, personal loss, sorrow, and growing anxiety over an uncertain future.

If we all can connect, the terrorists will never win.


2001 The Carlisle Mosquito