"My parents died more than a decade ago. Spend time with them when you can. I am happy you are doing this."
That string of sentences did not come from a member of my extended family. Nor from my narrow circle of friends. But, from the taxi driver who dropped me off at the airport.
Perhaps it is the wannabe journalist in me that, consistent with the stereotypical writer, I almost always end up talking with the drivers. They usually have had interesting and offbeat lives, have seen a broad variety of us humans than most of us do, and have fascinating takes on existence. I am yet to meet a taxi driver who was boring--a contrast to the many in other walks of life from whom I have tried to run as fast as I can, especially when they are pompously boring or arrogantly boring.
He was punctual to the minute. At 3:45 in the morning! He already earned his tips.
A guy who has a decade on me. "Only for four years" he replied when I asked him about his taxi driving career.
Naturally, I was curious about what else he did before this. Insurance salesman, for the most part. "Sitting behind a desk, making phone calls. Insurance is just insurance. Claims are just claims. Selling is just selling" he said. It was clear that he was only a few steps away from being driven insane by the monotony of it all.
It is unfortunate that the modern life has removed from our work--for most of us--any sense of meaning in what we do. Hunter-gatherers had purposeful lives, brief as they were, when they spent their days hunting and gathering and storytelling. As Charlie Chaplin so wonderfully captured in Modern Times, our work now is, for the most part, variations of the monotony that the taxi driver experienced in the insurance business.
I know I am one of the lucky few who knows that I simply cannot do anything other than the teaching and writing and thinking that my work is, which is also what my life is about. When people ask me what I do, I am increasingly tempted to say "I am a thinker." But, I am afraid that such a response will further alienate me from people! ;) The enormous pleasure that comes from such an existence of meaningful days is simply immeasurable. I should know--from my past experiences as an electrical engineer and as a transportation planner, when everyday work was worse than what I might have experienced with Torquemada.
The taxi driver seemed happy with what he is doing now. "I have a drift boat and I go fishing with my son" he said when I asked him about his downtime passions. A younger version of him was a very different guy who went biking across the country. "I met my wife in Florida when I biked all the way to Daytona. Going to Daytona is like a pilgrimage for us bikers" he noted with a smile.
"How does your wife like Oregon, coming all the way from Florida?"
"She loves it here. We are now divorced, but are good friends. She loves it because unlike in Florida, she can truly be whatever she wants to be here in Eugene. You can always find like-minded people and create your community here."
I know. Which is why I love living in Eugene. And great it feels to get that affirmation from a taxi driver.
And now I am off to spend time with my parents when I can.