What’s said and isn’t said along the way

13 January 2007 | cabbies, chicago, coach class, strangers, travel | No Comments

On the way to the airport, my cabbie tells me that his sister and brother are also in California, but if he can’t get his wife and six-year-old son over to America in the next year, he’s going back to Mongolia. “It’s so hard, you know. So much trouble getting into the country. I call every night, though. I talk to my son every night, ten minutes. He tells me about what happens at school. He loves school!”

He prefers it here, though. He works hard and can save a couple grand a month. Back home, as an agricultural trader of some sort, working in an office, he would only make two or three hundred dollars. He speaks Russian fluently, having had a lot of Russian contacts and clients at his old job. Over here, everything is so expensive: health insurance, sending your kids through school, buying a house… but he’d rather stay here. In Mongolia, there’s nothing to do.

He works another job at a five-star restaurant in the city, as a valet parker, and is amazed at how penny-pinching rich people can be. “These bitches, like a guy, he only give me a dollar for parking his $150,000 car. Four people, they go and spend, what, $600 on dinner? And this guy can only give me one dollar? Fucking rich people,” he tells me, and I’m inclined to agree. “But they not all bad,” he says, “Some guy will give me twenty dollar, and I’ll smile and say, ‘Thank you very much, sir,’ but I have to do the same thing for these bitches that just give me a dollar. So crazy.”

I wish him luck in getting his family over here when he drops me off at the airport. Inside, I get in line, twenty minutes before the cut-off point for my flight. The line winds around once. A couple in their eighties are in front of me, both stereotypically short. She has him fill out a new tag for his suitcase, and he looks around his stuff for a flat surface to write on. He ends up writing carefully on the pull-out handle of his wheeled luggage. While he fills out the tag, the line moves on without him. “C’mon, Neff!” his wife calls, when he gets too far behind.

On the flight, I’m sitting next to two people making connections to Ottawa. “For Thanksgiving?” the guy in the aisle seat asks of the woman sitting next to me. “No,” she responds, shaking her head. She doesn’t say anything about Canadian Thanksgiving being a month before the American one, and I make it a point–politely, I hope–to not point out I can tell she’s from Canada, as she says “aboat.” As in: “This flight is aboat four hours long.” She and I agree that “Happy Feet” looks like it’ll be a cute movie. I tell them both that usually United will announce the terminals for connecting flights once we land, but they never do. I also tell them that they’ll probably get to go through the rainbow tunnel. “Pretty psychedelic?” the woman sitting next to me tries to clarify the experience. More new-agey, I say. All pastels along the walls and sequenced neon up above.

At O’Hare, I am struck once again by the familiarity of it all, when journeys used to start and not end here. Right before one would descend into the rainbow tunnel, a booth has been set up where travelers can purchase a flu shot. Since I’m going to be around people all week, I do this. The side-effects, the woman tells me, could include a sore arm for the next day, perhaps a slight fever. The shot contains a dead flu, which she tells me can’t make me sick. Before I get the shot, she answers some questions being asked by an airline pilot. He’s trying to figure out if he’ll be able to get a flu shot at his doctor’s appointment in a few days. She says it’s likely, but she can’t guarantee it. He thanks her, starts calling his doctor, and walks to the escalator. “Man, I’m sorry if this sounds unprofessional, but I’m so glad to get rid of that guy,” she tells me. “You know how you have your favorite five on your phone? I looked over and saw he has his doctor as one of his favorites. You can imagine what happens then.” Hypochondriac? I ask. She nods, making “Mmhmm” noises. I barely feel the needle as another woman sticks it into my arm. She puts a band-aid on it afterwards.

I get a phonecam shot of the rainbow tunnel. I can’t help it. I don’t know when I’ll be back this way again. I had intended to visit Chicago more often once I moved to the west coast, but in the last three years, a lot of my travel budget has been burned up by funerals.

I’ve taken my time getting to the baggage claim, as lately whenever I fly, it takes forever for luggage to appear on the appointed carousel, but this time I go there and find my suitcase swinging around with a few others, no one hanging around. I’ve missed all the action. Suitcase in tow, I get a taxi and tell him which intersection to take me. We say nothing for most of the trip. I pull out my phone, check email. I fire off a text to an old friend. She returns the message almost immediately.

Hello! I’ve arrived in Chicago. xoxo

Fabulous! Are you heading over to k’s?

Yeah, he’s supposed to meet me at that thai restaurant, Yes, at Damen/Foster. I’m in the cab now, heading east on Foster.

Oh yeah, that place has good noodles…

Indeed. All i’ve had today was a muffin and some orange juice. Hungry. Rawr.

I want some orange juice…open your mouth

Bahahahaha! I’ve missed you. 🙂


The orange juice has been consecrated in the holy oral orifice of St. J of Watusi, forever fake leather, amen. California oranges. Taste the fruity.

I love california oranges…they’re my second favorite fruit…


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