Just Here’s Fine

As noted in a previous post, I enjoy chatting with cab drivers, on the rare occasion that I do take a cab. Sometimes I want a quiet ride, and sometimes they want a quiet ride, but it’s nice to at least test the waters with small talk and see where it will go. People are interesting and you may learn something, hear a great story, get some (unsolicited) advice, or a tip about the city. Plus it’s just friendly to talk to someone you’re sitting in a car with.

So, it’s fair to say I really like this project I recently stumbled upon, Just Here’s Fine: a look at the lives of London’s cab drivers. The artist, Victoria Hannan, shares a photo and brief bio of cab drivers from around London. Each driver is completely different, has a different reason for choosing this job, has their own routine and habits, has their own crazy stories.. things you would never know by looking at all drivers as the same person. Victoria breaks each interviewee down into their own person.

Everyone has a story and a life you don’t see, especially if they are in a profession where only formalities are exchanged: “I’m going to Penn Station, thanks”, “Can I please have a medium iced coffee with skim milk?”, “Do you take credit?”, “No, there will be nothing else, thanks for your help.”, “We’ll take the check.” Most of these interactions are strictly business with no room for anything else, which is fine, but it’s nice now and then to get to know people as, and make them feel like, more than just the person who hands you your morning bagel or drives you from point A to point B. You never know what you will get out of it, even a “hello, how are you, beautiful day” and a simple “thank you” will probably brighten their day as well as yours, and maybe it will be passed on to the next person. Cab rides seem to provide opportunities for a more extensive conversation, which is maybe why the artist chose cab drivers as her subject for this project.

If you’ve ever visited a Trader Joe’s (if you haven’t you’re really missing out) you know well how the interactions at the checkout lines go. The cashiers are all so freakin friendly and chatty. It’s obviously a prerequisite to be able to start a conversation with a stranger. They offer more than just a “Hi.” I’ve been asked how my day is going, what I have planned, and have found myself joking around with the cashier. It makes some people uncomfortable, admittedly including myself at times, because we unfortunately live in a society where not talking to people we don’t know, even if they are helping us or sharing an experience with us, is normal, but I love that Trader Joe’s does this. I feel like they’re breaking people’s guards down one perfectly packed recyclable bag at a time. One time the cashier saw I had the makings for “guaco”, ie guacamole, in my basket but was missing cilantro, and offered to go get it for me because he knew exactly where it was and “you can’t have guacamole without cilantro!” He left me at the register with a line forming and went all the way to the other side of the store to get it so that my guacamole wasn’t missing cilantro. He wasn’t even going to get to eat the guacamole! It’s these little gestures and interactions that restore faith in humanity and makes us feel connected, which is why I’m really enjoying Just Here’s Fine.

Arranged Marriages

I am not one who takes cabs. I far prefer hopping on the subway for a fraction of the cost, and this has been true in each of the 3 cities I have lived in over the past 10 years. Sure, if I’m with a group who wants to take a cab I’ll join, but if I’m solo you will only find me in a cab if I’m either running very very late or coming home by myself late at night. Or the two times in Buenos Aires when a cab substituted as my moving truck.

When I do take a cab, however, I enjoy chatting with the cab driver. If I’m with a group of more than 3, I’ll always hop in the front. I’m interested in hearing other people’s stories and feel awkward sitting quietly while another person drives me around. In New York cabs conversation can be difficult due to the partition, which makes the driver and passenger feel very separated. This didn’t get in the way of my cab driver last Tuesday night.

It was a coming-home-by-myself-late-at-night kind of situation plus a dead phone that made me cough over the money for the Manhattan to Brooklyn door to door service. I knew I wanted a safe ride home but I had no idea I was looking for dating advice.

My cab driver was from Bangladesh, moved here 14 years ago, and brought his wife over a couple of years ago. I dug a little deeper into the relationship, mainly because I was curious how they managed living in different countries while they were married, and I found out they were in an arranged marriage. A few years ago he was ready to get married so his mom, the rest of his immediate family, and relatives researched the female options for him over in his home country, weeding out the bad apples, and came up with this woman who is now his wife. He met her and liked her, went home and told his mom so, and a couple days later they were married.

In America, arranged marriages are completely foreign to us. It’s just not the way we operate when it comes to love. In countries like Bangladesh, the way we find love is completely foreign to them.

“You have it hard here. It’s very difficult to make the decision all by yourself of who you will marry and spend your life with. It’s a lot of pressure on one person. You don’t have the community helping you make sure you meet the right one,” says my cab driver.

Hmm. When you put it that way…

He strongly believes in your siblings, mom, neighbors, etc. playing matchmaker. They check out the potential spouse’s family, where they’re from.. Maybe it’s even someone you grew up with. Each of your matchmakers gives their opinion on your behalf and you have no say until you are finally introduced to the group’s choice.

And the divorce rate is lower in his country than America, he tells me. I ask if it’s illegal or looked down upon, thinking that is the reason. No, it is legal, and some people do it, but rarely. So much thought and research has gone into finding the right person for you that love does come. He values his marriage, telling me that when each party works so hard all day at their job, they should come home to happiness, not fighting.

I had never discussed arranged marriages with someone who was in one himself. The conversation was fascinating to me, shedding a whole new perspective on relationships. As a single woman I certainly pondered this cab ride afterwards. Although we like to think we know ourselves better than anyone else, it does seem like a lot of pressure to choose your mate for life all by yourself.

On the other hand, although we don’t have arranged marriages in the States, do we really make this decision alone? No, I don’t think so. Most of us are lucky enough to have family and friends who we go to for advice. They meet your significant other eventually, and either volunteer their opinion or are asked for it. I don’t think any of my friends have felt “alone” in their search for a mate. I value my friend’s and family’s opinions greatly. However, after hearing about my cab driver’s experience, I think I will value getting my friend’s opinion on guys I date even more. It doesn’t hurt to have a second (or third or fourth or fifth) opinion.

M