Male passenger walking away from a small car parked at the entrance to a factory.

“Notes from the Road: Culture at the Crossroads”

I get tired of talking about what I do. At least half the people who climb in the back seat ask me about what I do. Same questions. Over and over.

“So, what’s the craziest ride you’ve ever had?”

Most of the crazy shit is actually kinda depressing — you don’t want to hear about it.

“Is it true that a lot of illegal aliens are Uber drivers?”

Uber makes us document ourselves, up to but not including DNA samples yet, so no, not a lot of undocumented immigrants

“What’s the longest trip you’ve ever taken?”

Depends on what you’re going to force me to talk about.

“This trip would be over $50 in a taxi, but I’m only paying $20! How much of that do you get?”

Whatever number I say, you’re going to use that to rationalize not tipping me, despite how close you are to understanding that we First World rickshaws are your cost externalization point.

A thousand other tasteless ways of asking how much money I make that, almost without exception, lead to an awkward ride, and also, almost without exception, no tip.

“So, like, is this all you do?

Perhaps the most loaded question I ever get, and I get it a lot. The fare usually asks me after we’ve been talking for a while, and I never know what direction it’s coming from. What responses were you anticipating? What responses would make me a more or less sympathetic character in the story you’re spooling out about your gig driver in your mind? And most importantly, what answers will cause you to decide I don’t need/deserve a tip, so that I can steer clear of those, because without tips this job isn’t worth doing. It’s less than minimum wage even with tips some nights, so do NOT climb into my back seat with your $23 martini breath and play some kind of dialectic cat and mouse with me that makes it okay to justify your feudalistic attitude and class warfare and not tipping, which will only result in me having to drive more fucking hours and miles every goddamned night of the week to make up for your bullshit.


“Well, actually, my alter-ego is that of a mild-mannered reporter. I just finished interviewing a presidential candidate about 15 minutes ago.”

“Ha! That’s funny! You’re really funny! No, really — do you have another job, or do you just drive Uber or what?”

Rail-thin and erect, with a posture betraying no tendency to bend or falter, David Stuckenberg is unpresidential in a way few men have managed while still seizing the Oval Office. His calm demeanor rests in stark contrast to the intensity in his eyes, which are alternately kind and piercing. A fierce intelligence burns behind those eyes, seemingly magnified by the fact that he speaks only about things he can discuss at length with some authority. Without notes. Without a teleprompter.

I’ll write more about this contender in the Republican primary race at a later time. For now, I’ll say that I’m disappointed that a man who is so on point when it comes to topics such as climate change, resource depletion, agricultural preservation, and education can hold views that are odious, even dangerous, on the issue of the diversity.

The United States must not succumb to the failed idea of multiculturalism which has badly damaged Europe’s economy and the internal stability of multiple nations. This issue must be SOLVED, not edited.
Want immigration solved? Here’s how in two steps: 
Use the military (under Title 32) to close our borders to stop the influx.
Provide illegals already here a 60 day period to register, undergo a health screening, and a background check. They may register with NGO and victim advocates or any post-office.

Because, you know, historically, registration has never worked out badly for despised groups, right?

Seriously, though, I can’t get over the premise of multiculturalism as a failed idea. It wasn’t a failed idea when America accepted the New Colossus from France in 1903. America’s  need for workers was a primary driver of immigration policy in the first half of the 20th Century, sure, but the knock-on benefits were amazing. This country witnessed an explosion of innovation and creativity that has never been equalled since. From every corner of the world came inventors and artists, scholars and comedians, philosophers and sports heroes. 

Has there been friction? Of course. Lots. Ethnic clashes occur. But anyone who thinks modern cross-cultural conflicts are extreme in the U.S. is either ignorant or in denial of the blood that ran in the streets of our cities a century and more ago.

Ultimately, contemporary United States society is living proof of the success of Earth’s greatest multicultural experiment begun haphazardly as various Europeans imposed themselves into the lives of Indigenous peoples, many of whom probably would have been cool welcoming some number of these uninvited, undocumented immigrants to Turtle Island had they behaved themselves. We know the diversity engine works because of the ethnic ghettos that still act as landing zones for Italians, Poles, Latinos, Asians, Africans, etc., even as young members of these ethnicities grow up and venture out into the broader culture, assimilating to greater or lesser degrees. We know the experiment is a success because, through intercultural love and lust, we have millions of kids born every year whose 23andMe profiles would reveal some crazy combinations of heritage and lineage. We see political campaign signs planted in people’s yards these days for candidates of such a diversity (in metropolitan areas, anyway) that would likely have shocked and appalled the Founding Fathers.

And we know that even within these enclaves, assimilation into American identity occurs. Sometimes the transition is slow or partial as with “La GIGANTE Meat Market.” Sometimes the evolution bears wistful markers of tradition as the sign for “La Mejor Bodega” gets hastily plastered over with one for “Garcia Deli Mini-Market” as new, younger owners take over.

And, of course, culture, especially culinary culture, gets exported out of the ghettos as Anglo tourists take home cannolis from Modern Pastry in the North End or house-made pierogis from PolMart in New Britain’s Broad Street neighborhood.

Of course…Major Stuckenberg’s use of the term, “multiculturalism,” may have a different connotation than mine. In describing the effects of multiculturalism on Europe’s economy, I don’t suspect he’s referring to waves of Germans on holiday in the Côte d’Azur, for example. I’m thinking his invaders are coming up from Brown South.

Peter couldn’t speak a word of English. I’ve heard plenty of Brazilian Portuguese spoken before, but his dialect was new to me, delivered in punchy staccato blasts. I wasn’t even sure it was Portuguese at first when he issued instructions that contradicted the GPS fully in his native tongue looking me straight in the face. I tried to smile as apologetically as I could and explain that I didn’t know the language he was speaking or what he wanted me to understand. Again, he pointed in the direction opposite that which the Uber GPS was instructing me and let loose a torrent of frustrated directions.

Then I had an idea. I pulled up Google Translate on my phone, dictated my question, “You say we need to go left?” into the source text box, set to English, and then pointed to the output language text box, and he scrolled down to Portuguese and tapped “Translate.” Momentarily, I heard the voice of Siri repeat my question, “Você diz que precisamos ir para a esquerda?”

He laughed out loud and whipped out his own phone, and spoke into his own translator. I soon learned that if we took a left, instead of following the provided directions, we’d avoid about a dozen sets of traffic lights. And so we were off.

I drove and we carried on a fairly sophisticated, if choppy and segmented, conversation. From the back seat, he held his phone near my cheek, and translated all that I said into Portuguese and all that he said into English. Interestingly, he chose to have his phone speak my half of the dialogue out loud, so I got to feel equally included and invested in the conversation. No matter that everything we both said was uttered in the voice of a synthetic twenty-three year old female.

We discovered that my Spanish wasn’t such a disaster and his passable, so that we occasionally tried to share a common understanding via a common, if mutually foreign, tongue.

When we arrived at Peter’s destination, he didn’t just hop out and awkwardly cut the conversation short, but thanked me profusely in English via his phone. I told him via mine that I’d really enjoyed talking with him. He reached across the seat and I shook his hand with a warm “buenos noches.” He offered “boa noite” in reply.

Pulling away from his neighborhood, I asked Google Maps to find a “supermarket near me,” and before long, I was in the produce section in the Stop & Shop in Everett. Boxed caprese salad in hand, I wandered the aisles in search of some Monster energy drink and maybe some chips. Fairly late in the evening though it was, the store was busy. Around me I heard a chorus of languages and saw such a variation in skin and hair and mannerisms and dress. While English-speaking White folks weren’t exactly in a minority, they were in about the same ratio of representation as everyone else. Commerce was absolutely unimpeded by the wealth of diversity pushing shopping carts around. And when non-native speakers rolled up to the self check-out lanes, they just selected their preferred language, scanned their purchases, and paid, with no one giving a rat’s ass that the shoppers may still barely have a rudimentary grasp of English after living in the country for five or ten or twenty years.

I left the store and headed to nearby “Jay’s Pizza” to pair a slice with my salad. Of all the pizza joints on the North Shore, I had to pick the place that doesn’t put enough cheap tomato sauce and discount mozzarella to cover up the tasteless cardboard crust. I washed it all down with Monster and steered my ship back to Boston.

Forty-five minutes later, my car is filled with the scent of really. expensive. perfume. I’d picked up Madelyn in the Financial District and was chauffeuring her up to Peabody. I learned that she was originally from Revere, which I’d already sorta guessed. I also pieced together that she was some sort of tax lawyer or consultant who likely didn’t get out bed for less than a couple grand. She was maybe my age, maybe a little younger, and she oozed the confidence of a woman powerful enough not to worry too much about threats from peers or ambitious underlings.

“So, is driving your main thing or do you have other work?”

“Well, my alter-ego is of a mild-mannered reporter, actually. I interviewed a candidate for President of the United States this morning.”

“Oh yeah? Which one?”

I told her and gave a brief rundown on his background.

Hmmm…I haven’t heard of him. A Republican you say? What did you make of him?

I told her about some of the planks in Stuckeberg’s platform.

She fairly howled with laughter. “Militarize the borders with Canada and Mexico? What’s that supposed to do? Does he really think the bad guys can’t find another way in? Another publicity stunt from a politician who doesn’t have a clue — didn’t we just suffer through four years of that already?”

I dropped her off and charted a course to the Mass Pike. As I drove the breadth of the Commonwealth on my way home, I contemplated what it would mean to eliminate multiculturalism in America. What would that process look like? Would it begin with a deadline for migrants to turn themselves in? Would it begin with tattoos and microchipping? Will diversity be rounded up and placed behind razor wire in the middle of the desert? To what end? And who will speak up if it does? Who will dare write about it?

When I got home, I checked my phone and saw that Madelyn had tipped me $20 through the app in addition to the $20 she slipped into my palm on her way out the door of my little Honda cab. The people who get it — my favorite type of minority.

So, is driving all you do?

Yeah, I’m a rideshare driver — this is my thing. Happy to talk about it. What do you want to know?

Jason Velázquez

Jason Velázquez has worked in print and digital journalism and publishing for two decades.
Phone: (413) 776-5125

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