Photo of a girl dressed for her quinceanera.

Dressed for quinceanera.

By Jacqui Banaszynski

Reporter friends after swap tales about the stories and tips they picked up from cabbies when they travel on assignments. That’s seldom been successful for me. First, I’m not big on man-on-the-street type reporting; it usually feels superficial, like hearing opinions without perspective or the ability to probe further. Second, not all cabbies are natural storytellers or interesting in sharing their history, though a lot of them, if they’re talkers, like to kvetch about bad traffic and bad pay. Third, I’m usually fretting over the actual assignment ahead of me, so disconnected chatter comes as a distraction.

But last week I was stuck in traffic en route to the airport after several days of writing workshops. The workshops were good but exhausting, several of my flights were delayed, I barely had time to scan the news and now a 30-minute trip to the airport was stretching beyond 90 minutes.

The latter, which should have been the most draining, also offered the biggest delight: a Lyft/Uber driver who used the time to tell me how he calculates his part-time driving income as he banks money for his daughter’s upcoming quinceañera. She turns 15 next April. Before then, he needs to make enough money to secure the all-inclusive event hall ($16,500, which was discounted from $24,000 through a friend). So he’s driving a night shift (five hours a night), selling $10 raffle tickets for prizes donated by other friends (among them: an 88-inch TV and a PlayStation 5) and facelifting the interior of his garage so his wife can take in more manicure clients or, as he said, “do more nails, including toes.”

All of this came up because the traffic we were stuck in was so horrific that the trip took three times the standard time, which of course made his Lyft pay worth one-third what it should have been. He wasn’t complaining. I started the conversation by thanking him for showing up for my trip to the airport after I was ghosted on the app by three other assigned Lyft drivers, no doubt after they checked rush-hour traffic. My three-minute wait for Ricardo soon turned to 20, and I watched his car sit and sit and sit in one spot on the screen, fretting that he, too, would bail. When he showed up, to my great relief, I asked him why he was willing to accept the ride.

The rest was 90 minutes of a great story in which I learned a lot. When I got out of his car at the airport, I thanked him again, handed him $20 but told him to keep the raffle tickets — then suggested that when it comes time for his daughter to get married, maybe he should encourage her to elope. He smiled and shook his head: “She’s my only daughter.”

Once I was in the airport, through security and sipping a bad margarita while waiting for yet another delayed flight, I realized I had forgotten to ask how much it would cost for his daughter’s dress. But I did ask if he had other children. Answer: One. A son. When his turn comes, he wants a car.

I make it a silent mission to notice some little story that life hands me every day. This was a fine one, and if I still worked in a newsroom that covered an area with a significant Latino population, I would have walked in with a golden assignment about culture, tradition, family and the economy.

I also would have had a reminder to keep my mind and ears open. Sometimes that’s when the magic happens.

Most popular articles from Nieman Storyboard