I talked to him, not with him. But he seemed to like what I had to say. Encouraged, I continued.
The driver picked me up in his late model, cobalt blue Infiniti after my previous Uber driver had failed to find me, and then lighted into me for doing as he ordered in relocating to the opposite side of the street. The driver’s predecessor had called me a second time to browbeat me, which is when I decided, as the driver would say later, that “we wouldn’t be doing business today.”
I was happy to be doing business with the driver, though. He had a cool, easy way as he guided the nimble sedan through the Atlanta traffic and out into the highway, where he proceeded to change lanes at speed with the ease of a baseball player idly bouncing a ball off his bicep and into his palm. His car was immaculate, the leather giving off its rich, agrarian scent in the warm spring weather.
“You know, a part of me agrees with Trump, with this fake news and everything,” the driver said, talking into the rear-view mirror. “You know, I can understand why people have become so closed off. You can’t trust anything you read.”
I explained to him what I did for a living, how I used to be a newspaperman. How fake news is an unfortunate byproduct of a free press that’s limited by a crippled business model. That there isn’t enough time or manpower in most newsrooms to do the due diligence.
The driver understood. I don’t know if he was just being a good businessman and looking to seek common ground, or if he was one of the few remaining Americans who don’t despise the media. He wore a Bob Marley t-shirt and a closely cropped head of hair. The driver was a veteran. He was quick to point out that the wars didn’t leave him scarred, but he felt as though the country had turned its back on members of the military.
“It’s disheartening,” he said, “that you would ask someone to risk it all and then leave them out on the street. You’re telling me you can’t free up enough VA beds? That’s just wrong, man. That’s just wrong.”
Our talk turned to the state of American communities, on how we no longer communicate, on how corporate interests have usurped the interests of the people, the very life force of democracy in America.
This was a man, I thought, who gets it.
“It starts with conversations like this one,” he said. “Around dinner tables, community organizations. Churches. That’s how it’s going to change. People need to get it. Right now, they don’t get it. You get it. They’re all just sheep or cows with their heads down, one following the other. They’re happy. They’ve got their cell phones and their TV and their fake news. They’re happy. But you man, you get it. You’ve got to keep doing what you’re doing. You’ve got to keep having conversations like this. Keep doing what you’re doing. Keep talking”
He slowed to a crawl as we neared the far end of the Delta Terminal. I was morose, having to leave Georgia for the glow of the oil refineries along the Arthur Kill. But I was tired from covering another conference, and the thought of a cold beer on a comfortable suburban couch in the northeast was enough of a jolt to energize me for the remainder of the journey. In a few hours, I’d be breathing in the sour, smoggy air of the meadowlands. The terminal was looming into view.
“You ever watch any of this Flat Earth stuff,” he asked.
I froze, my foot hovering a half-inch above the landmine. The entire cab ride had been building toward this moment. I fumbled for words and the best I could come up with was, “No. Not familiar with it.” I told him he could let me out at the far end of the terminal. But he didn’t hear me, or chose not to.
“You know, I’ve been watching a bunch of these YouTube videos, and it really makes you question everything. Everything we’ve been lead to believe. You just can’t trust any of it. I …”
“Yeah, uh, not sure what you’re talking about. You can let me out here though.”
He stopped and I unlocked the door manually before he could hit the button. I stood behind the car, waiting for the trunk lid to open so I could bolt. It did, and I hoisted my burdens back to my shoulders. I turned to face him and shook his hand. This man was a veteran. He deserved my respect.
“I’m telling you, man. You need to check it out. A man such as yourself would appreciate it. We need more people to know what…”
“I’ll look into it when I get home.”
I turned and walked through the automatic doors into the terminal, relieved to be headed to the cynical northeast.