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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Abandon All Preconceived Notions Ye Who Enter Here

The Story of Driss Aqil

There should be a sign at every tunnel or bridge approaching New York City, at every NYC airport, bus and train station, and on the door of every New York City taxicab, which boldly proclaims:
Abandon All Preconceived Notions Ye Who Enter Here.

If you are unwilling to heed this admonition, be prepared to have all your stereotypes, biases, racial or ethnic profiling and distinctions made by class or job seriously challenged.
Of course, generalities do generally apply. Typically, you don't find an adjunct professor of Mathematics and Ph.D candidate driving a taxi. But I said typically, not a very useful word in New York City.

I rarely take taxis these days unless I have to transport heavy objects or loads, which was the case on Thursday, October 14th. I often strike up conversation with drivers, and this driver seemed particularly astute. There was attention and intention when he listened to my destination address. I had the sense that his whole demeanor was saying - Ok, I know where you are going and the best way to get you there. Like an expert surgeon performing a routine task, lie back and leave the cutting to me. We cut through traffic as we conversed.

I became engrossed with the details of his life and accomplishments in the United States of this Moroccan immigrant. We were both excited to meet - he commented he had more conversation with me in a few short minutes than he had in the last 10 years. However the taxi ride was very short, so we agreed he would follow up with the details of his life by email - he wrote his name, Driss Aqil, and email address clearly on a receipt.

I was very disappointed when my first email to him was bounced back. A number of friends examined his name and concluded that I misread the q as g in Aqil. However, although the following emails were not bounced, they were not answered either. Until last night. They had gone into his spam box. He answered the questions I had outlined. Here are some bullet points of the bio Driss emailed me:

Born in Fquih Ben Salah a small town situated about 3 hours from Casablanca. Worked in Morocco in oil drilling and exploration for about 8 years. Came to the USA in 1989. Lived in the YMCA on 34 street in Manhattan for a few weeks. Worked at LTR Jeans as a stock boy, became warehouse manager and store manager shortly after.

Moved to Bay Ridge (Brooklyn), Astoria (Queens) and finally moved to Bensonhurst when married.

Drove a a New York City taxi since 1996 till now.

Education in USA:
- Associate in computer Sciences( Honors) Phi Theta Kappa, NYCCT, CUNY. Bachelor in financial applied mathematics. Magna Cum Laude, Tau Sigma Honors NYCCT,CUNY. Masters in Applied Mathematics, Queens College, CUNY. Post- Baccalaureate program from Queens College, certified as secondary school mathematics teacher. Currently an adjunct professor of mathematics.

Of course, there were tales of various celebrities Driss picked up and other stories while driving a taxi. He also had two articles published in the inaugural issue of City Tech Writer: A Thought on “The Struggle for Existence from the Point of View of the Mathematicians" and The Anchor Effect Discussed in A "Mathematician Plays the Stock Market"

And finally, Driss says in his email:

"Driving a Taxi allowed me to accomplish my studies. My goal is to get my PHD in mathematics in the near future, write a book about my experiences in driving the taxi in NYC."

Another installment in New York City's live drama, Abandon All Preconceived Notions Ye Who Enter Here :)


Anonymous said...

That's exactly why I love NYC and moving back after 30+ years.

Luis Gomez said...

Excellent! What a great story Brian!

Brian Dubé said...

Anonymous - You won't be disappointed.

Luis - Thanks. I felt really good about this story. Glad to see it resonates.

Oakland Daily Photo said...

This story is a lesson in practicing common courtesy and showing interest in others. While this man is more than he seemed, he also is exactly as he seemed: someone who drives a cab that you knew nothing about. It is only when we really learn to listen and keep our presumptions reined in, do we start to know another person. Most people are too self-involved to show interest in a stranger. Bravo.

Anonymous said...

Great story!

Mary P. said...

As "Oakland Daily Photo" said, how great that you were able to ferret out this story.

Brian Dubé said...

Oakland Daily Photo - So well put. Bravo!

Anon, Mary - thanks.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you took the time to talk to this man who drives a taxi. Sadly most people think can drivers are uneducated or just plain lazy to go get that "real" job. This man just shot down that theory.

Steffe said...

I love stories like this one. I met a cool character last summer. Took his photo and he wrote down his email. It also bounced and I haven't been able to find the correct email address.

Steve Scauzillo said...

I am new to your blog but enjoy it very much. This story was special to me, as a former New Yorker (living in LA) and as a journalist. I love finding out what's in people's hearts and what makes them go. I, too, am an adjunct professor and yes, I dream of getting my PhD someday to become a full time professor in media. So thanks for the inspiration. I am not surprised I found it in New York. They are the best people.

Adee said...

this is maybe the first time i'm commenting on ur blog. i loved this post and it is stories like these that put a context to the photographs. please do keep sharing :) and yes, thanks!

adee, New Delhi, India