2011-08-11

Quality Time Alone in America

It has been a very long time since I have been alone in America for an extended stay. Typically, when I take trips back to the States, it is to visit friends and family or to go on some sort of vacation with my wife. Therefore, while I always enjoy my stay, I am seldom afforded an opportunity to spend time alone, interacting with "the locals" in a way that would expose me to their comparative differences from the Canadians I have been living with for the past eight years of my life. And of course, I would have no opportunity to analyze those differences.

It's easy to step back and proclaim that Americans are X and Canadians are Y and either X > Y or Y > X. That's the cheap and easy way out.

No, today, I'd like to offer a short story.

This morning I took a taxi to my foreign working location. The driver did a good job of getting me there in a hurry, and was friendly and efficient, to boot. So, when he handed me his business card and invited me to call him when I needed a ride to the airport that afternoon, I slipped the card into my wallet and figured he'd get me there as well as anyone else would.

The first item of comparison involved in this story is the notion that, here in Boston, Massachusetts, finding a good taxi driver requires a bit of networking. At first I rejected this as overly laborious, but after paying a bit too much for a cab a time or two, I figured it was better to do as the Romans do when in Rome. There is nothing quite like this in Canada, in my experience. Why some taxi drivers will pass you a business card from time to time, they express no competitive desire for your business. They are practically ambivalent. They don't seem to enjoy their jobs, and they seem very displeased with their passengers, usually. Here in Boston, taxi passengers get the royal treatment. Drivers want your business, and it shows.

As I was saying, that afternoon, I called up MG, my taxi driver. He answered professionally, and I told him I needed a ride to the airport. Immediately, MG said, "I drove you to work this morning. I'll be there in ten minutes." He was.

I got in the cab, and MG immediately struck up a conversation with me about anything he could. He is one of many Haitian taxi drivers in Boston (I had a number of Haitian drivers during my three-day stay in this fine city). Naturally, he asked me about whether people spoke much French in Ottawa, and whether I myself spoke French. He started ribbing me about why I wasn't from Vancouver, alluding to the vivacious rivalry between the respective hockey teams of Boston and Vancouver .As we drove, he pointed out where the Bruins play here in town.

The MG started telling me that he was saving up all his money to buy his own taxi. Currently, he leases his taxi from the cab company. Soon, he'll be able to buy his own and strike out on his own. MG intends to start his own taxi cab company.

I challenge you to find one Canadian taxi cab driver who not only wants to strike out on his own, but one day own his own fleet; who not only harbors this ambition, but happily shares his plans with his passengers. (Naturally, MG made sure to tell me I should call him any time I'm in Boston for business or pleasure, and to give his number to all my friends who may be traveling to Boston.)

Not many Canadians have these kind of grand professional designs. If they do, they certainly don't discuss it with their passengers. This is the punchline of the whole story. MG is a proud and ambitious entrepreneur.

MG is everything America is supposed to be. He's an immigrant, working-class, but with his eyes dead-set on a self-made white-collar life. He happily takes advantage of any chance to discuss his Haitian culture and its unique interests, but loves America for what it is. ("Boston is really nice," he told me, "It's diverse. A lotta different kinds of people. It's quiet in this neighborhood, but downtown there's a lot to do.")

This kind of happy business spirit is something I have so dearly missed during my time in Canada. MG isn't just neat guy I met during a business trip to Boston. In many respects, there's a little MG in every self-respecting American out there.

To be sure, there are plenty of ambitious Canadians out there. I even know many of them, who have successful businesses of their own, who like to invest, who plan on going into future businesses. The difference is that in order to discover this about them, I had to sit down and get to know them. I had to spend a lot of time with my entrepreneurial Canadian to learn just how ambitious they were.

Here in the United States, people wear it on their shirtsleeves. Any clerk, taxi driver, or college student will happily tell you what kind of business they intend on starting, what they're saving their money for, why they're so hungry for your business.

The angry, condescending leftists of the world have the nerve to call this kind of all-consuming happiness and pride "greed" or a hundred other such epithets. They paint the whole process as though it were a crass, craven, suffocating boor. This engine of personal pride and ambition, of jobs, production, and providing for one's family, to the anti-capitalist, appears to be nothing more than repulsive American cowboyishness.

Ladies and gentlemen, it's good to be back. Let the haters hate. Give the Canadian snobs their government jobs and subsidized grad schools. Spending a sum total of about 20 minutes today with a taxi driver named MG has reminded me of everything that is wonderful about American culture.

...If only the American politicians would find their way to Boston and take a cab ride with MG.