Notes from a fascinating world.
The world is like a bazaar, full of interesting odds and ends, and I've been exiled into it. This is my all-over-the-map (literally and metaphorically) attempt at capturing some of the world's many wonders.
First of all, spoiler alert, I’m fine.
My Uber driver picked me up in Mission Valley to go up to La Jolla for my friend Marina’s wedding. His name was Sohrab, an immigrant from Iran who arrived in the US only a year earlier.
I said I’d been to Iran, and we exchanged a few words in Farsi, which made him perk up. Not that he needed to perk up — the man, 40 or so, his eyes behind shades, was all smiles and with a spirit so high that one might have wondered what he was on. He was originally from the southeastern desert city of Kerman before moving to Tehran, where he worked as an engineer for 17 years. He was still learning English, he said, although we had little trouble communicating. His cousin and brother-in-law had come to Southern California before him, and now he had brought his wife and nine-year-old son. The car was new, one week since he drove it off the lot. Indeed I had noticed that new car smell when I first got in. And this was his first time driving a passenger as an Uber driver.
“Was it difficult getting approved to come to the US?” I asked.
“Oh, I am not Muslim,” he answered, clearly with the view that his religion explained it. “I am Zoroastrian.”
“Really?” I had visited several ancient fire temples in central and southern Iran. But only relatively small numbers of Zoroastrians remained in that country, concentrated — it dawned on me that this made sense — in the southeastern desert regions such as Kerman and Yazd.
We came to a stop because of traffic. And then a moment later, a rough movement in the car, a violent shake, a bang. For a moment we simply looked at each other in the eyes, in disbelief that what had to have happened had in fact happened.
Indeed we had been rear-ended. Sohrab got out of the car. There was an SUV behind us. A middle-aged blonde woman came out to meet him. A younger woman, presumably her daughter, sat in the passenger’s seat looking down as though averting her eyes from the embarrassment. Remembering that he was still learning English, I followed after Sohrab in case he needed help.
“I’m so sorry,” the woman was saying. All three of us were looking at the spot on the back of his car where the paint had been scratched, clearly the point of impact.
“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Sohrab was saying, still all smiles, though now unsure of himself amidst the confusion. “It looks okay.” In truth the impact didn’t seem to do any significant damage.
“Oh, okay,” she said. “That’s good then.”
“Thing is,” I chimed in, “I think he just bought this car.”
“Yes, last week,” Sohrab chuckled.
“Oh, my God, I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay, it’s okay. It looks fine.”
“Yeah? Okay then...” She began to walk back toward her car.
“You think maybe you should exchange insurance information?” I asked.
“Is that what we should do?” She asked innocently. “I’ve never been in a car accident before.”
“Neither have I, but to be safe I think it’s best if you give him your insurance information.”
Sohrab followed her to her car and took a photo of her insurance details on his phone before returning to our car.
“Thank you for helping me,” he said. “I just moved to this country. I don’t know what to do in an accident. Do we need to call the police?”
“If someone got hurt we might.”
“Actually...” he reached for the small of his back and frowned.
“Well, this is why you get the insurance. The accident was her fault, so her insurance should pay for the damage.”
Sohrab frowned as though confronting some great awkwardness. “I don’t think that’s necessary. I’m probably fine. The car is fine.”
“You’re too nice, you know that? That woman was about to drive off without giving you her insurance information, which she knew she was supposed to do. She knew it was her fault as well, so she wanted to get away.”
“No, I don’t think so.” Sohrab shook his head vigorously. “Americans are nice. Everyone in America is so nice. No one would be dishonest. She was just confused from the accident.”
“You think so?” I looked at this man in his 40s in the full glory of his naïveté. It was heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time.
“You’ve never had anyone treat you badly in America?”
His car had that new car smell. He had that new immigrant’s shine. Both were bound to wear off sooner or later.
Writer, traveler, lawyer, dilettante. Failed student of physics. Not altogether distinguished graduate of two Ivy League institutions. Immigrant twice over. "The grand tour is just the inspired man's way of getting home."