Monday, February 5, 2007

Waiting in Line

Fourteen degrees and I missed the bus. That did it. I flagged the first cab to come chugging and puffing up Columbia Pike. It's worth a few dollars to me to keep my toes. The driver wasn't sure if my spare change would get me as far as I wanted to go, but he let me into the oasis of heat and pulled into traffic. With pride, he looked into the rearview mirror and told me that I was his first passenger on his first day as a taxi cab driver. I offered him congratulations.

Yonas came from Ethiopia three years ago. After his father died, he came to the United States where he worked as a valet parker while learning English as a second language at Northern Virginia Community College. His words are carefully unaccented.

We whiz past the Euro-Latino Market, where, like every day, two dozen men are waiting for someone to come by and offer them work. Their heads are invisible beneath the outsized hoods of grey cotton sweatshirts, ubiquitous as uniform. Their breaths come like the puffing of miniature locomotives. Fourteen degrees does not change their reality, or, more to the point, their illegality. They will do anything for whatever anyone will pay them. The debates on immigration, raging just a few miles away, have everything to do with them and little to do with the senators waxing grandiloquent about border sanctity and "waiting in line." Waiting in line is all that they do.

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