Pam and I took our first ever Uber ride earlier today. By doing so, we gained valuable street cred from our two Millennial kids who are constantly extolling the virtues of this new transportation system. Pam downloaded the app, and before we knew it, there was our driver picking us up in front of the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Chicago. He drove a shiny Toyota Camry with the cleanest interior you ever saw. He introduced himself...Thomas.
I will now try to faithfully recreate the conversation which took place between us during the thirty minute drive to O'Hare airport. I want to do this now while it's still fresh in my mind. I never want to forget it and think it's fascinating enough to share with you for reasons that should become clear enough.
When we entered Thomas' car, Jamaican music was playing softly in the background. He spoke English with a beautiful African accent delivered in a lyrical cadence that was calming. We soon discovered that Thomas was an immigrant from Ghana who had landed in Chicago six years ago. His "real job" was with a competitor hotel across town which he assured us was far superior to the Sheraton Grand! He had been an Uber driver just on the weekends for the past year. After the basics, I asked him to tell me his honest impressions of America.
Thomas: I have only ever been in two countries, Ghana and America, so I don't know about other places, but my feeling is...and the feeling of many people I know is...that there is no place like America.
Pam: Yes, America isn't perfect by any means...
Thomas:(interrupting)...certainly not, but compared to so much of the rest of the world...no place like America.
Me: How and why did you choose Chicago?
Thomas: It is beautiful and so clean.
Me: This is my third visit here and I can tell you that compared to most other big cities, you are right, it is beautiful and clean.
Then he asked us what we had done and seen during our stay. He politely approved of our choices. Then I took a chance. I wanted to find out what a Chicagoan thought of the horrific amount of violence that has plagued this city for the past decade. Just in the four short days of our stay, 22 people were murdered, 16 of which were African-American. So far in 2016 according to the Chicago police department's numbers, 428 homicides have been committed in Chicago, the vast majority of the victims, African-American.
Me: Thomas, what's the deal with all of the murders here? In what part of the city is this happening? What is the reason for it all?
Thomas: Not in the beautiful parts, but all over really, much of it on the south side. It is so horrible. I ask myself and I ask other people, "Why are they doing this to each other? It is crazy. Much of it is turf wars over drugs. One gang sees that one neighborhood buys many drugs, so they move in to that neighborhood because they want the business, so a war breaks about between the gangs. So they continue to kill each other!! It's crazy! Then we hear about black lives matter, black lives matter...what is that?? It means nothing in Chicago because black lives don't even matter to them!! The worse is the little children, six so far this year. The other day a man pulls over to the side of the road to rest. Another man comes out of the trees and shoots him in the head for no reason, just gun play macho...it is crazy.
The more he talked the more animated he became, desperate to make us understand how crazy and meaningless it all seemed to him.
Thomas: I come from Ghana to this place where the economy is so much better, more opportunity, and this is the way people behave?
When our ride was over I wanted to hug the guy and thank him for coming to America, for working two jobs. Instead, I shook his hand and thanked him for the ride. Thomas and his shiny Camry disappeared . I will never see him again. I wondered if he lives on the south side. I wondered if he too might become one of the nameless victims of the war raging just four miles from my luxury hotel on the magnificent mile. It occurs to me that Chicago has suffered more casualties so far this year than the United States has lost in Afghanistan in the last four years combined.
On the night that Pam and I gathered with 40,000 joyous Cubs fans at Wrigley Field to watch the Cubs beat the Angels, less than ten miles away, no less than seven African-American males were gunned down in the streets.
It was not a good night for angels.