Yes, they do jobs many of us certainly would avoid at all costs.
It's an old argument, and no one ever really prevails in the end.
You probably know how it goes. Someone says something about immigrants coming to America to "steal jobs" from hard-working American citizens. Typically, the person making the statement is referring to illegal immigrants, but deep down the person is probably open to lumping all immigrants into one category when it comes to things they steal from us.
Then someone else counters with something about the immigrants happily doing jobs that too many Americans think they're above doing.
I think what the first person needs to do every once in a while is broaden his horizons. Literally. He needs to step away from his circle of golf buddies and their predictable, macho talk overloaded with depressed-life cliches as they shank drives and complain about missed putts. He needs to take a break from obsessing over who to start in the fourth wide receiver roster slot on his fantasy football team. He needs to stop under-appreciating his wife and maybe ask his kids what they learned in school that day.
And he needs to travel to a big city once in a while.
There, you will find immigrants who do jobs that most American citizens don't want to do. The hours are irregular, inconvenient, and likely don't leave a lot of spare time for quality family bonding in the living room. The work is often tedious, stressful, physically exhausting, and even gross.
They're happy to have a paycheck every couple weeks, because they need the money...their family needs the money. They're beyond polite. They're chatty. They're positive. They're enthusiastic. They're hopeful. They’re living the dream.
I went to Chicago for more "regional editor" business last week. At the airport, I didn't get my shoes shined, but I sat close enough to the shoe-shine guy to engage in some small-talk banter while he waited for his next customer. The jovial Turkish man blew me away with his outlook on things, and when a customer eventually took a seat in the elevated chair, I eavesdropped from a slight distance long enough to know that he didn't use the same material with the customer as he did on me. He offered up an entirely new package of inspirational thoughts.
I got a ride downtown on my last night there by a shuttle company that contracts with the hotel I stayed at. I was meeting a classmate who's called Chicago home for years. The driver's GPS unit earlier that day had fallen off her dash and broke, and the Lebanese woman behind the wheel was doing the best job she could of pretending that she could get me where I needed to go without that handy little technological device. An hour later, with us lost and me getting directions to the restaurant from my friend via my cell phone, I found myself reassuring the Lebanese immigrant that it was no big deal, and that I was not upset.
When it became clear that we were now on the right street and I'd be at my destination shortly, the apologies started flowing. She was a little emotional, too. Getting a tongue-lashing courtesy of your boss over the phone will do that to a person. Getting out, I paid her $10 extra and told her to keep the change. She refused and kept apologizing. "I ruined your night. Your friend is waiting so long," she said.
I told her to keep her chin up.
"My chin up?" she asked me, perplexed.
"Stay positive," I responded.
"I always try!" she said as she rolled up the window and drove off with a smile.
Hours later, looking for a cab ride back to my hotel in the suburbs, the first taxi driver, an American, refused to give me an estimate on what the 25-minute-or-so ride would cost me. "That's a long way," he said. "It could be a lot."
My savvy Chicago friend tried to work him a little bit. "Are you going to take care of my friend or not?" she said. "Can you keep it below 80 bucks?"
"Maybe, maybe not,” he said. “That’s a long way.”
So I strolled to the next cab up the street.
"What wrong?" the driver with the thick, mysterious accent wondered. "He not want to give you a ride?"
I told him he wouldn't give me a cost estimate. So he asked me where I was heading. Lombard, I told him. He flipped open a big book, found Lombard on the alphabetized list, looked me in the eye and said it would be $67 to ride in his cab. "I'll put in a flat rate, so you not pay a penny more," he said. “That’s my word.”
Into the back seat I climbed.
In a cab, typically, it's either nothing but deafening silence, or constant talk. With this Albanian immigrant, it was definitely the latter. I learned everything you could about the guy and his family over the next 20 minutes or so. How they’re trying to get used to Bears football even though their traditional sport of choice is soccer. I learned about all the great restaurants located within walking distance of my hotel. His brother, the driver said, cooks at one of them.
“I washed dishes there for a while on the weekends,” he said, adding that he was able to quit when the taxi company gave him more hours.
“But you must eat there next time you’re here...incredible Mexican food,” he said.
So, I said, “your brother from Albania makes incredible Mexican food?”
“Incredible!” he responded. “You go. You must go.”
I’ll make a point to do just that.