The Optimist

I’m standing beside my dad in front of the international terminal at LAX. We’ve just wished a friend farewell and are heading to Griffith Park for an afternoon hike. Our ride stops sharply at the curb and upon entering the vehicle we’re greeted with a booming

AAAALOHA!

My dad, having lived on Maui for much of his young adult life, exchanges some island greetings and shaka hand signs. We merge onto the the freeway.

Our driver is Hawaiian, with shoulder-length curly black hair tied in a bun crowning his large build. He easily weighs over 300 pounds and nearly fills his quadrant of the car. He tells us he’s looking for “the one” now that he’s approaching his late thirties. It’s gotten to the point that several of his family members are playing matchmaker, but every match suggested thus far hasn’t fit the bill. The last time he had a crush was at his Uncle’s wedding the previous year. A woman caught his eye. She was beautiful, but she was also a distant first cousin. Such are the hidden perils of having a large family. Our driver gleefully howled at life’s cruelty as we laughed along with him.

Prior to driving for Uber, he had been an air-conditioning technician, installing massive HVAC systems for large buildings and skyscrapers. He made good money and received half of his earnings under the table for tax purposes. Then came the accident. One day, while guiding a crane lowering an A/C unit the size of a motorhome onto the top of a building, the cables suspending the appliance snapped. The colossal unit fell nearly two stories before making contact with the building’s roof, causing its two maintenance doors to blow off their hinges. Both large plates of metal frisbee’d towards him and sliced open both his legs. He was left incapacitated and underwent two years of intense physical therapy. To make matters worse, his worker’s compensation was meager, a fraction of half the amount he was used to being paid, since only half of his pay had been officially on file with the government.

When he left physical therapy, it wasn’t because he had recovered. “I left because something else was starting to get worse,” he said while pointing at his head. My dad and I were quiet, trying to feel out how our driver felt about his own arc…and how to respond appropriately. He smiled, then laughed. “Hey, you know what? I’m still alive. I still got my brother. I still got my nephews. I can’t complain.”

We pull into a neighborhood where the signs read “NO ACCESS TO PARK FROM STREET” and drive past them. After exchanging another, albeit calmer aloha/shaka salutation, my dad and I say our goodbyes and begin our ascent towards the Hollywood sign.