Ben Zoldan in Stories | January 26, 2016 | No Comments

Rushing Home

I just finished up a workshop up in the Bay Area yesterday. It was an incredibly emotional workshop, with an incredible crew from Salesforce. When we finished, I felt so great, super excited to get home to share that feeling with my family. I was missing them so much after being away for a few days. We wrap up a little late; it’s 1:45pm, I’m in downtown San Fran, and I have a 2:50pm flight at SFO. My excitement turns to stress, because I’m running late. I hustle to the airport, barely make the flight, only because its delayed. I land at LAX and its like 4:30, hop into an Uber, and it’s a nightmare.

I learn that Obama had just landed at LAX like 45 minutes earlier. And traffic was crazy nuts. Unlike anything I’m used to, and I’m from LA. I’m so bummed at this point, hyper-stressed with my driver when I get into his car. I was like, “Can we make a left here.” And, “Can we go this way…” I didn’t even stop to acknowledge there was another human being taking care of me. I didn’t pay any attention to myself at the time – I was just barking orders at him. I wanted to get home so so badly. You know that feeling? I don’t think I looked at him once, nor did I ask him even how he was doing. And it’s getting more stressful because we are not moving. It’s complete gridlock from all the streets being blocked off because of the President.

I’m texting my wife, “I’m stuck in traffic, I’m not moving.”

And after a few minutes, I look up in the rear view mirror and see the driver’s face. I saw a look of what I could only describe as total disgust towards me. And in that instant, I felt so bad.

So I try to restart with “How is your day going?” He kind of smiled, and made a joke about the traffic, and about Obama being in town. But he was so sweet, as if he was trying to make me feel better, even though I was the one being a prick. We start chatting. And I apologized for being a jerk, and we exchange names. His name is Alex.

He had a subtle accent, so I asked where he was from. Well, he’s from Ethiopia. He came to the U.S. when he was 16. He was raised in Ethiopia by his grandmother, because his mother left him to come to the US on her own when he was 7. His grandmother owned a restaurant back home, and he grew up basically in the restaurant, where he learned to cook. He told me this incredible story about how she got sick one day, and because she ran the restaurant completely on her own, he had to cook and serve all the meals that night. He was 12. He lit up when he was telling me all this, and he so beautifully talked about his love for cooking; what it meant to him. He described cooking, as art, creating paintings every time he serves a plate to someone. And then he recounted his journey coming here to the US. He didn’t really want to come, but it was about reconnecting with his mom. So he gets a visa to come here, he arrives only to learn that his mom is now remarried, and has two kids with another man… imagine meeting two half brothers at the age of 16, and being in this completely foreign country. And he talked about all these very seemingly small, but huge culturally differences; things I would have never appreciated. And he talked so openly about those first couple of years being here in L.A. and how difficult it was; trying to make friends when you can’t speak the language; trying to fit in.

After finishing school, he begins saving up money to open his own restaurant; that’s all he wants to do, but one thing after another happens; he saves up $50K, but then loses it. He begins driving cabs, and then saves up enough to buy a car. He now has that car and drives for Uber, only to save up the money again to pursue his dream of opening up a restaurant. And we start talking about the food we both love, and the fusion Ethiopian/American twist he wants to create. And as he’s describing his love for food, his hands become so animated, and he’s so alive, and it’s the most beautiful thing in the world listening to him describe something as simple as him being a vegetarian. And I am not a Vegetarian at all, anyone who knows me knows I’m a straight up carnivore. But at this point, I am so with him, totally getting him, and I’m getting so hungry on the ride.

But here is the wild part – when he was sharing his struggles, he seemed content with it all. He wasn’t angry or resentful about any of it. I asked him about that, and he tells me how his grandma before him, lost everything, but then saved up and finally was able to open her own restaurant. He talked about everything through the lens of it all being life lessons. And he created such a shift in me.

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