MAN ON THE STREET
I travel a lot for my career and because of that I have a lot of time to watch and observe. I see someone crossing me in the street and think that’s a different person. His prospective is from his eyes, and his mind. We, or at least I, don’t typically think of the world through other people’s eyes and mind. Why would I? When you spend a lot of time alone though, you think of things that you probably normally wouldn’t. I see this guy, and I think, our paths will cross this very second, but his life experience is probably nothing like mine. What’s happened to him? Is he happy? Has he had good fortune? Does he know or aware of his good, or misfortune? Does he know of a single instance that could have ultimately re-shaped his whole life? I know of one that did mine. If he ever walked towards me and thought these thoughts, this is what he should know. The time where a single day’s or perhaps the night before events changed my whole life.
It was January of 1991. I know this because as lifelong Broncos fan, I specifically remember the Broncos playing the then Houston Oilers in the Playoffs. The Broncos were down and in typical Elway fashion, he brought them back and they won. Another way to look at it, is the Oilers blew yet another Playoff game in the 90’s.
My Mom, Dad, Sister and I had lived in the states for about 6 years by then; way beyond our allowed 3 month vacation visa. Our application for a Green Card was finally accepted and we got our appointment for an interview. Now most get their appointments in cool cities like Vancouver or Toronto or even Paris. Somewhere where you can vacation and by a small chance you get denied your Green Card and can’t re-enter the states, can at least enjoy. Well we got our appointment. Juarez Mexico. Right outside of El Paso Texas. Mexico has some great places to visit and vacation, but I’m pretty certain Juarez isn’t one of them.
It didn’t matter. We’d be in, out and we could start our new life in the U.S. as legal immigrants. Oh wait, it was kind of too late, we already owned a house, my sister was in High School and I was already in Junior High. My mom owned a coffee shop and my dad was a Realtor mainly. We better get this green card, or we’d be sent back to Iran. More on this later.
On the flight over, I remember my Mom asking my Dad…”What will you tell them you do for a living?”…”I put on the application I’m a mechanic” my dad said with a smile on his face as if he knew how to cheat the system so well. “But you know nothing about cars, why wouldn’t you say you’re a Realtor?”…..”Because, they’re not looking for Realtors, they’re looking for contributing members of society. And it doesn’t matter, they won’t even ask.”
Fast forward a few days. We spent our time in Texas eating Rocky Mountain Oysters and bunch of other fried foods my parents wouldn’t normally let us have. On the day of the appointment, we crossed over. The thought of not coming back to this life I loved didn’t even cross my mind. I was going to go back and read all the articles about how the Broncos came back and beat the Oilers. I was in heaven.
I remember sitting in this big room with florescent lights and abnormally high ceilings. It felt so cold in there and I’m not talking about the temperature. I’ve always hated florescent lights and had attributed that to hospitals, but maybe it’s because of this memory. There was a sea of people just sitting there with their families. I didn’t think of it then but like the guy who I come across in the street, I wonder now what happened to each of the families? Did they get their Green Card. Did they get their entrance to a place where life is different? Where you have a fighting shot? I am not sure I want to know.
All I do know, is the room got much colder when my Dad came back with a pale white look on his face. He looked like he’d seen a ghost. This look on a guy who can charm the best of them and do it with a smile. Not on this occasion. He looked scared. He looked defeated. He walked up slowly to my Mom and said, “don’t panic, but it doesn’t look good, they don’t believe I’m a mechanic and want to take me in the back and ask me some car questions” If they hadn’t done away with full-service gas stations, this man probably wouldn’t even know what side his gas tank was on a car, let a lone anything beyond.
At this very moment, my heart sank. There are few instances in your life, you can not only relive, but actually recreate that feeling in your heart, stomach and your mind that you had, and this is one of them. The first thought that came into my mind wasn’t that I wasn’t going to watch another Broncos game again in the States or that I had to leave my life behind. No. Reality had set in. I never thought about it much before, but the first thing that popped in my head is the reason why my parents even took me out of Iran on a three month Visa with the intention to never return again; to avoid me going into the Army. In Iran and most of the Middle East, there’s no age minimum. Where there is a “cause” they’ll put little kids to war. I used to watch news footage of little 10-12 year old boys with their legs blown off and thinking how scared I was that that’d be me. At this very instance my dad said this to my Mom, I pictured myself holding a machine gun being sent to war. I wanted to die right there and then. Yes the Iran/Iraq war was over but it didn’t matter. My life was over. I started crying uncontrollably. My mom quickly wiped away her tears, took me in her arms and said, “Please stop crying, they could be watching our reaction on camera to see if we really are lying”.
She was right, I somehow managed to pull myself together and started taking deep breaths. It didn’t help, my life was OVER. It seems like the longest 5 minutes of my life and I started taking a mental inventory of things I’d never see again. I see my dad. He walks out with a hint of a smile. Is he smiling? Why is he smiling? He walks over and says to my mom, “They guy took me in the back and said, “”today is your lucky day. We have a car expert but he called in sick today. I know nothing about cars, so I don’t really know what to ask you. If your car gets flooded, what do you do””…my dad said, “Well you just let the water drain out.” Probably the dumbest answer to the dumbest questions, and it’s the answer that saved my life. He smiled and said, “We got approved”
Ever since that day, I always wondered how little things can change so many lives. Maybe that so-called car expert of theirs, who called in sick, did so because he took a girl out for the first time and took one too many shots. Perhaps he was helping his sick mom. He probably wasn’t even sick, but just called in to enjoy the weather outside. It couldn’t be that, it was January and I remember it snowing, and thinking ot myself, it snows in Mexico?!? For whatever reason, this man called in sick and it forever changed the path of my life.
I wonder if that man walking towards me in the street will make any decisions today that will change someone’s life.