More Than Just a Ride

On my recent trip to New Jersey, I decided to finally embrace another facet of twenty-first-century technology by ordering an Uber to get to and from the airport. I am happy to report that, despite my anxieties and fears, I did not end up buried in a landfill or swimming with the fish. Both drivers were professional, personable, and polite. It was my second driver, however, who impressed me the most.

When I glanced at the Uber App on my phone, I noticed that I was able to review his profile. I noticed Carlos was from the Dominican Republic, so I asked him if he had a story. He enthusiastically told me the tale of meeting his American wife while she was on vacation in his homeland. They danced the nights away, and she made many return visits to the island.

Five years ago he moved to America and married her, and now with his green card in hand, he is working as an Uber driver and studying to become a citizen. He proudly told me that he is enrolling in the local community college to study criminal justice with the plan of one day becoming a police officer. He hopes that, as a citizen, his mother will be able to join him here.

Although he did not speak English when he moved here, I was impressed by his command of the language now. I thought about all the people on the western end of the island of Hispaniola, where the Dominican Republic is located—the “shithole” country of Haiti as our president calls it—and wondered what he thought of his adopted country.

I told him how impressed I was with what he is doing with his life and said I hoped he was not discouraged by all the negativity towards immigrants of late. I thought of the talk of limiting “chain migration”—the program whereby immigrants already residing here can bring their family members to live in this country with them. (Incidentally, the correct term is “family unification”)

Carlos sadly told me how much he misses his mama. Will she be able to someday move here?

As I listened to Carlos describe his hopes and dreams, I felt an increasing sense of worry for him. When I made the decision to dip my toe into the world of Uber travel, it never occurred to me how much more than a ride it would be. I wonder who I will meet next.

                                  UBER

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Jersey Bound

One hundred and two years ago this week, my Russian grandma was at a train station in Libau, Latvia, a small port city on the Baltic Sea. She was waiting to board a passenger/cargo steamship with her brother-in-law Mark to join my grandfather in New York. They had not seen each other for many years.

Travel during that time was unpleasant. My grandmother, who we all called Baba, and great Uncle Mark, stayed in separate quarters between the lower deck and cargo area. The beds were narrow and dirty, and there was little air, hear, or light in that part of the ship. Seasickness was a common result of the rough seas and awful food.

We have all experienced seasickness on luxury cruises, so can you imagine what this must have been like for them? My grandmother was only twenty-seven when she left, and Grandpa’s uncle was a year older. I have a very hard time wrapping my head around what they did at such young ages. They couldn’t pick up a phone to “check in” with their parents or send them a quick text to let them know they were safe. There was no communication.

At that time of the year, the weather was raw and windy, since they were traveling along a northerly route . They stopped first in Copenhagen, Denmark, then Halifax, Nova Scotia before finally disembarking in New York on November 25, 1913, two weeks after first setting sail.

Their ship docked in New York Harbor where the first and second class passenger disembarked after a very brief medical inspection. Steerage passengers, which was what third-class passengers were called, boarded a ferry to Ellis Island. You all went there in fifth grade, so now you know that your great grandmother came through that building.

On Ellis Island, they waited for many hours for a brief medical exam and then some inspectors asked them a series of questions such as their nationality, previous addresses, the name of the closest relative “in the country whence the alien came”, and whether they had a final destination, sponsor, and enough money for their travel.

They had twenty-five dollars between the two of them, which turns out was not such a small amount back then. It is roughly equivalent to six hundred dollars today. The tickets and money were sent to them by my grandfather, who had been in this country since July, after traveling there from Argentina where he had been working for many years on a farm.

My grandfather met them at Ellis Island after all the inspections were complete. They took another ferry across the harbor to a train into New York City where they stayed a short time.

By the time my grandparents were reunited, my grandfather had a job in Dover, New Jersey working in a company called the “Ulster Iron Works. They lived in nearby Rockaway, renting a place for four years before moving into their own home.

So that is how the Russian side of our family ended up in northern New Jersey.

My Russian Grandpa

My Russian Grandpa

My Grandmother- Baba

My Grandmother- Baba