How to Talk to Your Taxi Driver (In Argentina)

“Hola, ¿como va?”

“Bien, ¿vos?”

“Bien. Ehh, bueno— Suipacha y Juncal, porfa.”



“No, a vos.”

Well, that’s how. Nothing tricky there. You could even go without the pleasantries; a simple, “Suipacha y Juncal” is all you really need to get yourself home.

Perhaps, then, a better question is not how, but rather, why should you talk to your taxi driver.

I’ll answer with an anecdote, not surprisingly, about a taxi ride.

It was late March, and I was leaving La Bomba, which is a drum circle directed by a conductor who uses a language of cues and gestures to create combinations of rhythms between the drummers, real time. Very cool. It was a correspondingly energetic crowd, featuring all of the festivities that such crowds often offer. Namely, I was drunk (legally; this is Buenos Aires, OK). But that night, I was feeling a little off, not really grooving with the vibe, maybe missing home a little. It had been a good night already, even before the concert, so I decided to call it quits and stumbled my way out of the crowd onto the street.

I hailed a taxi.

I had precisely the conversation transcribed above.

And then I slumped back in my seat feeling grateful for cushions and wheels and the fact that I didn’t have class till 14:00 the next day.

The driver, an older, mustachioed guy with a cross hanging from his rearview mirror, asked me how I was doing. Tired, I replied. Wasn’t really feeling it tonight, I said. He asked where I was from. I gave him the spiel. I’m from outside of Boston, MA, here studying sociology, Spanish, and art, living with a host family, and yes I like Argentina very much (they’re a prideful bunch, gotta stroke that nationalist ego).

We had a very pleasant conversation: about how corruption is present in both of our countries, but perhaps only more obvious in Argentina, about the role of religion in our countries, about the recent election of el Papa Argentino— and so on. Somehow, late-night drunk Spanish conversations always flow so smoothly, or perhaps that’s just how I (don’t) remember them.

He asked about my family and friends, and whether I missed them. I said yes, of course, though I especially miss my girlfriend, who is back in los Estados Unidos. That’s probably part of why I wasn’t feeling it tonight, I said. Concerts are better with girlfriends.

Then he asked me, “¿Y qué tal con los mujeres acá? ¿Te la están dando?”

“¿Cómo? No entiendo..”

“¡El sexo! El fuckey-fuckey, el baile sagrado. Y qué de la novia, ¡no la vas a ver por cinco meses!

I laughed, mostly in reaction to his sudden burst of colorful language, but also a little unsure what he was getting at.

“I mean, yeah, that’s true. I will not be having sex for several months. Quite the conundrum,” I replied, not seeing where this was going.

“What if I told you that I could take you right now to a place where you could choose from four rooms; from four photos. For 110 pesos (about $15) I can take you there and you can see the photos, and for $450 pesos (~$65), you can do anything you want to whichever one you choose.”

It probably appeared to him as though I were actually contemplating his offer, as it took me solidly thirty seconds to sort out what was actually happening.

“What? Like, what? Now?”

“Si, ahora. ¿Vamos?”

“Whoa, whoa. ¡No! No, hombre, ¡no tengo ningún interés! Tengo novia. Tengo… ¡dignidad!”

He said OK and kept driving, acting like nothing had happened. It got silent for a full minute.  Still five minutes from home. I finally asked him, “So you, like, do this? With like, prostitutes?” He said yes. I asked for how long. He said about twenty years. Whoa, okay. I paused, considered the situation. I felt almost as if I were watching someone else being taxied through Alto Palermo. I don’t talk to taxi-driving pimps every day, okay? Suddenly, I realized the opportunity at hand and became very intrigued by my situation, almost in an academic sense. There he was, “the oppressor,” driving along, nodding to the cumbia playing quietly in the background. Now that I see him, what do I say?

Well, I’m not sure how I feel about it now, but at that moment, I felt compelled to get on my horse and spout that righteous academia which I do generally prescribe to: I talked about cycles of poverty and abuse, and about how every person is just as logical within their bounded rationality as each other person; these women don’t want to be selling their bodies, but they do so, because they have ended up in situations where it has become the logical course of action— which is tragic, on an institutional and human level. I fairly ranted, knowing I had only another two or three minutes to make the impression that I needed to make— my shot to exert direct influence, however insignificant, upon this global patriarchy. After each of my sentences, he nodded his head in silent accordance, and when I finally had gotten my points across and we were pulling up in front of my apartment complex, he said only, “Si, si. Muy triste, muy triste.”

I paid, and said goodbye, and then went up to my room and asked myself whether I had just imagined the whole thing. It’s not that strange an event; we all know those people do exist in the world— but I will admit that at that point in time, it was a shock for me to meet one of them.

So then, to answer my question: Why should you talk to your taxi driver?

Because that’s where life gets interesting. The moment you step out of your daily bubble and touch upon that which is foreign and new, you open yourself up to seeing a world you have never seen before. Yeah, he could have been dangerous, and I could have unwittingly ended up at a whorehouse. But in retrospect (and even in the moment), I realized that this was something so removed from my customary sphere of interactions that I would never have come across it had I not then talked to my taxi driver. And obviously, there is much more to discover from the taxi drivers of the world than prostitution rigs; everyone, including yourself, is living hir own unique experience, and in my opinion, it can only benefit you to open yourself and learn from them.

Flow State

As I begin to write this, I would like to announce that I am currently not experiencing this yet-undescribed “flow state”. On the contrary, I’m feeling pretty tired and not particularly motivated, and I’m admittedly surprising myself by continuing to write now. And now. And tonight, because today and yesterday and for the last several weeks, I’ve felt only few scattered hours of (still-undescribed) “micro-flow”, even though I do generally consciously and meticulously arrange my life so as to lead to the highest chance of my experiencing this state of being that is called “flow”. So struggle with me here, hopefully I finish this post (having begun and abandoned a healthy handful in the last week)…

Time to define: “flow“, as first described in 1975 by positive psychologist Csíkszentmihályi Mihály, is a “state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation. It is a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter.” Mihály suggests that in order to achieve a flow state, “a balance must be struck between the challenge of the task and the skill of the performer. If the task is too easy or too difficult, flow cannot occur. Both skill level and challenge level must be matched and high; if skill and challenge are low and matched, then apathy results.”

It’s a very intuitive concept. It’s a reference to being “in the zone” or finding the “rhythm” or the “groove” of a task or activity. I think that this balance can be found on a micro scale, say, when you’re outside raking leaves in an autumn breeze, or gliding through the second mile of your afternoon jog, or when you’re writing or reading or browsing Reddit and everything except that singular cat GIF in front of you just melts away. Bask in it, feel alive and aware of the wondrous capacities of the human being; chase it, but not too much (consider that eating mind-numbing amounts of chicken wings or potato chips might also be considered some sort of “flow”..)

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So micro-scale flow is — nice. It feels great, and makes for great productivity and reliable momentary happiness. And I’ve had several hours of this, usually after I drink a café doble and have only before me two hours to kill and a thick stack of teoría sobre el medio ambiente en relación con la sociedad to read. Awesome.

But that’s not what I’m really talking about. That’s a nice moment, but then it’s gone. Flow state, I believe, can be achieved on a much larger scale; or, at least, Mindvalley CEO Vishen Lakhiani thinks so. In his widely viewed speeches and TEDx talk, Lakhiani describes how he turned his company around not because of busniess plans or venture capital but because be enacted a state of flow for himself and his company by monitoring and adjusting his environment so as to create conditions for flow state to regularly occur for himself and his employees. He puts it nicely: to personally achieve a state of flow, you must “be happy in the moment” and also, simultaneously, maintain “grand dreams for the future.” He describes four types of people: 1) People who are unhappy in the moment and have no dreams for the future. 2) People who are good and happy and so therefore don’t feel the need to think about the future. 3) People who are unhappy with their lives as they are but have grand visions for their future, and 4) People who are happy in their daily moment and still maintain grand dreams for the future. This fourth state would be considered (as opposed to micro) — macro-flow.

But how to get there, and then stay there. That’s the important question. Great that Mr. Lakhiani has achieved this nirvana of mind and business that has resulted in the rapid growth of his multimillion dollar company, but how can I get there myself?

Mr. Lakhiani’s suggestions are a series of progressive business practices that are meant to stimulate systematic happiness: He has his employees keep a gratitude log, which has been psychologically proven to increase one’s base happiness quotient  He has an “awesomeness bell” which he rings “only in moments of sheer and total awesomeness”; He created a company ritual where employees get handsy with a statue of Wonder Woman and yell, “I will blind you with the light of my awesomeness!”; He distributes a portion of his company’s profits (not stock options) to his employees; He constructed a web app to provide a platform for coworkers to praise each other (and encourages them to do so); He limits their working hours, and tells them to use 5 hours of their 45 hour work-week studying a  subject separate from their job; Group meditation, group sharing of outside interests, halloween parties, incredible company retreats, 3pm siestas— etc; happiness, happiness, happiness.

Innovative stuff for the labor unions, but the great takeaway for us humans is to build independent and resilient systems of happiness into our lives to keep our happiness levels elevated enough so that we can be productive.

The alternative to systems of happiness I’ll call band-aid happiness, which is the transient kind: one-more-cupcake, or one-more-pair-of-shoes, or one-more-interesting-article, by themselves, will never lead to anything but momentary happiness. Having arrived at that realization sometime towards the end of high school, I have generally considered myself against the direct pursuit of happiness. I still do not see happiness itself as a goal. A certain amount of it is necessary, as too little happiness will cause downward spirals, just as much as excessive “happiness” blinds you from the realities of life. But as Mr. Lakhiani does aptly point out, it’s about having sustainable systems of happiness that are independent of accomplishing goals or social politics or consumerism. This is a valuable takeaway.

Why, then, for the last several weeks, have I been sub-flowing? This is me, personally, wondering here. I’m asking. I know, I generally like to be the blogger-with-the-answers, because at my well-marinated age of 21 I’ve got so much experience to boot. But I am frustrated, because I don’t like not-having-answers. I spend much of my life arranging these systems of happiness. I carefully and often reflect on what activities I do and do not enjoy, and then I arrange those tasks that I do enjoy in logical portions and sequences every day. I don’t work too hard, or too much. I work effectively, for a few hours every day, and spend the rest of my days pursuing other “enjoyable” elective tasks, (reading, writing, exploring the city, being with friends, etc).

Why, then, for the last several weeks, have I been sub-flowing?

I suppose at this point in the conversation, grief is a necessary mention, as there are always moments every day where this plays into my mood and actions. But I do not think that my general state is still fully a function of this external adversary, or perhaps I just can’t see it. 

I do not think that I have a nice conclusion to this post, and I am sorry for that. No full circles or pretty metaphors, and for the record, I did not achieve anything even mildly semblant of flow while writing this. It was more laborious than you’d think, though not overly time consuming.

But I accomplished something, and that feels good. I’ll keep chasing that feeling and arranging my systems, and maybe I’ll pursue happiness a little more and spend a little less time arranging. That might be an answer. Honor thy happiness! (but only because it allows me to work! B-)

Thanks for reading, readers. May you each find your flow!

On (not) Choosing Paths

Yesterday I went to a high school reunion party (or so I’ll call it) at my friend’s house. Just about all of my good friends from those ever glorious high school days were there. It was great to see everyone and catch up with people and see how they’ve changed and grown and progressed. We collectively sighed with relief. Finals are over. Done with our first semester classes. It’s almost Christmas (well, I guess it’s Christmas Eve now). Good. Life is good. Now what.

Well, a month(+) to sit around and sleep and waste time and, at least for me, ponder the future. At the reunion party, I found that in every group of people that I talked to, someone (and occasionally I) inevitably wound up asking questions like, “what are your plans next semester,” or, “what are you going to do after college,” or “what are you going to be doing in a year/decade/tell me your plan for the rest of your life.”

Jeesh. These are big questions. They really are- don’t mistake my tone in the previous paragraph for a belief that these questions are unimportant or unnecessary or wrongly timed. Because that’s what’s scary- these are the questions that we should start to think about at this point. And by “start to think about,” I really mean that we’ve gotta make decisions, STAT. It’s a little bit incredible to me. I feel like this point in my life- where decisions actually matter and my most pressing daily dilemma is not what to get after track practice from the vending machine- has snuck up on me. BOO! OK now choose: Doctor? Lawyer? Congressman? Cog in the gearbox of a rigged capitalist system? An English professor or a neurosurgeon? Or a bum. On the streets. Because if you don’t become a doctor-lawyer-congresswoman-cog-in-gearbox-of…(etc), you’ve failed whatever silly expectations you impose on yourself (or are imposed on you).

Now I certainly don’t mean to lecture anyone about making decisions or on how to lead your life or to say, “you can be anything you want to be” or anything hokey like that. We have all been made conscious of expectations before- from ourselves, from our parents or friends, from our college counselors and high school teachers- all epitomized by the competitive world of academia. But I want to formally ask these questions of you, (my friends+fam), but also really anyone at any age and at any time, because these questions will be with us always after now. 

What are you good at? BRAG. Tell me what you’re skills are, what you are passionate about, what do you pride yourself in? (1)

What do you want to get good at? What skills do you want to develop? What can you do, learn, or think about that will help you to achieve whatever goals you’ve imposed on yourself?

What goals DO you impose on yourself?- or rather- what are your goals for the future? Separate your goals into time segments, or life sectors (ex. academics, occupation, romantic/sexlife/lackthereof/michaelchizazu).

Or “simply,” what do you want to do with your life? In your brief existence on Earth, what mark will you choose to make?

Sorry. Chill, chill. I know there are people on both sides of the rope- some of you saying “hey, I know perfectly fine what I’m doing with my life,” and then some of you saying “holy shit holy shit hoLy SHIT!” And both of you are perfectly justified in your reactions. We’re all at different points and have different perspectives on the issue. But the one thing that is now universal among us and our age cohort, I think, is that we must think about it. We cannot evade these questions, because by evading them, we implicitly answer them. Music time.

Freewill is a great song- Rush is the best of the 70’s and 80’s prog rock movement. But really I just love its chorus:

You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice
If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice
You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill
I will choose a path that’s clear
I will choose freewill

“If you choose not to decide, you still had made a choice.” This truism, first highlighted for me by my father, is what I wanted to write about. Big questions must be asked and answered- now- because every day we move closer to one goal and farther from another. Are you cogent of what goals you’re approaching, and conversely, which goals you’re leaving behind? Are you sure that you’re advancing towards the “right” one, whatever that is? I am challenging each of you to question your faith in your alleged life plans; are you actively advancing yourself towards and away from the goals that you genuinely believe are correct or incorrect for your individual life?

Many of you are. Most of you are. But some of you are not. Life will not change by itself. It’s physics, dude. No object will move unless an outside force acts upon it. Ask yourself those questions, or at least read them out loud. Try to answer them out loud, too. Saying things makes them more real than just thinking things. After all, what are thoughts? After the fact, they don’t seem to really exist. I forget most of them anyways.

Here’s one last and important question, which I already kind of asked. But for emphasis,

What goals are you moving away from? Perhaps they are goals that you set at an early age or stage in your life, or maybe they are even now appearing to fade in importance as you continue through life. What doors have closed? What doors are closing against your wishes? What doors have you consciously closed?

Close doors. That is my advice to you, the proverbial royal reader. Close doors. Carefully, of course- don’t slam the door on the way out, don’t throw tantrums or spew crazy bullshit to family members, and don’t close a single door without making sure, with exquisite care, that you can justifiably do so. Some of what clouds our vision into our future is the stunning and overwhelming array of things that you can do in this world.

Don’t categorize yourself. Just choose the categories that you’re not going to be part of. It’s like the blacklist vs. the whitelist in Self Control (if you have a Mac and have ever had to do homework). Don’t limit yourself to all of a single category. Even those who say pre-med, pre-law, pre-biz (did I just make that up?)- I would say practice the same exercise as “the undecideds.” Pick out the things that you don’t what to become, but retain a list of the goals or aspirations that you aren’t currently acting on. Life is surprising and cyclical. Who knows what you’ll really end up doing.

Think about it. Really, think about it. Wake up from whatever stops you from controlling your fates and live deliberately.

Happy Holidays and best of luck in the New Year. Make some resolutions? Why the hell not.

(1) Post your brag anonymously below in the comments. Of course, all the fun will be in guessing who wrote what 😉