Between the dentists and the dogs, Ulan had been having a busy weekend.
The Chicago Dental Society’s 2014 Midwinter Meeting and the 2014 International Cluster of Dogs both picked the same weekend to launch onto Chicago, meaning the hotels were booked, the restaurants were hopping and the Kyrgyz cabbie Ulan something that flashed on the screen in the back of his seat had been shuttling tooth cleaners and puppies across town for two days.
“I take dogs because I have dogs,” he said, going on to explain that many of his peers didn’t take pets in the cab.
A lot of the other cabbies were Muslim, he said. He thought that might have something to do with it.
“It’s against the religion, I think,” Ulan guessed. “Having the people and the animals in the same …”
Ulan had just celebrated his 24th birthday and his fourth year in America. He came here from Kyrgyzstan, which surprised me. I would have guessed Mongolia due to his features and his first name sounding like the capital.
“It’s funny,” he said, chucking a bit. “We look Asian, speak Russian and are mostly Muslim.”
He said he wasn’t Muslim, but didn’t offer what he was. I didn’t ask.
And this is where I want the story to end. I could wax poetic about a lot of different things here. I could wax about youth with him, or wax about culture. I could wax off in writerly style about Ulan as immigrant, Ulan as economic disparity, Ulan as a symbol or token of whatever the heck I feel like minimizing him to.
But he’s a guy, and a pretty nice one at that. He was young and bright and funny and very happy I wasn’t a dog or dentist.
The city rolled by, shiny with a sunny chill that had the benefit of melting a bit of the snow. Ulan rattled off a list of all the five-star hotels in town and gabbed happily about the four-star ones. He was perky and blithe and endlessly 24 in a little stocking cap and a smile as he drove me, dentists and the International Cluster of Dogs through the city we all share.