#847: Making It

November 8th, 2017

He didn’t talk for as long as he could.

You could tell he wanted to. You could tell he had comments to add, things to say in our conversation that he was not a part of. He’d chuckle silently at a joke one of us made, his body quivering a little behind the wheel. Or he’d nod along at a point as he flicked on the turn signal or merged into traffic.

But he held out from the moment he picked us up at the 26th and California courthouse in Little Village up until the pre-rush hour glut by the Ogilvie train station when he just couldn’t take it any more.

“I’m one of them!” the Uber driver said after my friend made a comment about all the people in the world who paid tens of thousands for degrees they don’t use.

He was a mathematician.

Jaime was his name, the app told us when he rolled up to the decrepit courthouse to pick us up in a Mercedes. He had a slight accent — Argentinian, he later clarified. A child of immigrants. Immigrants who wanted a better life for him. Immigrants who pushed.

So college, which they paid for. Mathematics degree, which requires a level of brains I don’t quite comprehend. A career in forensic accounting, which required a level of dedication he didn’t quite comprehend.

Forensic accountants are the people who uncook the books. They’re the ones who go through the records of corporations or individuals to uncover every shady trick pulled. They find the forged entries. They find the off-shore accounts. They pull the laundered money out of the dryer and they find every tax nook and crook the rainy day funds get hidden.

It’s amazing work. And an amazing pain in the ass.

“It was hard, you know?” he said as he turned past a trendy bar in the former warehouse district. “The fourth time your friends call and it’s like, I’ve got to work.”

So he walked. Got his life back. Saw his friends. Breathed. We congratulated him.

“Yeah, my parents don’t feel the same way,” he said.

The family that paid for everything.

Here’s where the story gets unbelievable. Here’s where it goes from a moral victory to an out-and-out win.

The guy’s job is amazing. Not the Uber driving, which he just does in odd hours when he’s back in Chicago for a few days. He’s a photographer. And his specialty?

“So this guy sends us to photograph his resorts. I just got back from Bali, where he has like nine resorts. I’m off to the Philippines next week.”

The man gets paid to spend months at a time at beachfront resorts around the world, and apparently gets paid enough to Uber in a Mercedes. After ditching nights and weekends poring through reams of data and financial paperwork to catch tax cheats, his only complaint now is that he sometimes doesn’t know what to do with himself during all the downtime he has.

At the resorts.

In Bali and the Philippines.

This isn’t a call for the disaffected to quit their jobs — I can assure you this man is an outlier. And it’s not the moment where I announce that I’m quitting journalism to steal this man’s identity and show up in Bali with a fake Argentine accent and a camera — I can assure you though that I thought about it.

This is a bit of hope for the disaffected, just a nod that, yeah it’s not you but somebody made it.

And he’s sitting on a beach or picking up rides in Little Village. Either way, he’s out.

Read about another conversation with a driver

Read a sadder tale of the courthouse at 26th and Cal

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You are currently reading #847: Making It by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

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