By day, I’m a law professor in Detroit. The pay is decent, but I’m also the father of a daughter in (a very expensive) college. So, after work I’m an Uber driver. Have you ever wondered what kind of things you see and hear driving around metro Detroit? Well…
“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” — Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”
I know a lot of people in Detroit. I grew up here. I work, live, and socialize in Detroit. It’s my favorite place to be. At some point, I expect to pick up someone I know. After all, I routinely bump into students and former students at clubs, parties, and restaurants. (The former students seem to revel in saying, “Yo, E!” when they see me out. ) Anyway, I know it’s going to happen eventually. But until it happens, one of the best things about driving strangers around is that I can be who ever I want to be. Anybody.
The Detroit Yacht Club is an interesting place. At least in theory. I’ve never been inside. But really, how cool is it that Detroit has a yacht club? (Not to be confused with the Detroit Boat Club.) I regularly pass it as I bike around Belle Isle. It’s a beautiful old building built on an island attached to Belle Isle. Like I said, I’ve never been inside, but in my imagination it’s full of people who sound like Thurston Howell III, from Gilligan’s Island.
The passenger seemed like a nice guy. Sat up front rather than in the back. He was from Montana. Since there are only a million people in Montana it’s a rarity to meet one. Seriously. Have you ever met anyone from Montana? He was in Detroit for a software conference and some of the meetings were at the Yacht Club. He was impressed with the City’s recent growth. Since his client base included the Big Three, he’d been to Detroit a lot over the years. He was also a Republican.
I’m not exactly sure what prompted him to disclose his political affiliation. We were talking about his youth in the Marines, his business, and his impending retirement. Nothing political. I mentioned that my entire family had served in the military. Suddenly he asked me, “So, what do you think of Ben Carson?”
“Ben Carson. He’s looks real good, better even than Trump.”
What on earth would make him think I’d care about Ben Carson? Let’s get this straight, Black Republicans are about as rare as Montanans. I mean this. In 2012, Romney got 1,068,780 votes from African-Americans.*** There are 1,023,579 people in Montana. So really, what are the chances he got picked up by one of the 3 black Republicans in Michigan?
Of course, I picked up a guy from Montana, so anything is possible. But anyone who knows me knows what I think about the GOP in general and this coming election’s crop of GOP dingleberries in particular. I think Ben Carson is an idiot. [Confession: When my kids were young I gave them each a copy of Carson’s “Gifted Hands.” I hope Child Services doesn’t read this and come take my kids away.] But you don’t get tips for saying stuff like that. Plus, where’s the fun in arguing?
“Smart guy,” I said.
“Exactly. And he’s not a politician. He says what he thinks.”
Ok, have you actually read or heard any of the stuff that Ben Carson “thinks?” It hurts my brain to think he could be President.
“You’re right,” I said. “I really feel him on healthcare. And Gitmo. If Obama had his way, he’d let all the terrorist out of Gitmo and send them somewhere with free healthcare.”
He thought that was hilarious. When he stopped laughing he asked, “Do you think he’s got a chance.”
I really think that was what he wanted to know. I think he was wondering if race would trump party. After all, the Republican theory is that Black people only voted for Obama because he was Black. So why can’t Carson be the GOP Obama? Since I’m accustomed at work to speaking on behalf of all Black people (and literally for all the Black male faculty) I decided to answer.
“Yeah, he’s got a chance! More than a chance. Probably half my church is going to vote for him. I wouldn’t be surprised if he carried Michigan, with Detroit leading the way.”
He nodded, a jumpy kind of serenity all over his face as we pulled up to the McNamara Terminal. I got his bag out of the trunk and set it on the sidewalk. He gave me a warm handshake before he left, still smiling.
I drove away, picturing him in a window seat, looking out at the clouds and dreaming about our next Black President.
*Uber is registered trademark of Uber Technologies, Inc., San Fransisco, CA. The use of the name in not intended to imply the endorsement or support of Uber Technologies.
** For example, about a month ago I was standing at the bar at 3Fifty Terrace waiting oh so patiently to get a Red Bull. The young kid in front of me accidentally backed into me once, twice, a third time. I told myself if he did it a 4th time, I’d mention it to him, politely of course. He does it a fourth time, turns around and says, “Oh, hi Professor Williams!” Turns out he’s president of the Entrepreneurship and Business Law Student Association…and I’m the faculty advisor. You’re a lucky dude, Conner!