“So where are you traveling to, Sir? asked Theda my Uber driver in a cheerful voice filled with enthusiasm. A senior lady. Flaming red hair. Green-blue eyes. Extremely polite and of pleasant demeanor. Neatly dressed. Large horn-rimmed glasses. If I were to guess - she was more than 75 years old. And yet she had offered to help me with my luggage!
As the SUV rolled onto the US 322 highway I looked at the trees changing color. Fall season. It was a Sunday afternoon in late October but not yet very cold. Theda kept chatting with me. I had never seen such an amazing Uber driver like her. She was full of energy. When I shared that I was going to Dublin, she looked at me curiously through the rearview mirror and asked: You mean, Dublin Ireland? I nodded yes. She seemed to be clearly amused by my response.
Theda said she had recently learnt that she was of Irish origin from a DNA test.
Normally it takes less than 25 minutes to get to the Philadelphia airport. But there was a traffic snarl getting on the Commodore John Barry bridge. Trucks and cars were lined up at the toll booths. Each was jostling to get ahead. I looked at the time on my phone.
Did I have enough time to reach the airport and catch my flight?
Theda had fallen silent as she concentrated on getting the car ahead of a truck that was trying to steal a march on us. I watched with bated breath as she nudged ahead. This was becoming a competitive sport. For a few minutes as the din of dozens of idle engines continued unabated I felt that it was perhaps best to let the truck get ahead. I cleared my throat and tried to suggest in the subtlest possible manner that it was ok if the truck driver went ahead.
But Theda was unconvinced.
She believed that the truck had no business getting ahead of us. I looked up at the young truck driver who was bent on crushing us to the ground. The truck driver probably didn’t even realize that he was competing with a senior lady driver who could be more than twice his age.
Finally the truck driver relented. Or rather he was forced to relent. Theda beat him hands down at this risky game and quickly forged ahead in the lane that singled into the toll booth.
The jam continued even past the toll booths. Suddenly Theda swerved into an exit that said US 13. I had never gone to the airport via this exit. Partly because it was supposed to be a rough neighborhood.
“I know this place. This is where I grew up with my sister. People say this place is unsafe but I can stop here and talk to anyone.” I could see that she was made of a different metal. And I desperately hoped that we wouldn’t get stopped on the road.
“Does your sister still live here?” I asked out of polite curiosity.
And that seemed to touch a raw nerve. Theda started recounting memories of the time when they were growing up as teenagers.
“I found out quite by accident that my sister had a daughter. My sister never told us. She is too conservative to declare that to the world. We grew up in a different age. You know…people were prejudiced about that sort of thing. But I am so excited to find that I have a niece! I have never met her though. She lives in Dublin and works at a famous pub called Lincoln’s Inn.”
We were now approaching the airport terminal. I asked her one quick question: “How did you find out that you had a niece?”
“Well…my niece Nora had taken her DNA test several years ago and she was already trying hard to find her real parents. When someone closely related takes the test, all relatives who have taken the test get to know. And guess what - the day I took my DNA test it was actually Nora’s birthday. Her wish came true!”
It is around six o’ clock in the morning. The flight landed early in Dublin. Jetlagged and tired, I am trying to make polite conversation with my taxi driver. Partly to get some local insights but mostly just to stay awake.
“I’m doing great. Thank you. It is always a pleasure to visit Dublin.”
I share with the taxi driver that I first visited Dublin more than 10 years ago but it is a very different city today. A significant amount of economic growth has happened and the city is brimming with a diverse set of young people.
“Annie pare-son has to pay so much more just to stay in the city. Politicians in Oireland today have no clue…” And then he went on to illustrate how the Minister in charge of Transportation had never driven a car himself, but was deciding on policies that impacted the day to day life of drivers in the city.
By the time we reached my hotel, I learnt about how he still insisted on sitting down with the entire joint family every evening for dinner. How he watched football, drank Guinness and spent quality time with his grandkids. How the corporates were getting greedier by the day. How the new generation was going crazy. How a picture of a little horse on your shirt could inflate its price dramatically. And how he slept peacefully at night with his two faithful dogs in the same bed.
Later that day I found my way to the downtown for an early dinner.
“What is the WiFi password please…” I asked the young waitress at Lincoln’s Inn. She was tall and had flaming red hair. Green-blue eyes. It was a busy hour at this downtown pub.
Lincoln’s Inn has a long history. Established in 1822, it was Dublin’s best known literary pub in the early decades of the 20th century. When the Westland Row Railway station opened in 1834 the place became very busy. A few decades later, gigantic Turkish Baths opened across the street. A different kind of environment came up that was not desirable. Then the City Fathers dedicated the street as Lincoln Place, in an attempt to rid the area of moral decadence and to honor the newly elected President of America. Now the place looks very different. The National Gallery of Ireland is across the street. The historic Trinity College and the childhood home of Oscar Wilde are only a short walk from this central place.
“James Joyce…all small caps and no space in between” the waitress gave me the password with a smile that appeared faintly familiar.
“Ah - James Joyce, the famous Irish author of ‘Ulysses’, I chuckled.
“Yes exactly. James Joyce used to wait at the Lincoln’s Inn for his girlfriend Nora, to finish her shift as a chambermaid at the Finn’s hotel a few doors away” she said while carefully placing the pint of Hop House Lager on the table.
“Nora…there is a call from your aunt Theda” someone beckoned the waitress from the counter.
Nora excused herself as she left in a haste to attend the call.
I looked up at the high wooden ceiling. The authentic Victorian color shades of browns and greens were redolent of an earlier age. As I admired the intricate craftsmanship of the cast iron pillar supports, I caught a glimpse of the oval mirrors that reflected the flaming red hair of Nora talking to her aunt Theda.