Many taxi drivers in Buenos Aires strike up a conversation immediately. They ask where you are from, why you are in Argentina and then go directly to why they drive a taxi, unemployment, taxes and politics. I’ve found some of them to be quite well-spoken.

One man is a widower and drives a cab to keep buisy. He knows all the streets

of Buenos Aires and which way they run. He also went on to describe his boyhood in the neighborhood of Mataderos. At that time, it was still the slaughterhouse of Buenos Aires and most people worked in related activities. He described a close-knit community where neighbors all went to work together and spent their free time together.

Unfortunately, he blames the change in sense of community on outsiders. His mother taught him to greet everyone. Today in his apartment building, people sweep by without a word. They are not properly educated. According to him, the problem is the influx of immigrants. Not Chileans (we’va always had some of them), but Bolivians, Peruvians, and to a lesser extent Paraguayans (they are very hard workers, even though they are clannish and brutish).

What kind of response can a visitor make to these remarks? Times change,  people change, and it is probably not immigrants who change things. If you say something along these lines, your words are swept away with a hand gesture or a word. It is very difficult to alter conventional wisdom.

Today’s taxi driver was a mechanical engineer, working with companies to make machines work. He’s been driving a cab for 15 years. The unspoken explanation is that he was laid off as the Argentine economy collapsed in 2001 and is now permanently underemployed. We are the same age, have the same number of children, though he leads in grandchildren (2). We could all agree on the fact that at our ages one must try to enjoy every minute.