It’s 4 am. I drag out of bed, pull myself together and start my march down Ditmars toward the last stop on the N-Q-R train. My only companions on those quiet Astoria streets are partiers headed in the opposite direction. I remember feeling jealous of them. But I had a small bounce in my step on this particular day.
Less than an hour later I’m at the transportation headquarters for season seven of the Celebrity Apprentice in midtown Manhattan. I get a cup of coffee in me, chat with the boss, and then I’m off in my SUV. Fifteen minutes later I’m in front of the elegant Park Avenue apartment building ready to pick up my package, Ivanka Trump.
It was my third day on the job, but my first driving her. She’d fired the original driver for what I was told was incompetence. I guess I’d shown my worth enough to earn a glamorous position in this not so glamorous area of production. I was eager to impress and make the most of the opportunity.
The day went smoothly. On the drive home she expressed cravings for a salt bagel. Finding a bagel in New York City at any hour is no difficult task in most any neighborhood. Finding one with salt, well, that changes things. I immediately jumped on the phone in search of one close by. No luck. I delivered her back on Park Avenue that night still craving.
The next day I was up at 3:30 am with something special in mind. When I finally arrived on Park Avenue two and half hours later, there was a fresh, warm salt bagel waiting in her seat. That sealed the deal, and for the next four weeks I drove Miss Trump.
My efforts didn’t stop at salt bagels. Being the ambitious New York transplant with a nose for opportunity, I worked harder. The hit Broadway show at the time was Spring Awakening, of which I was particularly fond. With some serious effort I eventually secured a copy of the soundtrack signed by the entire cast and addressed to her. Things like this encouraged more than just a typical driver-client relationship. She asked me about my music, and even opened up about her life a bit. I regarded us as friends.
Fact is we were not. Though I hoped this relationship would blossom into something beyond our four-week assignment, nothing ever came of it. Surprise, surprise, right? I think I realized this when one day she suddenly she snapped on me. My required driving style was one of top-notch New York aggression. Blowing through red lights was regular, but wrong turns were not. However, on this day I made one bad move. She laid into me, seemingly out of the blue and uncharacteristically. “You are making me late! I will be ten minutes late now! You have ruined my day!!” It was overkill, to say the least.
On my final day, I dropped her with a friend at a chic West Village restaurant. Ivanka quickly popped out of the car without a farewell. I called out to her through the closed window in a mild panic, “goodbye, Ivanka.” But she couldn’t hear me. She was already gone. Her friend lingered a bit and caught this pathetic gasp. I remember seeing something like pity in her eyes as she left the vehicle.
Despite where you think this might be going, I have nothing bad to say about Ivanka.
Actually, she lived up to her classy reputation. I got a small window into her humanity. She, like most of us, seemed a picture of inner conflict. She was a young woman then, as I was a young man. She, however, unlike most, is the daughter of a larger-than-life celebrity billionaire. I saw a struggle for drawing lines between us. In some cases, she was the pretty girl who might have shared laughs over a pint at some Lower East Side dive. In others, she was the billion-heiress far beyond my social status. There was a sweetheart and a hard-ass. I remember relating it to my friends as a “Jekyll and Hyde” experience.
How could we imagine that her family and its patriarch would be thrust onto the grandest of stages nearly a decade later. Like most, I’m still pinching myself to confirm that this strange scenario has come to pass. Yet the bigger nightmare is this political circus surrounding it.
When a new acquaintance and Trump supporter heard this story she jumped to a conclusion before I could even finish. Assuming I must be in the Clinton camp she said, “You probably hated her, huh?”
What!? No. In fact, I wish we had become friends. My point in sharing the story wasn’t to bash the Trump gang, but to make the case that they are just human beings like the rest of us, flaws and all.
And here lies the nightmare. We are so busy buying into the melodrama that we’ve lost cooler heads. We’ve let the Hyde run amuck, so quick to belittle and hasty in our judgements. It’s become so vitriolic that when a back-up quarterback exercises his first amendment rights we flip out without hearing a young man’s reasons. We’re so quick to condemn or align with black lives or blue lives that we fail to see we’re collectively black and blue.
We’ve made monsters of the opposition and we’re blinded to monsters within. It’s a penny dreadful, a pulp magazine minus the fiction. This isn’t something streaming on Netflix. This is our country, our culture, and the whole world is watching. Will we continue to feed flames with opinions and outrage or will we cool it and recognize that all are fallible, even presidential candidates? Do we continue to push everyone and every issue into right and left, conservative and liberal, Republican and Democrat, or can we rise to the call of a JFK kind of courage and recognize progress is found in compromise?
When I think about the change I want to see in the world, it’s built on a foundation of peace and compassion. Do I fail at it? Definitely. But in spite of my frustrations I try as hard as I can not to be hater and instead look at those who differ from me as I did Ivanka in that backseat – a person with hopes and dreams, doubts and fears. I don’t agree with most of the politics or behavior of her father, but that doesn’t mean I can’t respect him as fellow human being. Frankly, the alternative plays right into the divisive outcome we currently have. My wish is that everyone would pause to evaluate the core of their passions. Are your actions consistent with the change you want to see in the world?
Toward the end of my run as a driver on the Celebrity Apprentice Donald Jr. jumped in the car with his sister. He didn’t do as she had done the entire time – ride in the back as we all do to preserve the established driver-client relationship. He jumped in the front and immediately starting chatting with me, asking my opinion on whether or not I thought what he’d just done on camera was dumb. He was unsure, even making fun of himself. This candor and transparency is unforgettable. People are rarely what they seem, and, if you let them, they will surprise you.
I’ll wrap it up with a quote from one of my favorite presidents, whatever his flaws…
“The Chinese use two brush strokes for the word ‘crisis’. One stands for danger, the other for opportunity. In a crisis be aware of the danger, but recognize the opportunity.”
I am presented with an existential crisis. It caused me to avoid the first presidential debate. I turned off the second one after ten minutes and instead scrolled Twitter for reactions. My disappointment doubled down. It seems we have exactly the political climate we deserve. If I’m being honest, my faith in humanity is significantly damaged.
No matter who becomes the next US president the culture crisis will continue. But I hold to hope and attempt to seize the opportunity. What will you do with yours?