I picked him up during rush hour and soon learned that Arman had come to the United States as a refugee from Iran when he was just 10.
I asked him why his family left their homeland.
He told me his mother was an Armenian Christian, his father a Muslim. In Iran, he was called slurs that roughly translated to “dirty dog Christian.” His family was treated horribly.
I could relate. I grew up in the ’80s and was called “Grody Brodi” at school all the time.
I asked how they got out of Iran.
He told me that his family concocted a plan. They pretended they had an intercontinental bet on a soccer game with an uncle living in France. If their team won, their uncle would pay for them to fly to France for a family vacation.
There was no uncle in France.
When the time came for their “victory trip,” the Iranian government stepped in and blocked Arman’s father from getting on the plane. “But it is just a short visit to France,” the parents said, pleading.
The authorities didn’t budge.
I could relate. I mean, this one time in Disneyland, we waited in a long line and got to the end, only to have my younger son turned away because he was an inch too short. Can you believe that?
Arman’s family knew this was their chance. With Dad’s blessing, and with breaking hearts, they went to France and then made their way to a refugee camp in Germany, where they spent the next seven months futilely applying for sanctuary in the United States.
I could relate. I went to girls’ camp, where I had to wait in line for the outhouse.
German officials told them their time was up. It was a matter of days before they would be sent back to Iran. In a stroke of luck, their most recent application to the United States was approved. Arman said he is the luckiest unlucky person alive.
They moved to Utah, because at the time, it was one of two states that didn’t require sponsorship for refugees. Arman’s father remained in Iran.
Months later, the Twin Towers fell in New York City. No refugees would be coming into the U.S. for a long time. Arman went from being a “dirty dog Christian” to being a “Muslim terrorist” who should go back to his own country.
It would be five long years before Arman’s father would be reunited with his family.
I could relate. Just weeks earlier, I’d dropped my iPhone in the toilet. It was days before we were reunited.
Traffic made our time together longer than it should have been. We missed lights. Got caught behind long lines of cars waiting to turn left. We had a lot of time to talk. Arman told me how he doesn’t understand the fear of refugees, because his family had given up so much to be here. His father had graduate degrees in Iran. Here, he is a factory worker. They spent years apart just for the chance to come to the United States, risked life and limb and a possible return to a country that would not have forgotten their betrayal very easily.
Arman was recently accepted to dental school. He is saving money to pay his way. He knows what it is like to have a toothache, and he knows what it is like to have a parent say there is no money to fix it.
I could relate. Who hasn’t had a toothache?
I dropped him off at the dental school, where he was working until his matriculation.
I picked up my next ride a few blocks away. The man needed to get to downtown in 10 minutes or he would be late for work and it was still rush hour and why didn’t I find his location sooner and if he was late, so help him. …
I drove as fast as I could. He was five minutes late. He was not happy and he left me a low rating. Obviously he could relate to Arman as well as I could.
Brodi Ashton is a New York Times best-selling author who lives in the Salt Lake City area. She’s also an Uber and Lyft driver who shares stories from the road in this occasional column.