I’m in New York City working on a story about storytelling and the power of a story to change the life of a storyteller (it’s actually much deeper and more interesting than that, but you’ll have to wait until October’s Spirit magazine comes out to learn much more). I’ve had a number of interviews over the last couple of days about storytelling from storytellers, storytelling coaches, storytelling organizations, etc. But the story I didn’t expect to hear happened soon after I stepped off the plane and grabbed a cab into the city.
The cab driver had a thick, Eastern European accent, a bald head and a beak of a schnoz. He was nice and chatty from the get-go (something that rarely happens in Chicago but always seems to be the case in New York and other cities, in my experience.) He welcomed me to New York City, asked about the weather in Chicago, all the normal stuff.
I told him I was staying at The Pod hotel, in Midtown, and he said that in his 24 years living here, he’d never heard of such a place. So I segued into asking him where he’s from. He said he’s Armenian, but also lived in Poland. I asked him how he likes New York.
“I don’t have a choice,” he said. “I was arrested.”
The story comes out that he’s a playwright. While living in Poland, he directed a play about the Armenian genocide, on the anniversary of the Armenian genocide. He somehow managed to get the play on television, drawing all kinds of attention, and from there hell broke loose.
He said the Polish government went after him for producing this kind of play. He said he sought refuge at the Armenian embassy, staying there for about six months. And after he left there, things were never the same. He said he was followed by police and government officials, questioned constantly about where he was going, what he was doing and why. He felt like a caged animal, so he left, coming over to New York.
Now, he drives a cab by day and also runs a couple of acting studios. He said he still performs, and that he’s best known for his role played Jesus, riding on a camel. I asked him for his name so I could look him up online, but he only gave me his first name, Noriic. He said any news I would find would be in Polish, and that now, in America, he goes by a pen name for further camouflage.
A story can indeed change the life of the storyteller. As though I needed more proof, here it was, handed to me in the form of a Yellow Cab.
(Post Script: Noriic then proceeded to miss my hotel and drive me around a few blocks in New York traffic looking for The Pod (to his credit, he did turn the meter off). I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that he’s a better playwright than a taxi driver.)