During my family and my recent trip to Chicago, we flagged down a taxi from our hotel in downtown to go to Devon Avenue on the northwest side of the city. [Devon Avenue is where South Asian businesses are located, including many restaurants.] My family took the back seat and I took the passenger seat next to the driver.

Against the advice of my wife, I usually get friendly with a taxi driver. I can’t help it because I like to chat. From downtown Chicago to Devon Avenue is more than ten miles. In five days we must have taken at least a dozen taxis, and every one of the drivers was a foreigner—a Nigerian, a Ukrainian, a Kazak, a Pakistani, an Indian and a South African. But this particular driver was different. First, I noticed his name on his ID that spelled something like Tsering. My intuition said he was a Tibetan. So I asked, “Are you a Tibetan?”

“How did you know?”
“I read your name on your photo ID.”
“Yes, I am, but not many people can tell that I am a Tibetan.”

This is how the conversation began. The roads were congested, so it took about 25 minutes to get to our destination. We discussed many topics including the Dalai Lama, Buddhism, politics, family and the Tibetan diaspora, not in that order. We finally reached our destination.

On the meter the fare registered $40.60. I opened my wallet, but Tsering stopped me. He said, “No, I will not accept payment from a fellow who knows so much about my country and its people. It would be my honor to give this ride free.” We were all stunned by his kind gesture. I insisted on paying. But he was adamant like a Vajra.

“Well, in that case, I can’t force you to accept the fare. If you do not accept payment, let me at least pay you back with a hug.” So I hugged him. While we were hugging, Ravi, our son-in-law, had left two $20 bills in the back seat, which I had not seen. Tsering apparently saw them and returned the bills to Ravi.

Meanwhile, our daughter Riti and her family got out of another taxi.

I asked Anurag, our son-in-law, how much he paid.
“More than $50 because we had to stop at a toy store to buy something for Rohin.”
“Guess what? We paid zero.” I told him.
“You are kidding,” Anurag said.
“No, I am not. Ask Ravi.”
After hearing the full story from Ravi, Anurag said, “Wow! That’s unreal.”

Yes, my friends, that’s called compassion, and it’s mostly found among the followers of His Holiness the Dalai Lama who practices Vajrayana Buddhism. If you (Tsering) happen to read this blog, I thank you again from the bottom of my heart, not for saving me $40, but for making me feel Chicago my home.