I recently took a cab from the Chicago Metra Station to a bar near Wrigleyville.  I was meeting my nephew and sister for some drinks.

I hailed the cab and got in.  I was wearing a patterned sort-of-Hawaiian-type shirt.  I told the cabbie where I was headed.  He said, “Man, when I first saw you, I thought, ‘he’s right out of the jungle!’”

I joked, “well, I HAVE killed a few lions.  And the tribe chief gave me the day off to get drunk.”

He laughed, then told me his story.  He’s from a Zulu tribe in Africa, and has been a Chicago cabbie for two years.  His tribe kicked him out because he was too rowdy and rambunctious.  He’d had to learn how to drive, and did well financially with his cab (he WAS pretty adept a weaving in and out of rush-hour traffic).

I was intrigued.  “Wow.  Why did you decide to come to Chicago?”

He said he wanted to see what America was like.  He’d heard it was a great country.  There was quite a bit of dismay in his voice.

I asked him more about his home.  He said a lion had eaten his nephew, and gorillas had beaten him up twice.  He showed me a large circular scar on his inner left wrist.  A mildly poisonous snake had tried to attack him, and he’d grasped it by the throat, but it managed to take a hunk out of his arm.  He’d sucked the poison out and run back to his village for help.

I said, “do you have some kind of medicine men?”  He said the healers in his tribe are old men with no real medicine.  If you have a headache, they’ll give you pig lips to eat, then say a prayer.

“Does that work?”

“Oh yes.  Your headache goes away.”

I said, “this must be real culture shock for you.  I mean, we Americans are pretty stupid and selfish.”

He immediately agreed.  “Yes, you’re very stupid.  And fat and ugly.”

“Hey, I used to be skinny and good-looking, but I got old.”

I imagined the typical Chicagoans he’d had as regular fares: drunken entitled frat boys, thugs (he’d been jumped more than once), rude self-absorbed businesspeople, giggling vapid young girls.  Not a real good representation of a “great” country.

“You have so much food here.  Nobody appreciates that.  We have to raise all our crops and livestock, and hunt.”

I agreed.  “Yep, we’re pretty much ungrateful assholes.”

“You Americans wouldn’t last a day in the jungle.  You’d get eaten by a lion.”

“I’d punch him in the face first, THEN I’d get eaten.  That’d show him.”

I asked him more questions.  His tribe lives in mud huts with leaf roofs.  He was a farmer in the tribe; all the food grown and livestock raised is for internal consumption.  They don’t trade or barter anything with other tribes.  He said a few times, “maybe you’ve seen it on TV.”  I assume he meant National Geographic-type documentaries.

I said, “I’m impressed.  That’s a pretty intense way to live.”  He said, “yes.  Yes, it’s very intense.”

He told me he has no friends here and misses his tribe.  I asked, “are you kicked out forever?” He put his hands together in prayer and said, “I’m going to ask the chief to let me back in.”

The guy came to a major U.S. city that has pretty much everything you could ask for (at least from an American point of view).  He thought it would be a great place to live in exile — but he absolutely hates it and the people in it.  He wants to make amends and go back to join his people in the harsh eat-or-get-eaten jungle habitat.

We arrived at the bar and I gave him a nice tip.  As I got out I said, “you’re an entertaining fellow.  Good luck; I hope you get back to your tribe.”

MORAL OF THE STORY:  We Americans take pretty much everything we have for granted.  We bitch about minor inconveniences when even the most downtrodden among us have it so much better than many, many people in this world.  We could be living in mud huts fending off lions and tigers and gorillas and snakes – not to mention a plethora of jungle diseases and possible enemy tribes — and eating pig lips to get rid of the headache caused by all that stress.

So count your blessings, fellow Americans.  And for God’s sake, SHUT THE HELL UP.