His name is Felipe, and as far as Lyft drivers go, I’ve hit the jackpot of nice ones to look at. He’s six foot four, early 20s, Brazilian. All of this I learn within seconds of my ride to the airport because of my chronic case of “tell me your life story” face.
I don’t purposefully try to start conversations with strangers, but thus is my life – strangers telling me deeply personal things whether I’m in the mood or not. Maybe they can tell I’m collecting stories, and they hope they’ll tell me something meaningful, something I can preserve. And aren’t they kind of right?
I’m in a peaceful mood this morning, on my way to the airport to fly to San Antonio and see one of my oldest and best friends, John. Because of that, I’m easy to talk to, charming, and a good listener - my best version of me, and maybe Felipe’s ideal early morning passenger. After some small talk, he tells me he just moved to LA from Missouri, where he went to college.
“Do you think you’re gonna stay in LA?” I ask.
“Well,” he says, “I don’t know. I moved to the US from Brazil. I left my family and my friends, my home. I guess I just figured if I’m going to be tied to anything, it’s not going to be a place.”
He asks me what I do, and I tell him, “I’m the assistant to the head of a school.” That’s my generic conversation answer.
He digs deeper. “Is that what you always wanted to be?”
I laugh. Who wants to be that? “No,” I say. “I’m here because I’m a standup comedian.”
He perks up. Most people do. They don’t know how truly un-glamorous stand up comedy actually is. “How long have you been doing it?”
I sigh. I always sigh when I answer this question now. It’s involuntary. “Ten years.”
“That’s great,” he says. “You do what you love.”
“Yeah, well.” I stare out the window. “I don’t know if I love to do it anymore.”
I shrug. “Life circumstances? I guess. It’s just…not what I thought it was.” I change the subject. “What do you lov—”
“I love to play basketball.” He answers before I can finish the sentence. “Started playing when I was 15 years old. That’s pretty late, I know. When I was in high school, they would lock the gym at night, and I used to break in to play. I got caught and got in trouble for it once.”
He looks at me in the rear view and smiles, his eyes genuine. I’m always surprised when beautiful people are also authentic.
He continues. “I started to realize in Brazil that I was pretty good, so I moved to the US. I played in college in Missouri. I wanted to play professionally, but the stress was so much. I kept meeting with different people who were supposed to help me, but no one was interested.”
“Yeah,” I say. “I totally get that.”
“But one day,” he says, “I remember I was really down. I missed home. I wondered what I was doing. I thought to myself, ‘Do you love this? Then just play because you love it.’”
I sit silent, wondering - do I love standup?
“And you know what?” Felipe says. “The very next day, I played like I loved the game. I had so much fun on the court during practice, and the only thing that mattered was that I got to play in that moment. And during that practice, the manager from a Puerto Rico league happened to be watching, and he approached me afterwards and asked me if I wanted to play for him. He was going to pay me to do what I loved!”
“That’s amazing!” I say. “So you played in Puerto Rico?”
He shakes his head. “No. I stayed in Missouri to finish my degree because my education was more important to me.”
“Wow,” I say, thrown by the story’s sudden 180. “Man. But do you still play?”
“Of course. I’ll always play. I play in a league here.” As he veers off the main road to the ramp that leads to Southwest departures, he looks at me again in the rear view. “You should always do the thing that makes your heart beat faster. But do it only because you love it. If you don’t do it for that, then you’ll…you won’t be…you won’t have…” He searches for the right words.
“You’ll be dead inside."
“Yes,” he says. “I couldn’t put it better than that.”
About the Author
Leah Kayajanian is a comedian and writer who lives in L.A. She spends her days working at a school and her nights doing standup and creating cool things with her friends.