Taking a limousine to the airport is always worth the price of admission. Limousine drivers are often first generation immigrants who drive because they like people and are naturally gregarious. Detecting an accent, I typically ask where they came from, and, more often than not, I learn their life’s story.
On a recent trip to Pearson Airport, my driver told me that he was from Lebanon and that he, his wife and two children came to live in Mississauga with his extended family of Lebanese relatives. He had worked throughout the Middle East, and had a lovely family home in Beirut. When his parents died, he no longer wanted to live there and joined his siblings in Canada. Initially, he worked in construction but then he learned about driving limousines and has done that ever since. He owns his own car, although the plate belongs to the company with which he works. He likes that he can pick his own hours, that he travels all over the GTA, and that he meets so many people. He doesn’t mind hard work, although he doesn’t like to work late evenings Friday or Saturday nights because “there are too many people drinking and driving and (he’s) afraid.” His son, now 37 years of age, is a mechanical engineer; his daughter, 29 years, a nurse.
Although he returns to Lebanon every three years or so for a visit, he is ecstatic that he lives in Canada. He particularly enjoys living in Mississauga: a nice house, in a nice neighbourhood, with neighbours who care for each other (and shovel each other’s walks), and all the amenities he needs nearby. When I commented that the morning traffic going west on the Gardiner seemed as heavy as the traffic going east, he explained that the Mississauga government was “very smart.” The tax holiday offered to companies relocating their offices to Mississauga attracted so many that people living downtown were now commuting west to work. Houses in Mississauga, he said, are in great demand at good prices because these people want to live closer to their employment. It was a perspective those of us living downtown do not hear all that often.
In the few minutes we spent together, we discussed Middle East politics, the Lebanese civil war which destroyed Beirut known before as “the Paris of the Mediterranean,” the current situation in Syria. He lamented the tragedy of people torn apart by religion and asserted how great it was to live in a country where people of different faiths mingle peacefully. He told me that there were now four million Lebanese in Lebanon, but double that number of Lebanese origin or ancestry in São Paulo, Brazil. He also said that many of the “Lebanese” businessmen one meets in Toronto in fact come from São Paulo. Who would have thought of a Lebanese-Brazil connection? According to him, there are one million Lebanese in Canada, most in Montreal, the GTA, Edmonton and Vancouver. I later checked the numbers. The 2006 Canadian census puts the number of Lebanese and Lebanese-origin in Canada at closer to 165,000, with Ottawa having the highest per cent concentration in the country. But who am I to challenge his perceptions? He is obviously a big booster of Canada and Lebanese-Canadians may well have the energy and work ethic of many times their real numbers.
I asked him, “Have you ever visited Vancouver?” His response: “No, but I heard that it is a very clean, beautiful city.” I replied, “If you like Beirut, you would love Vancouver, where the mountains and the sea come together and the vegetation is green and lush.” “Maybe,” he said, “but, although I like to travel, I prefer Mississauga and miss it when I leave.” At the airport, he lifted my bags to the sidewalk and we shook hands. Fast friends? Not yet, but it was a meaningful exchange. It occurred to me that we should check out the Lebanese restaurants in Mississauga.