Posts

My $10,000,000 Uber Chauffeur

My last Uber Chauffeur drove a black Corolla and was worth $10,000,000. He called himself Schlomo, a Jewish name that sounds out of place in South Florida. I didn’t bring it up, but the conversation came around.

Are you Jewish?” He asked me halfway through the ride.

Nope”. 

Not everyone can be perfect” He replied, smiling at me in the rear-view mirror.

This came up after I asked Schlomo how old he was when he moved to Venezuela. So far we had talked about the history of Venezuela, the daily corruption, his son’s successful career on Wall Street, and the advantages of living in a tropical climate. I rarely seek conversation with my Uber drivers, but this time I wanted to know more. Schlomo seemed to be in good spirits for a man who lost his life’s work six months ago.

A Fallen Country

People wait hours in line to get food and basic supplies

Venezuela is one of the most violent countries in the world at the moment. 2015 saw an estimated 27, 875 murders. That’s 76 homicides every day in a country one-tenth the size of America. Most go unsolved.  People wait hours for toilet paper, eggs and bread. Inflation is so rampant that it’s impossible to exchange the Bolivar for dollars. The inflation rate in 2015 was 180%, crippling buying power and forcing people to shop on the black market. Schlomo brought this to life for me by giving a first hand recollection of how Venezuela’s out of control government has affected him.

I know Venezuela like the back of my hand. I’ve flown all over, all four corners. It’s a beautiful country and I loved living there. 30 years ago I began my company and today, if I could sell it in dollars, it would be worth $10,000,000. I had hundreds of employees, it’s a big business! I owned apartments, restaurants and property. That’s all gone. I left it in Venezuela.” 

I ask: “If there is a change in government is there any chance you could get everything back?” 

“Maybe. But there will be no change in government. Venezuela is corrupt and will not change. That’s why I’m here in America now. I couldn’t stay in Venezuela any longer. They nationalized my company, they took away everything. I had nothing left to stay for.” 

This is life in Venezuela, and if you fight you can be imprisoned or killed. That’s happening today, in a country three hours from Miami. Nor is Schlomo the only affected Venezuelan that I know. Beatrice, the wife of my friend in South Florida, had her family’s chocolate plantation nationalized. Her family lost everything in the name of an ideal that has probably never existed anywhere but paper. It’s a terrible waste and a scarily accurate example of the world that Ayn Rand created in Atlas ShruggedSo while the chances of positive change in Venezuela are slim, the chances are much higher that Schlomo will remain the wealthiest Uber Chauffeur I’ll ever shake hands with.

My Three Favorite Places

1. New York City

Beauty at its peak

A survey of Americans asked which city they would most like to live in or around. New York was number 1. The same survey asked which city would be the worst to live in or around. New York was number 1. If you like cities, you love New York. If you don’t like cities, it’s the bottom rung of hell. What sets New York apart from other places I’ve visited is the density. There’s more interesting shit in one block of downtown Manhattan than there is in my entire home town.

Not to mention the skyline. It’s fantastic, especially as seen from Williamsburg or Hoboken.

The public transit system runs 24 hours and it’s significantly cheaper than most other major cities. New York is also one of the most diverse places on the planet. If you speak a language, you’ll find someone in New York to speak it with. If you love to travel, you can live in New York and feel like you’re travelling because people come to you.

The rent may be exorbitant, but the benefits heavily outweigh the costs. There’s a level of vitality in New York that is not to be taken for granted.

2. South Beach

SoBe has one of the best beaches you can hope to find

I like Miami, I love South Beach. The shoreline is beautiful, Italian super cars disrupt the peace, and there’s a fantastic Spanish influence. I thrive in diverse places and South Beach is a meeting spot for people from Puerto Rico, Mexico, Venezuela, Argentina, Colombia, Peru, Cuba, and more. To a lesser extent you also meet people from Asia and Europe. SoBe is not a well-guarded secret.

While some aspects of South Beach are heavily commercialized (the hotels and shops selling glamorous crap), much of it still retains an authentic South Florida feeling. There are hotels and bars that look like they came out of a Scarface set. Ocean Dr. and the park that runs along the beach is pristine. So long as there isn’t a hurricane, the weather is ideal. I would be happy to spend several years here, learn Spanish, and build a nice life for myself.

3. Berlin 

Berlin is a beautiful blend of old and new

The city is modern, but you frequently encounter historical reminders. Bombed churches, holocaust memorials, and the famous Brandenburg Gate. The metro is affordable (or free if you’re a delinquent American named Sam) and will take you anywhere you need to go. That’s helpful when you need to get to the club, which is a smart move because the club scene is second to none. Berlin has the best techno in the world and you can experience it in a wide range of fascinating spaces.

Not only is the city a wonderful place to exist, but I’ve consistently found Germans to be the most enjoyable people to spend time with. They’re fun, they love to travel, and they make great friends. I get a kick out of Berlin and I warmly look forward to spending many more months there, perfecting my German and listening to techno.

Honorable Mentions

Best cheap place – Kiev

Best beach – Koh Pha-Ngan

Best place to avoid at all costs – Bangkok

Best food – Dubai

Best insanely expensive place – Copenhagen