Lawtte Hailu drives a Yellow Cab on Memorial Day, winding through Mountain View with the windows down, the sounds of summer pouring through. When he pulls up to my curb, he hops out of the car for a few drags on his cigarette.
This is his neighborhood too, he says. He’s lived in Mountain View nearly as long as he’s lived in Alaska. And he loves Alaska.
“I think this is the best place I’ve ever lived,” he says.
From Ethiopia, once a refugee, Hailu eventually moved to Cologne, Germany, where he worked on a crew cleaning up city parks. He admired the intricate architecture at the historic Cologne Cathedral, and learned to speak German buying Winchester cigarettes in the local shops.
The best way to learn a foreign language is to read books, he tells me.
From Germany, he moved to Oregon. It was 1982. He traveled to Los Angeles looking for work.
“Now, if you give me $5,000 a month, I would not live in Los Angeles,” he tells me.
He talks about the neighborhoods with the signs — “No police protection after 10 p.m.” He talks about the way people split up according to race — “Apartheid!” he says. After a while, he’d had enough. So he moved north up the west coast.
He liked Seattle, he says. He likes Anchorage better. Mountain View, he’ll tell you, is the most diverse neighborhood in the United States.
Over the years, he’s watched the communtity shift and grow, adding new residents in waves and trickles. New housing has made a difference, he thinks. What kind, I ask?
“It’s changing for the better,” he says.