Khalil Hida grew up living the soccer life. He started training at the soccer school of the prestigious Raja Casablanca club when he was fourteen. At the age of sixteen, he got an offer from a club located in France to come and train with them, but his family held him back, wanting to keep him close to home. At twenty-one, Khalil became a regular on the field with Raja Casablanca, starting at left midfield for the defending African Cup champions. Two years later, he won the Green Card lottery and came to the Big Apple with dreams of playing for the New York–area Metrostars, but those dreams quickly gave way to the more immediate needs of finding a job and a place to live. Now, at age twenty-six (nearly over the hill in athlete years), Khalil drives a limousine and teeters between broken dreams and hope for the future.
He arrived knowing only one person in New York, who would end up leaving town less than two weeks into Khalil’s stay. In his first week, Khalil walked around door to door, not speaking a word of English and with nothing more than a piece of paper bearing the handwritten words, “I am looking for work.” He finally came upon a lighter-and-torch company called Blazer. He started at minimum wage performing menial tasks, eventually working his way up to his own office. At Blazer he found a warm and welcoming environment, where he learned English and made lasting friendships. He worked there for a year, until the company went out of business. That’s when he started driving.
Initially, he worked with car services and learned his way around the city on the job. He started driving limousines several months ago and has been at his current company for two months. Cars are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Drivers keep the car for as many hours as they like, but only get paid by the assignment. This means that in a typical day, Khalil might pick up the car at
8 am and return it at 10 pm and only get paid for five to six hours. The rest of the time he spends waiting for assignments. Recently, he took out a car every single day for several weeks, for about ten hours each day, and accumulated only about thirty-five to forty billable hours per week. At a rate of fourteen dollars per hour, he is barely able to pay his living expenses in New York. With all the time that Khalil spends behind the wheel, almost all other aspects of his life are compromised; he rarely gets an opportunity to play soccer anymore and he has put his studies for the GED on hold. However, Khalil still maintains optimism, rising early as often as possible to work out at the gym.
Despite his difficulties, Khalil maintains that he loves New York. He appreciates the energy and centrality of the metropolis and has become a quintessential New Yorker, from his clothing style to his honking at stagnant traffic. But Khalil still remembers what it was like to be a fresh out-of-towner in New York. The limousine is regularly thronged by tourists wanting to get a snapshot of themselves with a thirty-two-foot-long car. Khalil, who still has his own “Me and the Stretch Limo” snapshots from his first days in the city, is as accommodating a driver as they are likely to find, often allowing curious tourists inside to get a look, sometimes even taking people for rides. He also remembers how hard it was when he first got here, and so he shares his bedroom with two friends who can’t yet afford a place of their own. They’ve stayed three months already, but Khalil doesn’t even think twice about it, considering it a matter of due course; you take some and you give some, it all comes around in the end.