"And no one else ..." Abodunwae Adeniji suddenly leaned forward inside his creeping cab and raised the volume of Oliver North's voice on his radio. "... knew anything about this." He relaxed in his seat and continued to listen closely, like a stoic judge in a crowded courtroom, to the Iran-contra hearings.
Adeniji's cab was inching along with more than 100 others in a bumper-to-bumper line outside National Airport, the traffic creating a curious chorus. Squeaking brakes. Rumbling mufflers. Honking horns. And North's husky tenor reverberating from cab after cab.
"I used to listen to music all day driving, but not since this is on," said Adeniji, a 31-year-old Nigerian who also studies computer science at the University of the District of Columbia. His face and neck were soaked with sweat in the noonday heat, but nothing has dampened his enthusiasm for the proceedings. "This testimony gives you reality, you understand," he said, emphasizing his words with quick hand gestures. "And I must know that. Whether there's a scandal or no scandal, you must try to watch and listen to your government to understand. That's a good thing here in this country -- that you can."
At the circular driveway snaking up to L'Enfant Plaza, the scene was similar, if more serene. There amid well-pruned trees and strains of "Moon River" floating from the hotel lobby, the mood was reverent. No one spoke or played with his CB because no one wanted to miss a word. To four drivers waiting their turn in line for passengers -- two of them from Haiti, one from Africa, one from India -- the hearings were the talk of the day, the week. The summer.
They are addicted to this democratic interrogation and revelation.
Before coming to the United States, it was a process not available to them.
"I just do not understand people who were born into this who do not keep on top of their country's policies and problems," said Kulwant Bal, a driver for the YourCab company, fighting the stifling heat and the competition for customers outside the hotel. "Most of us here in the United States who are from foreign countries are keeping on top of this, because we really care about what happens here."
He paused, then lobbed a strictly personal aside: "I think Reagan knew."
Chavanne Rene is not sure who knew what when. That's why he listens from morning to evening to the hearings as he steers his cab through the city. The cab offers solitude. Solitude prompts concentration.
Rene, a 34-year-old native of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, whose study of medical engineering at Montgomery College is supplemented by cab driving, said these hearings present him with a vivid view into the nuances of government examining itself.
"I believe foreign people who live here are very curious about the hearings," he said as he passed the Jefferson Memorial. North's responses emanated from the radio: "... it was a serious judgment error."
"I believe we are more interested to listen and watch closely, maybe more than regular Americans, because we really want to see what kind of shape democracy is in," he adds. "And this is a big example."
"We're all getting into this," said a Capitol driver. "I've talked to a lot of my friends, and they're all listening to this. I would say 90 percent of all the cab drivers in the city have got this tuned in."
At Union Station, where a line sometimes 20 deep kept watch for any available cab, vehicles with the hearings on were at times a hot commodity. The question to ride or not to ride was many times determined by what was playing on the dial -- Madonna or North.
"Hearings on?" said a businessman, tapping on the glass of a Capitol Cab. "Nope," said the American driver, Janet Jackson blasting on the radio. The man moved on to the next cab.
"Hearings on?" he asked again. "Yes," said the YourCab driver from France. The man got in and sped away into the humid haze.
Sesey Foday from Sierra Leone was one of the Union Station drivers eager to share his views with anyone who asked. "That Oliver North, he's hiding the facts," Foday said as a gang of tourists piled into his cab. "He's safeguarding the president. He's tricky, this guy."
But he's typical, according to Baldev, a 31-year-old native of New Delhi who insisted on withholding his last name. Weaving his cab through midday traffic, repeatedly turning from the road to the back seat, he declared: "See, these are all politicians' games we're watching and listening to. And I think -- I don't know why they don't catch on -- that they might be able to hide bad things for the time being, but it will all come out later, like it is now," he said, revealing a broad smile beneath a thick black mustache.
Talking about the hearings reminded Baldev of an incident a few years ago, when he was being tested about U.S. history before becoming a U.S. citizen. "Tell me how you know who makes the law," he was asked. But the question did not sound exactly like that, he says. It was confusing. So he responded: "I watch television." The questioner laughed. What she had asked was who makes the law. He knew it was Congress. But it was too late. He had to wait another month to take the test again.
"I've been thinking about that when I watch the hearings," Baldev said. " 'Who makes the law? Congress.' And I'm glad I can listen to these things debated. You should know these things."
He paused, a proud grin washing over his face. "I think what we have in this country is unique and good, to have this come out in public, and have everybody really listen."