A Mother’s Love for Her Autistic Son #RideshareConfessional

Photo by Mike Wilson via Unsplash
Photo by Mike Wilson via Unsplash

I pull up on the side of a busy street, and a Hispanic woman and her son climb into the back. She is well dressed. He is toting a backpack and sounds excited about getting new glasses.

“Now, we didn’t get them today, son, but we will soon. Mommy has to pay for them little by little.”

We make a turn and head towards their home, two miles away.

“How are you?” I ask. “Sure is a beautiful day.” The sun is warm through the windshield and the sky is a blue that pops.

“I’m good,” she says hesitantly, and I can tell she makes a quick decision in her mind to answer honestly. I see this often, this split second of indecision, this wavering between an answer of “I’m good” or the truth. She keeps going.

“It is a beautiful day,” she continues. “But I’ve been to appointments all day. First, I had to take my youngest son here to an eye appointment. And there were other things.”

She pauses again, and again I can tell she’s thinking, thinking, thinking about how much to tell me, a stranger. “You know, honestly, I’m fighting the school district right now. My oldest son is autistic, and I’ve had to pick him up from school ten times this year.”

“Oh, wow,” I say. “I’m so sorry.”

“Sit back, son, keep your seat belt on,” she says to her son, then turns to me. “He has trouble sleeping. He has GI issues, which isn’t unusual for children with autism. And now he’s crying a lot at school. He doesn’t speak. He’s so tired, and they don’t know what to do when he cries, so they tell me to come and get him. I just don’t know what to do. I’m at the end of my rope.”

It’s a short trip to her drop off spot. We’re there in what feels like no time. She opens the door, barely finished speaking.

“I’m so sorry,” I say again. “My sister has fought those battles, too, for her daughter in Florida. I hear from her how draining it can be. I hope you’re able to get your son what he needs.”

“Thank you,” she says emphatically. “Me, too. Thank you.” She turns to her son. “Follow me out this side. What do you say?”

“Thank you,” he says.

“Thanks, man,” I say, turning around and smiling at him.

He giggles. “He called me man,” he tells his mother, stifling a laugh. They climb out. I drive away.

The Weight of it All #RidesharingConfessional

Photo by Katie Hetland
Photo by Katie Hetland

I got a call to pick someone up, but they were twenty minutes away. I normally don’t accept those fares – either they want to take a super-short trip or they cancel when I’m only halfway there. But it had been a slow night, so I clicked accept and drove north, away from the city, into the dark.

This guy lived in a very quiet, unlit suburban neighborhood. It felt like about the loneliest place on Earth, maybe because I drove so far, or maybe because all the lights on all the houses were out. The winter trees leaned in over the grid of streets, bare and still. I pulled up along the sidewalk and this guy came limping out to the car.

He was big, and my car was not the perfect size for him. He pushed the seat all the way back. He smelled of cigarettes and booze. He was probably in his late twenties with a scruffy beard and a ball cap tilted back on his head. He wore a camo jacket, jeans, and heavy work boots.

“Mind doing a round trip for me?” he asked, leaning out the car door to spit out his wad of tobacco.

“Sure,” I said. “No worries.” I was relieved I hadn’t driven that far for a minimum fare. I filled him in on the NPR interview I was listening to – a fascinating piece about an Iranian who was tortured for treating women, then spied for the government, then finally turned double agent and provided information for the US.

It was a quiet, ten-minute drive.

He directed me to a small line of shops. He went into the liquor store and came out with a few bags. He put them in the car, and the glass clinked. Then he went into a burger and wings joint and came out with a brown bag that smelled amazing. We drove back towards his house.

On the way, the show changed to something different, and we listened to someone who had grown up in a US city. They made the comment that, “Where I grew up, once you went to jail, you were cool. That’s when you really hit adulthood, after your first stint in prison.”

The guy beside me, quiet until that moment, burst out with a cynical laugh.

“Whatever,” he muttered. “When I went to prison, it was not cool. It was humiliating.”

He went on to tell me how he had a few DUIs, got into some other trouble, ended up spending a few months behind bars. He talked about it the way men talk about some long ago affair that ruined their lives: he was objective, but there was a wistfulness there, something that pointed toward a major loss the imprisonment led to.

He talked and talked and talked the entire way home. It was like I had pulled the small plug out of the dam. When we pulled back into his dark, lonely neighborhood, he shook my hand.

“Thanks, man,” he said, and I took it to be a thank you for talking to him, or being okay with his ex-con status, or maybe for just listening. “I don’t go out anymore – can’t risk that kind of trouble. So I get a ride out, buy some drinks, buy some food, and spend the night here, on my own. Friday nights used to be for bars.”

He laughed a laugh that said he couldn’t believe what his life had become. It was the laugh of an old, old man who regretted his entire life, except this guy wasn’t yet thirty.

“But now, this is it. It’s okay.”

He got out of the car, retrieved his bags of food and booze from the back, and walked quietly up the cracked sidewalk to the front door, his shoulders bent under the weight of it all.

He Told Me He was Ready to be a Father #RidesharingConfessional


As an Uber driver, driving the same person is rare. It’s happened to me exactly twice. The first time it happened is a ridiculously strange story I’m still trying to figure out how to tell. The second time it happened was on a rainy, January day when the year still felt like a blank journal.

He wanted to try to cram a six-foot carpet into my poor little Mini Cooper. We wedged it through the trunk and into the back seat. He climbed into the front and thanked me. He wore work clothes and talked about how he happy he was to be making double-time-and-a-half. I thought I recognized him, but if it was the person I thought it was he didn’t look the way I remembered him looking. If you know what I mean.

Anyway, it was him, and in fact I wrote about meeting him a few weeks ago because the first time I drove him made such a big impression on me. He was the same African-American guy I drove right after the election, the same one who was feeling fearful after the results came in. He told me he still felt uneasy. I asked him how his year was going. He smiled, big.

“Well, we have had some news since I saw you last. My girlfriend’s expecting,” he said. “I’m going to be a father.”

He told me he was taking on all the hours he could. He remembered when his brother was little, eight years younger than him, and he had to raise him because his dad was always at work. He used to get up early and help him with his homework. He taught him how to play sports. He kept him in line.

“I’m ready,” he said, smiling. “I’m ready to be a father.”

An African American Man, Donald Trump, and Listening #UberChronicles


A few weeks ago, I picked up an African American gentleman while I was driving for Uber here in Lancaster. I don’t initiate conversations with passengers – I always find that to be super-annoying as a passenger, when a driver won’t shut up. So I normally say a sentence or two and if they take it from there, then we’ll talk, and if they don’t, well, who doesn’t enjoy a quiet car ride? The sound of music? The rush of the road under the car and the intermittent flash of street lights as you drive along?

We started chatting, and he was soft-spoken and kind, but we had a fifteen-minute ride, so halfway through our conversation dwindled and he turned his attention to his phone. We were a few minutes from his destination when we passed one of the Republican headquarters here in the city. Now, the last thing I want to do is bring up politics with riders. Seems like a pretty fast way to get a 1-star rating. But before I knew what was happening, I asked him a simple question.

“How are you doing since the election?”

We were at a light, and I looked over my shoulder to make sure he wasn’t going to punch the back of my head. The expression on his face was heavy. He looked as if we had only just then actually seen each other for the first time. All before had been viewed through masks.

“It’s been tough,” he said, shrugging, as if he had only then decided to be open with me. He cleared his throat. “My girlfriend is white, and we’re planning on getting married. She woke me up at 2:34am and told me Trump won Pennsylvania. She was crying.”

“Sorry, man,” I said. We were almost at his house, but I felt like we had only hit the tip of the iceberg.

“She asked me if a Trump presidency would mean we couldn’t marry each other. I told her of course it didn’t mean that. I didn’t tell her it did mean things might get a whole lot harder for us as an interracial couple. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.”

“I’m sorry,” I said again. I pulled to a stop in front of his house.

“Thanks, man,” he said, with genuine appreciation in his voice. He paused, then reached up into the front to shake my hand. “Thank you.”

I had done nothing but ask a question and listen.

* * * * *

It would be easy for me, for any of us, to tell this young man that his worries are silly. Of course Trump isn’t going to outlaw interracial marriage. Right? Of course they can get married. Stop being so paranoid.

It would be easy for me to ignore any concern that my friends who are Muslim refugees have, that they will now not be joined by their families waiting in refugee camps or war-torn countries. It would be easy for me to brush their concern aside and offer up a platitude, reminding them that God is in control. What will be, will be. It will all work out.


These are real worries people have. It doesn’t help for any of us to negate each others’ concerns, to say, “Well, I was worried eight years ago when Obama got elected so get over it.” I think now would be a good time for us to consider Psalm 147, to focus more on binding up people’s wounds instead of trying to convince them their wounds don’t exist or are superficial or are the same wounds we had once upon a time.

Can we start asking questions and listening to each other? Really listening? And then walking away without protesting or offering easy answers?

I Started Driving For Uber. This is What I Discovered.


Last week I started driving for Uber. You know, the ride-sharing service where you use your own car to drive people from here to there. Things are a little bit slow on the writing front, and even though the advance on my three-book novel deal was very generous, it wasn’t enough to put me in early retirement. I still co-write books for a living. If you need a writer, hit me up. After all, I’ve got six kids and a wife to take care of.

So, anyway, in an attempt to continue cobbling together an income as an independent, creative person, I started driving for Uber. I was plenty nervous before my first fare – what if the person wanted to talk? What if the person didn’t want to talk? What if I ran into something with a passenger in the car? What if I couldn’t find a passenger? What if, what if, what if.

I started in the afternoon and everything went well. I took a few people to vote, took a few people to and home from work, took one guy to the airport. I turned off the app around 6 and went home for a nice dinner with Maile – five of the kids were at my parents’ house – and then we sat down to watch the election. You all know how that turned out. Anyway, at around 10pm it looked like it was going to go on for quite some time, maybe until December, so I went back out and drove again for a few hours.

I took a few college kids home from a bar. I took a few more people to work the night shift. It hit me as I was driving that this is normal America – not the raging, frothy, foaming-at-the-mouth politicians, but these normal, everyday folks, trying to make a little money (like me), trying to make a living (like me), trying to make time for friends (like me).

Some of my friends in the margins of our society are sad or scared because of the election result. I mourn that they don’t feel safe, that their future suddenly seems in jeopardy. I think it’s important for all of us to mourn along with them. “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted,” and “rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn.” These are hard days for many. These are days made for listening, for waiting, for silence.

It was a comfort to drive the streets of this city and see so many people going about their lives. I hope we remember to love each other even more. I hope we stand up for those in the margins, those at the edge. I hope.