When I Picked This Guy Up Outside the Motel #RideshareConfessional

I pull up outside the motel and there is a couple waiting by the sliding reception doors. She is white, middle-aged, blue-collar. He is black with a frizzy, gray beard and sad eyes. As I pull to a stop, they say good-bye to each other and then he walks around to get in the back seat on the passenger side.

Picking people up at motels is always interesting. Sometimes, they are long-haul truckers who need a lift to their next ride. Sometimes, they are employees of the motel. Sometimes, they are transgender sex workers. You never know who you’re going to run into.

He sat down quietly and I started driving away. I asked a few introductory questions, as I always do, trying to figure out if he wanted to talk or not. Conversation is part of the service, or at least that’s how I see it, so if someone wants to talk, I’m there for it. How’s it going? Nice day, isn’t it? What are you up to today?

He was talkative. They had just bought a house and were getting ready to move in but were staying at the motel in the meantime. He worked at a beer store in the city. He’d never done that kind of work before, but somehow he made a good impression on the owners, so the guy trained him. He went on and on about the different types of beer, clearly an expert. I asked him if he had a recommendation, although I don’t often drink. This sent him on an entirely new rabbit trail, and it was fun, because he loved talking about what he knew–most people do.

I asked him if he grew up in the area, and he said he went to a high school in Harrisburg. I recognized the name.

“They have a good football team, don’t they?”

“Oh, yeah,” he said.

“Did you play?” I asked him. And he grinned, a big, wide grin full of pearly-white teeth.

“Oh, yeah,” he said again. “Wide receiver and safety. I wasn’t the biggest guy out there, but I was fast.” And he laughed, and I realized he was younger than I first thought, maybe even my age, or close to it. For a moment I could see him, a spindly high school kid, darting around under the Friday night lights, knocking someone down or catching a ball and running like a jack rabbit. How these years get away from us.

I really liked him. In that moment, driving into the city on a warm, February day, I wanted to hang out with this guy. We pulled over, and he was profuse in his thanks. I told him I’d try to come by and see him some time. He climbed out of the car, and there was a co-worker of his standing on the sidewalk, smoking. The banged fists together, and I could see them chatting as I drove away.

* * * * *

As of Sunday night, you can still get the Kindle version of my novel The Day the Angels Fell for only $4.47, so buy yourself a digital copy and tell your friends! Thanks so much. I couldn’t make a living as a writer without your support.

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Driving For Uber on a Friday Night #RideshareConfessional

I like driving for Uber and Lyft on Friday evenings. I know some drivers don’t, because you occasionally have to taxi the heavily intoxicated with their slurred words and nonsensical conversations and belligerence. I once had to help a young man find the door handle in my car. I once had to wake someone up so that they’d get out. I once watched as a man tripped over every single Christmas-themed yard ornament between me and his front door. I once, sadly enough, had to help three girls hoist their passed-out friend up the front steps. And of course, there are the obnoxiously-intoxicated frat-house boys who think they are gods.

But normally I don’t mind driving during that time of a Friday night, not all that much. Occasionally, the gushing, drunken older women who want to be my absolute best friend in the whole weary world get on my nerves. That’s a little awkward. For the most part, Friday nights are fun because there are people everywhere and the city is alive and most of the people I drive are relaxed, not going to work, hanging out with their friends, and happy about life.

I did pick up a guy the other night who just received bad news about one of his parents, and I had to drive him to a hospital that was 40 minutes away. This was just after I had decided it would be my last fare of the night, because my eyelids were getting heavy and I was ready to go home, but he needed a ride and the fare was decent, so off we went.

I asked him a few questions and he clearly wanted to talk, so the miles passed quickly as he told me about his job, his wife, why they chose to live where they live. And I nodded and listened and navigated the route.

I heard the pop of a beverage can in the back seat. “Don’t worry,” he said, “it’s only water. I didn’t want you to think it was a beer.”

I shrugged. I don’t sweat that kind of stuff. People are going to do what they’re going to do. Just don’t puke in my car. That is literally the only thing I care about. Well, that, and don’t make out back there. I might not be able to see you, but I can hear everything.

“What about you?” he asked. “What do you do? What does your wife do?” And it was surprising, because most people just want to talk about themselves, which I’m completely happy with because, to be honest, I don’t have an aching need to tell every single passenger my life story.

“Sorry,” he said, walking back his questions. “Not to be nosy. It’s just a long ride, you know?”

So I told him. I told him about why we moved back home to PA, what my wife has been up to (finishing her middle-grade novel and now looking for representation), how we decided to send our kids to public school after 10 years of homeschooling. And it was nice. He was nice. It was a good conversation.

Then we got to the town and we arrived at the hospital, and he moved to get out.

“If you don’t see a tip tonight,” he said, “don’t worry. I’ll get around to it. But this whole thing,” and he motioned towards the hospital, “it’s got me preoccupied.” I told him not to worry about it. I didn’t ask about his parent. I figured he’d tell me if he wanted to.

I took one more fare in that faraway town, a young girl getting off work late at night. I circled the building a few times before we could find each other. I dropped her off at a store to pick up some medication, then I drove the 40 minutes home.

The guy was good to his word, by the way. He left me a generous $5 tip.

If you’d like, you can follow my Facebook page, Rideshare Confessional.

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Back in the Uber and Lyft Saddle Again

She said things didn’t work out well for her in Alabama, that she needed a fresh start. It didn’t sound like her parents were very receptive to her moving back in with them, so she stayed with a relative here in Lancaster for a few months, just to get back on her feet.

“Have you been able to find work?” I asked.

“Oh, yeah,” she said. “I’ve got two jobs now, and we’re heading to my new place.”

We cruise out of the city, out to where you can breathe, on narrow roads that wind among the fallow winter fields. We get to her new place and I help her unload her suitcases. She seems nervous and excited and anxious and hopeful. Her roommate asks about my car. I wish her good luck, all the best, and hit the road.

The next guy I drive is laughing as he climbs into the front seat.

“Oh, man, I’ve always wanted to ride in a Mini! I love your car! I’m giving you five stars no matter what.” He pauses, thinks for a moment. “Just don’t get in a crash, okay?”

He’s from Puerto Rico, grew up in Lancaster, and seems way too young to be working at the hospital and studying for his Master’s. But what personality! What love for life!

Again and again and again, when I’m driving, I’m reminded that what makes America great is that we’re all so different, from so many different places and backgrounds and experiences. I love that about us.

I drop him off and he’s still gushing about the car, promising he’s going to buy one.

* * * * *

I’m driving for Uber and Lyft again, partially because I enjoy it, partially because I’m exploring writing a book about this experience, partially because raising six kids (all of whom seem destined for braces and expensive colleges) costs a lot of money. It’s not the most lucrative gig in the world, but I love driving and I love the stories strangers will tell you when they know they’ll never see you again.

So, here we are. I hope you’ll follow along, share the stories with your friends, and join me over at my Facebook page, Rideshare Confessional.

As always, you guys are the best. Thanks for reading and sharing and sending me encouraging notes and just generally being really good human beings.

The Grandstanding Man, the Revival Preacher #RideshareConfessional

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I pulled around the back of the bank and no one was there. I drove around one more time and there he was, something out of nothing, a person where before there was only air. He climbed into the front seat and with a booming radio voice said, “Alright! Alright!” as if prepared to embark on a great adventure. He looked like Garrison Keillor, and when he spoke it was so loud that his voice box creaked under the strain of the performance.

“This car doesn’t go 160, does it?” he asked, enunciating each word before laughing loudly, pointing at the oversized speedometer.

“Oh, I doubt it,” I said, and he laughed again, as if we were co-conspirators in unveiling the manufacturer’s deceit. He had sold stock in a company, he said, and he had picked up the check at the bank where I picked him up, and now he had to drive thirty minutes to his own bank to deposit this paper check. He couldn’t believe he had to take this piece of paper, this piece of antiquity, all the way to his bank. It was preposterous.

He was a nice man, even if he was loud, and also, as I soon discovered, intoxicated. He had decided to move west, out to a state where things were wide open, where he had family, where he could find a better-paying job. He had grown up in the dust bowl, the world his oyster.

“You can’t understand it,” he said, enunciating his t’s, the sheer volume of his voice convincing me. “I left the house in the morning and played in the wilderness all day. There’s nothing like it for today’s children. Nothing.” His grand-standing diction reminded me of one of those revival preachers.

Usually, when I’m driving, I don’t talk most of the time, but I could tell he wanted to. He quivered in the silence like an idle race horse. So I asked him questions, floated them to him in ways that were easy for him to grab onto, and he talked the entire time, and I became convinced he would have carried on this way whether or not I was listening, whether or not I was even there. Thirty minutes to his bank, a ten-minute wait, and thirty minutes home.

After an hour, I dropped him off in the same parking lot where we had started.

“I always like to tip drivers well, especially the ones who listen to me talk,” he said, boisterous, happy with his own generosity. “I always give those drivers $5.” He thumbed through a wad of bills, twenties first, then tens. There were no fives. He hesitated, lingering on a $10 bill, passing it by. He had two $1 bills. He pulled them out. He hesitated again.

“Here you go,” he said, dropping the bills onto my seat.

When the African-American Woman Took My Hand #RideshareConfessional

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I pulled into the narrow lane that ran through the parking lot and stopped, waiting for my next fare. I was in downtown Lancaster, waiting outside one of the places people can go if they need a warm place to stay, a meal, a connection. I don’t pick up a lot of people there.

She came out of the building, an African-American woman in her 60s, heavy, her hair in long braids. There was a stairway with six or seven steps she had to descend in order to come down to the sidewalk, and she turned slightly sideways, leaned on the rail, and took them one at a time.

Right foot, left foot.

Down one step.

Right foot, left foot.

Down another step.

When she got to the car, she grabbed the back passenger-side door and swayed her way in slowly, sighing. My small car shifted.

We pulled away, and the sky was a clear blue, and the day was bright. I thought it might be one of these quiet rides, when the passenger doesn’t speak, when we listen. But I usually ask at least one question, so I asked her how she was, and she smiled. She told me about her sister in Maryland, how close she was to her, how they talked every week.

“She’s still my older sister. All these years later, she still acts like my older sister,” she said with a grimace, then a laugh.

“I’m the older brother in my family,” I said, searching for her eyes in the rearview mirror. “Guilty as charged.” We both laughed, and the sun was even brighter, and the day rushed past us. It was a short trip to her destination, and I found myself wishing for more time to talk.

“You can stop here,” she said, and I pulled into an empty space along a busy street.

“Is this okay?”


“Can I help you out?” I asked, and she protested vehemently, almost enough to stop me, but I was already out of the car and closing my door, sliding quickly out of traffic and around to her side. Her door was open and she looked up at me with relief. That weathered, brown skin. Those kind eyes. I reached out my hand I she took it.

It might sound strange but at the moment she touched my hand I felt a sudden realization, or maybe it was more like a sudden wave of wonder: what life experiences had those hands been through? Fifty years ago, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed, she was ten. Where had she heard the news? Had she been afraid? Where was she during the race riots? Jim Crow? Had those hands gripped a bus seat in front of her in rage or fear? Had she felt the cool water of a segregated swimming pool? Had she pressed the button on a “colored” water fountain?

Her skin was dry and rough and warm. Her grip was strong. I had a rushing sense of all the years under her skin, all the memories whirling in her fingerprints. The muttered slurs she had heard; the unexpected kindness; the love of family.

Recently, I heard Walter Wangerin Jr. describe the sense of seeing his young granddaughter’s hands, envisioning the hands they would become. I saw that here, but in reverse–her hands shrank and found smoothness, softness. They were the hands of a young black girl, playing on the street, drawing with chalk on the cracked sidewalk. She bit her lip in concentration. Her mother called to her from the house.

I felt her weight on my arm as she stood up out of my car, as she braced against me, as we made our way up the curb and past the fire hydrant to her front door.

“That was very kind of you,” she said quietly, looking for a moment into my eyes, then walking into her house.

I got back in my car, and I sat there for a long time, and I wondered.

When the Doctor Told Him They Were Having a Boy #RideshareConfessional

Photo by Reza Shayestehpour via Unsplash

I pick up a guy on the south side of the city. It’s snowing. He gets in the car and smells like pot.

“Hey, thanks, man. How are you?” he asks, and his voice is gravel, a dead impersonation of BB King. I wonder if he sings the blues. He certainly speaks them.

“I’m good, I’m good,” I say, confirming his destination, and we pull onto Queen Street, head north. He’s a chatty guy for the first minute, then gets a phone call and quiets down after that.

The snow is blustery. The day is cold and windy. We were supposed to get a foot of snow but all we have are wet roads.

“How about that snow, man?” he asks, laughing. “I woke up this morning and couldn’t believe it. Nothing but cold water.”

“That’s about the best way of saying it.”

He laughs again, gritty and deep.

“Did you grow up around here?” I ask him.

“Me? No. I’ve only been here for about five years. I grew up in New York City, trained as a tradesman.”

“So how’d you end up here?”

He grimaces. “I was working for this contractor, and all of his tools got stolen. He couldn’t afford to replace them all, so he only kept on the old-timers. I had to find something else. Had some friends here in Lancaster and they were on my case all the time about moving here. They found me some work, so I came.”

We drive for a moment, north on Queen Street. It’s cold, and the sun is in and out. People walk as fast as they can from here to there, eager to cross the street, eager to get where they’re going.

“Now I’ve got a girlfriend here, and a kid.”

“Congrats,” I say.

He smiles. “Funny story. I was sure we were having a boy. Positive. And that’s all I wanted, a boy. So, we were in the doctor’s office and he asks if we want to know the baby’s sex. ‘Let’s find out,’ my girlfriend said. Well, the doctor knew I wanted a boy—I had been telling him all about the entire appointment, how I knew it was a boy. He looked at us and said, ‘It’s a boy!’ Then he laughed. ‘Just kidding,’ he said. ‘You’re having a girl.’ I almost punched him in the face. I told him if he was younger, I would have knocked him down. Then, I sat there and cried like a baby.”

“You did!” I exclaimed, laughing. He was laughing, too.

“I did. Man, I bawled. But the thing was, I just couldn’t imagine raising a girl. I thought my heart would break. I thought, if she falls off her bike, I’ll pick that bike up and break it in half. If someone treats her bad, I’ll kill ‘em. I just didn’t think I could take it.”

The snow comes again, flurries, sweeping up over the front end of the car like stars in space.

“Now, she probably has you wrapped around her little finger.”

“She does. That she does.”