Parents Loving Their Children #RideshareConfessional

Photo by Olayinka Babalola via Unsplash

The African-American woman climbs into the back of my car.

“Sorry if you had to walk a bit to find me,” I explain. “Sometimes the app drops the location pin kind of far away.”

She laughs.

“No problem. Happens all the time.”

“So, are you heading to work?” I ask her.

“Yeah,” she says, telling me where she works. Somehow the subject of children comes up, and she gushes over her 10-month-old, talks about all the trouble he’s getting into, how he’s just starting to stand up, how when she gives him a bath she gets as wet as him. When she talks about him, it’s like she’s talking about light, or air.

“Have you worked third shift for a while?” I ask her.

“No,” she says, her voice growing quiet. “I used to work second shift, but I missed my baby too much. This schedule works better for me. I work 9pm to 7am, while he’s sleeping.”

We drive together through the dark streets of the city, joined together by the common love for our children.

* * * * *

I pick up another African-American woman, and she climbs into the back with a chattering little boy.

“Mommy, I want to eat my chicken nuggets!” he protests, and I hear my own three-year-old in his voice.

“How old is your little boy?” I ask. I can’t see her – it’s dark in the car – but I can hear the smile in her voice.

“He’s 2 1/2. He’s a handful.”

“Sounds adorable to me,” I say, laughing. She smiles.

U2 comes on the radio, an old song from Rattle and Hum, and she sings quietly along with Bono in the back seat of my car.

I have run I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you
But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for
But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for
She has a terrific voice, and I wish she would let it fly, just belt it out there in the back seat of my car.

* * * * *

I park on James Street. It’s late. Very late. I walk the cold sidewalk to the front door, unlock it, let myself in, turn the deadbolt and latch the chain behind me.

The house is warm. The kitchen light is on. Lucy sits at the table, working on a project.

“Hey, girl,” I say. “What are you doing up?”

“My project,” she says, her lip trembling. “I guess I didn’t save it right. I don’t know what happened. I lost all the work I did over the weekend.”

“Oh, shoot,” I say. I sweep the kitchen floor. Put some dishes away. She types persistently at the keys.

I go upstairs and tell Maile I’m home – she’s already hibernating under the covers. The cold presses in at the windows, and our Christmas tree lights up the bay window area of our bedroom. We whisper for a few minutes. My eyes are heavy and bloodshot. The covers call my name.

“I’d love to snuggle up here,” I say, “but our daughter is still at work downstairs and I hate to leave her there alone.”

Maile nods, smiles, kisses me, closes her eyes. I walk back down the hall and the stairs with their creaking boards, back down to the kitchen.

“I’ve got some work to finish up,” I say, setting up my computer beside hers. We type together, our fingers clicking over the keys.

“Check this out,” I say, starting up my new Spotify list. “I haven’t shared this with anyone else yet. I think you’ll like it.”

So, there we sit, the two of us, listening to Johnny Cash and Amos Lee and Jason Isbell. This is, I think, how we get through life: sitting side by side, working through the unexpected glitches together.

Maybe an Extra Billion Dollars #RideshareConfessional

Photo by Osman Rana via Unsplash

I pick the guy up at the corner of College and Buchanon.

“Hey, can we head down to my house first? I have to pick up my badge.”

So, instead of heading to his main destination, 25 minutes west of the city, we head south into the heart of the city. He directs me south on Duke.

“Turn right here and stop at the end of the street,” he says. It’s a dark little corner of the world – no street lights, no house lights shining through the blinds. He crawls out. There’s a guy on the sidewalk behind us. He hands my customer something. The customer hops back in.

“Okay, I’m good.”

We head west. It’s a good fare, especially for that time of night, probably close to $20. He’s a nice guy, asks questions about me (which very few people do). I gather that his car is broken down and he’s on his way to work.

“So, where do you work?” I ask him.

He names one of the largest companies in the world. He works third shift, from 8pm to 6am, five days a week. Right now they’re on mandatory shifts – they’re cranking stuff out.

“This company, their sales are over 50 billion a year,” he says.

“You’d think they could throw you a billion,” I say, smiling. “They probably wouldn’t miss it.”

He laughs a hearty laugh.

“They’re pretty generous with us, pay us well. We get a good bonus every quarter. And three weeks of vacation. I ain’t never heard of a company that does that.”

“You’ve talked me into it,” I say. “I’ll fill out an application when I get there.”

He laughs. “No doubt. It’s a good place to work. If I can just get used to this third shift.”

We pull into a small town twenty minutes west of the city. I pull down a dark side road. “My ride’s picking me up here,” he explains.

I drop him off. It’s an $18 fare. I turn for home.

The Woman Who Met the Author of Harry Potter in a Mental Hospital #RideshareConfessional

Photo by Paul Morris via Unsplash

The woman waves me down outside the hospital and climbs in, talking on her phone. She’s in nurse’s garb, her hair tired up in a scarf over her head. I pull away, and it’s rush hour, the streets are clogged, so I hit some alleys in an attempt to keep moving.

She is on her phone for most of the trip, but as we turn onto her street, she hangs up, stares at the phone, and sighs.

“What a day.”

“One of those?” I ask quietly.

“One of those. You know, it’s hard working in a hospital sometimes. The stuff you see. And then you see that same stuff in your own family. It’s hard.”

“My aunt died in that hospital a year and a half ago,” I say. “Cancer.”

“All kinds of cancer today,” she says, almost as if she’s talking to herself. “What stage is it? Everyone wants to know. ‘It’s in the bone,’ the doctor says, or, ‘It’s in the stomach.’ And at this time of day, you can’t find out anything.”

She tells me how long she’s been in Lancaster. She tells me about where she worked before she came here.

“But today,” she says, smiling, “they took me off the regular floor and put me in the psych ward. There are all kinds of personalities on that floor.”

She laughs, and it’s a lively sound. Outside the car, the leafless trees move together in a slight wind. Brake lights ahead. We stop.

“You know,” she says, “today I was in a woman’s room, and she told me she was the author of Harry Potter. I said, ‘Really?’ and she told me yes, she is the author of Harry Potter, and now she’s working on a book for her future husband’s ex-wife. So she knows she’s going to be married, and she knows her future husband will have an ex.”

She laughs again.

“You can pull over here,” she says. “This is fine.”

I stop the car. She gets out, then leans back in the door.

“So, keep your eyes out for that book!” she says, laughing again.

The Man From Nowhere #RideshareConfessional

Photo by Patrick Tomasso via Unsplash
Photo by Patrick Tomasso via Unsplash

It’s after 9pm in this small city on a week night which means light traffic, empty alleys. It’s cold outside. The long-haired, younger-than-middle-aged man slides into the back seat. He sits up very straight. He has perceptive eyes behind his glasses.

Usually, I can tell in the first ten seconds or so if someone wants to talk. Either they’ll start a conversation or I’ll ask a question that sets them off to the races. After a few seconds in the car with this guy, I figure he is the non-talking type, so I settle in for the ten-minute drive. I give him the courtesy of a question, basically my way of saying, if you want to talk, you can talk.

“How’s your night going?” I ask. He surprises me. Turns out he’s a talker. And there’s something striking about his voice. He sounds like he’s straight off of NPR or the national news.

He teaches at one of the local colleges. This was a night course, one of those three-hour freshman communication courses everyone dreads. He laughs. He knows it’s the truth, and he says it again. I go through my normal round of questions.

“How long have you been in Lancaster?”

“Do you like it here?”

“Where are you from?”

When he says he is from the deep south, I do a double-take.

“Did you grow up there?” I ask him. “Because you have absolutely no southern accent.”

He smiles.

“Everyone says that. Actually, when I was young, my grandmother paid for me to take speech classes so I wouldn’t have an accent.”

“Really?” I ask him. This amazes me. This intrigues me. That someone would pay to change the way their grandson sounds, purely for aesthetics.

“Yeah,” he shrugs. “She wanted me to be taken seriously. She didn’t think I could reach my full potential with a southern accent.”

“Huh,” I say.

“Yeah, it’s a little strange,” he says. “When I go home, and people ask where I’m from, and I say I’m from there, they don’t believe me. I feel a little bit like I’m not from anywhere anymore.”

I think to myself that it says a lot about his grandmother. I’d love to hear her story.

“I Moved Up Here,” He Said, “For a Reason.”

Photo by Patrick Tomasso via Unsplash
Photo by Patrick Tomasso via Unsplash

I pick up the teenage boy in the south of the city outside a house that sits on a dark, narrow street. He climbs in without saying a word, tall and lanky and barely fitting. We drive off, making our way around the southern edge of town. It’s night time, and there are only few cars on the road.

Just when I reach that point in a fare where I think it’s going to be a silent trip, I hit a pothole and he groans.

“You’ll never find potholes like this in Texas,” he says, and I grin.

“It’s like driving on the moon,” I say.

“They’ll swallow your car.”

“What were you doing in Texas?” I ask.

“Oh, that’s where I’m from. I grew up there. I want to go back, but I’m up here,” he pauses, testing the words he might use, “for a reason.”

I don’t ask. It seems the key to getting people to open up in this business, if that’s what you want, is not to ask anything too direct. A person’s stories are like wild butterflies, flitting in and out of view. Chase them, and you’ll never catch a thing. But if you sit still, every once in a while they’ll drift around your way, maybe even stay a while.

“I lived in Texas for a year or two when I was a kid,” I say. “Laredo and Mesquite. All I remember is heat. And dust.”

“Mesquite had a good football team this year,” he says. “They did real good.” Again, he pauses, and the next sentence comes like something finally released. “I had to move up here after my mom died.”

“Man,” I say. “I’m sorry to hear that. How long ago?”

“A month,” he says, and his voice is unsteady. “A month. Man, they didn’t even help her. The paramedics, they didn’t do nothing. I should have carried her out myself and drove her to the hospital.”

“So you were there when it happened?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I was there. She had some serious problems after her accident – she tried to hit a cop with her car.” At least, I think that’s what he said. I was kind of shocked by it, and I didn’t follow up on that particular point.

“You doing okay?” I ask.

“I guess. I don’t know. I got family up here, but I wanna go back. I’d like to get back down there.”

We pull up outside his destination. Sometimes, a ride goes too fast. Sometimes, I’d like to take a spin around the block just to finish up what we are talking about.

“Man,” I say, “I wish you the best. I really do. I hope you get settled up here. I hope you make some friends.”

“Thanks, man,” he says quietly. “Thanks for the ride.”

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.