Thanks for the Lift

Ever since I discovered ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft during that cold November night of Chicago weather, I have been a fan. I’ve used ride-sharing all over the world from international cities like NYC, LA, San Francisco, London, Paris, Barcelona, to small towns like Seneca, SC, and Chattanooga, TN. The downside? I look forward to every ride with just a tad bit of apprehension –  the interaction with the driver. If you know me, you know that I love hearing other people’s stories. I’ve always made an effort to get to know something about each driver, partly because I’m naturally curious, but more so because I want them to know that I recognize them as a fellow human being during those driving moments between pick up and drop off.

Here are a few of my most impactful encounters with Uber drivers.

Barcelona, Spain

The driver picks me up from the hotel for transportation to the airport.  My Catalonia isn’t strong, and he seemed to speak very little English, so we were having a bit of trouble communicating.  To my delight, he had Trisha Yearwood cranked up full blast, followed by Kenny Chesney, then Garth Brooks. He was singing along to every song.  I realized that this music he was so completely enjoying could be a point of connection between us. I told him where I was from – Georgia. This music was from my home essentially, the home of Trisha Yearwood and so many other artists. He got super excited and all of a sudden could speak fluent English!  Thanks to country music for helping me make this connection!

San Diego, CA

The driver picks me up from the hotel to attend a reception I was hosting nearby.  I hopped in the front seat, and she had really lovely gospel music playing. We were making small chat and she asked where I was from.  I told her Atlanta. And she replied, “Oh, my sister lives in Atlanta.” We gave each other a look that read, “Oh, now you’re going to expect us to know each other in a town of 4M people”.   

“My sister works at a university,” she said.  

“So do I,” I responded.  

“My sister works at Emory,” my driver says.  

“So do I,” I reply again.  

“My sister works at the Business School,” and well, you have probably figured out my answer.  

So I ask, “what’s your sister’s name?” (still thinking this might be a long shot.) And she declares my dear friend and colleague, Carmalina, as her sister!!! It was crazy – so we had to immediately call Carmalina to tell her of our good fortune of meeting each other and had fun revealing our secret on her voicemail!   You never know what you might learn or who you might encounter if you take the time to engage in real dialogue!

Madison, WI

I was traveling with my colleagues from Harvard and Georgia Tech.  An older man picked us up in a double cab, extended pick up truck with a covered top.  My colleagues quickly jumped in the second row, leaving me to sit upfront with the driver.  I spent the first few minutes trying to make small talk, you know the usual, “How’s your weather been?  How’s your favorite sports team doing?” And he barely muttered a response. I ended up turning around in my seat to talk with my friends but that wasn’t exactly comfortable either.  We finally make it to the airport and as soon as the driver pulled away, my two friends burst into laughter, saying, “Girl, you tried so hard to get that man to talk, and he wasn’t having any of it.  We couldn’t believe it when you finally gave up!” “I couldn’t believe it either, but clearly the man needed his space and had no time for foolish conversation. So I just tried to be respectful.” Sometimes I can do quiet, sometimes.

Chattanooga, TN

While leaving a corporate HQ and traveling to Atlanta by plane, I was driven by an older and stately gentleman in a really nice car.  He shared with me that I needn’t worry about the delivery time as he lived and grew up there and new the state highway (back roads) to the airport, avoiding the backed-up freeway.  He shared his hate of having to drive through Atlanta in order to visit his daughter who lives in Charleston, my hometown and current home of my firstborn daughter. We got to talking about our daughters, their schooling, their lives in Charleston.  I noticed a sort of melancholy about his voice as he talked about this daughter. So something compelled me to ask, “Is she your only child?” That one question opened him up to talk about his other daughter, the one with two beautiful children, a successful spouse, a country club lifestyle, and the one he’d tried so valiantly to rescue from addiction without succeeding.  His telling of his daughter’s story revealed darkness that’s not always visible from surface traits. I thanked him for sharing his story with me as we pulled up to the ticketing curb at the airport. He turned and said to me, “Thank you for allowing me to tell it. I needed to share with someone today.”

A few quick memories

From my driver in Baltimore, who was rescuing his entire family from poverty with driving and day-trading (he even shared tips and an app with me), to the nurse in Philly who drove between her and her husband’s shifts at work, to the Chicago young mom who needed to be home with her children but didn’t realize that picking me up was going to take her across town from them, to the dad in Atlanta who was quiet until we mentioned we liked his music (Sinatraesque) and learned that his daughter, who was a finalist on American Idol, is heading to The Voice this year.

Others in particular who stand out in memory include the immigrant from the Dominican Republic who was covered in tattoos and piercings with a big pile of braids, who picked me up at 6 am in Boston and proceeded to tell me how “great America is going to be again,” the private driver of a Fortune 500 CEO who drove when his boss was out of town (I remember the car mostly, a luxurious Mercedes SUV); and the one and only driver in the small town of Seneca, SC, who both took us out to a night of music and then picked us back up!

Each encounter made using the riding service meaningful in one way or another.  I’ve met some really awesome and genuine people who are out there hustling every day.  Each of them has a story, and if we’re willing to listen, our lives could be transformed by the experience.