Fun on the road – the untold rewards of being an Uber/Lyft driver

It’s been a while since I posted here, but I am still living and enjoying life. My first two stories brought me back to my youth…one story of when I was a cub scout and one was of making mistakes as a baseball umpire. Both stories took place in my “formative years”. Today’s story took place recently, like, this year.

One of the norms of growing old is living with a deteriorating body. In the last ten months I have had both spinal surgery and hip replacement surgery. Walking great distances is still painful, so I have resorted to work that doesn’t require me to stand up or walk much….welcome to the “professional ridesharing world” of Uber and Lyft driving….some people do not like driving at all…I am not one of those people. I love driving, always have. Maybe it goes back to my Detroit roots where cars really mattered in life. I remember my dad driving straight through from Detroit to Tampa as a child as we would visit Grandma Stella on spring break in junior high school.

I love meeting new people, love to drive, and love listening to music. I also love to tell stories and my Uber/Lyft passengers are perfect captive audiences!!! Now, I will admit that there isn’t a good story that I do not love to tell, often! My step-daughter, Julie, when she heard I was going to beginning my career as an Uber/Lyft driver, gave me some advice (she knows me quite well)…she said, “You know Joe, not everybody likes to talk, and certainly not everybody likes to hear YOU talk!”…In other words, don’t bore your passengers with your stories!….I replied, “I know that Julie, but I have a perfect schtick. When a passenger approaches the car I first address them by name to ensure that they are getting in the correct car. Then, once they get in the car I ask them if they are late or in a hurry. They usually are very appreciative of that question. Regardless of if they are in a hurry or not, I tell them “Good, because I am a really nice guy, but if you are late I will only be nice to you!”…that makes them chuckle and then I ask them if the temperature in the car is comfortable for them and to please tell me if they want it cooler or warmer. Finally, I ask them if they have a music preference and let them know that I have siriusxm radio. If they are not talking to me after those quick 4 questions, we aren’t talking” (FACT: I have provided over 1100 Uber/Lyft rides and I estimate the 95% + of my passengers ae lively talkers (which certainly doesn’t hurt my tip income).

So, the money is not the main reason that I drive for Uber/Lyft. I mentioned earlier that I love driving, people, and music. The first love is people, and the variety of people that I get to befriend is astonishing. I’ll talk about some of those people (without jeopardizing their identies) in future posts, but I want to tell you briefly about two passengers of very diverse backgrounds just to demonstrate why I love being a rideshare driver.

The first story is about a man and his wife that I picked up at their home one late afternoon who were dressed to the nines. Tuxedo and formal dress. They were headed to the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia from a very nice suburban home on a trip of about 45 minutes. After my normal four questions, we were talking. After about 15 minutes of small talk, the gentlemen mentioned that he was receiving an award that night and that he needed to practice his acceptance speech. I immediately turned the music off and stayed quiet as he read aloud. After he completed reading the speech, I asked if he minded if I made a recommendation. He was happy to listen and I made my rewording recommendation. He liked my recommendation and modified his talk. Actually, we did that several times as he continued to modify his acceptance speech. By the end of the ride, he thanked me and said he never expected such professional guidance from his Lyft driver. He rewarded me with a very handsome tip. But for me, I just loved the interaction and the feeling that I had helped somebody.

The next passenger was one of much less means. I was in Wilmington Delaware and picked up a young lady who had a 1 year old baby in a stroller. When I arrived at the Walmart to pick her up, she looked frazzled, she looked pressured. I opened the door for her and her baby and she thanked me. Immediately after we began the ride, and before I could give her the final 3 of my questions her phone rang. It was a male voice giving her grief for taking Uber and she yelled back that the bus never showed up and that she had no choice. She hung up on the man and then told me that she was indeed in a hurry. Her destination was listed as “Money till Payday”. The situation certainly told me that she was not a person of means. When we arrived at the address of “Money till Payday” we only found a bus dispatch location, no business anywhere looking like what she had expected. She began to panic in the back seat.

I turned the engine off and told her not to worry. I told her that I was going to take care of her. I told her to take her time, make some phone calls, come up with a plan that worked for her, and that I would take her anywhere she needed, for free. I saw her shoulders drop with relief and she thanked me profusely. It took almost ten minutes for her to come up with a plan, but I took her several miles to her new drop off location, jumped out of the car, and opened the door for her. She said to me, “Sir, thank you and God Bless You and your family, you have no idea how you much you have helped me and you just made my day”. She pushed her child in her stroller with a proud confident walk. I felt rewarded to have been a part of her day.

I have been blessed in life and no amount of income can replace the great feeling of helping someone in need whether they are rich or poor, we are all human and deserve to be respected and loved. Thanks for reading…ttyl! .

Back in the Day

Most people in America know that Little League baseball is for children up to the ages of 12. Where I grew up in the Detroit metropolitan area after 12 you could play Pony league which was for 13 and 14-year-olds and Colt league which was for 15 and 16-year-olds.

While this story is about baseball,  it’s more about certain things that you can do and not do in life with respect to authority,  decision making, and relationships. That may sound kind of deep, but it’s not so let the story begin…

When I was in the Pony league at 14 years old and playing for the Tigers we were playing the Orioles. I remember one play when I was coming around third base heading for home and the catcher had the ball while I was still about 10 feet away from home plate. I had no other choice but to try to run him over and make him drop the ball which I did and he did. I was safe at home plate, scored a run,  and the manager of the other team (who just happened to be the catcher’s father) came out screaming and yelling at the umpire and me. Back in the day you could run over the catcher if he was in your way, so I was safe, the catcher was hurting, and the manager/father was angry.

The story gets better when, the very next year, I became an umpire at the age of 15 and umpired for the Pony league. One day I just happen to be umpiring an Orioles game and as luck would have it, my favorite catcher played as a 14-year-old in that league. His dad was still the manager which had no bearing on anything in my mind.

I remember one time late in the game when said son/catcher was batting and he hit a fly ball to centerfield. From behind home plate it looked to me like a sure out and I failed to run down first baseline to get a better view of the play. As the only umpire on the field, it was my responsibility to get the best view of the play at all times. But, it was a very hot day, and I didn’t feel like running to get a better view especially as it initially looked like the center fielder would make an easy catch…..The centerfielder came running in and made what we call a shoestring catch and  held his glove up in the air with the ball as he tumbled forward. I gave the raised fist “OUT” sign after which the manager (Dad) , came running out on the field screaming at me. He told me that the ball had been trapped and that his son was safe ….I had called him out and I was sticking with my call. The manager ranted and raved and made the mistake of saying the “F” word….., at which point I ejected him out of the game with a dramatic “you’re outta here” motion. The man, at least twice my age and spewing anger that had lasted since the previous season when I had roughed up his son, kept yelling and would not back down. Amidst all of his ranting and raving, I calmly turned to face him directly, and in a normal tone of voice gave him five minutes to leave the field or his team would forfeit the game. Seeing that I wasn’t kidding, his other adult coaches restrained him and escorted him out of the area.

After Dad left the field the play the game continued and ended peacefully. Right after the game a friend of mine (Butch Wingfield) who had been watching the game came up to me and said to me “You know you blew that call right?” He said the centerfielder did not catch that ball in the air and that it had bounced about a foot in front of him. I said well that may be true,  but you’re not allowed to swear at an umpire so that’s the way it is.

Teaching point for me as an umpire is you cannot stay behind home plate no matter how tired you are you must run and get a better view of the ball. The teaching point for the manager was a judgment call cannot be protested and you cannot swear at an umpire, even if said umpire kicked your kid’s ass the prior year. Back in the day that was my story and I’m sticking with it.

Be Prepared!

Everybody has a their own personal “What were you doing when (fill in the blank)” memories.  For people in my generation it was “the day President Kennedy was shot” and “the planes hit the twin towers on 9/11” .   For me and my ninth grade classmates at Levey junior high it was “when the Tigers won the World Series in 1968”.

But today’s  story is even more personal. It does not relate to an external event that I had no control over, it is about a moment in my personal history that helped define my character. It is a disaster that I could have prevented, had I been prepared.

I have several memories of being a Cub Scout. When I joined the Scouts at the age of 8, their motto of “Be prepared” didn’t make much sense to me. I thought, “How difficult can it be to “be prepared”? What I didn’t realize then was that many of my setbacks in life were to be born out of my NOT being prepared!

My mother always took a prime leadership role in our family and, of course, when I became Cub Scout age, she became the Den 3 Den Mother. We had a lot of fun as Cub Scouts and we learned quite a bit too. Tying knots, building things, camping, field trips… it was all great. But what I wasn’t personally prepared for was the gut level leadership training that I received. And of course the motto “Be Prepared” was at the heart of my learning.

My personal “what were you doing moment” came when my mom, in front of the other 8 cub scouts in Den 3 asked me to explain the steps I took in building a birdhouse. Specifically, every cub scout had a project to build something and we were given plenty of time to complete the project on our free time. My project was to build a birdhouse… it’s not the most difficult task but it does take some preparation time and dedication.

Of course, I waited to the last minute or should I say the day before the Den meeting and I was not prepared. My dad, who was a real “handy man”, built the whole birdhouse himself and painted it so that at the den meeting the next night I would have my project done. My dad was a good egg and a real gentleman. But, the birdhouse was MINE to build and the moment of truth came at the den meeting when each scout had to describe to the other den mates how we had built our project. Mom, knowing that I did nothing to build “my” birdhouse, called on me to go first. I’ll never forget her saying, “Joe, you go first, tell us the steps YOU took to build YOUR birdhouse”.  I could feel my face becoming flush with embarrassment. The anxiety was killing me. The moment of truth had arrived…what would I say? I couldn’t take it any longer.

After a pregnant pause, I said “I didn’t do any of the work, my dad did it all”. After another long merciless pregnant pause in the room, my mom asked the next cub scout how he built his project.

I felt like a total loser in front of my buddies. What my confession did do, however, was give others permission to tell the whole truth as almost every other scout had some help from their mom or dad in building their project. After the meeting, they all came up to me and said that it took courage to admit what I did. They obviously didn’t know my mom that well because I took the path of least resistance.

Thanks Mom, I love and miss you.