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Portraits on Life | Twelve Minutes @ a Time

Where Do I Live?

Jerry looked up when I honked. Standing in front of Harmony Hall and mesmerized by the glow of his cell phone, I don’t know how long I would have waited before he looked around. With a nod, Jerry stumbled down othe curb in my direction. Winters in Michigan can be blustery, and the winds were kind that night. Had a strong west wind been blowing down Bridge St, I don’t know if Jerry would have kept his feet under him.

“Hi Jerry, how are you tonight?”

“Umm . . .  I’mgood, prettygoodt’night.”

I hit the button on my phone to start the ride, and after a couple turns, Jerry looked up from his phone. “Youregoin’thewrongway.”

I was having a hard time hearing Jerry through his alcoholic brogue. “I’m sorry, what?”


“I’m headed toward the address you entered in the app. Do you live up on top of the Bridge St Hill?”


I pulled the car to the curb. “Oh, OK. No problem. What is your address?”

Jerry blindly stared into the snowy night. I didn’t know if my question registered yet.

“Jerry, I need your address so I can take your home. What is your address?”

“Ummm . . . One . . . One . . . Six . . . One.”

“OK, 1161 what?”

A long silence filled the car before my rider admitted, “I don’t know.”

“Well, I need your address before I can get you home Jerry.”

“I live in Heritage Hill. Jus’ drivvve.”

“You live in Heritage Hill? Up on top of the Michigan St. hill?” I needed to confirm his reply.


Luckily Heritage Hill isn’t large, and Grand Rapids isn’t that big of a town. So rather than argue with the drunk in my back seat, I put the car back in drive, and headed the opposite direction from the address originally entered in the app.

As we crested the Michigan St Hill, Jerry spit out, “Turn right here.” After a few blocks of bantering about the music and the weather,  he commanded, “Turn left here.”

I hoped we were making progress, but after a couple miles, Heritage Hill was behind us, and I was on my way to East Town.

“Hey Jerry, I’m crossing Diamond St, and Fuller is right ahead. We’ve driven out of Heritage Hill. Are we anywhere near your house?” I wasn’t expecting the best line of the night.

“Well . . . you were awhile ago.”

After driving around Heritage Hill, and stumbling across his street, I eventually got Jerry home. He climbed out and meandered up the driveway at 161 Union St.



Uber Pirates

Two concerts ended simultaneously at downtown venues. I sat on the corner between them, trying to find my rider. Like termites in a fallen log that someone just kicked, crowds of people poured from the doorways, across streets, with and against the traffic signals . . .  a typical Friday night Ubering downtown. I’d just gotten off the phone with Chris, and told him to look for the small silver SUV with its lights flashing, sitting on Ottawa St. A minute later, a passenger door opened.

“Hi, are you Chris.”

“Yes,” my rider confirmed. “Can we change the destination?”

“Sure, I’ll take you wherever you want to go.”

Chris looked toward the sidewalk. “He’s our Uber,” he shouted to his friends nearby. The back door opened, and suddenly my car became one with the chaos around me.

“Hey, can we go to the Tavern?”


“Ooooh, Starburst.” The girl climbing into the backseat found my candy jar.

“I love Starburst, are these for us?”

“Yes . . . “

“We want to go to the Tavern. Can you take us there?” Chris repeated.

“No problem.”

“Hey, get in,” Chris shouted back toward the sidewalk.

As the last of their party climbed into the backseat, a knock came on my window. “Hey, are you Tim?”


“I’m Chris, I think you’re my driver.”

The noise and commotion in the car didn’t skip a beat. ‘Chris’ #1 looked at the guy standing at my window.

“We’re Blown. We’re blown!!” he shouted at his friends in the back seat as he jumped out of the car.

The last thing I heard from the gang of Uber-pirates as they stumbled down the sidewalk toward the Tavern was the voice of the girl from the back seat.

“I scored a Starburst. . . I scored a Starburst.”

I’m Having a Moment . . .

I love stories, and most of my passengers, at least the ones who want to converse, ask for my favorite stories. Sometimes the most memorable takeaway from the night isn’t a story. It’s a moment. Like the few seconds the sun peeks out from a cloudy sky, and paints the horizon in a rainbow of yellows and reds before it hops out of the sky, an Ubering moment makes the night worth while.

Ubering through life is an Irish stew of wonderful, miserable, poignant and now and then funny memories. Here are a few of my favorites.

  1. Why does the young man next to me smell like moth balls?
  2. Why does the guy in the back seat smell like he needs to be hosed down with Febreeze? Ten minutes after he left my car, his stink remained, haunting my SUV like a green Halloween goblin.
  3. I’m sorry Tracy. After five or six Bacardi and Sprites from three different taverns, I don’t know what you just said.
  4. After seven years traveling the country, looking for love to flourish with women she met on the internet, Courtney asked, “What are your dreams . . . if you still have them?”

The Undeniable Truths of an Uber Driver’s Life (part 1)

When I jumped in my car, turned on my Uber app for the first time, and headed blindly into the Uber-verse, I knew I faced a learning curve. I harbored a few unanswered questions too. How will I find my riders? Will they be ready and respect my car? Will I make any money? What’s it like to spend 40-plus hours a week behind a steering wheel?

After six months, 30,000 miles and around 3200 riders, I’ve come up with the following undeniable truths of Ubering life. I won’t tell you how I’ve learned them . . . something has to be left to the imagination.

  1. Alcohol consumption affects all five senses, especially hearing. The more alcohol my riders have consumed, the louder they want the radio.
  2. Eventually, your car will be christened by the late night bar crowd, and wise drivers carry an emergency cleaning kit.
  3. Regarding #2, coffee grounds work the best to take the smell of bar-fly barf out of the carpet.
  4. Happy drunks run in a pack.
  5. Depressed and lonely drunks will be standing alone like a lost sheep, under a streetlamp, pondering their shoelaces.
  6. Uber pricing surges make the late nights worthwhile. You won’t catch every surge, but when you do, ride it to the shore.
  7. Twenty-somethings never wear more than their black, lace clubbing clothes for the evening, regardless of the temperature, snowfall or windchill.
  8. Picking up weekend rider after 3:30 AM is like looking for lost puppies.
  9. Early birds get the biggest worms.
  10. Cleanup batters hit doubles and triples all night until the stands are empty.
  11. Riders who text “I’ll be right out.” will keep their driver waiting the longest.
  12. Everyone is broken, the lucky few know it.

Shinedown’s Social Commentary

Popular musicians pen social commentary. After the Beatles crooning “I want to hold you hand” sent hoards of teenage girls screaming to airports and stage doors, harder rockers declared the virtue of freer sexual boundaries and lived excessive lives. They didn’t want to hear Christian’s response, that their lives were immoral and self-destructive . . . even though 2o years later their immoral lives were imploding around self-destructive habits evolved into chains.

So how do Christ-followers stay relevant, reaching into social moral decline and making a real, measurable difference? Jesus said we were to be salt, a preservative, and light in a dark place, a city set on a hill that draws people into its protective boundaries. Not holy huddles, we are to be a socially active transformational tribe.

Continue reading “Shinedown’s Social Commentary”

Soundbites after Dark, Part II

Not all my conversations are poignant commentaries on a society in moral decline. Most riders like to chat, at least a little, and some riders are more conversant and entertaining than others. As I drove a high school football coach to his hotel, he explained his school’s philosophy. They didn’t always win, and the coaching staff didn’t have winning ensconced as their highest moral virtue.

Continue reading “Soundbites after Dark, Part II”

Sound bites after Dark

The late Carrie Fisher penned Postcards from the Edge as she wrestled with her intergalactic fame, substance abuse and bipolar life. While Ubering, some of my riders could likely be companions on Carrie’s journey. A little alcohol, our (sometimes unreasonably) high expectations of others and how morals tend to descend while under  alcohol’s influence create fertile ground for funny quotes.

The following, politically incorrect soundbites echoed out of my backseat while Ubering the weekend partying crowds. The names are changed, but the feelings are real. . .

Continue reading “Sound bites after Dark”

Friday Night Church

I used to wonder why there are so many churches in my town. The different names, traditions, denominations, flavors, colors and styles drove me a little crazy. Didn’t Jesus pray for his followers to be one? When I walked out of my religious tradition that demanded sameness from all the faithful, and walked into a real relationship with Jesus, I put the inconsistency on the shelf.

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Am I Hearing You?

Just before the 2016 election, I picked up three Chinese students and their mom from an evening of Christmas shopping. Sometimes my riders want to talk; sometimes their nose is glued to their screen as if they’d licked an icy flagpole. On this ride, even if I wanted to talk with my passengers I would have been at a loss. Their English was just deep enough to say hello, and they quickly jumped into a conversation in their native tongue.

Continue reading “Am I Hearing You?”

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