The Uber* Driver

Written on by Kathryn Lerro

My husband took me out for my birthday a few weeks ago. It was an interesting night, even though it didn’t go quite the way we’d planned.

We went to a Cuban restaurant in Center City. The meal was fantastic. We started with a sampling of three different varieties of ceviche (Bill makes his own ceviche, so we had to try theirs for comparison). Then I had braised short ribs over a bed of seasoned rice with little bits of fried plantain thrown in for crunch. It was delicious, and I probably ate more of it than I should have. When I finally realized I couldn’t take another bite, I passed my plate to Bill. I didn’t order dessert, but three tiny scoops of dulce de leche ice cream arrived for me on a plate with a candle and “Happy Birthday” written in chocolate sauce. I ate those three tiny scoops and washed them down with a cup of decaf and a glass of water. I didn’t think I had overdone it, but when I got up at the end of the meal, I was suddenly overcome by nausea.

After hanging around in the ladies room for a while, hoping the discomfort would pass, I left the restaurant with a handful of empty doggie bags in one hand—just in case—and a to-go cup of ginger ale in the other. We walked a few blocks in the cool, misty air, and when I finally felt a little better, we summoned a ride with Uber.

The driver had a hard time finding us because the sidewalks were so full of people, but at last, we managed to connect, and I was very relieved to be on my way home.

Our driver had a foreign accent, so Bill asked where he was from. My husband always asks foreigners where they’re from: he can’t help himself; he travelled extensively with the Air Force and he loves talking about where he’s been. The driver said he’s from West Africa. Well, Bill’s never been to West Africa, but he had his 23 And Me genetic testing done last year and learned that he has a small percentage of West African DNA. These two men, who look so very different, had a hearty laugh over their shared ancestry. I’d have laughed, too, but I was afraid more than laughter would come out, so I just smiled.

We drove a few blocks in silence, then—even though all the windows were closed—we were suddenly very aware that we were driving through a cloud of marijuana smoke. We all commented on it, and the driver, whose name is Musa**, said “These kids today are crazy!” And then he went on to tell us an amazing story.

He said he was called to a house in the suburbs of Philadelphia, to take a student back to college at the end of winter break. After loading the girl’s belongings into the car, and after she hugged and kissed her parents goodbye, she and Musa set out for the long ride to the very well-known, very prestigious university she attends. They hadn’t gone far when she asked him if he’d make a detour for her. She told him she needed to “get high” and asked if he knew where she could buy some crack.  Musa was horrified. He said “No. I cannot help you buy drugs. I cannot do this!”

Once he’d made it clear that he wouldn’t be making a drug run for her, he began asking her about her life: about how she began using crack. For the next few hours, this Uber driver became the girl’s confidant and counselor. She tearfully admitted that she wanted help, but said she didn’t know how to tell her parents; they were so proud of her and they’d be so disappointed. At the end of the ride, she thanked Musa for listening and for caring, and then she asked him for one more thing—a big thing. She asked him to drive back to her parents’ house, and break the news to them, telling them their daughter was a drug addict and needed their help.

And so he did.

He made the long journey back to her parents’ house—at his own expense. When he rang the doorbell, the father was surprised but happy to see him: he’d made a good impression when he picked up the man’s daughter. But when he delivered the horrifying news, the father became irate. “You’re lying!” he shouted over and over.

Musa remained calm. He reasoned with him, asking, “Why would I come all this way to tell you this bad thing if it were not true?” “Call your daughter, daddy. She will tell you.”

The phone call was made. The daughter poured out her heart, saying that, yes, the driver was telling the truth. At some point Musa slipped away and left the girl’s parents to deal with their shock and grief.

Musa wondered about the girl over the following weeks, and then one day he received a phone call. It was the father. He said his daughter was in rehab and she was doing well. He said he didn’t know what would have happened to her if Musa hadn’t helped her. He apologized for yelling at him. He gave him a very humble, very heartfelt, “Thank you.”

I wish I hadn’t been feeling so poorly the night Bill and I got into this man’s car. I’d have asked so many questions. His story was the highlight of the evening, and I won’t soon forget it. I’d like to ask this outstanding man what his hopes were for his life—what his hopes were when he came to this country. I can’t imagine he dreamed of being an Uber driver, and yet it is quite possible that because he is one, he saved a life, a family, a future. Whatever that girl ends up doing with her life (and her coveted Ivy League degree), might not have happened if she hadn’t gotten in his car on that fateful night.

Life doesn’t always go the way we would have hoped or planned—I know mine surely hasn’t.

But sometimes, if we make ourselves available, right in the middle of an unplanned-for, unhoped-for life detour, something really exceptional can happen.

*Definition of the word Uber: “denoting an outstanding or supreme example of a particular kind of person or thing.” – Google Dictionary

**Name has been changed.

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