What are the Odds?

My Wednesday day off began with lunch with a friend in West Arvada. I decided to do a little driving from the ‘Heaven Dragon’ parking lot afterwords. It took 10 seconds and I was picking up Jason to head out on a 41 mile trip to DIA. Not a word was spoken for the first half of the ride. I have learned that not every rider wants a conversation, and so it was dead silent for the first half of the way. Then from the back seat the questions began to rain. I soon learned that he had four kids – 16, and 9 year old girls, followed by a 6 and 2 on the boy side. “My last Lyft driver said, ‘You have them at every phase, teenage drama and diapers’.” We had a fun time talking about kids, Colorado, and the upcoming Super Bowl. As we were pulling in to the drop off area I was pinged with a double shared ride, Steve and Mariel.

I circled back to level 5, Island 1,West side, and they both hopped in. Mariel was a 20-something who grabbed the back seat and Steve was a 50+ guy who got shotgun. Front seat: “I hope we are going to Boulder? I didn’t realize I ordered a shared ride”. Back seat: “Yep.” It is a 44 mile trip to Boulder. Steve began the conversation by sharing he was from Pittsburgh and he had just taken a side trip to Montana to ski before business in Boulder. We started talking about skiing. “I made my last run at Steamboat about six years ago. My knees can’t take it. I grew up skiing at Monarch, as I am from Pueblo”. Mariel said “Really! My dad is from Pueblo”. “What’s his last name”? “McCown”. “Bob or Mike?”

“Mike”. “Oh my, I know your family. Mike and I went through high school together. Your grandmother Muriel was the best English teacher ever. I am a pastor, I had your grandpa Dean’s memorial service”. The fun began.

It turns out her boss in Boulder was a fraternity brother of Steve’s. (Remember the front seat? )The energy in the conversations filled the 45 minutes with Joy. “Your Grandma Muriel was the best teacher I had in high school. We did Silas Marner and Shakespeare my junior year and advanced composition and vocabulary building my senior year. She brought out the best in her students. She respected us and expected us to give our best. We did”. Mariel’s dad Mike, was a ferry boat captain for the Seattle Transit Authority in the waterways of the Pacific NW. “My dad Bill Pumphrey, was born in Bellingham. He thought your dad had a dream job”. We agreed that our Lyft drive was more like a fun family reunion. I asked her for permission to share this with my blog. She said “Sure”. “I can still see your dad Mike, running for a touchdown our sophomore year. He was our hero. Tell him and your grandmother hi”. “For sure”.

Small world.

Onward and Upward, Mark

Mutton Buster

Up until the recent great migration into Colorado, Denver was known as a ‘cow town’. Every January we host The Great Western Stock Show. We traditionally leave our Holiday lights up until the last cowboy hits the dirt in late January. Believe it or not, many of the folk who come to see bucking broncos or ‘Spin Dry’ the Brahma bull, actually prefer to take a Lyft to the Stockyards and leave their ‘big A-s’ truck parked far away. Well, the Stock Show makes me happy. I especially felt that way when I picked up a family of four at a downtown hotel. Little Jimmy, who was sporting a cowboy hat that almost covered his floppy ears said, “I am a mutton buster”. Which in cowboy talk means it’s the first step to the broncs – they try to ride sheep.

Mutton Busting has been an annual event at the last half time show of the year of the Broncos game. It’s a Stock Show preview. It always gets a lot of laughs as the kids fly off a terrified sheep. Jimmy began to proudly tell me he had been practicing on Fluffy, the family golden retriever, and just last week he ‘almost got to the flower bed’. His older sister was his trainer and cheerleader, “I think he is going to win, he’s not afraid of anything’. I was having a flash back to when I was eight and my brother Charley was four. We spent two weeks on a dairy farm in Iowa. I talked Charley into dropping on top of a young calf from the fence. He lasted about two seconds.

We pulled into the ride share drop off at the stock yards. It was a parade of hats and boots and a whole lot of smiles. Some traditions are worth maintaining. I have no idea how Jimmy fared in his debut. But if

confidence is any predictor, there is a sheep who “got busted”.

Onward and Upward, Mark

Chemo

Let me first tell my readers that I took three weeks off from blogging.  Between the Holidays, writer’s block, and flying to California to play with family, I took a nice break.  This piece begins year 3 of my dive in to the blogosphere (autocorrect knows the word).  Over the past three weeks I have been doing some intermittent Lyfting.  There are probably 20 stories I could reflect on and share but one in particular stands out. 

It was on December 31st and I got a ping to St. Joe’s hospital in central Denver.  As I pulled into the drive-in pick-up I got a call. “Hi there, I am sorry the GPS brought you to the main hospital, it always does.  Could you drive to the cancer center; I will talk you there”?  She gave me perfect directions as she guided me to a complex a bit away… Siri you have competition!!! I pulled up in that drive through to be met with a big smile.  She hopped in the front seat, I hit the welcome aboard swipe and up came her destination— Evergreen 🌲– 39 miles one way into the mountains. We headed west towards the mountains. 

Without prodding she began to tell me her story. “When the cancer was diagnosed my Oncologist said ‘There are two choices. You can have four chemo treatments with a 75% survival rate. Or you can do 20 with a 95% success rate’. I chose door #2”.  “That would have been my choice”.  “I am half way through.  There are four Lyft drivers up in the mountains.  They take turns parking by my house to pick me up for my trip down.  Today you get to take me home, I hope you don’t mind”? “Heck no, I need a trip up to the beauty of the mountains”. 

I soon realized that I was riding with a 4th generation Coloradoan like my self.  She matched me tit for tat on “Native Trivia”. She even had the right answer to “If you think of Colorado as a wrinkled sheet and you flattened it out what state could it cover”?  “Well, Texas of course” she said with a cackle.  “Ding ding ding… we have a winner”. About that time we came upon a herd of elk that caused us to stop the car.  We both said almost at the same time “And we live here”. 

We worked our way up a winding road that turned to gravel.  I was in forrest heaven. We pulled up into a dapper mountain cabin.  I thanked her for her resilience and faith. She thanked me for a “fun ride”.  This made my New Years Eve.

Welcome to the next decade.  May my stories continue to Lyft you up!

Onward and Upward,

Mark

Pat

I begin my third year of Lyft driving from my location in the “Burbs of Arvada”. It is a very different experience starting at the far reaches of the NW area of our metroplex. I began over four years ago on this adventure from my perch at Wash Park. There, it usually took about 10 seconds to get a ping, as the population density and urban scene called for it. Friday is my Lyft day. Now I start by sitting in my driveway waiting sometimes 5-10 minutes. If nothing connects I usually move towards downtown. My first ride began at King Soopers where I picked up a young guy who said

“Do you mind if I eat this MacIntosh apple” ? “Help yourself”. “Well I

am from New England and they take me home”. He was on his lunch break from some big complex near the foothills. I dropped him off and waited in the parking lot for ride #2. It came after about 10 minutes – “Pat”.

I headed back north a bit to this 1960’s Arvada neighborhood that was tucked away by a small lake. It’s not an area that you would ever know was there. I was in a nostalgia Christmas trance as I admired the dapper ranch homes where no two were alike. I wondered if Pat was a boy or a girl. There she stood out on the curb, silver gray hair holding her smart phone. She could have been my Mom Pat’s stunt double. My heart sang and cried at the same time. Nat King Cole was singing “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”. She got in the back seat and my first words were, “My Mom’s name was Pat and she shared your stunning silver hair”. Pat smiled and thanked me. “I sold my car last year. I figured that I was better off taking Lyft for two reasons. I save a lot of money and I love being taken to my errands. It gets lonely living alone”. The next 10 minutes on our drive to Walmart were a delight. “I miss my Mom more than ever at this time of year. Pat, you have been a treasure to me today”.

We pulled up to Walmart and I saw her reaching into her purse. She grabbed my hand (just the way my Mom did) and put a handful of $1’s in my palm. “Mark, thanks for the ride, I really appreciate your time”. Her grace was a reflection of her 88 years of living gratefully. I knew better than to refuse her tip. As she walked into Walmart I admired again her stunning hair. Today I got my car cleaned at Water Works. The only $1’s I had were from Pat. I dropped a dollar in the tip can and somehow knew it would do some good.

Onward and Upward, Mark

Private

This past Monday, which is my “Lyft Day”, I pulled up for my first ride in a suburban cul-de-sac in Westminster. Out the front door walked a young man dressed in US Army fatigues. He hopped in the the front door, and we began an engaging conversation. He had recently completed basic training at Ft. Benning, Georgia. He was headed to his first deployment in Fairbanks, Alaska and he was home through Christmas. His job was to go to the Army recruitment center, and share with other young women and men about why he chose to enlist. “Why did you choose to join the military”? I enquired. He gave me a very thoughtful and complete answer. “Nobody in my family, that I know of, ever served in the military. I felt I owed it to my country who has done so much for us, to represent my family. Yes, there is also the fact that I will get my college paid for. I wanted the challenge to prove to myself I could measure up”.

“So how was basic training”? “Well I loved it and hated it. Looking back it was the best thing I have ever done. It has given me a sense of pride and accomplishment. I made some great friends, you have to depend on each other”. “So you are headed to Alaska in the winter time”. “Yep, no sun for three months, and minus 40 degrees . I guess I am ready, I will be there with everyone else”. This young man was quietly full of a grace and strength that came through. I said to him “Thank you for your service”. “You are welcome sir. Did you serve”? “No I did not. My father was a pilot in WWII. He flew in Europe. I never really appreciated what he did until the 50th anniversary of D-Day. I sat our living room and listened as he shared about being shot at every day. “The hard part was in the morning flight briefings, looking around and missing a few guys from the day before. I am not a hero. The heroes never came home”.

We pulled up to the recruitment station in an Arvada strip mall. As he was getting out I told him “I am proud to be with you”. “Sir, I am just a Private”. I said, “Young man you are a soldier who has committed to protect and defend me and my family – you are a gift”. “Thank you sir, that means a lot”.

Today is December 7th. It is the 78th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. My life was shaped in so many ways by the generation that lived through this huge challenge to freedom, decency, and sacrifice. Our challenges today are no less daunting. Can we tell ourselves the truth no matter what the cost, and then pay the price for facing down those forces that would steal our freedom for their own? I just read that there are three survivors from the SS Arizona, who are now 98. They were 19 once, like this young private. His youthful courage honors them and the 12 million men and women who served in WWII.

Thank You.

Onward and Upward Mark

Thanks

“It’s been a quiet week here in Lake Lyftbegone”… to parody Garrison Keilor, the king of live radio and the imaginary Minnesota small town. I was a “Prairie Home Companion” junky. I have only given 11 rides this week and each one of them was friendly, interesting and ‘normal’. I decided to keep track and everyone of these passengers said “Thanks for the ride”. This Thursday in millions of homes, homeless shelters, church basements, Elks clubs, VFWs, restaurants and park benches, people will gather to say thanks. Often a question will be asked “What are you thankful for”? The standard answer is family and friends. Well, since I have this space, I am going to give you my longer list drawn from my 100,000 miles of LYFT driving:

*** drivers who let other people in

*** hawks that sit on telephone poles

*** smiles

*** clean public restrooms

*** Waterworks Car Wash who, for $55 per month will clean my whole car daily

*** The Frank Sinatra channel on Sirius

*** riders who are ready to go

*** all wheel drive

*** public parks

*** round-abouts

*** the new 5th level ride-share pick up island at DIA

*** Cherry Creek State Park (naps and wildlife)

*** Speaker Phone

*** Google Maps relentless nudging and most often helpful directions

*** coffee

*** snow storms that ‘thin the Lyft driver herd’

*** Netflix 30 minute shows to watch on break

*** sports talk radio

*** interruption calls from my kids and grandkids

*** daybreak and twilight

*** pothole patch crews

*** Christmas lights

*** bottled water

*** parking pickup pull-ins at high rises

*** a 25% reduction in DUI’s as a result of ride share

*** tips

*** long rides

*** heated seats

*** construction workers

*** channel 49 “Soul Town”, the ‘1 Size fits all’ radio station

*** drive-through healthy vegan food

*** L. I. G. (Life in General)

*** each one of my readers – “Thanks for all your encouragement” !!!

Happy Thanksgiving 🦃 🍁 🍽 Onward and Upward,

Mark

Grace and Brokenness

Yesterday was my Friday afternoon Lyft gig. I picked Greg up on S. Santa Fe at a warehouse. He was headed to the north end of downtown. He engaged me right away in the “how long have you been driving for Lyft, do you like it, what did you do before this”? questions. It opened up what he does. He works for a non profit that provides portable showers and laundry for homeless folk. “It’s a point of connection to try to get them off the streets and back to work. We are having some success”. We were headed to a United Way Center which is located in the center of both rapid gentrification and a growing population of homeless folk who stay in the many shelters and “camp” in every nook and cranny. I have seen this situation grow exponentially in my four years of Lyfting

I no more than dropped him off than I got a ping at the same facility but a different entrance. I was called by a man who explained that I was picking up a United Way client and taking her to an emergency shelter on E. Colfax. He met me in the drive through drop off zone. He introduced me to a young woman who had a number of bandages on her head. Her eyes showed fear and sadness. We talked for a moment and I assured him I was comfortable with the 15 minute ride. She got in the back seat but I had a clear view of her tears.

We drove silently through the streets of north Capital Hill. I was playing Coffee House on my Sirius radio. I don’t know the song but it was the soft sweet voice coming out my back seat that was filling in the space of our silence. I could see her bruised face on her 20-something body as her lips sang the words. It was hard not to say anything but I think she just needed to sing. We pulled up to the emergency shelter. She grabbed her backpack and got out of the car. All I could say was “Take care of yourself and thanks for sharing the song”. She has a name… it’s Shelby.

Onward and Upward, Mark

Cash Tips

In 1979 I found myself as a single parent with two little kids, trying to figure out my life in a world I had never planned to live in. I had shared custody with my kids’ mom. By day I was the Senior Chaplain at a huge state institution for the disabled, but I needed something to do on the three or four nights a week when I was home alone. I thought maybe I could be a waiter. I went down and talked with Jerry A., who owned “The Peppermill” which was ‘the place to be’ during that current oil boom in Oklahoma. If you haven’t lived in a boom town it was a lot like Silver City, NV during the gold rush… lots and lots of money and free spending. Jerry was game to bring on his staff a “preacher/waiter”. I soon learned a new trade.

I had the kids most every Sunday, through Wednesday morning. I would get them to day care and preschool and then be “daddy” each evening. Then from Wednesday to Saturday evening I was double dipping as a chaplain/ waiter. I found I could carry a tray over my shoulder with five flaming ‘Surf n’ Turfs’. Very soon it became apparent to me that I was often making as much in a week serving folks, as I did in a month working for the state with a Masters degree. It was nothing to have a few thousand dollars in my sock drawer. Tipping took on a new meaning. Everyone should have to work as a server for a year or so. You learn a whole lot.

It was 34 years later that ‘tipping’ reentered my world. Lyft drivers are often tipped, and though it is never expected it is always appreciated. Most people tip through their phone on the Lyft App. At the end of a week Lyft totals up your tips and includes it in your weekly pay. However, occasionally people hand you a cash tip which is a real affirmation of a good ride. On Monday I had three different rides hand me some ones. I put the wad of ones in my jacket pocket, completely forgetting about them. I do remember each ride. 1. An older woman who used Lyft to go shopping. She smiled and patted my hand as she tipped me. 2. A man that I picked up at a Longmont hospital. Insurance companies are now contracting with Lyft for patient transportation. He was a very frail man. I remember thinking “please don’t pass out in my front seat”. It was a quiet ride, I watched him struggle to put on his seat belt. Life had not been easy, I guess. I pulled up in his driveway and asked if he needed any help. “No thanks, but this is for you” (five ones). 3. Was in old town Arvada, a group of three “boomers” out for lunch. The guy in the group sat in the front seat. He shared he was from Serbia. “Nikola Jokic” AKA ‘the Joker’. FYI— he is a 4th year Denver

Nugget basketball player whose skills and character are without parallel. My rider told me of the small town he was from. He was thrilled that his local kid was in ‘my fandom wheelhouse’. I loved his Slavic accent. As they left he also handed me a few ones.

Today, Saturday I have a routine; I buy coffee at Dunkin Doughnuts, I go to AA at 7am at York St, I get my car washed at Waterworks, then go to an OA Big Book study at 9. I had enough dollar bills to cover it all, including a tip at the car wash. I love tipping with tip money— here is a tip — keep the money flowing— tip on!!!

Onward and Upward, Mark

Terminal

There are some lessons I have to learn again and again. In the “don’t judge a book by the cover” category I go back to 1st grade on a very regular basis.

I love driving on snowy days for these reasons- *** I grew up driving in snow and my 2015 Mitsubishi Sport was ranked a top snow and ice car.*** the Lyft drivers who rent the sedans are snowphobic, *** demand goes through the roof, ***people are genuinely grateful for rides. We had quite the “Halloween snow week” here.

Last Monday I picked up a guy standing on the corner moving from side to side trying to get warm. As he got in the car I noticed a TRUMP 2020 hoodie. The little voice in me said “Mark— this is not the occasion”. We headed on a 15 minute ride to his home.

He began to engage pretty quickly with me about my life. “Wow, you are a very blessed man with a very full life. I have a terminal disease with a couple of years left. I have this cousin who I have known my whole life. He is perfectly healthy and all he can think about is doing nothing. I don’t get it”. He began to expand in a very colorful way (lots of F-bombs) about this cousin and his wasting of his life. “I have a friend who was in an ‘almost famous’ rock band who wrote a song I love – “You Are Either Living to Die or Dying to Live”. The door was opened for us to get very real. “This is why I drive for Lyft. Prophets like you, tell me what I need to hear”.

Then he said “You probably noticed my Trump gear”? I said, “Yep, and we aren’t going to go there”. “What did you do before driving for Lyft”. “Well, I have been a pastor for 47 years. Please don’t apologize for your honesty and the swearing. You are an inspiration. That song title will preach…as we pastors say”. I pulled up in front of his house. He didn’t want to leave.

He thanked me too many times for being there in the snow . As he got out I said “Go Live… we are all terminal, you are a good man”.

Onward and Upward, Mark

Kicked Out

It was a picture perfect Autumn day. The leaves were in what I

call my favorite color “Fall”. I was going down Speer Blvd when I got pinged with a note, “This is Stacy – you will be picking up Wayne at the curb”. I thought “Great, an easy pick up”. Wayne was there with a box of stuff. We put it in the back of my car and headed to the destination Stacy had selected. “So how’s your day”? Silence— then the 30-something guy in the front seat starts crying. “She kicked me out… I had no idea. My stuff was in this box and she told me she had ordered a Lyft. She was at work and basically told me to hit the road”. The pastor in me kicked in and I listened as he told me all of his regrets. I thought to myself, “I have been on both sides of this equation… I would always rather be the leaver than the left. Guilt better than rejection”. We pulled up to some place in north Denver. Wayne took his box, still crying. I drove off with Paul Simon singing ‘50 Ways to Leave Your Lover’ rolling in my head.

A couple of rides later I got round two of “girl kicks out boy”. Vic was just angry. “And then she tells me there is a Lyft for you, we are done”. My head was spinning. Were these two women in the same “Throw the bum out” support group? Wayne I felt sorry for. Vic, however, had jerk written all over him. I thought “Did the Lyft algorithm put on sad sack watch? What are the odds of two of these on the same beautiful afternoon”?

In the you-never-know-what’s-coming-in-Lyft-world,I have had my share of broken hearts. My next ride was a couple going to the County Building to get their wedding license. Go figure.

Onward and Upward, Mark