Seventy

Birthdays are usually something I enjoy. When I turned four I had a “firecracker” 💥💥💥””” cake 🎂, and a

backyard full of kids playing in plastic swimming pools. The day I turned 16 I passed my drivers exam, and I had already saved up enough money to buy a car. I turned 18

in Belgium$ , where the Lecocq family hosted an

amazing dinner in my honor. I realized on that 2nd day in Europe that the world was way bigger than Pueblo. I turned 21 in Boulder, and let’s just say it was a “Rocky Mountain High”. I still remember the fresh hot baked sunflower bread at the local bakery named (I am not making this up) “Magnolia ThunderPus___y’s”. 30 – on Gerald Ediger’s farm, he had taken in this ‘recently made single’ dad and his two kids, two and five. We had a tire swing hanging from a huge tree. 40 – was a real gift at our mini farm in Alamosa, I was two years in recovery and I was present. 50 — I was rebuilding a community center with a group from South Broadway CC in El Salvador. 60 – I don’t remember (a sign of things to come). 70 – this past Tuesday, where I went on a great hike in Eldorado Canon State Park. My day was made by the folks at my credit union who told me that I looked great for an old guy. Yes, turning Seventy is messing with me.

70 is—

***A great golf score (never come close)

***An average basketball score for college

***Just getting started for a Galapagos Tortoise

***20 ft for a Sequoia

***Times 7 for how I have to forgive

***The decade of without a doubt “THE BEST MUSIC” ever!!!

***The passing score for Dr. Glen Rose’s Biblical Content Exam, which was my exact score — you had to pass it to Graduate

***The only temperature MK and I can agree on

***The number of Hot Dogs Joey Chestnut shoots for in the world hot dog eating contest

***1-70 construction project— a never ending nightmare *** a gift

I am aware that I am living an amazing life. Statistics say that a man has a really great chance of making 80 if he gets to 70. That will only matter if I make today count.

Onward and Upward, Mark

Under Repair

Last week I was headed out of town with my grandson Miko on a road trip to Enid, America (Oklahoma). Miko had agreed to go with me to the headwaters of my college life for a Phillips University reunion. Phillips closed 20 years ago, and I’m not sure I have yet fully recovered from the sadness that I thought I would never have to feel. Anyway, we were headed down 17th St. going to I-70. I was in the left lane of three lanes. At Franklin Street a big A__ truck decided to make a left turn from the center

lane… crunch, crackle, damn!!! We were able to drive RED 🚗 — on through a most verdant last day of spring. We had a fantastic time,

however RED is now sidelined until we can get it fixed. I guess it’s a good time to take a breather from Lyfting and focus on all the things I can do in Colorado in the summer time. I am dealing with two insurance companies, a repair shop and a timeline that I don’t control.

Onward and Upward, Mark

Carpet Cleaner

In 1964 after completing my freshman year my dad informed me I was going to work at the family owned business—Cleaver Carpet Center. I said, “But I planned on playing baseball, going to the pool and being 15. Instead, I got to ride my bike to work at 6:30 in the morning, prepare the previously washed area rugs for delivery, and head out to return them, picking up another 12-15, cleaning homes with wall-to-wall carpet, scrubbing the haul from the day, and figuring out how to survive the 100’ Pueblo summers. I often worked 55 hours a week for $1.15 an hour. I got an awakening of how people live. The good, the bad, the… !!! The good news is that I made a lot of money, which allowed me to buy a car. I did this four years in a row and my learning curve went far ahead of most of my peers.

I picked up Justin at 5:30am, at Regis University. He hopped in and we began a vulnerable interchange. I asked him what he did all night at Regis. “I clean floors – wax and strip, carpets, hardwoods, and whatever else. I moved here to take care of my mom”. “Is she sick”? “She is mentally ill. Nobody in the family wants her, it’s either me or the streets”. We began a very honest interchange about bi-polar, Schizophrenia, addictions and all the other challenges she faces. He was in no way resentful or a victim. We talked about cleaning floors, and how quickly feet make them dirty. “I really appreciate this job because I can do it at night when she stays in”.

He was very bright and I doubted that this is a career for him. “So what are your dreams”? “To get my mom to a place where she can be safe. Right now I am it. It’s ok, I read a lot, have a couple of great friends, and she is safe”.

The world could use a few more folks who quietly serve and clean up and take care of our messes.

Onward and Upward, Mark

D-Day “Special Addition”

25 years ago today, I sat in my parents’ living room and had perhaps the most vulnerable conversation I ever remember with my dad, Bill. He was in his recliner lounge chair we called ‘control central’. He had his remotes for TV and VCR, along with his portable radio.  He was a WW II pilot 👨‍✈️ and this was his cockpit. It was the 50th anniversary of the Normandy Invasion and for some reason I was up visiting from the San Luis Valley. He had just turned off the TV news coverage remembering D-Day. No one else was around and I asked him how he felt. “Mark, I am a very fortunate man.  I got to come back after the War. I met your wonderful Mom, had four great kids, built a business, did amazing things, went to wonderful places, had great friends”.  Then he said, as he held back tears, “The heroes never came home”. 

My dad was a glider pilot. Actually, he was an instructor pilot at the glider base at Alliance, Nebraska.  He taught hundreds of young pilots how to fly the huge gliders. We had a few thousand gliders. Each glider made of plywood and canvas, would hold 13 troops and a half-track tank. They were towed up by a C47 transport plane. Half way over the English Channel they were cut loose and given orders to land behind German lines in France.  During the first 24 hours of the invasion, twenty five percent of all glider pilots were killed.  Two that survived were my dad’s Colorado buddies, John Ballentyne, from Pueblo and Carmel Lopez, from Alamosa. After they got back home in 1945 they found each other and formed a bond that continued to death.

My dad did not go in on D-Day.  He was still training pilots in Nebraska. By August he was dropped in on his only combat mission, in Holland. He was then promoted to co-pilot on a C47 transport plane. “What did you do”? “I flew supplies up to the front line”. “What kind of supplies”?  “Oh, gasoline, ammunition, food, water… all the things our men needed”.  “Did you ever get shot at”? “Everyday. The hard part was in the morning in the briefing room, when we would get our orders, and you could see who was missing from the day before”. Then he began to openly cry.  “Those were some great young men, they never got the chance I had, Mark. I have tried to live my life in gratitude”.  This is the truth— I never heard my dad say an unkind thing about anyone… ever.  He died six years later with a heart that was full. Today we try to remember those who did not come back and to give thanks for those who did.

Onward and Upward,

Mark

May 30th (Real Memorial Day)

Monday is a ‘day off’ from Greeley pastor duties. So when a holiday falls on a Monday I get to pick another day. My Memorial Day was the “original” one before our political leaders decided they wanted ‘three-day weekends’. What had been just fine from 1868-1970 was changed. Well, this year I had an old school Memorial Day. I picked Jeremiah up by Union Station and we headed to the Cherry Creek Mall (15 minutes). My passenger started the conversation by asking if I was retired. “No, I flunked retirement. This is my Memorial Day, I do this for fun. I was just thinking about how, growing up, this was ‘opening day’ for Colorado

fishing 🎣 ”. He said, “I’m all in”.

I then shared, “What I really remember is riding in my dad’s ‘53 Chevy pickup with a wooden bed and port windows. He would put the AM radio on KCSJ ‘590 on your radio dial’ and we would listen to the Indy 500”. Well, the conversation was amped up to red-line speed. Jeremiah was a “gear-head”. He began to talk about the Monaco Grand Prix which just happened. He explained that Mercedes was doing the impossible, “Best racing team ever”. “Listening to a great race on the radio is the best – sounds in the background and the announcers keeping you on the edge of your seat”. “I remember Roger Ward, Parnelli Jones, AJ Foyt and the Unser family”. Then in 1970, they moved Memorial Day to the last Monday of May, Colorado went to year round fishing, and the magic faded.

Jeremiah continued to fill my car with all kinds of car racing facts. We had our holiday right there going down Lincoln Street. He was easily half my age. I have become that ‘old guy’ with stories. In the end the only ‘memorials’ that matter are stories about experiences and relationships.

Onward and Upward Mark

Courage

The last time it snowed like this in May in Denver was 1974. May of ‘74 was the beginning of my life as a Dad. Amy (my kid), was born on the 20th and 45 years later this past Monday, I was greeted with 5” of snow. Monday is my Lyft day so I headed out into the snowy darkness of predawn with a sense of adventure. My first ride took me 17 miles south of Arvada to Englewood. We had a spirited conversation about the loss of civility in politics. Within seconds I had my next ride. I spotted my passenger standing out on the curb, bundled up like it was January. She had a backpack, a water bottle in one hand and a white cane in the other.

I pulled up to the curb, rolled my window down and identified myself. She met me with a warm smile and before I could ask if she needed assistance she worked her way into my back seat.

It was a 25 minute ride to the tech center and we began to work our way through the slushy streets. I was in the presence of a very engaging young woman. She asked me questions about my life, Lyft driving, and then she said, “The way I feel right now I wish I could stay in my pajamas and stay home”. Somewhere in the midst of the conversation she shared she was struggling with a health issue. I asked her “Were you born blind, or did you see at one time”? She told me in the most beautiful way, her story. When she was 10 she started getting headaches. She had a tumor on her optic nerve. I asked her “Was it a meningioma”? “You know about them”? I said, “Yes, my wife had one removed from her frontal lobe in 2010”. They are non-malignant tumors that affect the lining of the brain. They can be fatal and often return. She went on to tell me that after two surgeries she became completely blind. There was a remarkable depth of honesty and character in her countenance. She told me she works for a tech company where she helps to consult about how their applications work with folks who have extra challenges.

“What I really want to do is be a ‘motivational speaker’. I told her “You have inspired me”. I asked her if being able to remember what life was like when she could see, was hard emotionally. Her reply was quick and confident. “I adjusted to be blind pretty quickly. My friends would say ‘the clouds are covering the mountains today’ I would laugh and say ‘not in my mind’.” We pulled up into the drop off area of the big building where she worked. Slush and snow were everywhere. I asked, “Could I walk you to the door”? “I would love that”. I took her by the hand and walked her to

the door. I asked her for permission to write about her. She said “Sure, I would love that”. I have revisited this ride all week. On that snowy 45th birthday of my Amy, I was given a gift, her name is Emily.

Onward and Upward, Mark

5000 Rides

I hit 4000 rides in less than two years, and the climb to 5000 has taken almost that long. My goal was to hit 5000 rides before I turned 70, last night I reached it with six weeks to spare. LYFT has promised me a gift when I hit it and as I can be easily motivated, I pressed on. At 1000 rides I got my favorite jacket of all times. It fits perfectly, is sleek black, mid weight, with lots of zipper pockets and a 1K LYFT logo. At 2500 I got a black, pink trimmed polo shirt, not quite as cool as my jacket but thanks anyway. So yesterday I had 12 rides to get to 5000 and the countdown began.

It was about 6pm when Luis “pinged” me. It was fitting that the ride was in the Baker neighborhood just west of my old congregation South Broadway. This is where I began this Lyft career 3 1/2 years ago. Luis was standing on the corner in shorts, ball cap and flip flops, the warm weather uniform for Millennials. He was looking at his phone intently which is code for “ride share pick up”. He hopped in the front seat. I smiled and said “Congratulations – you are my 5000 ride”. He smiled and said “Do I get a free ride”? I laughed and said “How about a La Croix and a snack bar”? He said “No thanks, I am headed to the movies and a giant

popcorn”. 🍿 He told me that he was going to see the latest version of the ‘Avengers’. He suggested, when I told him it had pricked my interest, that

I would be wise to see the other shows in the series first or I might be lost. I replied “Sort of like watching the last two weeks of ‘Game of Thrones’ after missing the last seven years. “Pretty much” with a smile. He began to ask me about my Lyft career and life before Lyft. I then asked him what he did, (I was not expecting the answer I got) “Believe it or not I am a rocket scientist”. I laughed and said “Working undercover… where is your slide rule and pocket protector”.

He shared in detail the current project he is working on. It was more than fascinating. He said “I am the luckiest man alive, I get paid for doing what I love”. “That makes two of us, Luis – tomorrow I go with my Greeley church to help build a Habitat for Humanity home and tonight I head towards 6000 rides. I will always remember ‘5000 Luis’. I hope you do help colonize the moon. By the way, the moon is full tonight”. He smiled and hopped out of the car.

I give thanks for: servers, baristas, students, pilots, construction workers, software whatevers, tourists, concert goers, hospital workers, retired folk, musicians, exotic dancers, immigrants, nannys, ride of shamers, ball players, engineers, chefs, therapists, actors, work at homers, administrative assistants, mechanics, day laborers, and the many others

who have shared their lives in my red car 🚗 ! Onward and Upward,

Mark

4-20

Today is April 20th.  Downtown Denver is preparing for 20,000 happy weed smokers to gather in Civic Center Park. Native Foods, my favorite vegan eatery, sent out a 4-20 Munchie Special— I am in, even though the last Pot I smoked was before Bill Clinton “did not inhale”.  I am also remembering 20 years ago when I had been at South Broadway Christian Church for two years as pastor, and my “dial-up” internet sent out a news bulletin that there had been a “mass-shooting” at Columbine HS in Littleton.  We opened the church doors to 100’s of folk who just needed some place to go.  Twenty years later the “norm” has shifted. The skunky smell of marijuana is a daily occurrence and I am grieved that just in the US, we have had 11 mass shootings in 20 years. The paradox (too small a word) is not lost on me.

So today, (the Saturday between ‘Good Friday’ and Easter 🐣) this pastor-Lyft driver will live and drive in the crucible of stoned passengers and memorial flowers.  I am learning not to try to resolve this cacophony of memory and experiences into something that I can understand. Rather, my Lyft driving keeps me in the moment. Between rides I will be thinking of my sermon tomorrow, “Why Do You Seek the Living Among the Dead”?  I am going to opposing directions with that question.  1.  I am thinking of all the ways I (we) try to find life where there is not life.  2. And all of the times when life (grace) has shown up in the voice of those who just say “Thanks for the ride”. 

For the next two weeks I am headed to Italy, Greece, Croatia, and Montenegro. I hope to write a bit while I am there. The Cystine Chapel awaits, but I am just as excited to grab a local taxi and say “Show me the places in your home that bring life to your heart” .

Onward and Upward and ARRIVEDERCI❤️,

Mark

BABY in the CUE

Last Friday night I ended up about as far south as my house is north, from downtown. One of the realities of Lyft driving is that you get to go on these adventures and have no idea really, where you’ll end up. I pulled up in front of a house in Highlands Ranch and a woman came out and hopped in the front seat. She was very chatty and told me that we were first going to pick up her friend and they were going out to celebrate her 46th birthday. I said, “My oldest daughter Stephanie, turns 46 in June. Now get this, on Thanksgiving day she called to tell us that she’s pregnant with her first baby. Nobody, and I mean nobody in our family had a clue that this was on the radar screen”. My passenger immediately began to giggle, squeal, sigh, and say things like, “Oh my God I can’t imagine having a baby right now, you’re kidding me? You’re not pulling my leg – she really is pregnant and she’s only two months younger than me, wow that’s amazing!”

We pulled up in front of her friend’s house, and she hopped in the backseat. Within four seconds Front Seat began to say “This man’s daughter is our age and she’s going to have her first baby in six weeks! Oh my god can you get pregnant when you’re in menopause?” About this time I was trying not to laugh hysterically as these two women were going back-and-forth sharing more information about gynecology, their husbands, and raising children, than any Lyft driver should have to endure in five minutes. Truthfully though, I was enjoying every minute of it. I dropped them off at a bistro down by Park Meadows mall and they couldn’t stop talking even as they got out of the car, about pregnancy and being 46. They wished me good luck on my newest granddaughter and then headed off to celebrate her birthday.

Ironically, the ride that I had taken earlier to get down in that part of the world, was for a young woman who is a nanny, who had moved here from Sweden 10 years ago. We had a lovely conversation and in the course of that conversation I told her that my wife Mary Kay, was out of town, getting ready to share in a baby shower with our soon to be 46-year-old daughter, who is having her first baby. She said, “Guess how old my mom was when she had me, I’m the youngest of four.” I said, “Let me guess – she was 46.” “No, she was 45, and she’s the best mom ever! The only thing I would change about her is that she hates flying over the ocean to come see me.”

I will keep you all posted on baby D, who is supposed to arrive sometime around May 13.

Onward and upward, Mark

Commitment

Last week I picked up two young girls at the Denver School of Preforming Arts (near old Stapleton airport in east Denver). The destination— north of Boulder (39 miles). It turns out that they are both students there, and they commute there everyday, each way. They leave at 6:15 in the morning with rides from both parents or Lyft. They told me they average 25 Lyft rides a month. One of the girls is into theater and the other is a singer/ dancer. They were highly engaging in both their questions and experiences.

I said “This is quite an effort you make to go to high school”. They both said, almost together, (I think it wasn’t the first time) “If arts are your passion, this is just what you have to do”. I said “My son Mateo calls it ‘The Artist Curse’. In my experience—writers write, poets spin, painters paint, dancers dance, actors act and preachers drive LYFT”. They laughed and then said in unison “You’re a preacher? You don’t act like one”. I said, “Good, and you don’t act like future stars either, like I would know”.

It was an hour ride to the one girl’s home. It was a small farm north of town right at the mountains. The other girl’s mom was waiting for the drop off. I let them out and drove around the grounds to head out. The mom in the car flashed her lights at me to say something. I waited for her to pull up, assuming they had forgotten something in the back seat. “I just wanted you to know that my daughter said that this was the best Lyft ride she has ever had”. I said “You made my night, thanks for taking the time to let me know”.

You know when people take time to Lyft you up, it matters. Onward and Upward,

Mark