10 Observations on Lyfting and Life

Today I celebrate two years of writing “Lyfting Me Up”. Almost every week it has been my joy to have you ride along in my red car. Here are a few things I’ve experienced that I would like to share with you.

1. In 1971, as I began at the Enid State School, Ernestine S, a classic 60- year-old social worker said to a brand new beginning social worker, “Mark- No matter how different these people seem, remember this: they are more like you are, than they are different”. I have now given 4,703 rides to folks who all have something in common.

2. 10 years ago we were all told—“Never accept a ride from a stranger, or let them stay in your home”. The 30-somethings that created Lyft and the likes of airb&b gave a great gift to the world. Friendships abound and complete strangers connect.

3. 98% of riders are responsible and respectful. 2% are jerks.

4. On Friday nights everyone loves the Frank Sinatra channel.

5. 8 out of 10 riders have moved to Denver in the last 4 years. They love

being here. They often ask how I feel about this mass migration. My answer is always the same, “Check your attitude at the border, and give back”.

6. There is NO and I mean NO, excuse for drinking and driving.

7. There is always a noticeable pause when I am asked what I did before

driving for Lyft. “Pastor” is never what they are expecting.

8. Airport rides are the most fun. You hear a lot.

9. People have interesting jobs… the most recent epiphany is that I met

two “Scrum—Masters”. (Social workers for techies, they teach

computer geeks how to work as a team.)

10. There is a deep and connecting spiritual hunger in the vast majority of

folks.

My goal is to hit 5000 rides by Easter!!! Happy 2019. Onward and Upward,

Mark

Don

Image-1It has been a very slow time in my Lyft life.  The reality of Christmas time duties in my life as the pastor of Greeley First Christian Church, has made my hobby as a Lyft driver take a break. Yesterday I gave a handful of rides. One of them was a gift to me.  I picked her up in an old SW Denver neighborhood, she was headed to DIA.   She would meet her family at Lake Geneva in Wisconsin for the holidays.  Somewhere about 20 miles out, she asked me what I do besides Lyft.  This opened up the “I am a pastor” moment which can go in as many directions as a squirrel in the intersection of Alameda and Lincoln.  She said in a very respectful voice, “I am not religious but I need prayers for my sister-in-law Grace.  Yesterday she was in an Uber car that was in a very bad wreck. She survived but has many broken bones.  I sort of feel like I shouldn’t ask but I need to”.  I assured her that her lack of religiosity didn’t matter a whit to God. 

We began a beautiful conversation between two human beings just trying to figure it out and live for the things that really matter.  As she hopped out on Level 6 at DIA, she thanked me and I told her that Grace would be put on prayer list at FCC Greeley, and within five minutes it was out. I thought of how fragile life can be.  I realize from time to time as I am driving people everywhere, that there is risk involved in doing this.

Today exactly 60 years ago,  my brother Don was born. He made it to 20 and then he was killed in an accident on St. Patrick’s Day 1979.  Don was as fine a person as I have ever known. It is important that I remember that he lived and left a brief but powerful impact on those who knew him. Yesterday as I drove away from spending 40 minutes with a total stranger who opened her heart to me, I remembered to pray for Grace, who I do not know.  C S Lewis, when asked why he prayed when his wife died anyway said, “It’s not that prayer changes God, but it changes me”.  I have sent a thousand prayers out there saying to God, “Please tell Don I love and miss him, and that his life, though way too brief, inspires me today”.

My prayer for all of us is:

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,

    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Onward and Upward,

Mark

The Thin Thread

Forty years ago I sat in a room full of young aspiring pastor/theologians.  We were listening to Dr. Tom Boyd, a dynamic philosopher who had the unique gift of grounding the seemingly esoteric philosophical concepts into real life.  I do remember “cogito ergo sum” (I think therefore I am – Rene Descartes) from freshman philosophy 101.  I can think 🤔 about most anything any time, for any reason.  So I certainly “am”.  The two things Dr. Boyd said that have stayed with me are: 1) “We better take care of this earth 🌎, it’s the only home we have.   God isn’t making anymore dinosaurs”. 🦖   2) “It’s a thin thread that holds this all together.  If you stop and think about how vulnerable you are, you recognize how much we depend on each other”.  I was reminded of #2 on Monday.

I picked them up at a downtown hotel.  Two dapper airline pilots standing on the curb eager to jump in my car with all their travel gear.  “Thanks for getting here so quickly.  The shuttle that was supposed to pick us up never showed up.  There are some folk flying out of here who hope we get in the cockpit. I know you will do your best through rush hour to get us to DIA”. It was role reversal time. I was in the cockpit and they were strapped in my back seat.  The GPS showed a lot of red on our route (very heavy traffic).  We worked our way out to I-70 and started our conversation.  “Ok what was your worst LYFT ride ever”?  I told them. It’s not suitable blog material, sorry. 

I asked them about their favorite plane to fly.  The both said in unison, “The 757, it is a dream.  Best plane ever made”.  I was doing my best to negotiate traffic, and engage in a spirited conversation.  “Every time I fly over an ocean I have about five minutes of sheer terror.  I realize I am going 600 mph, over a vast ocean, in an aluminum tube made and flown by humans”.  As I said that one of them said, “Not much different than going down Pena Blvd at 70 mph with a half retired pastor”. We laughed and talked about connections and trust.  As they got out of the car 🚗 and thanked me for getting them there safely and on time, we all agreed, “It’s a thin thread that holds this all together”.

Onward and Upward,

Mark

Crystal- an update

Most of my heroes are women. My June 10th blog told the story of Crystal, a single mom, that I gave a Lyft to, in March. She is battling multiple myeloma (a form of bone cancer). As a result of her disease she had to quit working, lost her apartment, and found herself on the edge of disaster, all the while going for chemotherapy at Presbyterian-St. Luke’s. I have stayed in close touch with her as I am selfishly the beneficiary of her grace filled living. We connected the day before Thanksgiving to go shopping. I am happy to report that:

1. She has an apartment

2. A friend gave her a car

3. Her kids are doing well in their new school

4. AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, her chemotherapy is WORKING!!! Her

doctor shared that this most recent blast might give her a chance to

“beat it”.

She met me in the King Soopers parking lot at 9th and Downing at 1:30p this past Wednesday. It was sheer chaos inside. Better than any bumper car ride ever. We made our way up and down the isles with an adroitness that made us both smile. First Christian Church in Greeley had told me, “please go fill a big grocery basket for her”. We had fun. She looked at me and said, “ My kids said, ‘Mom, would it be okay if we had your pot-roast instead of turkey’ ”. I told her pot-roast it is!!! She told me her mom does the best pot roast ever. I told her, “Well, maybe in Oklahoma, but my

mom held that title in Pueblo”. So they had pot-roast with potatoes 🥔 , carrots 🥕 , celery , and onions —along with classic dressing and pumpkin pie 🥧 .

We loaded up the trunk of her car with all kinds of delights. She looked at me and said. “Please tell them thank you.” In three weeks I am having the privilege of taking the three of them out for shopping and Christmas fun. Crystal— reflects a light that “overcomes the darkness”.

Onward and Upward, Mark

The Artist’s Curse

I remember the first time I heard term “the Artist’s Curse”. It was my son Mateo, who was in conversation with an other musician about the reality of having the need to create and share, above all else. This is what I know: writers write, painters paint, dancers dancers, poets ‘poet’, singers sing, musicians play, and Lyft driving preachers get to hear the stories of those who bear the curse, and share both their joy and pain.

The Choreographer: it was Monday afternoon and I thought why not turn on my Lyft app on my day off. I had given a ride to a person from my neighborhood, who works in the industrial area north of I-70. My next ping came from 40th and York Street, which I thought was an odd place to pick someone up. He was standing just on the other side of the airport train tracks, he hopped in my car and we headed to a hotel downtown. As we drove he said “I have to go back to the hotel and pick up my luggage which I forgot, and then head to the airport”. I told him I had the whole afternoon and it would be fine and that I would get him out to the airport on time to catch his flight. This provided well over an hour of conversation. He was in town interviewing for a job in the tech field. I asked him if he enjoyed that and he said “It’s OK, what I really love is choreography”. We ended up having a marvelous conversation about his passion for dance. I told him about my friend Jim, who teaches screen writing in LA, who gave these words of advice to my son Mateo, “People don’t fail out here, they just give up”. This opened up a 20 minute conversation about his plan for not giving up. Thanks, Jim.

The Musician: I picked him up this past Friday night in the Highlands and gave him a ride down to the Cherry Creek area. He told me his story of working an ok job for Amazon because, “I have a little boy that I adore who needs a home and everything that comes with it.” We were listening to classic vinyl on XM radio and he told me that he has over 2000 vinyl records. He began to tell me that he’s a musician who’s only in his early 30s but loves the music of the late 60s to 70s. His knowledge was remarkable and then the Eric Clapton and the Cream song “Sunshine of Your Love” came on. I turned the volume up to 30 for about five minutes.

I told him that song came out in 1967, the year I graduated from high school. We listened to the Ginger Baker drum riff in the middle and found it again an absolutely stunning performance. He also shared about the tension between his love of performing music as a guitarist, singer, and

percussionist. I shared the same story with him that I had with the choreographer artist – …..don’t fail, they just give up. We pulled up in front of the Cherry Cricket, he hopped out, looked at me and said, “no giving up”!

So now back to Jim, who is a 1971 Graduate of Phillips University (me too) and is the principle writer for — Netflix’s Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings, the streamer’s upcoming anthology series inspired by Parton’s music, TVLine has learned.

Onward and Upward, Mark

The eight-episode project will showcase “the stories, memories and

inspirations behind Parton’s most beloved songs,” with each hour-long

installment featuring a different cast and storyline. Jim followed his

own advice and “never gave up”.

Lolita

Rarely do I have the privilege of paying tribute to a woman who lived to 101.  Last night I was driving for Lyft in Commerce City.  I had just dropped off a gutsy, resilient woman who told me her story of recently becoming a citizen and voting for the first time.  We were chatting in her parking lot when I got a phone call. By the caller ID I knew it was Ann, Lolita’s daughter. I said to my passenger, “I need to take this call, it’s about one of my heroes who is 101 and in hospice”.  She said “Thanks for the ride, I will pray for her”.   I listened to Ann tell me that Lolita was near the end.  This woman had lived fully for over 101 years.  She had been to a concert with family a few days ago and had a massive stroke. 

Lolita was one year old when WW1 ended November 11, 1918. Her life was truly a gift to the world from beginning to end. Here are a few highlights: she was a nurse on a hospital ship in WW2 (she knew the consequences of combat).  She was a mom of four.  She was the first female Elder at Central Christian Church in Pueblo in 1985.  To me she was that warm, caring, wise person who helped love me back into ministry when I was broken and lost in 1981.  I had watched my marriage crumble and my brother Don killed in 1979.  She always knew just what to say and when to say it.

A few years ago when I was serving at South Broadway Christian Church in Denver, I got to walk with Lolita as her pastor a second time as she relocated to  the Denver area.  I had many opportunities to sit and process “life, faith, family and fun” with this marvelous woman.  Today I was driving from Greeley to the hospital where Lolita was letting go.  I did not make it, she died.   Instead I turned my app on and within 10 minutes I was giving a ride to a Desert Storm Vet all the way to Highlands Ranch (48) miles.  I told him about Lolita and her service in the military—a Veteran.  He said, “I spent some time in the hospital with shrapnel wounds… God bless her”.  This Veterans Day I will be thinking of Lolita.

Onward and Upward,

Mark

White Fence Farm

It was last Friday night and I had just dropped off the crew from Wisconsin at Red Rocks when I got a ride from two young women in Southwest Littleton. It was obvious they were longtime friends and they were headed to the Grizzly Rose for a night of kicking up their heels. We were driving down Jewell Street when one of them said “I can’t believe they’re going to close the White Fence Farm!”  For those of you not familiar with this area, the White Fence Farm sits on about 10 acres in suburbia. For years it has been known for its fried chicken, corn fritters, red bean salad, cornbread, mashed potatoes and gravy, and about every kind of pie ever made.  Meals are always served family style, in dining rooms that look like the Waltons should be sitting at the next table.

I had the privilege this past year to go once again to Israel. There is a Tel there, overlooking the valley of Megiddo.  You can see that there were 23 different civilizations that made this place with a great view, their home. Local icons come and go. When I was a kid it was a great adventure to come to Denver and go to the Denver Drumstick restaurant, where model trains circled you as you licked your fingers. We would often then go to Celebrity Sports, which was on Colorado Boulevard.  It was the early 60’s equivalent of an indoor theme park.  And if we were able to pull off the trifecta, we would head to the Yum Yum Tree, which had about 17 different dining stations. Sometimes you had to wait an hour to get into any one of those places and those too, are long gone.  One of the gals said “If I win Powerball I’m gonna buy that place and keep it going”. I appreciated the sentiment and her commitment to hanging onto those places and traditions that connect us. The fact is that nothing is very permanent.  Four years ago you could find literally thousands of taxicabs roaming around Denver. Because of rideshare and companies like LYFT, soon taxis will be like phone booths.

We continued on our 30-minute drive to the Grizzly Rose, which is a country western dance hall right off of I-25 and I-70. As we pulled up people were piling into the place, and one of the young ladies said, “I wonder how long it’ll be before this place is no more…”  I said, “Ladies go have a great time tonight because in the end all we have is memories and relationships anyway”.

Onward and Upward

Mark

Friday Fun

Amed:

I began my Friday afternoon with a call to the light rail station off of Alameda and Cherokee. A 40-something man hopped into the front seat and greeted me warmly. He had a very thick accent and began the conversation by saying “Please excuse my English I’ve only been in Denver for 20 months”.  Without prompting he began to tell me that he had come to the US from Egypt three and a half years ago.  He told me he was headed to work, on the west side of town, for a construction company. I made an ignorant assumption. “Yeah there’s a lot of construction jobs here in Denver, I read we are 100,000 construction jobs short. We are out of plumbers, electricians, and skilled trades people”.  He laughed and said “I’m a geologist”.  Then he looked up to the mountains and said,  “Now I get to live in Colorado. I love it here. You have the kindest people, the greatest weather in the most beauty of any place I’ve ever seen in my life. I had no idea that I would be so fortunate that I will get to live here.  Now I’m going to tell you something crazy, I have yet to go hiking in the mountains – do you have any suggestions”?  We pulled up to the construction company where he is a geologist and I handed him my business card and said, “Send me an email and I will send you a list of all the places you might hike that are less than an hour away”. He took the card and smiled and said “You’ll be hearing from me”.

Wisconsin:

I picked them up at about six in the evening at one of those giant new apartment complexes that are overtaking Speer Boulevard. In two years it went from being my favorite gas station and car wash to luxury apartments. The three of them came out of the apartment complex and hopped in my car. They were headed up to Red Rocks for a concert.  To say they were wound up and excited would be an understatement, and for the first 10 minutes as we headed west on our 30-minute drive, it was as if I did not exist. There was a lull in the conversation as we are heading west on Sixth Ave and I said “So how long ago did you three move here from Wisconsin”?  “Ha Ha” said the gal sitting up front “Well, I’m just visiting but they moved here two years ago. I guess our accents are that obvious?”  Soon after a spirited conversation about the migration into Colorado from the Upper Midwest, a young woman in the back asked the question that I was not expecting. “ Will the rattlesnakes be out at Red Rocks”? Her husband and her friend in the front seat went into a hilarious story about how she refuses to go anywhere in the mountains right now because there might be rattlesnakes there. I pretty much thoroughly deconstructed her rattlesnake Colorado phobia. She wasn’t entirely convinced. I said, “You’ve been reading too many things on the Internet…  besides that, rattlesnakes hate Rap 🎶 and they only go to Tim McGraw concerts”.  Her husband thanked me profusely.  “Maybe we can actually go hiking below 8,500 feet next year.  She read that rattlers don’t do altitudes”.   Never mind that he is a vet. “He doesn’t do snakes 🐍”!!!

Onward and Upward,

Mark

Generosity

Monday is my day off so my new routine includes water aerobics (I love it— that makes me like an official old guy), and my Lyft driving.  Last Monday’s rides were about as perfect a Lyft day as I could’ve wanted. Every ride seem to flow into the other and each person I took was appreciative, friendly, engaging and unique. I picked Jack up in what is now called River North. The area used to be the warehouse district along the railroad tracks and now it is gentrification on steroids.  Jack was headed to the car rental place in the center part of the city. I quickly found out that he was from Claremore, Oklahoma, the home of Will Rogers, and my lifetime friend, Eddie. It turns out of course, that he knows Eddie and respects his work as an educator.

I asked him what he was doing up here in Colorado and he told me a great story of what he does every year for the people that work for him. “I have a heating and air-conditioning business, and every Fall I take my whole crew on a week of fun. This week we came up here and went trout fishing, we went to the Bronco game yesterday, and today we’re loading up in a couple of cars and going up to the mountains again”. I told him, “And I bet all your employees have good health insurance and retirement plans”?  He smiled and said “I couldn’t do it any other way. Without these folks I wouldn’t have a business”.

I dropped him off to get his rental car. As he walked away I recognized that I was in the presence of a truly good and generous man.

Onward and Upward,

Mark

Angelica

I took her on Thursday morning from what can only be called the barrio in southwest Denver, to the campus of the University of Colorado at Denver. It was a 13 mile ride and I learned something each and every mile.  I can only write this out of my own experience, in that I was born a privileged white guy in Pueblo, Colorado. Pueblo has been 50% Hispanic for 100 years. My graduating class of 545 had 18 graduates whose last name was Martinez. I spent 23 years of my life living there. I also spent 11 years living in the San Luis Valley, which has a marvelous, complex combination of cultures with Spanish surnames.  My son is married to Melania, whose family brings the rich heritage of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, along with Chickaree Apache, into our family tree.  So when I picked Angelica up near a bus stop and she hopped in my car, her life and story was not one that was completely unfamiliar to me.

I asked her what she was studying in college and she told me criminal justice. I asked her what she planned to do with her degree when she graduates next May.  “I’m going to apply to get into the police academy. I truly want to become a cop. Way more than half my family are gang bangers and I’m sick and tired of seeing what wasted lives looks like”. We  began one of the more amazing conversations I’ve had with anybody in this red car in some time. Without any prompting she began to tell me her story. In many ways I think she’s lucky to be alive, let alone as resilient and driven as you can imagine.  “Last year when my uncle got out of prison, one night he had been drinking and began to harass me. He was making fun of me for my desire to become a cop. Then he began to put his hands on me and I told him if he didn’t stop I would drop him. He didn’t stop – guess what? I put him right on the floor just like I learned in my self-defense classes. I told him he needed to grow up and quit being a victim, become a real man and not some poser”. 

We had another few minutes where she said things like “I want to give my life to things worthy of my life”.  Today is Saturday and I have given rides to at least five more amazing women.  Any one of them would be worthy of a story.  Okay, I confess, I have very little hope that men will turn this mess around.  However, I continue to be moved by the courage and honesty of women. 

Onward and Upward,

Mark