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

Three Guys on a Saturday Morning

Almost three years ago I launched my Lyft career. After two test rides on a Thursday evening, I headed out at 5:30am on a Saturday morning from my safe cave on Washington Park.  From that first early morning adventure until last Saturday, I will tell you it is my favorite time to go Lyfting. One— you have the streets to yourself.  Two—most Lyft drivers have turned in to bed after ‘combat driving’ with drunks downtown on Friday night.  Three—you get two kinds of rides, taking hungover folk home or to their cars, or getting folk to work.  This past Saturday I headed out at 6am and traveled three very different journeys.

Mario The Plumber— Seriously, he could have come right out of a Nintendo game.  He hopped in the back seat and said “I had the good sense to take a Lyft last night. I live way down by Sloan’s Lake and I hope you don’t mind”. “Heck no, we have the streets to ourselves”. A very fun conversation took off. He traces his roots to Pueblo, too.  I asked how he got into plumbing. “Well, when I was young, angry and crazy, I went to prison.  I came to my senses and decided I needed to change my ways.  I got some great training there and I have been a licensed plumber for 20 years. I love it.  My son is now working with me, too. We do real well.  Prison changed my life”.  We talked about the massive influx of people into Colorado that is taking place. In no time we were at his place right next to this high-end development on the south end of Sloan’s Lake.  I commented on “Location, Location, Location”. He laughed and said “The place on the corner just sold for 1.3 million. My family bought here when nobody wanted to be here.  Some things really do work out for the best.  Hey, thanks for the ride my Pueblo amigo”.

Andrew the ‘Hill-Hippy’— just like that, I was headed up to Edgewater for my next ride. This highly energetic young man got in with lots of beads, smelling of pot and patchouli.  He looked out the sunrise coming up over Sloan’s Lake and said “Wow and now I live here, beauty in every direction”. “How long have you been here?” I inquired. He began a hilariously interesting story that I will try to paraphrase. “In 2012 I was living in a town in the far south tip of Illinois.  The tallest thing for 75 miles was a grain elevator.  Three of us decided that we needed to go west.  I had an aunt in Oakland, California who said we could come out there and see if we could find jobs. Our town had a population of 200… when we left it went down to 197.  We figured we could drive there in two very long days.  Denver was half way.  One of my buddies had a Facebook friend who said we could crash at their place.  We got fo Denver at midnight and when we woke up the next morning they asked if we wanted to go hiking.  So we headed to the mountains. We went to the Flat Irons, Mt. Falcon, and finished at Roxborough State Park.  I said, ‘Heck with California, I am staying here’.  It was the smartest thing I ever did.  I had only ever been 200 miles from home”.

We were headed to Walmart on west Colfax. “Are you headed to work”? I asked.  “Oh no, I am picking up some stuff there to go ‘magnet fishing’ at Cherry Creek reservoir. My Dad taught me how – you wouldn’t believe the stuff people drop in the Lake.  Last year I got a tackle box that had a class ring in it with a ruby as big as my thumbnail.  I cleaned it up.  I went on Facebook and found the owner.  He have me $500 for finding it”.  He hopped out at WallyWorld as happy as Cicadoidea in September. 

Bill—In my trifecta of Saturday rides, Bill was the exact contrast to the first two.  I pulled up to his house in east Wheat Ridge, to see a middle aged guy in jogging gear standing by his Forerunner, with his left front wheel folded under the body. He walked up to the car and asked me if could load my car with a bunch of stuff for a cross country meet.  “Sure, what the heck happened to your car”? “I have no idea, I went out this morning and this is what I found.  You are a lifesaver.  I don’t know what I would have done before Lyft”.   We headed out to a high school 22 miles away.  We had a great conversation about all things ‘guy’.  It turns out he was a barefooted place kicker for an Ivy League football team in the 80’s.  Just like Andrew the ‘Hill-Hippy’ (Andrew’s own name for himself) once he got here in the late 80’s, he never left.  I told him about ‘magnet fishing’ and he laughed and said “You know that sounds fun… I might try it”.  We beat his cross country team bus to the meet.  He unloaded his pile of coach stuff. I headed back home 60$ richer, but even more, I hung out with Three Great Guys.

Onward and Upward,

Mark

Richard B

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I was all set to write about three rides I had this Saturday morning when I was reminded that tomorrow is my AA sponsor’s 43rd birthday. I write this with his permission; you will notice his picture. The three rides I took, although interesting stories—can wait. Richard is now 91 years old, his mind is sharp, his heart is full, and his body is ever so slowly diminishing. I went to see him this morning in a rehab facility near his home in Capitol Hill.  I spent about 45 minutes visiting with Richard and when I finished I thought “I need to write about this most remarkable man”.  We had just finished listening to the last eight minutes of Mozart’s Requiem, which I had recorded about a month ago in the Cathedral at Salzburg, Austria. I’ve also included for your listening pleasure a 30 second snippet.   In my 31 years in AA I’ve been fortunate to have four great sponsors. A sponsor is somebody who has what you want, and is willing to share their experience, strength, and hope with you as you work through the steps and learn how to live life on life‘s terms without self-medicating with alcohol.

Richard is truly a Renaissance man. His knowledge of art, literature, history, and fly-fishing are without a parallel in my life. I’ve heard Richard say on more than one occasion that there are really only two things that matter in Alcoholics Anonymous– Truth, and Grace.  Well, I heard about 37 years ago, “You will become as healthy spiritually and emotionally as you are willing to tell yourself the truth, no matter what the cost”. I decided I wanted that kind of freedom and, slowly but surely, I have committed myself to trying to live out a life where the truth matters. I certainly have blind spots, and my friend Richard B has helped me to both identify them and try to live past them. The Grace piece is where mystery lives, love forgives, and gratitude becomes a way of life.

As Richard and I were listening to the Mozart Requiem there was a connection beyond words.  He took my hand and looked me in the eye and said “Thank you”.  I asked him if he minded if I shared a bit about our time together. He said, “Please do and whatever you do, make sure you tell them about the time that we were fly fishing in the Flaming Gorge Canyon and you had that beautiful brown trout on your line as our guide steered our boat down a quarter of a mile of rapids, while my fish was hanging in the tree. Where I come from, we would call that a Nantucket sleigh ride”.  We were privileged to catch and release a lot of beautiful trout on that wonderful day in June 2013.

As I sat there holding Richard‘s hand today in the presence of Mozart, filled with the memories of two recovering drunks, standing up in a fishing boat on the river, I know just how blessed we both are! We reminded ourselves that without recovery we would be long gone… But there we were – Old and Older – and the little boys in us were smiling from ear to ear.

Onward and Upward,

Mark

RED ROCKS

Every season provides Lyft driving with predictable experiences.  A couple of Fridays ago I had a few hours to go Lyfting in the early evening.  From my new point of reference in NW Arvada, it almost always means a trip or two to the finest outdoor concert venue in the world— move over Hollywood Bowl— Red Rocks Amphitheater. I had flown back the night before, from Belgium, through Atlanta.  On the Atlanta leg I was sitting by five 20-somethings who were headed to Denver to go to a Red Rocks Concert.   Now, I am definitely going to expose my 69-year-old “Sometimes I am from a different planet” life, as I have NO idea who they were going to see.  My last concert at Red Rocks was three years ago with ‘Crosby, Stills, and Nash’.  They all had to sit on stools and it took them about five songs to get rolling. They did rock “Teach The Children”. The Atlanta bunch have been coming every year to a Red Rocks concert for the last decade.  When I told them my sister Rita Jo heard Jimmy Hendrix there in 1969, I reached a vicarious celebrity status. 

My ride this night was to that concert— I can’t name— these two kids explained to me who they were going to see. “A sort of 2018 version of Pink Floyd”. They had come to Denver from Massachusetts and the young woman had never been to Colorado.  It was a picture perfect summer evening.  “You are in for the treat of a concert lifetime”. I dropped them off and as I headed down the mountain I got a ping. It was odd, as I wondered who would be leaving at 6pm.  I picked her up at the visitor’s center at the park. “I left our tickets back in Denver, can you take me to High Street and back”?   “Sure, it’s your ride.   Let’s go”. She was a delight. The hour round trip flew by.  She is a social worker who works with a huge software company that helps various sub groups learn to actually communicate with each other.  I loved it. 

When we were dropping her back off she handed me a rock she had picked up.  “This is for you… I am not sure why I am giving this to you except that you make life fun”.  The rock is in my cup holder… sometimes forgetting things actually helps us to remember what is important.  It is a ‘red rock’. 😜

Onward and Upward,

Mark

Grand Dogs and Grandsons

MIko LA:EVHS.jpgSo no Lyft driving this week because I am sitting here in my son’s place along the Rio Grande river.  It’s Friday and I am on my own personal “road trip”.  Yesterday I made my way on the well worn path I have carved between the Front Range and the Upper Rio Grand Valley.  This routine began in 1986, when we moved four kids, two cats, and Smiley the dog 🐕 to the San Luis Valley.  I lost track a few years ago, of my drives over La Veta Pass, when I had logged over 400 trips. Yesterday involved a quick stop at DiSanti Farms, where I brought four bushels of Dynamite Roasted Pueblo Green  Chile 🌶 for my New Mexico family’s yearly supply.  I am observing my daughter in law, Melania, and Papa Mike put up this year’s supply. I had two small bites…I honestly had tears 😭 in my eyes.  Papa Mike and Grandson Miko weren’t phased… Generational adaptive tolerance? I have a confession…. mild works for me. 

I am here for the opening football game of Espanola Valley High Sun-devils.  I have included a link to a story from the Sante Fe paper, that expands on how Miko came here for his Senior Year.  I have been coming to New Mexico for 12 years to watch Miko play.  One year his team lost every game.  “I wonder what it would feel like to win”? he asked.  His 8th grade year he found out, as he quarterbacked his team to the equivalent of the NM state championship.  As a sophomore he was set to start for Cherry Creek HS in Denver and then a foot injury took him out.  The death of another grandpa necessitated a move back to NM.  He decided, out in very rural NM, to put up his cleats.  The return of coach Miguel Medina opened a conversation about the possibility of Mr. Miko’s Opus.  Tonight he will lead his 32 other teammates out to face their arch rival Los Alamos, who they have not beat in the last 16 years… blue collar/struggling vs. educated/privilege.  I will keep you posted.

Now to Johnny the Chihuahua.  Right now in my life, my love of dogs and need to have one, must be limited to my grand dogs.  I was NEVER a Chihuahua guy, until Johnny Rocket.  I have known him since he was two pounds (three years ago).  He doesn’t know he’s little.  Whenever we meet he gives a warm welcome then goes on about his business.  So here I sit, watching Papa Mike get his yearly stash of chili bagged.  Melania is assisting and I am listening to Mike’s music , which just finished Leonard Cohen’s “Alleluia”.  He said “The Cracks are What let the Light Shine in”.  Today I am living in the light. 

Onward and Upward,

Mark

PS— The Sundevils lost… but Miko has inherited the “Hope-Freak” gene “It’s great to be playing again… we will get better”.

 

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Back in the Saddle

I have missed you.   For over a year and a half every Sunday at 10a, I have been blessed to share a story from my little red car 🚗.   The idea of writing about these conversations was not my own. Occasionally I listen to those who know me and know what works.  My daughter Amy, my son Mateo and my friend Jim, basically said, “You need to write about these rides”. Since November of 2015 I have given 4,461 Lyft rides. Doing this has actually raised my sense of hope for the world we share.  The vast majority of riders are kind, grateful, interested in others and each person has a story.  I took a month off, and this was a good thing. Most of the time was spent in Belgium, Holland, Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Austria.  You will be hearing from time to time how that experience interfaces with my Lyft life.

Once you are a qualified Lyft driver your job is very simple.  Turn on your driver app when you want to ‘work’, follow the instructions on the app.  Drive safely from point A to point B and treat each rider like you would like to be treated.  You can do two rides a day or 22 – it is up to you. On Tuesday I got back into my Lyft groove and gave nine rides.  Here are two of them.

Ride #1:  I picked him up in a very exclusive neighborhood in Greenwood Village.  He was headed to a bank downtown. “How long will this ride take”? was his only interaction.  “The app says 28 minutes”… silence.  Within seconds he was on a conference call and it was as if I did not exist.  He was talking investment banking and mergers and acquisitions…and about Billions… not millions.  I confess the “fly on the wall” driving was beyond fascinated.  It was a peek into a world about which I know little. I heard a lot!!! My lips are sealed. “Please drop me off at the Starbucks next to the bank”.  No “thank you”, or “have a nice day.” He was IMPORTANT.

Ride #2:  I picked him up a bit after 5p at the Cherry Creek Mall. He was headed to the light rail station off Alameda.  Traffic was, let’s say as clogged up as the ‘Space Mountain’ ride line at Disneyland.  Then an alert came up on my phone with a MAJOR WEATHER ALERT 🚨.  He was the janitor at the mall movie theatre, and was sitting exactly where Mr. Big had sat two hours before. “I think I better just have you take me home because I will get caught in the rain when I transfer from the light rail to my bus.  It will cost me but it is worth it”. So we changed the destination to his home, which was 18 miles away.  I spent six years working with folk with developmental issues. I could sense he was a person who had to work very hard for everything he does.  Sure enough, at exactly 5:32p (just like the alert said) we were in the middle of a rain and hail torrent.  He was a delight to have as a passenger.  We had a lot of laughs on our $22 ride to SW Littleton.

He has very grateful as I dropped him off, and he thanked me at least two billion times.  Give me ride #2 anytime.

Onward and Upward,

Mark