My 2nd First Step is a blog by LaRue Cook, a former senior editor for ESPN The Magazine. His posts chronicle his new life as a driver for Uber and lyft.

Rollin Back on 1,000 Trips

Rollin Back on 1,000 Trips

I topped the 1,000-trip mark tonight, somewhere between wine night at Sunspot on Cumberland Avenue and fifty-cent wing night at The Hill near World's Fair Park and Cool Beans, which is basically right behind wine night, the bar that doesn't serve coffee and always winds up being the last stop for college students on Wednesdays. It's a binge-drinker's Bermuda Triangle.

The ride requests were coming fast enough and the Uber app was updating slow enough that I didn't have a chance to pinpoint No. 1,000 officially, whether it was the three frat boys who asked me to play a Gucci Mane beat that they could "free style flow" to; or the five Greeks wearing togas (yes, Mom, not enough seat belts; I need to be more careful); or the drunk girl who came out of wing night and asked if she could chug the rest of my water, and then chugged the rest of my Diet Mountain Dew without even asking.

I'm tired now. I'm sitting here drinking a Dogfish Head 90 Minute and eating a bag of Doritos and listening to Frank Ocean's new album, Blonde. I have so much to say, but not tonight. I need some distance from all these miles I've traveled, although I don't plan to subject you to another three-part opus. (OK, it's possible.) I don't know what I expected when I signed up to drive for Uber in January, the week after I walked out of The Worldwide Leader. I only knew that I couldn't hide behind a desk for a long while, or answer to anyone but myself for a long while. I remember my first ride on Jan. 31, a Sunday night: I picked up a teenager from the mall in West Hartford, Connecticut, and took him to public housing on the outskirts of downtown Hartford. He had head phones in and didn't say anything to me, other than I'd started the trip too soon, that he was going to email Uber and ask for his money back.

I have 1,007 trips behind me since then, and a 4.9 out of 5 rating. I've said hello to at least 1,000 people, heard more stories and seen more neighborhoods, shaken more hands and sang along to more songs than I could've imagined. No one has thrown up in my car, and I can count on one hand the people I wish had never climbed in. Folks have good hearts, I'm here to tell ya, if you just open yours up to them. If I've learned anything that isn't worth a 10,000-word essay, it's that while we need the politicians to live up to their end of the bargain—to shorten the unemployment line and to right the economy's balance sheet and to keep us safe in our own country—we need to say hello to each other more, and to shake each other's hands more, and to sing songs together more, and to laugh together more, and to cry together more, and to share our hearts more, and I don't mean clicking that one on Instagram or on Twitter or on Facebook.

I'm wearing thin. My eyes are fluttering. But I have to tell you about Judy, a white-haired woman I picked up today before I reached 1,000 trips, a woman I'd driven before, a woman who reminds me of my mother and my grandmother. Judy is retired and her daughter is a teacher at a Montessori school in Maryland. Judy lives alone and doesn't drive because of her seizures. The first time I picked Judy up, she was going from her one-bedroom condo to an art supply store and back. Judy still paints. She loves to paint and she loves to read. Today, when I picked Judy up from the hospital, she remembered me immediately and asked, as she pulled her cane into the car, if my collection of short stories was finished. She told me that I better finish that collection before she isn't here to read it. At least six weeks after I'd first met her, Judy still remembered.

We had a twenty-minute ride ahead, and Judy and I were candid about politics and race and religion, just as we had been the first ride around. Judy said some things that I didn't agree with, some things that folks of her generation believe because they do not know any other way. I am not here to examine and prod anyone's prejudices and preconceptions and misconceptions other than my own. But I did pose questions to Judy, unanswerable questions about politics and race and religion that I believe made us both think. We pulled off at her exit, and Judy asked if I'd mind taking her through the drive-thru of a new fast-food chain, one that she'd heard sold a lot of food for cheap. She wanted a hot dog instead of a hamburger, because she was never sure they'd get the hamburger as done as she liked, much like my grandmother. Judy wanted to buy me something, worried about how thin I am, same as my mother and my grandmother. I declined, mostly because I've never liked the idea of owing anyone anything as tangible as money, only the heart that I wear on my sleeve. I can afford that now.

The fast-food order was right, and I got Judy to her one-bedroom condo safe and sound, nothing of note in the scheme of the #ubernights series. It was the five-star comment that I read later, in between bar trips, the one that I was sure Judy had written, that encapsulated whatever I needed out of this, this 21st-century iteration of hitch-hiking: "LaRue is perfect. He is the best driver you have. I would pay more money to always get him."

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