Everyone has a Uber story, here is mine 🙂 !
Couple of days back I was en-route to the Bay Area from Dallas to visit my sister’s family and my parents for a summer vacation recharge. As my Uber ride pulled up and the windows rolled down, I heard my Uber driver call out,
‘The back door’s open for you. You please relax and get comfortable. It’s my job to get your stuff put in the trunk.”
As I strapped on the seat belt, I wondered to myself, “I have never heard that before! Looks like it is gonna be one hell of a chatty 30 min drive to the airport today !!”
By the quick time it took to get to the tollway, we had become couple of buddies catching up on the living room couch… I had learnt by then that my Uber driver was an Army veteran, originally from Trinidad & Tobago and grew up with a lot of Indian people, food, cricket and culture around him (sounded like my own childhood!!), who had served 22 hard years in the Army(not so much like mine on this one !!), retired at an early age of 42, now 49 (this particular piece of information could have been the motivation of the day for me…little did I know that there was more to come …haha!!), happily married with 2 kids and about to become empty nesters. He had been a Tank Commander in the army, traveled the world, been in few wars (Iraq, Afghanistan to count a few) and was now unfortunately, getting treated for PTSD due to the stuff he had been through.
As we sped on the tollway, I understood, my man was passionate, sensible and a people person…but my slightly distraught eyes kept flipping between his face on the rear-view mirror and the car’s speedometer. The speedometer seemed like a mirror of my EKG in front of my eyes as it fluctuated…hitting the highs as my man’s passion ebbed and flowed …haha!! We had covered an array of coffee table topics by now around Indian culture, arranged and love marriages, family values, the currently ongoing World Cups(Women’s soccer and Cricket), life in America, life in the Army etc. Pheww….
About 20 mins in, we saw the first signs of traffic due to the closure of couple of lanes on the tollway…and my man, took a safely, well executed turn into the exit and wove through the traffic like an expert, picking the lanes that moved faster like a surgeon making decisions in a critical surgery…..As I saw him make his moves, I saw a man who knew his stuff…which is when I first noticed that he did not have his phone stood up near the instrument panel, with the GPS on, as most drivers do….
As we sped on an empty lane, waving to the long line of GPS followers on their pilgrimage to the airport, my respect for the man grew.
We entered the airport stretch and he asked me for the second time what my gate was (first time being at the start of the trip)…. I was about to reduce some points after a so far stellar performance..but thought what the heck..lemme have a glance in the app . Lo and behold…. my terminal and gate had been changed! My man had just saved me some minutes and hassle of changing terminals with less than an hour left for my takeoff !
As we pulled over to the curb at the airport, he asked me, “I watched you on the mirror as I took the alternate route and you didn’t show any signs of stress or discomfort…Why was that ?”. Pondering on what to reply, I realized I hadn’t even thought about it! I gathered up my best reply, which was, “You just seemed to know your stuff, I didn’t want to bother !”.
As I disembarked, he brought up my luggage, we shook hands and he handed me a couple of packs of cards…. I blurted out, “Oh what is this, I can’t take this !”. I noticed that it seemed like a used, yet high quality pack of cards having the Choctaw casino branding on them, with the drilled hole in the pack (which I learnt casinos do to make sure the used pack doesn’t get sneaked back into games).
He responded calmly, looking in my eyes, “Never lose your great attitude, man…. I would work for you any day if you were the CEO of the company I worked for. I just wanted to give something for you and your sister”. I felt a wave of pride wash over me for whatever reason and it felt good to be drenched in it, even with the full clothing on !
As I saw his car depart and started wandering within the airport, I wondered, I didn’t even ask his name (but I guess I can just lookup the app!!), but had learnt some high quality life, work and tennis lessons from this one high speed Uber interaction !
Which leads me here, where I thought of sharing few things that hung on to me from this chance encounter,
"Only in this country can you wake up one day and make money"
I recalled his story of his neighbor’s son who was withering away his late 20s and early 30s without a job. He had asked him to mow his lawn, given him 30 bucks for the work but more invaluably advise to put out posters in the neighborhood for lawn mowing services… After the guy posted the fliers, he had gotten around 30 calls just in one day, in his neighborhood for lawn mowing work and was onto earning about 200 bucks a day. Since then, he had expanded his business to 5 employees, providing more home services and running a thriving local business. Even to this day, the guy mows his lawn for free every month !!
"The top thing I learnt in the army was Patience."
Being a tank commander, it required him to just hold position and stay at one place for hours, sometimes days. He shared how he had learnt the value of being patient in life and with people, through this experience.
"I ain't getting counselling from a school kid."
He had been suggested counseling for his PTSD, but felt that the only person who can counsel him is a person who had been in the trenches with him and can say, do this, if this. This made me think of the many trusted adviser/ coach/ mentor/ leader situations that I am in typically in life, work, tennis etc… and what I can do to improve my ability to lead.
"I just trusted my training ... ... If you are not fearful, you are gonna die."
This was his response to what I thought was my best question of the day, “How did you face the fear of death in the Army ?” He said that before his unit went out on a mission, his commander used to say that, “Your Life expectancy in this mission is negative zero.” Being prepared for what to expect, just focusing and trusting the training he had got, was the only way he could handle this situation.
This made me think instantly of how crucial practice/training is in all aspects of life, be it tennis, work or other things.
An unexpected and amazing perspective on a Uber journey, that enlightened, as well as reinforced my core beliefs.