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Let Me Stop You There

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The other night I picked up a couple from a club. They were both chattering up a storm, and then started to talk about him getting hit on by some gay men at the club. They both went to great pains to reassure me they weren’t homophobic. But these men were being rather disrespectful to his lady friend, and painfully forceful with him.

We talked about it a bit and he just kept circling around to “they just wouldn’t give up, no matter what I said, or did, they would not stop hitting on me! I’m not a piece of meat and I’m just not interested!. Find someone else!”.

Finally the irony was too unbearable, “So in other words, you, a straight, white male have just been initiated into the world of catcalling/rape culture.”.

Stunned silence, and then they both start laughing.

“Omg! She’s right! You know what it’s like now!”.

“For real, that’s crazy! So that’s what it’s like?”

Then more seriously: “Wait, that’s what it’s like?”

Yes sir.

That’s exactly what it’s like.

I think we may be on to something here…

Why You Look So Sad?

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My cousin held me tighter as we hugged and whispered “you look so sad”.

She’s right, I do, I thought later. The decades of a dysfunctional marriage had taken a toll, but the three and a half years trying to salvage it were a whole new level of destructive. By the time I saw her during a Denver vacation last summer I barely looked alive. There was no light left in my eyes, I looked as burdened as I felt. It’s a phenomenon that gets endlessly discussed on various support groups I participate in. Before and after pictures are often shared, hope for those still finding their way out, proof of progress for those who have a more distant perspective.

I couldn’t deny the reality of what she said but it still came as somewhat of a shock. I hadn’t seen her in years. I thought I did a better job of hiding it. I was grateful she said something, knowing that I have three pairs of eyes watching all the time, learning both how to be a partner and what to expect from one. If I didn’t find the courage to face the truth and value myself and my contributions, I was running the risk of them meeting the same fate. Knowing I was still building the path that would in some ways shape their future gave me the courage to advocate for myself, to ask for what I needed, and to not compromise my own welfare.

Over the last few months I’ve made it a point to try and look my best, to find the joy in nurturing myself again. I love playing with colors, even if I’m not always comfortable with it. So coloring my hair, indulging in the occasional mani/pedi, and a budding makeup addiction have been a way to invest in myself. Those investments had a measurable impact on my earnings (for the better), and garnered endless comments from my loved ones about how much happier I look.

I spent so many years convincing myself that spending anything on me was frivolous and essentially stealing from my kids. Of course, I was also unaware what the true root of our financial problems were. I believed what I was told, that it was all my fault and if I just sacrificed more and more everything would be fine. It became a way of life, and I have to admit, it’s uncomfortable still to spend money on myself. My first instinct is always to sacrifice what I want and need for the welfare of my family.

It’s another one of those unhealthy patterns I’d like to break. I’m hoping to learn to model better and more consistent self-respect for my boys. I need to remember the risk of feeling the need to ask them why they’re so broken someday is very real.

Knocking On Heaven’s Door

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August is the month of my Mother’s birth so she has been on my mind a lot lately.

Tonight I picked up a passenger who was raised by his grandmother, who, unfortunately, left far too soon.

My heart breaks for him. Losing a parent (whatever title they go by) is incredibly hard. The younger you are, it seems, the harder it is.

Sometimes these rides are painfully short. Sometimes I wish I had more time to say something helpful, more time to think of something that might soothe, heal, perhaps even miraculously resurrect the dead. In this case, this young man was so lost and adrift without the one person he could always count on, who shaped his whole life.The person who in many ways was his whole life. We don’t have any safety nets to catch people like him, to help protect them from falling through such massive cracks. Wishing his Grandmother were still here to be his rock is the only solution that seems possible. It’s as horrific as it is implausible.  

Sometimes the pain of the people I drive around is so palpable it’s almost unbearable. When these people (as wounded people often are) are so very kind, so very compassionate, simply driving them home at the end of a night feels like a failure, a missed opportunity.

Sure, that’s the job, and I truly love what I do. I just hate sometimes that it’s all I can do, that being a safe ride, and hopefully a friendly presence is all I can offer.

To this young man especially, life had not been especially kind. This kind of conscientiousness, work ethic, integrity, that gets rewarded, right? We live in a meritocracy, where one’s efforts are justly rewarded.

If only that were so.

He deserved magnitudes better than the endless string of crappy hands he had been dealt.

The injustices of this world are maddening.

If You’re Ever In A Jam, Here I Am

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Being an introvert and a little too comfortable being an introvert, I don’t make friends easily. The raging case of RBF I’ve had since who knows when doesn’t help.

So I’ve been a little taken aback at how many friends I’ve made in this singles group. I’m just not generally the type to reach out to others. I always look around a room and think everyone is better looking, more entertaining or smarter; so I figure who would want me to send them a friend request? Thankfully this group has decided not to stand on any kind of ridiculous formality, and they’ve reached out to me, or I’d still be hiding in my cozy little hidey hole.

I’ve had to grow and stretch and learn to be a bit more social of a social introvert, and it’s good for me. Not always comfortable, but I have to admit I needed to do some growing and stretching.

There’s one friend I’ve made that has restored me in ways others couldn’t. Probably because we’re alike in many ways. We are both people who deeply care about others, we see the best in them, are nurturing and protective, probably to a fault. We both have a dark side, and neither of us is afraid of it. We just choose not to cultivate it. But it’s there, and can be called upon if the need arises. Since we don’t live in a preschool storybook, sometimes the need arises. But there is a peacefulness to be had when you acknowledge your darkness while choosing the light. You know that you have the tools to do what needs doing, but you also know you needn’t fear getting carried away or taking up permanent residence, because the light truly is where your heart lives.

But we humans tend to fear darkness, for good reason. Not everyone with a dark side chooses the light, or uses it for a greater purpose. There aren’t many Gray Jedi, there are too damn many Sith. So those of us with a dark side tend to hide it. Some for nefarious reasons, but for the two of us, it’s really not representative of who we are, so why go advertising a side of us 99% of people will never see?

But this is the power of those kindred spirit friendships. When the parts of you that are too vulnerable or protected to show, and you recognize that in each other. It’s a heady feeling to let your hair down and just admit the truth. Not with words, but with the things you don’t skirt around. The things you own, unflinchingly. Particularly when that other soul is such a beautiful one.

When you feel lost and you aren’t sure if up is still up or if right has suddenly become left, finding someone to join you in your center is such a relief.

We Are Family

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Please forgive me, I’m about to be both blunt and politically incorrect. But this is sort of a love note; and at such times, you want to ensure your missive gets to it’s intended recipient.

Gay men of Denver, I love you. Adore you. Couldn’t live without you. I want to take you home (not like that), be your new best friend. I want for you to be my one and only passenger.

Denver is an up and coming city, in an up and coming economy. A housing market that has increased over 20% per year for more than 5 years means only the (financially) strong survive here. Weed money means there are more entrepreneurs per square mile than anywhere else in the US. So Denver is particularly intellectual, successful, worldly, well-heeled and well-traveled.

Denver is (forgive me) a bit jaded, a little too BTDT for a girl who spent years on a farm and makes a practice of wearing her heart on her sleeve. Who doesn’t really get (or do) small talk. I’m too earnest, too awkward, too granola-crunchy/earth mama. So the wall goes up each night, always hoping for a chance to let it down, but always mindful of meeting my passengers where they are. Always seeing to their comfort above all else, because let’s face it, they’ve already had a long night or they wouldn’t be calling me.

But I noticed something months ago. Gay men are often the ones who will stop and just connect before they leave. Not, let me chatter at you nervously as I gather my stuff, I mean really connect. I’ve gotten my things, I’m ready to go, now I’m going to stop for a minute and see you, because you aren’t just a driver, you’re a person. It’s an uncommon experience in a world where we all kind of go around following the script.

“Take care, honey!” “You be safe out there tonight, okay?”.”Drive safe, angel!”. “Hey, thanks for the safe ride home, sweetness, you’re the best!”. Before Uber’s much needed and long-overdue zero tolerance hands-off policy, these were often accompanied by kisses and or a hug. Often many hugs. That stopped the instant the policy changed (not gonna lie, I miss that). Always looking at me, not out the door, but at me.

Connection.

Even now, thinking about it has me verklempt.

This job is not for the faint of heart. It’s fly by the seat of your pants financially (especially in Denver). It’s stressful, often harrowing (especially if you’re a perfectionist who cuts yourself little, if any, slack). You’re risking a lot just to do it. But it’s flexible, and for me, it is something that allows me to work around multiple barriers. And since my ultimate goal is to (finally) return to school and pursue a career, being able to dictate my own hours on the fly means I can maximize my time and earnings while finishing my long delayed education.

These passengers aren’t just my favorites, they are the air I breathe at times. My life has never been what one would call easy, and the last year has been brutal, on multiple counts. Not without it’s perks, don’t get me wrong, some things have gone blissfully right. But it’s only in those moments of having someone take care of me for once, as simple as that may sound, that I realize just how heavy my burdens have become.

Having someone take a minute out of their already very busy day to help me shoulder my burdens just levels me. And sometimes, is the thing that gives me the strength to go on just a little while longer. It’s the thing that has been slowly filling my broken heart with joy again, stitching it back together, one ride at a time.

Truly, from the bottom of my once shattered heart, thank you.

Until We Meet Again

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I will never forget the first night I met him. I fell in love, and his younger brother proposed. It was quite the night.

It was Halloween; we had moved there only two months before. I went trick or treating with a new friend. He was a long time friend of hers, and I was instantly smitten. I was sure he was way out of my league (he was) but we spent a long time talking that night.

A couple of weeks later I was at my friend’s house again and there he was. I was a giggly, flirty mess, like countless 16 year olds before me. I didn’t have the courage to say anything to him, but I was annoyingly persistent in talking to my friend about *him*. She finally said “So, do you want me to tell him?”. I practically yelled “NO!”. It took me probably 20 minutes to say “yes”.

She said “good, I just wrote him a note.”.

Shit.

A couple of minutes later he comes in holding the note, stammers a bit, and holds it up.

“Is this…?”

“I don’t know, what did she say?”

He handed me the note. I read it and nodded.

He promptly face planted and remained there for several minutes. My friend and I laughed, but my heart sunk further as each agonizing second ticked by. Eventually he got up, left the room for a few minutes, and came back and we all just talked for a bit. Later he called me, which became something of a regular occurrence. He asked me to a dance. We spent time together before and after class. He asked for a picture of me from when I was younger, and later returned it to me with a drawing from art class.

As first loves go, it was all rather ordinary. He was not.

He was extraordinary.

When You’re A Stranger

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There are some common questions I’m asked, some specifically aimed at the fact that I’m a woman who happens to prefer driving the late night shift. Women doing this rideshare gig are rare to begin with. Women doing this late at night are practically a myth.

“Aren’t you ever scared?”

Sometimes. I used to be terrified when I first started. I was so thankful for the location services on my iphone so my (then) husband and oldest son could check on me periodically. We had a safety plan, but it was quickly abandoned. I’m well past 1500 rides in the last 10 months, and I’ve only truly been afraid of a passenger a handful of times. Which tracks with a rideshare driver I took home after being rear ended on his way to the airport Thanksgiving week. Each experience has taught me to further refine my personal safety plan, and for the most part, I feel very safe. And remember, we are allowed to refuse anyone a ride; although I haven’t yet.

“What’s the weirdest/most exciting/frightening thing that’s ever happened while you’re driving?”

I never have an answer for this on the fly (maybe I should work on that) but the reality is, it’s all pretty vanilla. That said, there are a few things that have made me raise my eyebrows…

The baller who picked up a hottie at a house party, and she proceeded to ride him like a pony all the way to Denny’s (yes, I did say baller and hottie and Denny’s, all in the same sentence). She kept grabbing my seat to lift herself up, which, you break it, you buy it. But they were going at it so hard I could barely keep the car in the lane. Had it been anyone else I would have pulled over on the side of the freeway and told them to get the hell out but since one of his friends walked by the car right before we left with a gun at his hip… Nah man, I’m from LA, I’ll just get you there and you’ll be the proud recipient of my first ever one star. My kids sit back there, dude. Seriously?

I should have known something was up when his assistant got in the front seat and told me to play some music, didn’t care what it was, and kept asking me to turn it up louder. Which means either this is a regular thing or she knew what was about to transpire. In which case, ew. I hope he pays you well for abandoning your self respect.

There have been a couple of times I’ve been sure a drug deal was going down in my car. One time confirmed, by my 13 year old finding a little packet of white powder. Thank goodness he brought it to my ex. Unfortunately my ex trashed it. Fair warning, you ever do that nonsense in my car again, that little baggie and your pickup and dropoff location are going straight to the police. Why is this a thing? Risk your own welfare, I didn’t sign up for this.

On that note, something that is happening more often of late is people asking me if I have drugs (or stranger yet, asking if I’d like to go drink/get high with them). You called me for a safe/sober ride home, remember? No, I’m not going to risk my livelihood, thanks. Why on earth would you think I have drugs, or would be dealing them in my car? Seriously? Is this a thing? Why is this a thing? Whomever is making this a thing needs to knock it the hell off. That’s just risky and stupid for a multitude of reasons.

In a similar vein, people who are quite insistent they can hail me off a street corner, just like a regular cab. And will become quite belligerent when I refuse them, and tell me I’m being racist or a bitch or whatever threat or epithet they want to throw my way. We don’t work like that, that’s what cabs do. You want to catch someone on a street corner, wave at a passing cab and they will pick you up. We are a TNC. Google the difference. I’m sure your friend/roommate/brother/cousin/random driver is also a rideshare driver and is also cool with breaking the rules but I need my money so I’m not cool with it. Besides, I’m inherently suspicious of you given how damn easy it is to just download the app and sign up if you don’t just ping a ride like everyone else. I don’t care how much you claim you’re going to pay me, I guarantee you you aren’t going to pay me my yearly income over the next 7 years or so I am likely to still be doing this so… nope.

It’s gotten so bad of late that there are people who will wait at busy locations after hours and literally stalk the car (because yes, I lock the car immediately when you get out, no it’s not because of your skin color or gender or anything else, it’s because what I do can be risky and I learned the hard way this is an important step in keeping myself safe) and as people get out they’ll grab a door and ask if they can get a ride. Thankfully busy times i’m likely to have already gotten another ping (in which case, you’re the reason I’m now keeping those folks waiting, thanks bro). If not, I’m just going to say no. If you’re the douche canoe who still won’t drop it, I have a sick kid I need to get to the doctor right away, I’m so sorry! And for the record, it should never have to go that far. I’m not sure why the uptick in this behavior either, but again, knock it off!

People who never tip, but if I take them through a drive through or to a mini mart at night will unfailingly offer to buy me something. I don’t eat and rarely drink while I work, that just means less time working, both going in, and… ahem, coming out. No thanks. A tip on the other hand won’t cost you any more, and would be gratefully appreciated, I’m just saying.

I’m always a little surprised at how often I’m asked out. I’m a well-past middle aged housewife and Mom, and not particularly attractive, at least not enough to warrant all that. And yet, on any given night I’m propositioned, invited to parties (Sometimes by groups of young 20-somethings which… yeah, I can be a smartass, but I assure you, I in no way belong at your party. But truly, thanks for the compliment, y’all were cool!), or on occasion, fondled. Uber specifically has a hands off policy, and they aren’t playing. Neither am I.

There is this weird thing with some people. I’m solidly middle class. My ex was reasonably successful. They seem to have this concept that only young Rajesh trying to work his way through school could do this job. So when in the course of conversation they learn my ex is an IT professional and I’m surprisingly well-versed in his field, or that I’m somewhat worldly and reasonably well educated they get almost… offended? Threatened? But the name dropping and lifestyle pimping will commence immediately.

I’m always confused by that. Why would someone be threatened by someone like me doing this job? I like it. I need money for a whole lot of complicated reasons, and I like that I can put my family first and I don’t have to answer to anyone else in order to make them a priority.

I go over and over this in my brain, sometimes I think maybe I should play dumb and kiss ass for better ratings and tips, but my soul isn’t for sale. If that’s part of the bargain, I’m done being a rideshare driver. I’ll settle for trying to not be in your face about it, but that’s about as much of my own self worth as I am willing to concede.

Some people seem to act as if those autonomous cars are already a thing and we aren’t there, hearing every word they say. Most of the time I do my best to not pay attention, but sometimes there’s only so much you can do. Not caring is never going to be my thing. Not worrying is never going to be my thing. Not wanting to make it better if I can is never going to be my thing.

I assure you, I’m sitting right here, and I can hear you, no matter how much music you ask me to play. If you knew anything about the physics of sound transmission, you’d know why your efforts are futile. You want privacy, talk somewhere else.

Picture Perfect Memories

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When do you know? How do you know? Is finding the love of your life a one-time thing? Does lightning ever strike twice? Do the beautiful memories fade enough to allow a new love to take root and flourish? Or do you simply learn with time to value new things, and stop missing the old ones?

I was with my husband for 22 years. We still live together. We still co-parent. And because I can’t risk anything but comprehensive insurance coverage, we are still married. Not ideal to be sure, but for us, it works. By virtue of a complete fluke/utter disaster, we are able to be friends again. It’s great. We’re all happier. Our kids are far happier. They have their parents who aren’t constantly fighting, angry, defensive, or in my case, traumatized. The downside of that is I’m remembering what I used to love about the man I used to love, and it makes dating unbearable. Every new opportunity leaves me awash in memories, acutely aware of what’s missing.

There were ways I connected with him that I have never connected with anyone else. Without that, is intimacy even worth all the work? Because after one nightmare (whatever the hell it was, I can’t really call it a relationship) and what has become a bad habit of serial dating, I’m beginning to think friends with benefits is all I’m capable of; and it’s depressing as hell. I want love. I want all the good stuff in my marriage back;  I just don’t want the trauma.

But I have yet to date a man I can imagine spending an afternoon in bed with, my head on his shoulder, drifting towards sleep as we talk the day away. That for me is not negotiable. That’s like the best part of my day/week/what have you. That’s the moment I finally let down my guard and relax.

I miss the way we circled the wagons as a family whenever adversity struck. The way we pulled together as a team and got through it all. You mean that’s over? Forever?

I miss remembering special days, our wedding, the birth of our children, without seeing them through this ugly veil of tarnish. I miss those memories being dear and beautiful and unblemished. Now I can hardly bear to remember them. Someone please tell me this phase passes.

Learning that your entire adult life was a lie, well, I’m pretty sure they haven’t invented a word for that yet.

Fearing that you’ll only love like that once is… Yeah, there’s no word for that either.

House Of The Rising Sun

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“I don’t want to drop you off, I’m just going to keep you, that’s cool, right?”

“Awww, you want me to go drive around with you all night? Hey, that would be a blast, we’d have the best time, everyone would be so jealous!”.

“Of course we would! Who wouldn’t? You’re like sunshine, Angel.”

The handsome but slight young man beside her remained silent, simply grinning, content. Dark eyes twinkling, his caramel skin almost shining with excitement. On the rare occasions he spoke, we both struggled to decipher his accent, she indicating as much with measuredly flirtatious utterances meant to distance and pacify.

She was strikingly beautiful but that wasn’t what struck me. It was the fact that in spite of being so jaded at such a young age, in spite of being incredibly beautiful and making no bones about the fact that she knew it, she was gracious and loving and very sweet. She had clearly suffered a great deal but she chose to walk in the sun. At great cost, but she was committed to that choice and seemed intent on spreading a little happiness wherever she went.

She definitely brightened my night, and was appreciative to a degree that passengers rarely are.

As we pulled up to her house, I wanted so desperately to possess some kind of magic that could steer her from what I suspected lay ahead for her, in the distant, and not so distant future. The beauty of innocence in a broken world is so breathtaking, I think that compulsion to protect it must be almost universal.

So often, so very many nights, I regret my lack of magic.

Love is the only weapon I’m left with, and I’m not afraid to use it.

You Are Perfect

I saw a Princess last night. All beautiful dress and regal bearing.

She held her father’s hand as she crossed the street, the whole while staring through the inky darkness, looking inquisitively at me.

I waved, and my lips curled into a gentle smile.

She looked for a minute, slowly smiled, and waved right back.

She bounced off, on her way to unknown adventures.

I was on cloud 9 the rest of the night.

Sometimes it’s the little things.

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