Uber Driver (Navigating Life)
In the Name of Allah, the Most Kind, the Kindest
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
Do you like being behind the wheel, the feel of rubber on the road, and hearing the purr of a warm engine? Have you ever lost GPS when you needed it most, like while driving downtown in Chicago? Or hit a bump in the road and needed assistance? Have you ever played Mario Cart and longed for the day you could drive a real car? Before Covid, I used to drive rideshare part-time with Uber and Lyft. I picked up 172 passengers with Lyft (5-star rating), gave 72 rides with Uber (4.98-star rating), and made 176 deliveries with Uber Eats with a 100% satisfaction rate. Kindly note that I made plenty of mistakes, wrong turns, and spilled drinks along the way. But that worked in my favor (rather than being a disadvantage). Because every time something went wrong, I was learning from the experience.
There is a saying among Hindus that the situation is the Guru (or teacher). While driving rideshare, I discovered that the app only shows you the best-case scenario. Driver training is user-friendly until you run into a problem. For instance, there’s no tutorial on what to do when the GPS drops mid-ride. Or what to do if a city block is under construction and your passenger needs to get in there. What happens when the rider is at a hard to maneuver pickup point? How do you find older apartment buildings that are unidentifiable? And what to say when delivery orders are wrong, and you couldn’t check their contents? Intoxicated men often like to get too close for comfort, especially when there’s no one else in the car. (This training came after both companies partnered with RAIIN. Lyft was well ahead of Uber on this, and my female passengers preferred it.) Most corporations and organizations operate like this, as do schools and other institutions. That leaves us ill-prepared to handle unexpected turns in the road and left to figure things out on the go.
Allah’s Messenger ﷺ advised us to tie our camel first, and then put our trust in Allah. In life and driving, it helps to buckle up, check our mirrors, and follow the rules of the road. But when something isn’t in the driver’s manual, trust in Allah and do your best to approach the situation mindfully. That may entail calling for support, taking a few minutes to gather our wits, checking the map, asking those who are along with us for the ride for advice, apologizing if we’ve made a mistake, looking for solutions (alternate routes), while remembering to laugh at ourselves. These were some of the lessons I learned on the road while driving. Another insight I gleaned accidentally through observation, open dialogue, and active listening.
Driving Lyft gave me a chance to meet local people from the Black community that I probably wouldn’t have known otherwise. Four passengers, in particular, made an indelible impression on me, and the fifth made my day. The first was a young man who shared his story with me. He grew up in hellacious circumstances and said he was constantly angry. I think anyone having to face the realities he did would be. I asked him how he changed because the young man sitting with me was a soft-spoken gentleman. He spoke of attending an academy and sincerely working on his anger and transmuting it. He then told me how he and his friend were shot multiple times one night in our town. He was hospitalized and barely survived. Almost immediately after being discharged, he had to go back to work to help support his mom and sister. I don’t know anyone in my life who had to work that hard or suffer that much, who could take all that justifiable rage and turn it into loving-kindness. He spoke directly to my heart, and I missed a turn.
The next rider was a woman. She shared how her good friend died at the hands of her boyfriend. It was in the news and known throughout the town. Her friend was the sweetest woman, and she was getting ready to attend her funeral. My heart broke. Then I picked up two friends (a man and a woman) who happened to be homosexual. They spoke to each other about being LGBTQ+ in the Black community and beyond. I have several white friends who identify as LGBTQ+. None of them had to grapple with not receiving belonging cues from the larger community. Most people in the LGBTQ+ community have to struggle with that at home. Before getting out of the car, they asked me if their conversation was unsettling. I said, “No, not at all,” and that I enjoyed hearing their stories and learning about their experiences.
The final passenger was a young man with a group of men I was picking up at a house party during “Unofficial,” a big event at the University of Illinois near St. Patrick’s Day. They were having a good time and piled in semi-inebriated. The rider I have in mind exclaimed, “I know you! You were my Uber driver.” He was so happy that he wanted to tip me immediately. They reached their destination safely and invited me to quit work and party with them. Now that’s a compliment, as I could be their auntie. I politely declined their kind offer and wished them a happy Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day. I love young people and college students in particular. Sometimes I think it would be nice if they could see themselves sober. Nevertheless, there is an innocence in youth that is unforgettable and priceless.
So why am I sharing all this, especially the last point about unintended insights from open dialogue and active listening with members of my local community? Regrettably, many Americans segregate themselves intellectually and socially, which keeps us from having meaningful conversations and getting better acquainted. Consequently, there is gross inequality in our country that often goes unacknowledged. Rideshare made this apparent to me. Was it just a coincidence that my Lyft riders were predominately Black, or was that a direct result of the significant wealth gap in America? In my limited experience, Lyft is more affordable than Uber and offers better deals for the driver and rider.
I’ve been taking Dr. Omid Safi’s course “Martin & Malcolm on Black Liberation,” and it struck me how most of us in the white community know so little, even those of us who think we know so much. If you want to learn about resilience, overcoming obstacles, and laughing in the face of bodily harm, then find a way to reach out to members of the Black community. Another example of this that comes to mind is David Goggins’s book Can’t Hurt Me. He spent part of his youth in Brazil, Indiana, and shares about the racism he faced daily. It was eye-opening to me and disturbing that someplace I thought of as a quaint, provincial town could foster so much hatred and violence in the ’80s and ’90s. Most of us are not concerned or curious enough to listen attentively to what other people have to say. If we would be willing to dialogue with strangers and meet new people, it may result in a friendly acquaintance that changes how we look at life.
How do we navigate life’s challenges? By learning from the situation, taking the necessary precautions needed for the journey, trusting in Allah, remembering to breathe, being on the lookout for solutions, asking for help, readily apologizing, being good-humored, overlooking a great deal, while seeing to the other person’s happiness, and actively listening with our body, heart, and soul. In India, you frequently see signs that say, “HORN OK PLEASE!” Remember to honk if you’re happy, and always tip your driver.
From one needy of your dua,
PS. Many thanks to everyone who took the Productive Wisdom poll and chose this topic. It will be followed up with one on impulse control and changing our internal settings, Insha’Allah.
PPS. I owe my Laoshi, Chrissy Smith, a great deal on this one. She is the quintessential teacher and a very dear friend.