Category Archives: Travel

Inspired

Tonight I feel particularly inspired for several reasons.

For the past three weeks I have been inspired to visit Our Lord in Adoration more.  This is something that should require no prompting.  As a Catholic I certainly believe Him to be present in the Eucharist.  Our parish offers daily Adoration.  Seems like a no-brainer, right?  That is, unless you’re me.  Yes, I have been working like a dog the past few months, putting in long and sometimes unusual hours between two jobs.  Outside of that I like to make my priorities my family, my health (in the form of working out), and rest.  It is foolish to cut God out of that equation.  I have been using the time in the car while running jobs for an increase in my prayer life.  A five hour drive to Houston, for instance, yields many rosaries prayed.

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It’s a Catholic thing…

But a few weeks ago I headed to church on a Monday night for some quiet time before the Sacrament.  I knew that a friend of mine would be there as well and was hoping for a chance to say hi.  We hadn’t properly caught up in a while.  We did get to exchange a greeting afterward.  It was what I saw while in the chapel that inspired me.  Here was a man, about my age, with young children, in the chapel, not there to see his friends but rather to lead his family in prayer.  Discipline.  That’s what it takes to be a leader like that.  I could end this by saying “he’s got it and I don’t.”  But I know I could have it too if I just committed to do what he’s doing.  It’s doesn’t just materialize.  It has to be acquired through practice.  It’s just like building a strong body.  I may have mentioned previously that this friend has that part down like nobody’s business.  It’s easy to see how he could transfer that discipline to other areas of his life.

I’ve been going every Monday for just a half-hour, bringing my copy of Sheen’s Life of Christ with me to read.  Next step: I want to start bringing my kids along too, though I’m sure they wouldn’t be nearly as quiet and reverent as his.  In time, perhaps, they will learn.  And he probably didn’t even know he was being used by God to inspire someone else to come to Him.

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Both of my friends crossed paths.  The one friend’s puppy assaulted me while I was doing an ab routine trying to get jacked like the other friend.

I also just returned from a trip to Colorado where I was inspired by another friend.  I got the opportunity to spend a good deal of time with him (we’ve known each other since college) and his teenage son.  The interaction between the two of them was so wonderful to see.  He’s a great dad and his son’s a good kid, too.  What I saw was a man filled with patience, humor, good cheer, and love for his wife and kids.  He works harder than I do yet still found the time to 1) hang out with me, 2) cart his kids around town, 3) act like a human ATM when they came at him asking for money, 4) mow his lawn, and 5) teach his son about caring for their new puppy.  On the dog front, the “puppy” is a 15 week-old St. Berdoodle.  Yep, you read that right.  The thing was one giant fluffy ball of energy.  She was only missing the brandy keg.  I thought of my own dad while watching these two (and the pup).  I returned home inspired to be more “present” to my kids and to do it with more of a smile.  I hope his kids appreciate how awesome their dad is.  And I bet he didn’t even know he was being used by God to inspire someone else to come to Him.

Finally I was inspired late last night.  While waiting at the airport in Denver for a flight that was delayed over four hours I encountered a man wearing a tank top.  I at once determined that no matter how big or defined my arms get, men should always have sleeves on their shirt.  There’s just something dignified about it.  I was inspired to good fashion.  Now I know that man definitely had no clue he was being used by God.

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Freedom from the Bar

 

Scene from the bar at the airport.  It’s the Freedom Tower.

On the Second Day of Rideshare…

Life Lessons from Mom and Sis

I have such incredibly fond (and fun) memories of growing up outside of my mom’s native Manhattan, especially at Christmastime.  I believe I was 4 years-old the first time I rode in a taxi.  Something about that experience stuck with me all these years.  We had a tradition of heading into “the City” a few days before Christmas to visit Macy’s at Herald Square where the one and only Santa spends his final few weeks before jetting out on Christmas Eve to deliver toys around the world.  Oh believe me, even as a tot I had worked out the details.  Clearly the big guy had left the workshop in the capable hands of Mrs. Claus and some elves.  It was very important to him to be in New York and all.  Our trips invariably involved a cab ride from say, Macy’s at 34th and 5th to Rockefeller Center (47th and 6th).  There was something mystical about my mom or my older sister hailing that cab.  I took in every detail for I knew I would do this myself one day.  It was my heritage as a son of a daughter of the Big Apple.  She would step ever so slightly toward the curb, right arm firmly raised, a look of determination on her suddenly steely face with a touch of no-nonsense attitude exuding from her person.  With this transformation in her form she could get a stranger to remove his car from four lanes of jam-packed traffic and come directly to us.  I listened as she said in a most commanding voice “Rockefeller Center, please – get us right up to the tree if you can, and avoid 6th.  Nothing but tourists this time of year.”  And like that we were whisked away through the magnificently gritty canyons of the greatest city on earth.

Many years later I would employ that same technique while working in Manhattan.  When I wasn’t feeling the overexertion of my legs or just didn’t want to go down the subway steps, or had been at a bar with friends I’d step out toward the curb and raise my right arm just the way they had years early.  There is a trick to it.  You have to lean in just the right way, you see.

You also have to be white and well dressed.

Then they’ll do anything for you.  I swear it’s true.

Never in all those adventures did I see myself driving other people as a glorified cabby.  And yet the world of ridesharing beckoned and I answered the call.  Unlike the cabbies of my childhood I will let anyone in my ride.  I mean, this is Texas after all.  Tejanos, Anglos, Kenyans, Seventh Day Adventists…  It’s not like your fare isn’t already secured before I pick you up and hey, you don’t have to hail me.  I’ll come right to your door and flash a smile too.  Look Mom, I did it!  Where was I?  Ah yes…

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This guy has it all wrong…  Photo credit

Back to the Grind

My second day of driving went pretty well.  I can’t complain.  Being Saturday afternoon things were a bit slower.  The wife, ever so tender in her encouragement, walked past me in our kitchen, slapped me on the butt, and said: “Get out there and earn, stud.”  Honestly I wasn’t sure where she was going with that at first.  Am I being prostituted?  St. Nicholas, help us…  He’s the patron saint of reformed prostitutes, by the way.  By the way, there’s no evidence that there’s anything “reformed” about me.

My first fare was a lady and her teenage daughter waiting at a dentist office nearby.  They needed a ride to a shoe store.  Duh.  If I had a dime for every time I ran out to Shoe Carnival right after a root canal I’d be filthy rich.  This was one of those short rides the rideshare companies are famous for.  In fact I think somewhere around 50% of their rides are under two miles.  Not a problem, though, since I got pinged right away.  My next fare was a woman in the shopping plaza across the highway.  She wanted a ride home (also about two miles away).  She also wanted a driver who spoke Ecuadorian.  I faked it.  It worked.

Now my third and final ride of the afternoon was a lovely couple heading to an office Christmas party downtown.  They reminded me instantly of the couple in O. Henry’s Gift of the Magi in that he had to call upon his experience as a fighter pilot in the war and she on her skill as a stewardess to land a doomed jetliner in Chicago.  Also, he wore no pocket watch and her hair was disgusting.  They boarded the vehicle and — I’m sorry, I’ve just been informed the couple previously described are actually Ted and Elaine from the movie Airplane!  No difference.  These two were quite intriguing.

We circled the block on our way back out to the main street.  Immediately I heard their whispered conversation.  “You want me to drop you back at home?” said the husband.  She mumbled something indistinct.  I’m not sure but it may have had something to do with a twisted ankle.  “Seriously, I can drop you off or we can just cancel,” he continued.  I was getting a little nervous.  Was something wrong with my car?  With me?  “Hold up,” he said to me while raising his arm.  I stopped the car.  They whispered more to each other for about thirty seconds.  Then he waved his arm and gave me the go-ahead.  I still have no idea what that was about but I worried the whole ride that they would find some great fault with my driving or my car or my hair and give me a bad review.

And this, my friends, is why the emotionally fragile should not take on jobs where they have to not care what people think of them.  Where was that rock-solid beacon of confidence my mother raised so well?  Where was the guy who, even though he may have had one too many gin and tonic’s, still had the perfect right-arm-raise, steely and determined gaze and posture to get a man in a yellow car to cut across three lanes of traffic to take me to Penn Station?  What happened to him?!

Oh that’s right.  White and well-dressed.

I dropped them off.

They gave me five stars.

I need to stop caring what people think about me.  I’m a flawless driver and my car smells of Christmas and Jesus.  They are lucky to have been in my presence.

I think I’ll try doing a few airport runs in my other car.  It seats more, is almost brand new, and it’s black.  That apparently gets you a higher fare.

O. Henry, eat your skanky heart out.

Oh What Fun It Is To Rideshare!

For some time now I’ve been looking for ways to supplement my stellar Catholic school teacher income.  My dreams of a principalship crushed by the man and hacked by the Russians (isn’t everything hacked by the Russians these days?) I lowered the bar and began searching for fruit hanging just a bit closer to the ground.

And that is how, this weekend, I began my new second job as a rideshare driver.

And in this effort I may have just stumbled upon the most lucrative fruit of all.  Rather than “hanging low to the ground” this baby was just lying there, somewhat trampled underfoot by the masses.  I was deliberately cautious in whom I confided my plans to “drive”.  Wouldn’t want people picking their mouths off the floor while mouthing “why on earth?” almost under their breath.  I’ll tell you why.  It’s certainly not because someone I know is turning 2(5×4) in the next few months.  1/2(80)?  It wouldn’t have anything to do with wanting a few new firearms to add to my collection.  It could never be that I’ve been looking for a new source of writing material and knew I’d struck gold with this one.

But here I am, the first of my hopefully long series of rides under my belt, and I’m happy to relay my experiences to you.

Getting Started

The sign up process was incredibly easy.  Using this particular company’s app I was able to tell them I am a safe driver, have insurance, am witty, have  a chiseled body, and am generally a nice man all of the time.  And they bought it.  Within a day my documentation, which consisted of a few uploaded photos of my license and registration stickers, had been approved.  Almost immediately I started getting texts from the company gently urging me to get started.

“Hey schmuck, you gonna’ do this thing or what?” was my favorite.

As if the texts weren’t enough, my lovely wife who still has no idea why I’m doing this in earnest would drop helpful hints.  “Honey,” she’d say in a gentle tone, “Time is money and I don’t see your butt behind the wheel right now…”

Cabs

I stand on the shoulders of giants.  Photo Credit

I, however, was waiting for the most opportune moment.  I was ready, just not mentally ready.  But the moment did strike.  On Friday afternoon I got home from my real job early after proctoring some end-of-term exams.  I took the car to the carwash and got her bathed.  I snagged a can of something called Ozium from an acquaintance with a prodigious weed habit to air out the scent of legal tobacco from the carpet fibers.  It worked too!  I even anticipated that my passengers – riders they’re called – might get thirsty and neatly placed two fresh bottles of water in the cupholders in the back.  I thought of getting totally festive and stringing candy canes from the seatbacks but ultimately thought better of myself.

That Awkward First Time

When 7:00 came (not sure why I chose that time other than having finished my workout) I switched the app on.  I was a little nervous.  I had never let complete strangers into my vehicle and wasn’t sure exactly who would be riding with me tonight.  I envisioned a raucous run of drunken partiers needing rides home after a night on the town.  Then again, I figured, it’s only 7.  They’re probably still sober and just heading out.

Within 30 seconds I got my first ping.  It was a woman (judging by the name though you never can tell these days) calling for a ride from about two miles away.  The thing with this service is that you don’t know where that rider wants to go until you get there.  I followed the app’s GPS practically to her front door – an apartment complex where I’d have to sneak past the gate on someone else’s code.  Sent her a text from the app so my real number didn’t show on her phone.

This is your rideshare.  I’m in the lot with my hazards on.  Take your time.

Moments later a young couple came to the car and got in.  I looked down at the app and noticed that, having accepted the fare, I could now see their destination.  It was an upscale shopping mall about twenty miles away.  I had been warned by a nephew who also drives for this company not to speak much.  Apparently when one is so broke she can’t afford a car and needs a high school teacher to drive her to Nieman’s to buy Christmas gifts, one doesn’t want to not keep decorous custom.  I said simply “heading to the mall tonight?” and got an affirmative response.  For the next thirty minutes I said nothing.

The funny thing is that the couple in my back seat did have a bit to say.  However, they said it in hushed whispers.  Oh I sure heard what they said though not every detail.  Something about what they were going to get Marisol (they settled on a bike), what they’d get Julio (an X Box), and something about how Rafael, who I gather is a toddler, has suddenly gained an interest in Jesus.  That’s Jesus as in the Savior of the human race, not Jesus the Spanish boy’s name after the other Jesus.

I dropped them at the mall, switched the app off and headed home.  I had only wanted tonight to get my first ride out of the way in much the same way a young man just wants to snag that first kiss and then suddenly loses interest in actually dating the girl.  Wait, no.  Forget that.  I drove home, remembered that I had not actually done a workout, and so I did a workout.  I did say that I’m chiseled.  Once showered, my wife turned to me and said in a tender way “Babe, clock’s tickin’.”

Love Will Keep Us Together

I switched the app back on and got a call.  This time it was a couple of guys in their early 20’s.  They lived nearby and were heading to the same area as that mall to see a movie.  I was feeling more confident.  When they got in I turned around and said “Welcome, gentlemen.  Help yourself to a bottle of water.  If you need the temperature adjusted just let me know.  If there’s anything else I can help you with just say so.”  That last sentence almost proved to be my undoing.  “How ’bout some tunes, man?” the one guy said.  “Anything in particular?” I asked.  “You got any hip hop?”  I hit a few presets.  Immediately came blaring from my speakers Captain and Tenille’s Love Will Keep Us Together.  I laughed.  “Clearly, that ain’t hip hop,” I said.  They laughed, yet strangely agreed that they liked the song and said I should let it play.  I dropped them off and decided to wait it out in the parking lot until the next call came in.  It was now about 9PM on a Friday night.  The club-goers were already at their clubs.  The movie-goers were in the theaters.  Five minutes of waiting and I figured my luck had run out.  I would head home.

How’s That for Irony?

As I was about to head up the ramp to the interstate I got pinged.  OK, I thought.  Let’s see what this one is.  I accepted and followed the navigator to another apartment complex.  It was a bit sketchy but whatever.  A woman came out to the car and asked me if I could give her a few minutes.  She wanted to say good bye to her kids.  When she came back out we started our drive.  I could see she was headed downtown, a fifteen mile drive.  All of this so far was great for me.  These three trips are all longer by far than the average rideshare journey.  More money for my birthday party fund, I mean, for our household budget.  Who am I kidding?  That person stopped reading this blog long ago so I’m safe.

Sticking to my “no-talkie” rule I only spoke to my fare when she spoke up telling me to ignore the navigator in favor of a route that would have less traffic.  Seemed logical.  If she didn’t know what she was talking about it would take longer and I’d get paid more.  About five minutes in and we were on the highway.  And she spoke up again.  “How long have you been doing this?”  “Actually,” I said, “It’s my first night.”  “Wow, I’d never know,” she said.  I took that as a compliment.  I wonder if it was my ability to drive my own car that belied my skill as a driver of my own car.  “I’m a cabbie myself on my way to work tonight.  You guys are cheaper than our cabs so that’s how I get to work.”  Holy shit.  How’s that for irony?  She proceeded to tell me her life story.  She’s eight month’s pregnant, has three other little girls at home and, as mentioned, works as a cabbie overnight.  She did give me some tips of the trade, telling me where the best locations and times for maximal payout are.

She also asked if she could use my phone to call work and tell them she was running late.  Here’s where my inexperience kicked in.  “Sure,” I said, without thinking.  And the moment the phone passed into her hands I thought of something.  What if this chick is simply going to swipe “cancel” on my app, let me drive her to work, and I won’t get paid and not even know it?  I envisioned her dancing a jig atop a yellow cab in a seedy garage as she regaled her co-workers.  “I fooled that gringo!  Tryin’ to steal our jobs and cut in on our turf!  Death to rideshare!”  Fortunately, she actually called work and then handed me my phone.  Won’t make that mistake again.  She even politely asked if she could take an extra bottle of water on her departure.

The Downtown Party Girls

Fully in the swing of things as a hack I responded to a few more calls downtown.  It was now about 11PM.  The early bar-goers were wrapping things up, the “lightweights” as I call them.  A woman in her mid-20’s got in.  She was dressed like a lumberjack.  “Office Christmas party,” she explained, “and the theme was plaid.”  Good to know.  I was beginning to think I had stumbled into some alternate universe.

I had earlier decided to drive until midnight or until the first whiff of hard liquor came oozing out of pores.  At 11:45 a woman got in outside a small boutique bar, a trendy spot.  When she opened her mouth to thank me for picking her up I caught the scent of tequila and knew she’d be my coda.  And a “fun” passenger she was too!  She went on and on about how she “loved my car”.  She used to have one just like it.  She sold it to a man who had just gotten rid of his Porsche.  I couldn’t have gotten a word in edgewise if I tried but I would have asked “He sold a Porsche for an Accord?”  Turns out the sports car had been totaled and the man was decapitated.  “Run that by me again?” I said.  “Wait, what?” she replied.  “Oh, I guess he couldn’t have been completely decapitated.”  No, I’d say probably not completely.  She was sad to let go of her car but signed it over for the right price.  She’d heard four months later that he totaled that car too.  “Sounds like God’s trying to tell him something,” I muttered.  “I don’t know…” she said, her voice nostalgically trailing off and a tear welling up in her non-Botoxed left eye.  I wonder if I could get that car back, like if I could track it down and have it fixed up.”  Mercifully it was time for her to get out.

My quiver full of stories I shut that app off as fast as my thumb could swipe left to right and headed home.  On the ride I thought about the pregnant cabbie and wondered how much she’d be taking home in the morning.  I had worked a total of two hours and pulled in about a hundred bucks.  She’d be striving for tips.  Then I thought about the gentle and lovable drunks I’d shuttled and I felt good that I spared them and the world from a few drunk drivers this night.  I thought about the guys going to the movie and the moment we shared laughing at my disco preset.  I thought about the shoppers and wondered if Jesus would get his Red Rider air rifle.

I walked in to the love of my life sitting at the counter looking at her laptop.  She had waited up for me.  Aw, she does care.  “How’d it go?” she asked.  “Just another Friday  night, dear,” came my response and we headed off to bed.

The real answer to that question will come in a few months when we see if she gets a piñata and paper cups or a trip to Australia.

Coming Home

It’s time to get back on the road.  Hopefully, my post-posted posts told the story well.

Saturday was the day to head back to Texas.  The world goes on and jobs call us back.

Road trips have always held great pride of place for us, kids.

Let’s make the most of it.

Let’s find fun places to eat!

Krystals!

The Repast

Canolis!

I’m trying, friends.  I’m trying to detail what this week has been but it’s hard.  Kids, I want you to remember this.  God gave us a beautiful family.  And the hallmark of any family is faith.

Faith and canolis!

The picture above is of some of the wonderful treats we enjoyed at your uncle’s repast.

So many of our family and friends came.  It was beautiful.

Essentially, we ate.  A lot.  And then we ate the next day.

And after we ate, children, we took a moment to try to have fun.

We had a snowball fight!

And I think that’s all I can write for now.

An Irish Wake

Much of this day was spent in final preparation.  I drove past the church where his funeral would be held the next day and pondered why.  Not “why” as in “why did he die?” but “why this church?”

Even though he was fairly light at the end, a solid oak casket is still heavy.

Look at those steps!

True there are going to be at least 8 pall bearers including me but still…

Anyway, by afternoon I had hit the florist and ordered an arrangement for the funeral home.  Then I picked out shoes with my daughter who hadn’t brought a decent pair for the wake.  How inconsiderate of her…  Mommy instructed me “no heels”.  My daughter instructed me “Daddy, I want heels!”  We compromised.  She got wedges.  Until this afternoon I could not have told you what that meant.

And how does one follow that…

At the funeral home we celebrated my brother’s life.  There was sadness, yes, especially in the first few moments as my mom and dad approached the casket.  They have now lost four of their children.  This hurts just watching them but they’re so solid in their faith.  What was gratifying was seeing the number of friends who came out in this weather — people I hadn’t seen in years.  My childhood best friend and his wife came and sat with us for two hours.  They delighted my mom with great conversation and helped me too with their presence.

This is what a wake is supposed to be.

This was love.