This past week I had a flat tire, unexpectedly. I was rushing out the door to a meeting and as I turned the corner, saw very plainly that the tire was not a slow leak, but an all-out flat. Curses were said, patience tried, then I moved on. Being undeterred, I decided to take Über- my go-to for any event where I avoid driving. At the end of the day, I had very different drivers, all with a story to tell, all with an interesting perspective, and all who had strong feelings about their commitment to something large than themselves. Some had children which motivated them, others did not. Yet all felt compelled to do something- to go beyond the basic and I was left feeling that these were my kind of people. It was an eye opening experience for me, and I hope it will be interesting for you as well.
First off, I do not typically talk casually about what I do. For a long time I used to tell people I encountered and was certain I would not meet again I was a secretary or an events planner. I did this because whenever I say I work in politics, people always want my opinion. Or, more accurately they wish for me to affirm their opinion as right because I am (in their eyes at the moment) some subject matter expert. I’m not, and I tire of this easily. It was especially difficult in my early twenties at bars in Buckhead when the boys buying drinks wanted to talk about the latest Presidential election or to impress me with their lack of knowledge of foreign policy. But those are posts for another type of blog; just know that I do not bring up what I do in conversation unless I am asked directly and I try to offer the most basic explanation possible before switching the conversation back to them. It saves us all some headaches. Trust me.
My first driver was a fellow Jeep driver, so I felt some level of connection to him with this. We spent the first part of my thirty minute ride discussing Jeeps and other makes and models we had driven and considered driving. I learned he was a musician and did some video production as a primary job with Über as his back-up. Cool. Made me think of all the film productions going on here in Georgia and I silently thanked the tax credits that have encouraged that sector’s growth. The driver then asked me what I did and my answer seemed to engage him far more intensely than I had expected. This could go south, quickly.
…But it didn’t.
It seems as if the recent video shoot he was a part of was for a “protest video”. I didn’t ask for clarification on this in order to avoid differences of opinion. But as we talked more, I found his disgust with the Dekalb County stadium deal, moving the Braves to Cobb, pushing the poor into Clayton County, the deplorable situation in Bankhead all indications that he had a strong streak of ethics and social justice- all things that have not yet been beaten out of me by my work within my state. He wanted to know how local governments get away with backroom deals and why didn’t more people in the City of Atlanta seem to be disheartened by the conditions of the Westside. I offered what consolation I could. I am aware that there are large efforts by the city and foundations (the Dan Cathy Foundation being one) that are making efforts to improve the Westside. So too, will development (and probably gentrification) come with the further development of the Beltline through that corridor. Finally, I exited his Jeep and we said our goodbyes, but not before I thanked him for his interest in city politics- not many people engage on a local level, and for that alone I am grateful. The interaction lifted me up a bit, especially after the flat-line of my tire.
My next driver spoke with a noticeable accent. He was listening to talk radio and asked me about what I thought of Kim Davis and Donald Trump. I never mentioned what I did. The following discussion was simply what he wanted to discuss as we drove. I listened and commented when he asked for my opinion, but never shared what I did lest he think I had some sort of inside scoop.
As we talked and he drove we somehow turned the topic to jobs and his personal life. He pointed to unrest in the country as a result of lacking employment. The driver told me that he personally worked as much as he could, but also felt that it was his responsibility to teach his sons right from wrong. This took time away from his ability to make money, but he stated that it was what must be done to rear his sons. After more conversation, he clarified his personal life further: one son was his, the other was the son of his wife’s previous husband. In light of the boy’s biological father not being present nor taking a real interest in his life, this driver stepped up to the plate. He lamented being the “bad guy”, he said, but he told me that this young man needed to understand that gradually he would be in charge of his own life, his own decisions, and the reality the driver had known was that not all of life’s decisions were fun and inviting.
As we neared my next stop, I praised him for his tenacity with his step-son. I told him of how my Jeep had been broken into in recent months and the offenders were apprehended. Sadly, the faces that greeted me in court were those of a twelve, fifteen, and seventeen year old that noticeably did not have parents present for the trial because either the parents were incarcerated themselves, or the father “was not known”. I told my driver that while I am a person who proudly encourages women to volunteer and to run for office, the value of a father who is active in a child’s life is invaluable and a space I can never fill. I cannot imagine how difficult the challenge is of raising a son in this day and age, but I appreciate that this driver is trying. As I closed my door, I said a prayer for him and his two sons. I hope that those who pray will pray along with me.
My last driver was the most interesting and poignant. She was the first female driver I have had, and her discussion with me rang the closest to home. I asked her what she did outside of Über. As she was my last driver of the day, and every single other driver I have EVER had listed Über as a second job, I made an assumption. I was incorrect. She told me her only other job was being a mom to her seven year old son. She moved to Atlanta after considering home prices in Nevada and California, where she had family. She chose Georgia because she could afford a home here in College Park and her only complaint was the school her son attended was not up to her standards. I asked her more about that, and shared with her that my mother works in some capacity with the bookkeeping and implementing of Title I funds in schools in Walton County.
We both understood what Title I means. I naively did not make any assumptions about her financial situation, but quickly became more aware of her reality. She told me that the Title I coordinators in her son’s school (my mother’s counterparts) had invited all the parents in to discuss what it meant to be a part of a Title I school. My driver laughed at this, saying, “We all know far better than they do what it means for our child to receive free and reduced lunch”. She said that the coordinators asked all the parents to provide their children with a full breakfast before they came to school in the morning. My driver told me that if she had that option, there would be no need for Title I. Her reality was that she did not always have enough food in the pantry to provide even this for her son. The assumption that she would willingly not provide food for her child stung, and you could hear the anger, resentment, and pride in her voice. We both agreed that these difficult and uncomfortable conversations are ones that must be had in order to have any manner of understanding between the parent and the school. I left her car with a wish I could do more, yet with a realization that even if I offered, she would not accept it. I know that pride. It is something I’ve personally had to get over at points in my life. I would be willing to bet we’ve all known that feeling at some point.
Each of these drivers reminded me that when something matters to us we get engaged. When engaged, we can make a difference in our situation and the lives of those we love. I often find myself getting caught up in the world of policy and forget that on the other side of theory is the realm of application. The first Über driver reminded me that we can each help to shape local policies. No protest video needed. The middle driver reminded me that it is MY responsibility to guide, teach, and shape- no one else may step up, so I have to lean into that role. The last driver reminded me how those policies’ implementation affect those we are trying to help. Sometimes the best intentions fall short in implementation. Each of these drivers ARE engaged and their actions will bear fruit. I wish I could follow up with them to watch their progress.
I am a person who regularly talks to my Über drivers and cabbies. I believe there is always something for me to learn in these instances. I had not banked on how much I would learn of my own privilege, how inspired I would be by others’ tenacity, nor had I expected to connect with a protest videographer over local politics. It just goes to show that one never knows what they will learn next, in which situations they will find growth, nor from whom they will receive inspiration.
These interactions also have reminded me that sometimes one may get FAR more than what they pay for.