things i learned from a lyft driver

Life Lessons From an 87-Year-Old Lyft Driver

I stepped into the Lyft car and paused mid-air, hovering above the grey upholstered backseat. I had one foot in, one foot out. My driver was a man, well past his golden years. An internal debate struck up, making a legitimate point: Is it safe to ride with this old dude? Or, should I cancel and find a new driver?

I was already late to ballet class—if I got another driver, there was no way I would make it on time. The heavy February drizzle slid off my hood, dampening the interior of the car. It smelled like wet carpet and Old Spice. For some reason, that comforting combo ended the internal debate and I decided to ride with the old dude.

A few awkward wet boot squeaks later, followed by the slam of the door, my ass was parked in the car. “Hu…hi,” I managed to say finally. “I’m Britt.”

He smiled at me in the rearview mirror, with twinkling mischievous blue eyes that very much reminded me of my dad. “Hi, Britt. I’m 87 years old.”

I laughed. “You get that a lot, I take it.”

“All the time, Britt. All the time.” He started the car and we were off.

We made it through several sleepy Saturday neighborhood intersections unscathed and I began to chill the fuck out. And actually, he drove better than most of the Uber and Lyft drivers I’d experienced over the years. I exhaled slowly and smiled. “What’s your name?”

“Well, thank you for asking. Most people are fine with me just being the 87-year-old driver. The name’s Richard.”

He looked like a Richard.

Life Lesson: All that matters is that we’re here.

I readjusted my wet raincoat, flinging water everywhere. “Well, Richard. How are you today?”

Richard’s eyes met mine in the rearview mirror. “I’m here and that’s all that matters.”

I nodded at him, unable to come up with a response because my tears were unleashed. I looked out the window, taking in the urban winter scene. Every journey through Portland had become a goodbye. Mr. H and I had just signed our lease to move back to Milwaukee after six years in Portland.

Soon we would begin selling most of our things to fit everything, including the cats, into a cargo van. We had just sold our only vehicle as well.

Unlike Richard, I didn’t “feel here.” I didn’t feel anywhere. After months of debating when to move, where to move…we had made the decision. But, we were in limbo—leaving one home for another but not settled into either of them. Little did I know how much more intense this feeling of being in limbo would become in the coming weeks as the pandemic approached.

Life Lesson: You won’t understand your parents until you’re their age.

“How old are you, Britt? If you don’t mind me asking, that is,” Richard said.

I blinked my tears away and swallowed the lump in my throat. “I’m 38.” I shook my head. “Wow, I’m my dad’s age when I was born. I just realized that.”

“It’s weird when you turn your parent’s age,” Richard said as he adjusted his glasses. “But, it’s also humbling. You understand them better, don’t you?”

“Yes.” And, it was so true. My dad was 38 when I was born. My mom was 30 when she had me and I had a similar bittersweet revelation at that age.

Life Lesson: There’s nothing to an 18-hour drive.

During the rest of our journey to the dance studio, Richard talked my ear off.

Normally, I prefer to sit quietly during these rides as they are the one time I step away from my laptop and the ever-vicious cycle of “hustle mode” that comes with the territory when you run a business. But, Richard was a charmer, one who picked up on my distress and knew that I wouldn’t mind the storytelling distraction.

I was wrong about one thing with Richard—there was no need to worry about his driving. Richard drove semi-trucks for 68 years of his life, delivering freight all over North America. He could run coast to coast in 72 hours…no problem. And, the 18-hour drive from Seattle to Los Angeles? “Nothin’ to it.”

Life Lesson: We are all lucky to have angels in our lives.

Richard had been married for 62 years. After the kids grew up, his wife accompanied him on his freight deliveries so they could travel and spend time together. He lost his wife to cancer and most recently he lost his girlfriend as well.

“I’m lucky,” Richard said. “I’ve got two angels in my life so far.”

Life Lesson: The secret to life is to keep the body moving.

I came to the end of our 15-minute drive, and a fascinating life story. The car stopped in front of the dance studio. In no hurry to get to class, I reluctantly scooped up my backpack and zipped up my rain jacket.

“Ah, you’re a dancer.”

“Yes, I am. Danced my whole life, actually.”

“That’s the secret to life. You gotta keep the body moving.”

“I agree.” I reached for the door handle. “Richard, thank you for the life-affirming ride.”

“Anytime, Britt. Take care of yourself.”

Why I’m sharing Richard’s life lessons 7 months later.

I rode with Richard back in February and I took notes during our fascinating conversation because I always wanted to keep that moment with me. Although I fictionalized some of the dialogue—since I couldn’t remember the entire conversation word-for-word—Richard’s life lessons are all quoted accurately.

I had planned to write this blog much earlier this year, then the pandemic came…along with my cross-country move.

journal with mug and glasses

As with everyone else in the world, writers have been emotionally impacted. This impact has shown up on the very blogs we cozy up with and turn to for escapism and comfort, including my own blog.

We are the observers and the believers in humanity. Writers talk about the hard stuff when no one else will. We report back so people might find some glimmer of understanding when nothing makes sense.

It never seemed like the right time to tell Richard’s story, with all that was going on. So, I sat on it for seven months until today. That 15-minute car ride was a different time, B.C. (Before COVID). But, I think these life lessons from an 87-year-old Lyft driver are such beautiful ageless reminders.

If nothing else, when someone asks how you’re doing, you can say the usual canned response…I’m fine. Or, more commonly this year…I’m doing okay.

But inside, you can use Richard’s response to that question: “I’m here. And, that’s all that matters.”

12 thoughts on “Life Lessons From an 87-Year-Old Lyft Driver

  1. I love this story–great read for a Saturday afternoon! Thank you so much for sharing your adventures with Richard.

  2. A touching story Britt, with some great life lessons. We have a taxi driver – not as old as Richard – who will always say the same ‘I’m here. I’m alive, everything is good.’ and it’s always an uplifting ride.

    1. You bet, honey. I loved that ride with Richard back in February. I’m glad I took notes so I could capture these sayings. As soon as he said “I’m here today and that’s all that matters,” I started paying attention.

    1. We do forget and it’s such a shame. I was in such a weird state at that time with my life in limbo. Creative writing had totally taken a backseat, but his response “I’m here and that’s all that matters” made me snap out of it and I felt compelled to capture it to share one day. Not sure if Richard will ever read this, but I’m thankful for that day.

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