This trip has been an amazing adventure for me and I want to record some of the things that have happened so I don't ever forget.
The shuttle driver was supposed to be at the door to pick me up at 5:35 on Thursday morning. When they had not arrived by 5:45, I could feel the back of my neck break out in to a light sweat. To distract myself, while I waited, I did a mental inventory of everything I had packed. For some reason, I remembered that I wanted to bring some of my "BE AMAZING!" bracelets back home, so I could hand them out to friends and relatives.
So I grabbed a bag of 100 and shoved them in to the outer compartment of my bag. Then, I resumed my panic attack. Because my flight was due to leave at 7:30 and I knew we had two other passengers to pick up and it takes at least 30 minutes to get in to the airport without traffic, and security at the airport early in the morning on a work week is nothing short of brutal.
We were going to be late. I was going to miss my plane. I would have to catch another flight. I would never make it back in time for the funeral services that were scheduled to begin Friday.
Commence knots in stomach.
I moved myself outside, to the sidewalk, and tried calling the shuttle company. "I knew I should have taken an earlier shuttle," I said aloud. "Or at least, driven myself." But just then, the shuttle van pulled in to sight. The driver climbed out and he was a large man, with a long beard, thick glasses and tattoos covering every inch of skin from his sleeveless elbows to his wrists. He briskly greeted me and told me to take the passenger seat, while he loaded my suitcase in to the back.
Once he climbed in to the van, panting heavily, he slowly dialed his location in to a hand held device and then, pulling up a tiny screen on his computer, determined that the next pick up was just three houses away. The second passenger was also standing outside their home, gripping their cell phone, clearly poised to call the shuttle company.
When the second passenger climbed aboard, I said good morning and cheerfully asked how long they had lived in the neighborhood. Because, well - I've lived in this neighborhood since September of 1997 and this was the first time I had ever seen this man, living only three doors away. Surely he must be new. But much to my surprise - or rather, blatantly obvious antisocial dismay - he has lived in his house since November of 1997.
Welcome to suburbia living in San Diego.
You don't know me. I don't know you.
While our driver entered his second pick up in to his hand held device and pulled up the third location, we briefly traded stories about our tract homes. (Better known as the ticky tacky little boxes and they all look just the same.) The dysfunctional shower in the master bedroom (he has the same issues we do), poor quality windows (both agree they are totally crappy), total lack of insulation (yes, brrr), and how it's possible that we don't know each other when we've lived three houses away from one another for the past 12 years?
I told him that it was now on my list to make sure I knew everyone on my block, and I'd aim to meet someone new, once per month. The three of us concurred that it so easily happens that we get busy with our own lives and in the process become clueless to the people and world around us.
Our shuttle driver slowed to a stop and was pulling out his map. "Alright, let's see where are we going?" he asked no one in particular.
He scrutinized the page for a few minutes and while I watched the green digital minutes tick by on the dashboard, and could feel my mouth go suddenly dry, I reached over to take the map while trying to helpfully suggest, "Maybe I can figure it out?"
Without protest, he handed over the map and grabbed a flashlight out of the glove compartment which he clicked on and passed to me. With a florescent light in one hand, and a ripped Thomas Guide in the other, within a minute I pinpointed our location and another minute later, identified the street where we were heading. Then, I rolled down the window and shined the light on each passing street sign until I could see where we needed to turn right, left, left and right again.
Once we arrived, our third and fourth passengers were standing outside of the house and the sun was visible in the east. While the driver was loading our passengers, I happened to look around the dashboard and noticed a shuttle license and registration. My drivers named was George. He is 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs 375 pounds. He was born March 18, 1962.
We loaded our final passengers, George slowly recorded in his device that all of the passengers were secure and our trip to the airport commenced.
As we drove out of the neighborhood, I started to make small talk. I was curious, how early does George have to get up in the morning? How long is his shift? How many miles does he typically drive in a week? As we were talking, he informed me that he typically starts his shift at 2 AM and runs five or six shuttles a day. He's run one shuttle already, but he has an eye appointment later in the morning, so this would be his only shuttle of the day. Then he pointed to his coke bottle glasses.
"So, you're going in for an eye appointment?" I questioned. "Are you considering lasic?"
Turns out, George was recently diagnosed with diabetes and the eye appointment is to make sure that his vision has not been impaired. Once he told me that, he added that he is considering gastric bypass surgery, because he really needs to lose weight.
My interest was piqued. "In addition to the bypass, what are you doing to lose the weight?" I asked. He told me that he is seeing a personal trainer and trying to adjust his eating habits. For 20 years, he was a truck driver and in the process of logging more than 2 million miles on the road, he developed an affinity for fast food drive thrus. Now, he is trying to eat out less and eat more fresh foods. It hasn't been easy, but he really wants to make a concerted effort to begin living a healthy life, because his whole life he has been plagued with one challenge after another.
Then he told me that he is a recovering drug addict. He was addicted to cocaine for at least 10 years. He's been clean for 16 years. Just as I was about to tell him kudos!, he told me that his 20-year old daughter, who had epilepsy, died just last month. She had a grand mal seizure while she was strung out on illegal drugs and she never woke up.
While I sat wondering what to say, he continued that in addition to being diagnosed with diabetes, and losing his daughter, within the past month, he was also diagnosed with bladder cancer. Currently, he 'only' has three tumors which appear to be stable, but he requires annual exams for the next three years, and then once every two years for the rest of his life.
Then he softly whispered that this past month has been so awful for him, he's considered turning back to drugs - or putting an end to it all.
He continued to talk and I tried to listen while doing my best to not pass any judgement on this man or what he has been through. Instead, when there was a break in the conversation and he said, "I cannot believe I just told you all of that", I told him that spilling the beans to an absolute stranger can be wonderfully cathartic.
Then, I told him that everyone has a purpose in life and he needs to figure out what his is. For some odd reason, I had no reservation telling this man, "George, I absolutely do not believe that you were created for the sole intent of cocaine and double cheeseburger consumption. I will bet that if you focused just a fraction of your energy on trying to make something positive come out of the tragedy surrounding your daughter's death, you might be able to reach and effect a host of individuals who are going through a similar situation. Feeling like you are all alone, against the world, can be terribly overwhelming. Take it from me. I have four children born in two and half years."
During all of our banter, the passengers in the back are carrying on their own conversations, oblivious to what we were talking about in the front. And when we arrived at the airport, my airline was the first drop off.
As I climbed in to the back to grab my suitcase, I opened the small zippered compartment on my bag and pulled out a large "BE AMAZING!" bracelet. As I handed George a tip - I also handed him the bracelet and I said, "Listen, I hope that you will wear this little band and remember that YOU are in charge of your life. Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift - that is why it is called the present. YOU can do anything you set your mind to TODAY, and the only one that is stopping you, is YOU."
As I stood there, wondering when Studs Terkel and Tony Robbins had taken up residence in my psyche, George put on his bracelet, smiled, wiped a tear away from his eyes, and then threw his huge bear-like arms around me, almost crushing my rib cage.
While he was hugging me tightly, he said, "Thanks for taking the time. You helped reading that map and this little pep talk is just what I needed."
When George let go, I looked in to the shuttle and the other three passengers were staring at us, undoubtedly wondering why the driver was hugging me and what he had in store for them.
My neighbor from three doors down called out to me through the open door, "Look at that! You've just met two new people in one day. Now you're set until Christmas!"
And then he said to George, "Dude, I really hope you're not expecting a hug from me."