Driving for Uber hasn’t exactly restored my faith in humanity (I’m not sure I ever lost it), but it has at least convinced me that decent people predominate in this world. Most of the people I drive are friendly, appreciative, honest and fun. But every now and then I get to meet someone really extraordinary. Chris¹ was one of those.
I picked him up from a large brick home in Chesapeake. Like all the houses on the cul-de-sac, it was cheerfully aglow with red and white Christmas lights. Chris is probably nineteen or twenty and in his second year of college. Six feet tall with a trim mustache and a winsome smile. I found from our conversation that he’s part Latino and part African-American.
This was my first ride of the evening. It was just about seven-thirty, and Chris was on his way to Top Golf in Virginia Beach to meet his brother and friends.
“I don’t even know what it is,” he said.
“Really? You don’t know about Top Golf? It’s crazy fun. It’s like a combination of golf and bowling. You hit off a tee and score points by hitting targets. Plus, it’s nice–tables, chairs, food, and drinks. You’ll have a great time, even if you stink at golf.”
He’s on break the middle of his sophomore year at the University of Richmond–a beautiful, green little campus hidden away in the middle of Virginia’s capital city. I asked him about where he went to high school. Considering where I picked him up, I assumed it was Great Bridge. I was way wrong.
“I was part of a study-abroad program from tenth grade on. I went to school all over the world, really.”
“Wow. Like where?”
“We went to a different country every semester. I started in Northern Ireland my tenth grade year.”
“I’ve been to Northern Ireland. It’s a cool place, right?”
“Yeah, it was awesome. A little weird though, because I was in an all-girls school.”
“What? How did that happen?”
“I don’t know. We go with a group. There was one other guy, me and then like five or six girls. We were the only two males in the school.”
“That seems like it might have some advantages.”
“Ha. Yeah, well, I kind of stuck out. I’m like six-feet tall, black and hispanic. The other guy was white and probably Irish. He sort of blended in.”
“Where else did you study?”
“After Northern Ireland, I went to Denmark. That didn’t last the whole semester though. They kicked us out.”
“They kicked you out? What did you do?”
He laughed. “Nothing, really. It wasn’t us. The school was just…well, the students really liked to party there. Our program decided it wasn’t the best choice, so they pulled us out. I didn’t get into any trouble or anything.”
“Okay, so, then what?”
“Then we went to Germany. That was great. While I was there I was able to do lots of traveling and see other parts of Europe. Then we were in Israel. That was my favorite.”
“I don’t know. It was just so intense. One day we were shopping in the mall and missiles hit nearby. We heard and felt them. Sirens started going off. But people just kept right on shopping like nothing was happening! All of us Americans were freaking out. They were like, ‘Don’t worry, our air force will take care of them.'”
“I’d have been under a table somewhere. That’s a crazy experience. So, what came after Israel?”
“My senior year we went to Mexico. Then we had to come home for the last semester of our senior year to do our big, final project. They figure we had been acculturated into the world and now we were supposed to do something with it. I had to write a thirty-page paper and give a twenty-minute presentation to two representatives from the U.N. and two from NATO.”
“Holy cow! That was your senior project?”
“Yeah. I was pretty nervous.””
“I guess so. But I bet you did great.”
“Yeah. I actually went over my twenty-minutes. I was pretty into it.”
“What was it about?”
“Well, see, it was related to to an internship I did that last semester. In Seattle.”
“Seattle? Man, Your parents must not like you around very much.”
“Ha. No, my parents are great. They love me. I actually sort of tricked them about the internship. I told them I applied to it. I just didn’t tell them it was in Washington until I got accepted.”
“Nice. What kind of an internship was it?”
“It was with a non-profit lobbying organization that works with Latin immigrant children. They help craft legislation to help kids who are sent here to escape drug cartels in Honduras. I’m Latino, so I’m pretty passionate about it.”
“That’s amazing. What kind of work did you do?”
“My first week there, the guy in charge–who loved to really push me–took me with him to a meeting. On the way, he tells me we’re meeting with a senator.”
“A U.S. senator?”
“Yeah. And I had to do the talking. It was my first week, and I knew almost nothing about the legislation. My boss had to help me a lot. But he made me do it.”
“What an experience.”
“I ended up meeting with four different senators that semester. It was crazy. Some of them were really receptive. Others weren’t so much.”
“Chris, I have a funny feeling that the University of Richmond is pretty much paying you to Go there.”
“Yeah. They pretty much are.” He smiled.
“No doubt. You are the kind of kid everyone wants in their school. What’s your major?”
I expected him to say political science or sociology–something like that.
“Biology and neuroscience.”
“Yeah, I didn’t get to study much science in high school, and I’ve found I’m really interested in it.”
“I thought you’d do something more political.”
“I was kind of tired of the political side of things. But there are lots of non-profits that do international work in the sciences. I think I’ll end up doing something like that.”
“Brother, I have to tell you. I’ve been driving with Uber for about eight months. I’ve done more than two thousand rides now. And I think you are about the coolest person I’ve ever had in this car. You are a really impressive dude. I’m really glad I met you. I’ll be able to say I drove you when you win the Nobel prize.”
Is it weird that a fifty-year-old guy wants to grow up to be like a twenty-year-old?
Chris, if by any chance you read this, please email me anything I got wrong. I do this from memory and sometimes I fudge a little. You can reach me at brian-at-umansofuber-dot-com.