It is hard, perhaps impossible, to take the measure of a man in thirty minutes. However, there is still much that can be learned. After enjoying an evening meal in Tampa with friends to celebrate my birthday, my wife and I summoned a Lyft to get home. The ride would be about a half an hour. As is characteristic of the new ride share companies, notably Uber and Lyft, I was texted by my driver, Gabriel. He said he was waiting for us in his silver Toyota Camry at the appointed pick-up address, and my wife and I entered the back seat. To our surprise, a young child sat in the front passenger seat playing games on a smartphone.
“Is that your co-pilot?” my wife asked.
“Yes,” Gabriel said.
“What’s his name?”
“Hello Gregory,” she said. The young boy said nothing.
Since we had time to kill crossing Tampa Bay to our home in St. Petersburg, we began to chat with our driver, and as usual, we asked how he got into this line of work. It turns out this was only his third day on the job. My wife asked about Gregory, and Gabriel said he was a single dad. I steeled myself for the usual story of a marriage gone awry, and starting making mental judgments about dragging a five-year-old child along for this kind of work, particularly on a school night.
As it turns out, I could not have been more wrong in my assumption. As he began to tell his story, my wife and I sat in rapt silence, finding it difficult to believe what had happened to him. After he shared his history, I had more respect for him than most people I had ever encountered.
You see Gabriel was born and raised in Denver, Colorado. He married young and had two children who were now grown. He had worked for FedEx. Despite an operation to prevent further pregnancies, there was a surprise baby later in their lives: Gregory. Four years ago, on their way back from Las Vegas to Denver, on a stretch of I-70 East, a car came into their path. His wife, who was driving, over-corrected and the car flipped several times. His wife and his mother, who were seated in the front, died. He broke his back and Gregory, who was 17 months old, broke his femur. Gabriel spent over four years in rehab. He needed to go back to work to support himself and his child, and decided a move would help; hence Florida.
He relocated to Tampa and took a part-time job with FedEx without benefits. He routinely lifted packages of over 100 pounds. He drove around the bay area for a few weeks to get familiar with the roads, and then decided to work part-time for Lyft to help pay his bills. He hoped to be able to move to another division of FedEx that would require less lifting and have benefits. Gregory had just started school, and was a model child; well behaved and obedient. Gabriel said it wasn’t easy, and at times he fell into bed at the end of the day exhausted.
Gregory said very little as he played on his mobile device. We arrived at home and thanked him for the ride. Neither one of us could put his story out of our minds. I wondered how he had managed not to become a pain-pill addict or homeless. I wondered how someone could retell this story without a hint of bitterness or anger. I wondered why he did not portray himself as a victim. And I wondered why he wasn’t asking for a handout. But then I realized, not everyone is Gabriel.
He is the kind of person who makes this country great and restores my faith in mankind. It is people like him who ask for little, despite a mountain of adversity, and seek any and all opportunities just to survive and offer his son the best upbringing he can, even in the face of impossible odds. I am not sure that if faced with similar hardships that I could have responded with this grace and fortitude.
I only hope that Gabriel will get benefits and an easier job. I hope that some day Gregory will realize just how lucky he is to have had a father like this. Finally, I wish there were more people in our country, and world, like Gabriel.
David Mokotoff is a cardiologist who blogs at his self-titled site, David Mokotoff. He is the author of The Moose’s Children: A Memoir of Betrayal, Death, and Survival and can be reached on Twitter @FreeMarketdoc.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com