There we were. Standing outside the Back Forty Beer Company Brewery in Birmingham, Alabama. Me and a few friends. We had just finished watching an NFL football game on a large screen inside, and drinking Ovaltine.
The Uber arrived. “Are you Sean?” the Uber driver asked.
“I’ve been called worse,” I said.
We all piled into the backseat of a nice SUV. It never fails to astound me how nice Uber cars are.
My personal transportation, for example, is not nice. I drive a Ford that is 24 years old. That’s old enough to have several baby Fords of its own. My automotive interior is covered in canine fur and slobber. My seats are gnarled and look like a deranged coonhound has been chewing on the upholstery.
I have a broken radio. The A/C only works on days of the week beginning with P. And there is a hula girl mounted on my dashboard named Barbara.
But our Uber driver had a nice-looking car.
Tonight, our cab driver was a young woman. College-age. She was paralyzingly sweet. She spoke with a Birmingham accent that was thick enough to spread on a biscuit. And when one of my friends almost ralphed on her floorboards, she was cool about it.
“Y’all, is he gonna be okay?” the driver asked.
“He’ll be fine,” one of us explained. “He’s Episcopalian.”
She nodded solemnly as though she understood exactly what this meant.
Our driver followed the route home on her GPS. And she took each extra turn gingerly, taking care not to jostle the fully loaded Episcopalian among us.
When we approached the railroad tracks near Avondale, we were blocked by a passing freight train. We parked at the railroad crossing, while my Episcopalian friend placed his head between his knees and began reciting the Lord’s Prayer.
And I talked to the driver.
“Do you like your job?” I asked.
“Oh, I love it. My husband works days, and I watch the babies. I work nights, driving for Uber, while he puts the kids to bed.”
The young woman leads a busy life. Blindingly busy. She is 21 years old (younger than my truck). She was raised in Magic City. She and her husband work hard for a living. Bone hard. They have two children.
She had her first child at age 18. Her newborn son was born with a chromosomal abnormality, he could not digest food. When the doctors first told her this, it was a crushing blow.
“Y’all,” she began, “we lived in the NICU. My son was practically dying the moment he was born. Doctors thought I was going to lose my baby. I was a mess.”
Doctors put her son on a feeding tube. They treated him. She and the teenage father of her son lived at UAB, surviving on vending machine food, sleeping on vinyl chairs, praying for their child. Day and night. Night and day.
“I was so scared,” she said. “All these doctors, telling me that my son, my baby, might die at any time. But, you know what? My son lived. He’s 3 years old today. My son is alive.”
Her son is not without his obstacles. He was recently diagnosed with autism. He is nonverbal. He can’t communicate.
“But I know my baby,” she says. “I have this way of communicating with him that is above words. I always know what he’s saying even though he’s saying nothing at all.”
She went on to say that she knows there will be other diagnoses in the future, due to her son’s chromosomal problems. But she tells me she knows can deal with it.
“I know my life is going to be hard. I know my son is going to have struggles, I know we might not make much money, I know hard times are coming. But I can get through them. That’s what I’ve learned about myself. I’m stronger than I think I am. So is my husband. I have faith.”
“In God?” one of us asked.
She nods. “Yes, but I also have faith in the doctors at UAB. Those men and women save lives. They made a miracle in my baby’s life. And they saved mine, too. They are good people.”
The Uber finally arrived at our house. The young woman threw her car into Park. We helped my exceedingly cheerful Episcopalian friend from the vehicle. We told our driver goodnight.
My Episcopalian friend bid farewell by saying: “The Lord be with you, darling.”
Our Uber driver smiled at us and we all knew that we were looking at a young woman who will be canonized in her own lifetime.
“Thanks, y’all,” she said.
And also with y’all.