Being an Uber and Lyft driver in Milwaukee is a one-of-a-kind experience that allows Dave Begel to meet some of the most interesting residents and visitors to the city. Everybody has a story and Tales of the Road will highlight some of those stories. The stories have been edited into quotes from riders. Sometimes names have been omitted or changed to preserve the privacy of his passengers.
Editors' update: A gofundme.com has been established to help this single mother. If you'd like to contribute please visit here.
It was in the dark and the middle of a snowstorm when she broke my heart.
It was last Monday, the storm was in full swing and it was 5:20 in the morning.
I got a call to pick up a fare in the central city of Milwaukee. I have been around long enough to know it isn't a great neighborhood.
I pulled up in front of a worn duplex with a small porch, stairs and a railing that looked like they had been built out of bare wood. The only activity was one of those obnoxious parking-checkers handing out tickets to vehicles parked on the street.
I waited and the door opened. Out came a young woman. A child, maybe 4 or 5 years old walked beside her. She held the hand of another child, maybe 2. And in her arms she carried a baby in an infant carrier.
The app on my phone said there were two stops for this party of four.
The first one was about a dozen blocks away, and we pulled into the parking lot of a daycare center. She got out with all the children, rang a doorbell, waited and when the door opened, she disappeared inside.
The woman came out several minutes later, and now my app said the next address was in Oak Creek. Once I got on the expressway, the app told me it was 13 miles to my destination.
I asked, "Do you take Uber a lot?"
"Every day," she said.
I was moved and asked a rude question: Where was the daddy?
She replied with a sigh and a curt, "Daddys ..."
Clearly plural, and clearly not in her life.
With that she put her head against my window and soon was asleep.
I followed the GPS directions, and it took me to a fast food outlet on the edge of a shopping center. I pulled up near the door and said, "We’re here."
She woke up, opened the door, gave a "Thank you" and walked through the snow to the door. There, she stood, obviously waiting for someone to come and let her into the restaurant that was as dark as the night.
I left, on my way to get a cup of coffee, but didn’t make it. I had to stop because I had a bathtub of tears in my eyes. I also felt like I had a hole in my heart.
I couldn't imagine the life that woman leads. Waking up at 4:30 a.m., getting three little kids dressed, calling for a rideshare that was going to cost her $25 one way.
Basically, I live a white middle-class life. Most of my friends and co-workers are white people. Most of the people who run the theaters where I review plays are white people. The grocery store where I shop is in a mainly white neighborhood.
Despite that, I understand the idea of racial differences. I have two black nephews and a black niece. I have a sister-in-law and a brother-in-law who are black. But none of them could provide any insight into the life of this black woman I took for a ride Monday.
I understand the concept of income inequality and the idea that being poor means that your life, your day-to-day life, is going to be full of struggle.
But I have no idea how to fix things. It’s obvious that something needs to be fixed so that this woman doesn’t have to ride a dozen miles every day to a job that couldn't pay much more than minimum wage.
But I’ll tell you, when I sat in my comfortable car, listening to NPR on a snowy and dark morning and saw that woman standing in the storm, waiting for someone to let her into a restaurant that wasn’t even open yet, my heart broke.
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.
This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as OnMilwaukee.com keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.
Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.