Social Workers Never Go on Vacation


I was going to Miami Beach for a few days and decided to try something new. Instead of renting a car, I would join the 21st century and uber my way around the city. After I landed at the airport and collected my bags, I was ready to make the phone call. That’s when I learned that a phone call was so 20th century. I ordered the car using the app and an image of Victor popped up on my screen notifying me that his white Sonata would pick me up in six minutes. But how does he know where I am, I wondered? This is a big airport and when ordering the car, I never specified which terminal I was in. So, I used the call option to contact him. Victor assured me that he would be there soon, and I got the feeling that the phone call was a faux pas. Only after using the app a few of more times, did I realize that it uses GPS!

I could not help but notice that all the drivers were foreigners. Some spoke a passable English while others less so. Most of the drivers engaged me in conversation but a few remained quiet for the duration of the ride. It seemed that their English was too limited for conversation.

I love the sun, but when it started raining one afternoon, I wasn’t terribly distraught; I had already gotten plenty of sun. On previous visits, I enjoyed the shopping malls, so I decided to uber on over. I ordered a car, and the app showed that my driver, Edwin, would be arriving in three minutes.

As I waited in front of the hotel, I glanced at my phone and noticed that he had a 4.4 star rating. The thought of canceling the trip flitted through my mind. A rating of 4.4 was less than wonderful. I had given all my previous drivers a 5. As I raised my eyes from my phone, I saw Edwin’s’s car pull up. I quickly dismissed my earlier doubts and hopped in.

Typical of all the drivers I’d had before, Edwin turned around, made eye contact and gave me a broad smile. He was a young man, appearing to be around 20. We confirmed the destination, and Edwin spoke with a heavily accented English. I asked him where he was from, and when he told me he was from the Dominican Republic I began to tell him of my vacation there. I soon discovered that he spoke almost no English. He had just arrived in this country 6 weeks ago!

Edwin programmed his GPS and we started the 20-mile drive, which was estimated to take 20 minutes and cost $15. During the trip I busied myself with my phone, texting friends and family. The next time I looked up, I saw that we were entering Miami International Airport! Huh? Was Edwin confused about where to take me?

Edwin seemed to have realized his error at the same moment I had. He claimed that his GPS led him astray. I quickly turned on my Waze app and we began to follow it. At first, my mind began to race with worried thoughts, but I calmed down and realized that Edwin simply got lost. Using a GPS is not always the best way to get around, and for that matter, maybe taking a cab wasn’t either! Unfortunately, Edwin’s poor English skills did not make the situation any better. I was giving him directions from the back seat and when it came time to exit onto 986 West, Edwin began to take the exit East. I nearly jumped into the front seat to grab the wheel and turn it right onto the westbound highway, but my shouts and gestures were enough to startle Edwin to turn the wheel just in the nick of time! From that moment on, I sat on the edge of my seat prompting him well in advance of every lane change and turn, wondering all the while whether he understood my directions.

We did make it to the mall, but my 20-minute trip had turned into a 50-minute one. As we pulled up to the mall entrance, I put a smile on my face and cheerfully said to Edwin, “This ride is going to be free, isn’t it?” He seemed to understand what I said, and then said something in return. Unfortunately, my Spanish is no better than Edwin’s English. We drove past an outdoor café with its maître de standing at the curb. I rolled down my window and asked if he could translate for us. Edwin explained that he couldn’t give me this ride for free because it was already logged on Uber’s system. Instead, he handed me his aunt’s business card and told me that she spoke English fluently. He suggested that I call her when I next need a ride. He offered to give the next ride at no charge. I took the card and got out of his car. I think that we were both equally relieved to end this trip!

Two hours later, I surprised myself by calling Edwin’s aunt. I knew that I had every right to be annoyed. Someone who does not know the language or the road system should not be driving a cab. But I saw this mishap as an opportunity to provide encouragement to a young man. His self-concept might be riding on this trip. Most people would probably have stayed annoyed and would have given Edwin a bad review. But that isn’t my style. The questions that initially circled around in my mind like - Are you crazy? Is saving the $15 fare so important to you? Why are you calling him to take you back? Are you a glutton for punishment? What makes you think that he will honor his promise? - were all questions easily answered. No, I wasn’t crazy. The $15 was not important to me. I am not a glutton for punishment.

I just knew that Edwin would honor his promise.

I called him back because it was important to him and to me. And here are the reasons why.

When I saw Edwin, I saw a young immigrant trying to make a better life for himself. When I saw Edwin, I saw my father who, half a century ago, was an immigrant too. My father arrived knowing little English. He had to rely on the kindness of others to give him opportunities so that he could build a new life in this new land. If I, the daughter of an immigrant could not show some human kindness and compassion to this young immigrant, then who would?

Edwin kept his word and came back for me, bringing his aunt along. After arriving back at the hotel but before stepping out of the vehicle, I felt compelled to say something and Edwin’s aunt translated for me. I told Edwin that I recognized that he took responsibility for his mistake by offering this free ride to me. I encouraged him to keep working hard, because if he did, he had every chance of success. I thanked him again for keeping his word and wished him well. It was then my turn to flash him a broad smile, and with that, I hopped out of his car.

Some might think me naive. Perhaps a woman riding a cab alone is ill-advised. Perhaps calling Edwin to take me home was reckless. However, I found this experience life-affirming. For me, vacationing is a time to disconnect from all those things in life that I find so demanding and sometimes terribly draining. Vacationing is also a time to recharge my batteries by reconnecting to myself. I hadn’t felt this connected to myself in a very long time.

Who would have predicted that losing my way would help me find myself again?