The Only Time I Ever Tipped An Uber Driver

It’s Wednesday evening, and I’m ready to go back to my hotel after finishing dinner with some friends and colleagues. We’re in Puerto Rico for the Women Who Lead annual convention. Stacy, the CEO of the National Speakers Association, suggests we share a Über ride since we are both heading to the same hotel. As we wait on the corner of the street of El Viejo, San Juan, we see a minivan waiting at the red light. The van has, what appears to be bright neon lights shining through all the windows. Stacy and I look at each other; we look at the car; we look at each other again. Stacy finally voices out loud what we’re both thinking, “Do you think that is our Über driver?” Stacy reaches for his iPhone to match the car type on his Über app with the vehicle parked in front of the red light, but by that time the neon-lit minivan is slowly inching its way towards our curb.

A middle-aged Puerto Rican woman lowers her window and greets us; “Buenas noches!” It’s confirmed. The crazy car is our ride.

Stacy climbs in first and I follow, already laughing at the absurdity. The van is very clean. The radio is blasting party music. The driver offers us mints.

There is a lit-up rotating disco ball.

I repeat: A lit-up disco ball is inside the vehicle.

I yell at the woman over the music, “Wow you have a nightclub inside this van.” She laughs and responds loudly. “Of course! You have to have fun!” She looks back and suggests with excitement, “I have karaoke too! Pick a song, any song!”

At first, Stacy and I are reluctant to pick up the microphone and start singing, but this driver’s energy is contagious. Stacy caves and requests a country song. Suddenly, I am singing Karaoke alongside my American friend in a minivan in Puerto Rico.  Stacy and I are jamming and laughing hysterically. We are having the time of our life!

Unfortunately, our hotel is only about 7 minutes away from the restaurant. Just like that, the party is over. Stacy and I were having so much fun, we didn’t want the trip to end. As we pull under the overhang at the front of the hotel, the lady driver lowers the music and exits the vehicle to open our door.

I notice a paper taped just below the A/C vent that says “Tips are welcomed.”

I was always under the impression that you’re not supposed to tip Über drivers. But if anyone deserves a tip, it’s this lady! I open my wallet and happily hand the driver a five-dollar bill. I ask her if she will take a picture with Stacy and me. After all, this has been such an experience. I want to commemorate it.

Any ride should meet certain base level standards.

The car should be clean.

The driver should be polite.

You should be driven to the correct location.

Those standards would have been sufficient.

But this Über driver created an experience for her passengers. In seven minutes she made us laugh, she made us sing, and she gave us a story to retell. Her ride was unique. Her ride was unforgettable.

Two months later, I am still talking about this Über experience. I will bet that if I run into Stacy in five years, one of the first things we will reminisce about is that Über ride we shared in Puerto Rico. We won’t remember a ride that takes us from point A to point B. We won’t remember a service that simply delivers what it promises. What we’ll remember is how something or someone made us feel. We remember the experience.

The magic is in the moment—the experience—the memories created. I may never see that driver again, but she’ll always stay with me because she is a part of my story. Are you connecting with your family and your customers in a meaningful way? Are you a part of their experience – of their story? If you can do that, then you will always be there— even when you’re not.

Don’t get stuck on the seaweed

It was a perfect day to be on the beach. The ocean glimmered, its waves crashing ever so gently on the shore, almost in a whisper as to allow the seagulls to sing in unison as they flew overhead. Not a cloud in the sky. The sun beamed radiantly, yet enough of a breeze blew to prevent the heat from becoming unbearable. My husband, Orlando, walked on the sand carrying a tent on his shoulder looking for the perfect spot to set up our party. His three little helpers trailed behind him, each carrying items of varying degrees of heaviness. As they followed their father, they made wedges in the sand with their little crocs, and kept their heads down to prevent the sun from hurting their eyes. Suddenly our oldest son made a sound of disgust. Some seaweed had washed ashore. “Yuck!” He exclaimed. “Look at all this seaweed. It is so annoying.”

Orlando, who was sweating from the long walk with the tent on his shoulder, was also annoyed by the dry seaweed entangling itself in his flip-flops, but today was no ordinary day. Today was the day Orlando was going to surprise his wife (me) with a wedding vow renewal. Today, Orlando was celebrating 40 years of life and 10 years of marriage. Maybe it was the significance of the day, or maybe it was just a moment of clarity, but suddenly Orlando realized something: He sounds just like me.

 My husband plopped the long, heavy tent on the sand and turned to face his three sons.

“Orly. Look up at the beach. What do you see?”

“The ocean.” Orly replied.

“Keep looking. Look at the sky. Look around you. What do you see?”

“A beautiful day?” Orly answered, hoping that was the right answer.

“Yes Orly, it is a beautiful day. Look at the beautiful ocean, the clear skies. Look at all the beauty around us. Doesn’t it seem silly to complain about some seaweed on the ground?”

The more he spoke, the more inspired he became. “You see, Orly, every man needs to know his strengths and his weaknesses. My biggest weakness, son, is that I spend way too much time looking at the seaweed. I scream and get angry over the silliest things. I waste time and energy looking at the seaweed and I often ignore the ocean that’s right in front of me. I don’t want that for you. I don’t want you to focus on the negative.”

Our sons smiled, but Orlando wasn’t finished.

“Life is full of seaweed. You are going to have little problems and big problems. There will always be seaweed, but life has so much beauty also. If you take the time to look around, life has much more ocean and clear skies than it does seaweed. As for me, you three are my ocean. Mommy is my ocean. Do you know what I mean?”

Our kids all replied, “yeah.” Knowing that they are young and probably ignored everything he just said in his moment of inspiration, Orlando tested them. “Okay, what do I mean by that?” Orly and Justin each gave a childlike explanation that sort of satisfied Orlando. Ryan, our four year old, chimed in in agreement with his older brothers.

The seaweed moment passed and the four boys got to work setting up the tents and tables. About an hour later, the four of them found themselves waiting in front of the lobby elevator at his mother’s building for her to exit the doors.

A couple of minutes passed.

The elevator doors did not open.

It was getting close to party time and Orlando was growing increasingly nervous. There was still a lot of work to be done, and the chairs and trellis had not arrived. “Where is she?” Orlando asked out loud. With frustration in his tone he added, “She is taking forever. She always does this.”

My six-year-old, Justin, looked up at his dad and said, “Dad, don’t look at the seaweed.” Orly perked up. “Yes, dad. Focus on the ocean. You are spending time with your three sons and we’re getting ready for a great party.”

They get it. My husband thought. With pride, he thanked his sons for helping him work on his flaws.

Later that evening when Orlando told me the story, I realized how important it is to talk with our children. Often, parents tell me they don’t share certain things with their kids because they think they’re too young or will not understand. Tell them what you’re thinking. Explain things to them, even if you think those concepts will escape them. Parenting expert, David Altshuler, wrote in a blog post:

 “I don’t mean to creep you out but someone is stalking you. This particular someone is watching your every move, listening to every word you say, studying your facial expressions, thinking about how you respond to every situation. There is no place you can hide, nothing you can do to disguise your intentions. Your thoughts, opinions, beliefs, and ethics are revealed.”

Your kids are listening whether you want them to or not. If that is the case, then children are making their own interpretations of the events in their lives. Who better than you to talk things through with them? Be honest with your kids, no matter how old they are. Don’t be afraid to show them your weaknesses; they probably know them, anyway.  When you’re honest and you talk with your kids, you make them your life partners. Let them be a part of your journey, as you will one day desperately want to be a part of theirs.

Oh, and one more thing: If you take this approach, be prepared for what’s coming. Your munchkins are sponges and they take life quite literally. Poor Orlando has been told to stop looking at the seaweed more times in the last few weeks than he can count. No one better to highlight your mistakes than your kids! In all seriousness, in life, the teachers are also the students.  Our kids are teaching us that.

Imperfectly Perfect

About a month ago, I asked Orlando how he wanted to celebrate his upcoming 40th birthday. “Let’s just spend the day at the beach with our family and play dominoes like we do every year,” he said nonchalantly. For years on Orlando’s birthday weekend we head over to his parents’ apartment in Hallandale. We invite some of his closest friends, put up some tents, bring down some food, and Orlando plays dominoes while the kids frolic in the sand.  A part of me felt this milestone birthday should be a little more grandiose than the same ole, same ole but another part of me felt I should honor his wishes. I settled on making his beach day as special as I could.

I spent the whole month planning and plotting. Among other surprises, I hired a cigar-roller for the event and designed labels for hot sauce bottles that read “Orlando’s still HOT at 40.”  I purchased Hawaiian leis for the guests, grass skirts for the tables, and beach balls for the kids. I dove into the details of the party to make the day all about Orlando.

Unbeknownst to me, Orlando had plans of his own for that beach day, and those plans had nothing to do with his 40th birthday.  For the same month that I was planning his party, Orlando was orchestrating a wedding vow renewal for our 10-year anniversary, which we had celebrated in February.  For years Orlando and I had discussed renewing our vows at ten years. The idea was to have a big party for our family and friends and reaffirm our vows to each other in front of our children.  Even though I dreamt of this, by the time February rolled around, time had escaped us. We spent the preceding months traveling and hosting celebrations for Christmas and each of our sons’ birthdays. The thought of yet another party and expense was exhausting.  I must also confess that I didn’t see Orlando that excited about the idea, so I felt the renewal was more for myself than for “us.”  That, and not being much of a party planner, demotivated me from plunging forward. As I planned his birthday, I did realize something. As much as I disliked the idea of having another party, I planned it happily because it was for my husband. Little did I know that day would be all about me.

On the day of the beach party, Orlando seemed nervous. His aunt had ordered chairs for the domino tables that were scheduled to arrive at 1pm. Guests arrived, the food arrived, but no chairs.  A couple of hours passed and Orlando grew increasingly anxious. I didn’t get it. I had worked so hard to make this day special for Orlando yet he wasn’t enjoying himself at all. I had even worn a dress that his mom bought because he wanted me to look pretty. All the work I put into this thing, even down to my outfit, was for him. I wanted everything to be perfect for Orlando. Why was he so frustrated? I secretly hoped the day would turn around but I had no idea what was going to happen next.

I found myself walking alongside my husband when a neighbor called us over to the spot under the tree that he parks his beach chair every weekend. “Great party!” He exclaimed with a big smile on his face. “Oh and I heard there’s a vow renewal happening also.”  Those words reminded me there was a wedding happening that very evening that my mother in law had told me about. Before I had the opportunity to say what I was thinking –  is it a vow renewal or a wedding – my husband snapped. “You just ruined the surprise buddy,” he took me by the hand and headed back over to our tents.


Suddenly Orlando was calling for everyone’s attention. “Gather around everyone, they just spilled the beans to my wife.”

What on Earth is he talking about?

 “Caroline, you thought today was just my birthday party but today is in fact April Fool’s Day. You have been tricked. Our pastor is 15 minutes away and we will be renewing our vows today.”

Oh, my God. He can’t be serious.

I tried to grasp everything he was saying but I was utterly shocked.

Renew our vows? Our pastor is coming? Is this for real?

 My immediate reaction was to cry. I was overwhelmed with emotions as much as confusion. After the clapping died down and family had congratulated us, I hugged my husband with love and disbelief.

“This is not how I wanted this to go,” he said solemnly. “What do you mean?” I asked. “Caroline, I’ve been planning this for a month. The chairs Kika ordered – those were not only for dominoes – they were for our wedding. We also ordered a beautiful trellis, but the vendor never showed up.” I could see the disappointment in his face as he continued, “I wanted my mom to take you upstairs so when you came back down I would be waiting for you in front of the trellis. The pastor would be standing there with me but you would not be able to see her because all our friends and family would cover her. When you began walking, the family would part to each side and you would see our beloved pastor and me waiting for you. I wanted everything to be perfect for you, and everything went wrong.” The more he spoke the more I realized how much love he had put into this day. All I could think about was while I was putting all my love to honor Orlando, he was putting all his love to honor me.

Since the cat was out of the bag, Orlando took my hand and together we walked to the lobby of his parents’ apartment building, where Pastor Laurie patiently waited for us. I took one look at her and my eyes welled with tears. Pastor Laurie has been a spiritual blessing for me through some of the most difficult moments in my life, including my father’s death. I could not believe that she came all the way to Hallandale for me. Ironically, as we hugged, I saw from the corner of my eye white chairs being unloaded from a delivery truck. The vendor had confused the date of the event for Sunday. When my frantic aunt, Kika, called to inquire where they were, they packed up their van and flew to Hallandale as fast as they could. We walked back to the beach and I stood in the back with family as the vendors set up the trellis and the chairs. Within 15 minutes all of Orlando’s plans had come to life sans my grand entrance. My cousin handed me the most beautiful flower bouquet and my three children stood by my side to escort me down the beach towards my husband. My father in law held a speaker that played Orlando and my wedding song.

Orlando and I stood in front of our pastor holding hands with our little boys nestled between us and we heard her beautiful words about marriage and love. We prayed together and affirmed our love for each other in front of our closest family and a few of our friends. I have never, in all my life, felt more special, more loved or more grateful than I was at that very moment. I could not have asked for anything more perfect.

I now understood Orlando’s stress and why he was not enjoying his birthday. I thought about the old saying “if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” That happens to all of us. We want things to go our way. We plan and prepare and we hope everything works out perfectly, but often life does not follow our plan. The truth is that seeing the pastor at the front of the trellis instead of the lobby had no bearing on my experience. Just like the personalized Happy Birthday Orlando cigar rings I ordered had no bearing on Orlando’s experience. What each of us appreciated from the other was the thought, the effort, and the love with which we approached the day. What mattered was that each of us felt that we were the most important person in the world to the other.

I learned something that day. Marriage is not perfect. Life is not perfect. Tragedies happen, people make mistakes, plans fall through the cracks. We often get hung up on all that goes wrong in life, instead of zeroing in on the beauty of it. No matter how many things go wrong, where there is love, there is perfection.

I say we cherish these imperfectly perfect moments and we pile as many of them on as we can. For it is these memories, and the love that surrounds them, that our children and those we love will keep in their hearts long after we’re gone.