Dave Mountain, a parishioner at St. Bridget, River Falls, helps disabled and elderly people maintain their independence by serving as a driver, taking them to medical appointments and more. Fast friendships often develop between drivers and riders. Here, rider Joe Winter shares his story. (Photo by Joe Winter)

Joe Winter
Special to the Catholic Herald

Many drivers for places like the Center For Independent Living are also elderly people who need to socialize, so as they drive, in many cases fast friendships are formed, a new thing to fit into their still-busy schedules.

I have experienced that in spades with two men in the last couple of years, as I have been declared officially disabled and for a time will not be driving much. The men were church workers and still carry that torch, being only semi-retired, and taking great care to make time for their parish-based “other job” in which they are needed because they have a rare set of talents.

They’ll keep regular and scrupulous church attendance, to the point of having the keys to lock up afterward. One of them even offered to buy me dinner if I would accompany him to his favorite of two houses of worship – as one of the trips to which he was taking me on a particular day – and it ended up being a regular thing. I reciprocated by each time making dessert for the outing, and I in turn was treated to treks to the food shelf at which we both volunteered.

Since we have taken bread together, there was never been a harsh voice between us. Great rapport aside, it’s hard to argue with the cheap ride fares.

Fantastic conversations often cross into the religious with both of my drivers, each of whom has a strong background in more than one Christian denomination. The second of the two is an active lay Catholic who worships at St. Bridget’s in River Falls; the first, a former Protestant pastor from Hudson.

The thought that reigns in the mind of River Falls’ Dave Mountain is, “Why are we as humans here?” He is still searching for an answer as both a Catholic and, like me, a former Protestant, as both of us converted when we married. Other recurring but somewhat unrelated topics that Dave introduces as we pass them by are the annoyance with drivers who won’t turn off their brights at night, the merits of cookie-cutter housing developments and every last classic sports car on the route.

Kevin Hanke’s stop-offs have included more than one church and various places to get food distributed and also partake in the small meal. His wife is Jewish, and he learned shopping tips on a budget from me, and I gleaned much advice on how to read labels and cook Kosher – there is still a box of a Seder-worthy matzo ball mix on my shelf – and even a couple of trips to Alcoholics Anonymous, where he is a sponsor of a client.

Kevin and I once shared the intricacies of a favorite religion-based song that at its beginning makes unmistakable reference to the conversation of the apostle Paul and later, broadly, a final redemption. The song left a puzzle at the end, but Kevin filled in some gaps by referencing an entire chapter or so from the Bible, I’m pretty sure drawing from more than one version.

Despite his busy schedule, he will not forget about his beloved wife, and each Friday night time is slotted in for her, starting like clockwork at 5 p.m. Very few exceptions, except once for me when I needed a few more minutes at an appointment. Out of respect, I rushed across the parking lot.

As for Dave, his wife died several years ago, and he has kept stepping up with his church service in her honor, he said. The reasons such relationships are special, we all agree, is we are flexible with each other’s time. Each thinks the other is getting the better part of the arrangement. Kevin once said, with emotion, “I feel I need to do more for you. What do you need?”

Sir, you have done so much in service already.

His standard weekly schedule, as written into a notecard he will sometimes give out, includes six weekly stops at either Cornerstone Church or Faith Community Church, about three miles apart in Hudson, to take in both Bible studies and services. He even squeezed in part-time gigs at the YMCA and Jimmy John’s as – again – a driver. He also sits parked behind the wheel if he has time to kill, lingering, and edits books for more than one client. A different style of writing then mine, but what a resource to have even for a spiritual-based book I am penning, and also pass a bit of time before the next need to go somewhere crops up.

Between morning, afternoon and evening, Kevin lists only four totally open stretches. So both men, as well as other drivers, have something on the dashboard, to again pass the time on their end, from the presence of a cell phone screen to view when not in motion, or cartoon character figurines or a picture of a wife. Maybe even a rosary or two. But I have not seen fuzzy dice.

Dave’s service, aside for driving for the Center for Independent Living, has included being a church janitor for 15 years. He reprises that role on occasion as a week-or-so fill-in with the mop and bucket and cloth, and to this day possesses a set of keys to open the church building and its doors and prepare parts of the altar at St. Bridget, and then closes up shop after services as part of his duties as a senior usher. He even has a newer, better electronic keypad to use.