Former high school teacher Gary Gerson was looking for a different sort of adventure when he left Cranbrook Kingswood High School after 26 years, but few people would have thought buying a used Cadillac and driving for Uber would have been it.
“On my third day of doing Uber, I found some people that wanted to go to the inner city, and I drove them around for five hours and made $500," Gerson said. "This was a group of people that were crossdressing, and who were bringing what looked like pills and medicine to dark areas of the city. They kept me for a long time."
The trip not only led Gerson through the underbelly of Detroit but inspired him to write a book about his new, bizarre job. "I'm Light: A Driver's Search for Meaning on the Mean Streets of Uber Detroit" was released on Amazon this year. The title, "I'm Light," refers to the phrase drivers say when they drop off a passenger and call dispatch for their next run.
"I know so much about around Detroit, now. I was there in the middle of it. I never refused to pick up anyone. One ride would lead to 10 more," he said. "In between runs, I was writing things down. That first five-hour trip – that's chapter one."
"I'm Light" is the third book Gerson has written based on his extraordinary experiences, two of which are available on Amazon. The other, "Scoring Points: Love and Football in the Age of AIDS," is about his experience as a walk-on football player at the University of Windsor, at the age of 31. Known as "Gramps" to his younger teammates, his return to the game was inspired by his wife, Shelley, and her battle with HIV.
A teacher for 26 years at Cranbrook Kingswood, Gerson met Shelley while she was a middle school teacher there. Originally from Tennessee, Gerson attended Vanderbilt University, where he earned a spot on the football team as a wide receiver. While he claims to have been "the worst player they probably ever had," Gerson also played ball for a year in Europe. He then served for 13 years as head coach for the Cranes at Cranbrook – a position that wasn't easily attained.
"When I was (originally) passed over as head football coach at Cranbrook, I was mystified by it. On a whim, I called the football coach in Windsor when I was enrolling and asked if he would be excited to recruit me as a football player. They don't get too many Americans, and I played at Vanderbilt.
"I'm sure he was expecting someone very different than what I look like. I'm under 6-foot tall, kind of slow looking, and very Jewish. You could see he was very disappointed when he saw me."
Despite his age, Gerson's work as a coach meant he could run receiving routes with his eyes closed, catching anything thrown at him, including a starting spot on the team. It was after scoring the winning touchdown in a game one week after suffering a collapsed lung injury that Gerson decided to write his first book.
Outside of Cranbrook and Uber, Gerson has worked as an education consultant, participated in archeological digs in Kenya for the National Museum, and climbed the Himalayas. He's now working on a new book about the adoption of his three children, and thinking about his next adventure.
Photo: Jean Lannen