The 25-year-old woman came out to Mark Daigle's car holding two trash bags stuffed with clothes. Daigle put them in his trunk while she went back inside to get her small son. Then they all climbed into the car and headed toward the address the woman had given.
As they drove, the woman began crying. Daigle, who had met her, briefly, only once before, eyed her in his rearview mirror.
"This place I'm driving you to, is that a safe place for you?" he asked.
She gave a loud sigh.
"That's not a yes," Daigle said. "Can you tell me more? Because that's not a yes."
The woman told him that the man who lived there had a history of violently abusing her. Daigle has a rule against dropping riders off in places that don't seem safe.
"I think you're moving in with this guy because you think it's your only option — is that right?" Daigle asked.
Yes, she said.
So Daigle offered a different option. He could take the next exit, turn around and head toward his own home. There, his wife, family, friends and people from his church could help her.
"Could I have your permission to take the next exit?" he asked.
Candy, music and more
Over the year and a half that Daigle has driven for Uber and Lyft, providing about 7,000 rides, riders have given him a five-star rating, the highest, on both services.
Five-star drivers aren't unusual. But no doubt some people would give Daigle more stars if they could.
Like many popular drivers, Daigle strives to make riders comfortable. He offers bottled water and candy. He plays songs he thinks they might like, has learned to enjoy rap and Islamic music.
But Daigle, who is 46 and lives in Minnetonka, goes further than that. When he senses that a rider is financially strained, he'll refund the cost of their trip, using cash he keeps in his console for that purpose.
"I don't want anybody's money that can't afford it," he said.
Financial help isn't the only kind he offers. He welcomes conversation and willingly lends a sympathetic ear, occasionally offering life advice. "Thank you so much for the ride!!!" someone texted him in February — he's not sure who. "I honestly needed that talk!!!"
When driving young women, he'll often tell them he has heard that the current dating culture can be toxic for women.
"One hundred percent of the time they say, 'Yes! How did you know?'" Daigle said.
He reassures them. "I just want you to know that you matter, your ideas matter, you're worth the very best and you should always be treated that way. One hundred percent of the time, they're like, 'I needed to hear that.'"
Dude had a 'good vibe'
The 25-year-old woman had "been through some real life-threatening situations" involving the man she was headed to see, she said in a recent interview. (The woman's name and city are being withheld for her safety.)
She'd once planned to marry the man, her son's father. But during their relationship he'd become increasingly abusive and violent.
"He put a gun to my head, choked me, dangled me over a balcony," she said. One time he stood over her with a gun and asked her where she wanted to be shot. He threatened to beat up both her and their toddler.
"I just felt like one of us was going to die," she said. "It was that extreme."
On that December day, the woman had run out of places to go. She didn't want to burden the 86-year-old great-grandmother who raised her. She and her son had been staying with acquaintances, but now they, too, were drinking and getting violent. Her car had been towed, and she couldn't afford to get it out of impound.
"Yeah," she added dismally, "that's my life."
Then she thought of Daigle, whom she'd met before on another ride. Wondering if he'd be willing to provide "'hood Uber" — slang for an informal ride, paid in cash — she'd asked then for his phone number.
Now she called it.
"Something just told me this dude had a really good vibe and a good aura," the woman said.
On the lookout
Not long after Daigle began driving for Uber when the pandemic ended his job in the office-furniture industry, he picked up a teenage girl who wanted a ride to a pizza joint. She emerged without pizza, looking dejected, and asked him to take her to an ATM. He was about to do that, then had an idea.
"Can I just buy your pizza?" he asked the girl. She said yes.
That's when he realized this job would offer opportunities to help others. "I was like, gosh, I could be on the lookout for this type of thing!"
He didn't have to look too hard.
He drove a Brooklyn Park woman to church to pick up a bag of donated Christmas toys for her nine children, then gave her $20 to pay for the ride. When a 64-year-old woman with vision and mobility problems needed to straighten something out at the Social Security office, he not only drove her there but went in and waited with her for a couple of hours.
"He's a saint — he's definitely a saint," said the woman's son, Garrett Mitchell of Edina.
In January 2022, he offered lodging to four stranded young adults — three who'd driven up from rural Louisiana to rescue the fourth, who'd just become homeless. Desirae Teddlie of Vidalia, La., was driving the group when she spun out on black ice, crashed into a guardrail and totaled her car.
They called an Uber, and Daigle wound up inviting the group to sleep in his yurt, a heated tent in his backyard. They arrived to find a sign out front saying "Welcome, Louisiana friends!" The next day, members of his church, Ridgewood Church in Minnetonka, helped them buy bus tickets home.
"It was really weird, 'cause we didn't even know him," Teddlie said. "Honestly, I think he was really a gift from God, just an angel. Without him, I don't think we'd have been able to make it home."
Their parents invited Daigle to visit them in Louisiana. He hasn't taken them up on it, but he has accepted invitations from other riders, to an Iftar evening meal during Ramadan and a Father's Day barbecue in north Minneapolis.
Warily, the 25-year-old woman gave Daigle permission to take the exit.
"He was a stranger," the woman said. "I was a little nervous.'"
He brought her to his home, where his family and church community sprang into action. They got a hotel room for the woman and her son, so they'd have privacy and the freedom to leave if she chose. Next they helped get her into transitional housing. Within a couple of months she had her own apartment and a job.
She couldn't afford a car to get to work, so the group found someone willing to sell a $3,500 Toyota for $1,000 and equipped it with new brakes and battery. She's paying them back in $40 monthly installments to give her "a sense of ownership," Daigle said.
The woman credits Daigle for helping her start a new chapter of her life.
"I was so lost. I was at the verge of giving up," she said. "Meeting him confirmed there's still good people out there."
Daigle knows he can count on his family, friends and church members to help when needed and has added their contributions to his ride-refund cash supply. He's sharing his story now in hopes of encouraging others to seek opportunities to do good. He dreams of having an informal collective of dedicated do-gooders, helping support his ride-share rescues.
"This job really wants to be a community-connecting place, if you let it," he said.
He's not sure how such a system would be structured. But he already knows what to call it. He'd name it after that 25-year-old woman and the freeway exit she gave him permission to take.