The young man who climbed into the back of Hadi Abdollahian’s car at O’Hare Airport Sunday night said he needed to get to “Buffalo” — urgently.
The 26-year-old Uber driver didn’t want to pry. So he said, sure, without asking questions. At that time of night, it was probably a 30-minute trip to northwest suburban Buffalo Grove.
Actually, the passenger told him, he meant Buffalo, New York. Abdollahian, a refugee from Iran, said he was stunned — doubly so when he learned his passenger was Buffalo Bills cornerback Shareece Wright. The NFL player had missed a connecting flight from O’Hare to the East Coast. He’d run out of options for getting to the stadium on time for Monday morning team workouts. So he tried Uber.
“I was not able to see the destination until I started the trip. And because I promised him, I drove all the way to New York,” said Abdollahian, who lives in a one-bedroom apartment on the North Side and came to the United States four years ago.
And so the two embarked on a nine-hour, 550-mile journey, passing through Indiana, Ohio and skirting Lake Erie. The fare: $632.08, of which Abdollahian got $469 from Uber, Abdollahian said. One of the Bills’ sponsors, the utility BlueRock Energy, matched the total amount Wright paid, giving Abdollahian another $932.08.
Abdollahian said they didn’t talk too much about sports. It’s not really Abdollahian’s thing. If he can ever get enough money together, he wants to go to Loyola University to study computer science. One day, he said, he’d like to be an astronaut.
So beneath a dark sky, the two men talked about life, family — the important stuff.
“I told him a lot of stuff. I felt comfortable because he was so friendly,” Abdollahian said.
And what a story he has to tell. Abdollahian said his father was an Iranian Air Force pilot, who he believes was killed by the government about eight years ago because he held opinions not favored by the regime. Abdollahian left Iran, via Turkey, leaving his mother and two older brothers back in Iran.
“Words cannot describe what I went through,” he said, adding he’s “trying to forget it.”
Wright said he needed to get to practice by 7 a.m. Monday. In fact, Abdollahian’s Nissan Ultima pulled up for training at 6:58 a.m. Wright quickly hopped out of the car, but not before handing his driver a $300 cash tip.
“He said, ‘Thanks so much for doing this,’” Abdollahian recalled.
The Uber driver said he almost never gets a tip. If he does, it’s rarely more than $1.
“Thank God for him — he got me here on time,” Wright later told ESPN. “He’s a trouper for reals.”
And then Abdollahian headed straight back to Chicago.
“As soon as I got home, I slept for 12 hours. Basically, I passed out,” Abdollahian said.