I have spent all of today–and that’s not much of an exaggeration–cleaning my car. Cleaning my car ranks very low on my list of favorite things to do, and I feel as though I have cleaned the exterior of my car, vacuumed the interior and wiped down my car’s surfaces more in the last 45 days of Ubering than I do in a typical six-month period. Who am I kidding? In the last year!
But today is different. I’ve borrowed a friend’s steam cleaner and I’m determined to clean all the fabric surfaces: seats, rugs … the roof, visors, the whole thing. This takes me almost all day. I’m also vacuuming my car with my beloved Kirby vacuum cleaner and getting into all kinds of crevices and rarely visited areas of my car. I’m so focused on the steam cleaning and vacuuming that I don’t even get a good window clean or an exterior car clean in. Today is about the fabric and time-grimed surfaces.
I’ve noticed that I often comment on the smells I experience with my passengers. I know my car has a smell too. It’s the five-years-and-counting smell of one person, her food, her personal care, her hobbies and her energy and biome all in one car. I can’t achieve perfect but I do my best to steam clean any cloth surface I can find. Now my car smells like Bissell SpotClean products, and I don’t know if this is an improvement.
I’m going to Uber tonight. It’s about 8:30 pm on a Friday night. I look at the map and see that the Annapolis, Md., area is surging. It almost always surges. I’m going there tonight. I feel an instinctual pull.
Beep! A call comes in, my first of the night; it’s 5 minutes away. I wonder if I’ll get pulled to Baltimore, D.C., some distant suburb, or if I’ll stay in my home-zone area. One never knows.
Curry and rice
I drive to my rider’s home. I’ve been in this neighborhood before. I can think of two people I’ve Ubered in this community, and I’m wondering if my passenger will be one of them. It is. It’s the mid-30s-ish Indian guy I picked up outside of Giant grocery store a month or so back; his wife is also with him. Reusable grocery bags in hand, they are headed to, of all places, Giant. I ask him if he told his wife about the local calendar I’d shared with him. She chimes in, yes, they like it and they’ve been checking it out for things to do. I tell the guy that we took my father to the local Indian restaurant that he likes best, and I tell him that my father really enjoyed it. I intentionally neglect to say that my father asks to go this same restaurant for most every celebration; instead, I make it sound more as though he recommended the place. Small white lies are ok, I think, if they make the other person happier and cause no harm.
It’s about 8:30 p.m. and I ask if they have already eaten or if they’ll be cooking dinner tonight. They’re cooking. What? Curry. They laugh. We eat a lot of curry, his wife tells me. And rice. They laugh again. Chicken and curry and rice. Fish and curry and rice. Enjoy your meal! And so I leave them.
Key experience: This is my second repeat passenger. It’s nice, in a super simple sweet way.
I start heading toward Annapolis and the promised land of night-long surge pricing, especially on a Friday night. Temperatures were in the 70s earlier in the day and in the 80s the day before: an absolute record-breaker for the last couple of weeks of winter. I imagine people will be out and hopping with spring-is-near (here?) excitement. I have no exact destination. The bar scene area of Annapolis will do. I google some places, set my maps and talking directions, and I’m off. Mercy! It’s 38 minutes away. Am I crazy to drive 38 minutes just to get surge pricing? What if my first ride takes me out of Annapolis? I waffle back and forth with feelings of this-is-what-felt-right battered by thoughts of are-you-nuts?
A call comes in. The rider is 15 minutes away. In the wrong direction. I’m going to Annapolis. I ignore it. I decide to cut on a smaller road that looks like a more direct road to Annapolis. It’s a shorter route but a store- and stoplight-infused route. I don’t think I’m saving any time. I continue to wonder if I’m crazy to drive in search of a ride … followed by a reminder that it’s ok to have a feeling about something and to go with it. I’m but a few miles from the surge zone when a call comes in. I take it.
To the moon and back
My rider is white, pole thin, 21 and male. He’s off to a university in Washington, D.C., to pick up his girlfriend. So much for my Annapolis surge-pricing night. I wish he’d been in the surge zone when I picked him up, but this is not the case. He asks if he can FaceTime his girlfriend in the car. I say, yes. He tells me other Uber drivers don’t like it. I think he’s a regular Uber user. He’s not; I’m his second-ever Uber ride.
I marvel at this world that I never lived in at his age. I marvel at a seemingly casual 37-mile “taxi ride” that a 21-year-old would take to visit his girlfriend. I marvel at the costs associated with this ride, the expanded world available to him and his peers, the cultural changes. My mind is blown even more when he tells me he is just going to pick her up and turn back around to bring her to his home. Would I be willing to do the round-trip ride? Yes, I would.
He asks if I have a power cord for his iPhone 6. He is my 90th ride–90th!–and he is the first person to ask me if I have a power cord. I’d been so swayed by Uber driver stories about how helpful and nice it is to have power cords that before going out for my first ride, I’d spent a ridiculous $65 or so on better USB chargers with two USB ports, a variety of charging cords and an aux cable, two actually. And here I am now, 90 rides into Uber, and I get my first request for a power cord. I offer it gladly.
He tells me he had a car accident earlier today. His first ever. Is he ok? Is his car ok? Yes. Is that why you’re Ubering tonight? No, he was drinking earlier. Why doesn’t his girlfriend come over directly on her own? She’s afraid to Uber by herself. You’re such a gentleman, I tell him. He hopes I’ll tell her the same. They met at a party a few months ago, three actually. I tell him their relationship is going into the “imperfect phase” of the four-to-six months period when so-called flaws start to be more visible, and to expect such awareness and revelations and not to be worried.
We talk of astrology, mediums and psychics and I explain the differences of these services and skills to him. They’re all one big pile of slightly scary things to him. He has moved back in the area with his family and is now working as a broker he tells me. I tell him he’s working for a brokerage firm and that he’s not a broker. Yeah. Right. He’s going to sell residential real estate with his dad. He visited Los Angeles once and wants to live there. The weather is perfect.
He asks if he can play music. Again, 90 rides in and he’s the first person to play music. I offered it to a foursome on my first night out, but they decided not to play their music. He likes Kanye West and saw him in concert. He likes music that I don’t love, and he plays it rather loudly. He gives me a tour of his music collection. I tell him I like The Weekend, so he plays Can’t Feel My Face, and we sing to that; him more than me. We continue talking. Our ride is about 55 minutes, one-way; we have a lot of time to talk.
He tells me he was kicked out of college for marijuana possession, and my ire at stale, harmful, uninformed drug policies around prohibition rises. We talk about this for a bit. I turn off the music for a second to underscore my position: Though I’m an infrequent user, I’m thoroughly in support of the repeal of prohibition, especially, though by no means exclusively, on cannabis. It’s the right thing to do. He asks if he could smoke a blunt in my car … if he had one; we’re in D.C. I say, yes, knowing he doesn’t have one. I’m not quite sure why I said that. Perhaps in the moment of bonding. He says I’m the coolest Uber driver he has ever had. I take this as a sweet compliment, even though this is only his second ride ever.
We pick up his girlfriend. She’s in shorts, as are many people, especially what appear to be the frat boys, milling around the dorms. It may have been in the 70s earlier; it’s in the 40s now, and it is still winter, regardless of the daytime temperatures. She’s studying media and graphic design. I’d like to warn her that vast swaths of those jobs are heading oversees to design houses and agencies in India, Pakistan, Bulgaria and Sri Lanka … to name a few. But I don’t say that. Instead I say, that’s nice and how interesting and you must love it.
They flirt with each other and we all banter around a bit. Dogs, snowboarding, Colorado, music, Uber. She asks about my weirdest Uber experience, and I offer up the story of the college-aged Filipino boy who intimated that he thought I was casing his house for future thieving, refusing to let me drop him off at his house because he liked to keep his exact address vague with Uber drivers. I tell her about the gal who has worked for eight years in the same pharmacy-fulfillment center; how her life and opportunities seem rather limited. I tell her that each experience is unique and that it’s all quite interesting. The guy asks if he is my best passenger ever, and I tell him he’s a 5-star passenger, for sure. I ask her what her Uber experiences have been like, as I already know she takes Uber with groups of girlfriends. Mostly foreign, mostly men, mostly men whom she can’t understand what they are saying. She’s hardly ever had a female driver.
He asks me if I’ve ever done acid. Yes. He’s blown away. I remind him that I have a lot more years in my life than he has in his. He’s never done molly, ecstasy or acid, though he did do mushrooms once. We talk about this. His girlfriend is quiet. I talk about the spiritual expansion, the opportunity for personal development, the gifts that these drugs can bring and that they are much more than simply party drugs.
He asks if we can stop at McDonald’s on the way back, and we go through the drive-through. He offers to buy me a drink, for which I thank him, but decline. I take them to his home, 1:46:56 minutes later, 73.75 miles later, and $100.66 from his pocket later.
It’s after midnight now, and I have a training meeting in the morning. I turn off my Uber app and drive 30+ minutes home. I’m done for the night.
Key experience: I didn’t get what I thought I’d get by heading in the direction that pulled me (a bar-crawling, surge-pricing night of activity in Annapolis), but I’m grateful for the experience and earned as much or more as I probably would have anyway. And the whole ride was quite peaceful and easy.