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Uber Chronicles #14

14 Jan

I’m sharing here one of the chapters from my book, Uber Chronicles: Reflections from the Rearview Mirror.

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It’s after 10 p.m. I’m coming back from a very pleasant and enjoyable first date at a nearby tavern-like, suburban hipster joint. The kind of place that leans toward seasonal, locally sourced food and a nice selection of craft beers. All is well. I feel content. I turn on the Uber app and drive toward home, open to a ride if one pops up in the next 12 minutes or so.

It doesn’t.

I’m in the house, reading; I’d almost forgotten I’d left the Uber app on. Beep! The rider is fairly close by, eight minutes away, in my hood, my home zone. I’m out the door.

But, Officer …

I drive into an apartment complex of high-rise buildings and garden townhomes, a maze of twists and turns and poorly lit buildings where I can’t see the building numbers with any ease.

Screen Shot 2017-01-14 at 8.14.33 PM.pngI text my passenger, Are you outside? Coming down now, meet me at the front of the high-rise, he responds. I find myself feeling annoyed. Dude, you called Uber. Uber told you how far away the driver was. I’ve been in your parking lot for three minutes, simply trying to find your building. You should be downstairs already.

Then I remind myself that the moon is full and emotions are amplified when it’s in its state of fullness, so I calm down. Two people approach the car. Both tall and skinny. She’s white, has white-blond hair and is rail thin. He’s Black, wiry in frame. They both look to be in their mid-20s. Where to?

Target. They both work at Target. He in logistics, having come from Walmart only in the last three months; she is in the stocking department and has been there three years.

About 40-50 people work overnight at the store, they tell me. I mention how a friend of mine worked in logistics at Target on the night shift but chose to give it up when his twins were about two years old. Too crazy of a schedule, he said.

Yeah, the guy says. It’s tough to connect up with people when you work on the night schedule. The girl says she likes it because she can’t sleep at night anyway, but she can sleep during the day.

I ask her if she likes to eat at night, if that’s her preference. It is. I tell them a bit about Human Design Systems and the Primary Health Systems (PHS) approach to digestion. That some people, per PHS, are night eaters, some day eaters, some one-eaters and so on for about a dozen primary types of eaters.

I’m a one-eater, people who do best eating one food at a time, and, no, I’ve not been tremendously successful in eating this way, though I have noticed my lifelong propensity to eat this way when no one else is around. I tell them that PHS speaks to how you best digest food, rather than focusing on the food you eat. It’s a theory, one of many, about food and health.

She says she thought she ate late at night because she was bipolar. I tell her I don’t know. I’m simply offering someone else’s theory.

He tells me he prefers the culture at Target. That Target is more team-oriented and people-oriented. That Walmart was all about the bottom line. That people at Walmart were more into power trips. He qualifies that statement: Well, at least at the store he just left, he says. We talk about these two stores—Target and Walmart—so close in proximity (not even a mile apart in our city), so similar in offerings, yet so different in their cultures of staff, customers and vibe.

I turn a corner. Almost there. Police car lights flash behind me. I genuinely have no idea of what I’ve done to warrant this. Ma’am, can I see your license? Yes, of course.

What did I do? I have no idea what I did wrong, I say as politely as I can. You didn’t use your turn signal, he tells me. I tell him that, indeed, I did use my turn signal to turn into the turn lane but that I’m an Uber driver for these passengers and the sound of the clicking turn signal while we waited at the stop light was jutting into our conversation; that it seemed loud and intrusive, so I turned it off.

He tells me that I still need to use my turn signal and that he is going to give me a warning, but then he hears me ask my passengers how much time they have before they need to get to work.

Where are you taking them? To Target, they work the night shift. He waves his hand. Well, go along. I thank him for the reminder to always use my turn signal. He leaves. We drive off.

I do that thing, that movement when one pulls one’s uplifted fist downward toward one’s body in a sign of triumph. Gotta try that one again, I say with gusto to my passengers. That was a good one! They laugh and we all feel lighter that this was a minor incident and they weren’t delayed.

I drop them off and head home, ready to receive another ride if one comes forth in the next 10 minutes. It doesn’t. I’m in my home. Settling in but not settled. Beep! goes my phone. The ride is close. I accept the ride, look at my phone and see that it’s 10:42 p.m. Oh, let them have but a short ride to their destination, I plead to the heavens.

Hand on the doorknob to leave the house, I see that the rider has canceled the ride. No cost to them, no profit for me, no worries.

Key experience: All is well.

Uber Chronicles — The beginning

11 Feb

It’s cold out tonight. Really cold. I grab some reading material for those potential in-between spots of no activity; I open my Uber Driver app, and I click “go online.”

Nothing. For a while.

Then I move. I go downstairs in my house. A call comes in. (I’ve noticed being stationary often means no calls; moving, even slightly, will often trigger a call.) Three minutes away, the Food Lion. Easy enough. I’m out the door in a flash.

The Food Lion shopper

She has finished grocery shopping and has many bags to load. I decide to start the ride while she is loading her bags in the car as this time is truly part of her ride, then I get out to help her. She’s late 30s, I think; Black, a mom. I don’t know much more about her. She feels a bit shy to me. I gab and am friendly, hoping to put her at ease. She has a kid in high school–at the same school I attended decades back–and a kid in elementary school. Her home, where I’m taking her, is where my best friend lived for several years while she was caring for her mom whose dementia was creeping in. I’ve walked many, many, many summer nights in her neighborhood. We talk about how great the high school is, about going for walks at night, about her kids.

Key experience: It feels very sweet to help her load and unload her groceries. So simple. So civil, kind, helpful.

Cannabis it is

Beep. Five minutes away. A young man is my next pick-up. White, 23, unsophisticated, a bit childish. He’s on his way to a friend’s home for the first time. It’s a gal. Is it a date?,  I ask. No. Just hanging out. We talk. He’s friendly. He works at Target. We talk about restaurants near his house, which leads to talking about bars in the neighborhood, which leads to conversation about drinking. I tell him I’d like to ask him a private question that he need not answer. I ask him whether, among his friends, if their preference is alcohol, cannabis or ecstasy/et cetera. Cannabis, he tells me, stating–somewhat proudly–that he uses it. He prefers it: you don’t get violent or stupid, and you’re more relaxed. I agree. We bond on that for a bit then we arrive at his destination. It’s a trailer home park right in the midst of, well, an expensive housing area. After I drop him off, I drive around, explore, observe. It seems kind of cute. Not quaint, but cute.

Key experience(s): Enjoying the honesty of this young man; exploring part of my home-zone area.

The security guy

Beep. Right away. Another ride. I get nervous that I’m going in the wrong direction to get to him, and I make an illegal U-turn at one of the police-hang-out-here spots. Ugh. Not good. Doesn’t feel good. I arrive at Best Buy. I tell the guy, by text and then a call, that I’m here. Nine minutes go by. He waves at me. I can see he is busy. I decided to start his trip while he is still inside. 10 cents a minute, minus Uber’s fee. It’s not about the money; it’s a statement, though I realize later that had I not cut on the U-turn, I might have been a few minutes later and things would be different. His friend wants a ride on the way home. No problem.

Finally, they’re in the car. No apologies to me for being 9 minutes late to arrive. He’s young. He’s Black, maybe mid-20s. I decide I’m going to tell him that I could have left after 5 minutes, and he’d be charged by Uber. I’m not sure if that’s 100% right, but I think it is. If the rider is a no-show or they cancel late into your ride, they get charged and I get $5. I explain to him that while we’re talking inconsequential money, it’s not fair that I wait for him to finish work that he gets paid for while I don’t get paid. He apologizes. Now, I need to flip the energy. My BFF has told me many times that my wisdom is often delivered like a laser–sharp and fast–and then I soothe things with a story flip. It’s time to do that.

He works in security and had to check employees out as they were leaving for the night. We talk about how significant internal theft can be. I offer that I know someone who was a military guy who does regional security for Best Buy: a white guy, ex-military, stocky. He knows him. (The small world-ness of Uber driving strikes again.) I tell him that I have a story to tell, some parts funny, but with a tragic end. I was a petty thief when I was in high school, a mall rat who stole jewelry and small items more from boredom and the thrill and adrenaline rush it created than anything else. I tell him of my friend with whom I stole, a couple times a week for a season of my life. I tell him how her mother caught her with some of her stolen items and how, by association, I was caught too; how I had to return the items and apologize; how the store manager told me I was lucky to have a mother who made me face the consequences of my actions. I tell him how I cried when she told me that because I knew she was right.

I tell him of my friend and how she didn’t stop stealing; how she got a professional job in college as a bookkeeper and embezzled $22,000 (or more) until she got caught; how I ran into her when we were in our late 20s and how she went on and on about her boyfriend in the Hamptons and all the parties and, well, you know, you can’t wear the same $500 dress to different parties … tra-la-la; and I tell him that I wondered who she had become. I didn’t understand her. I told him how later, in our mid-30s, we reconnected and had dinner. How she was stealing from her now-ex-husband and was laughing about making him pay for the car in cash, knowing she was leaving soon; how she lied about expenses and squirreled away money and how she got a great divorce settlement.

Then I told him about hearing that she had died. And how through a combination of events, I’d set about with another person to discover how it was that she died. I told him about how we found a newspaper story about police going to a house the night of her death; then another story about gunshots; and another story with more background about her life. How her second marriage to a man with a house on the beach in Florida, a private jet and a fancy job was failing; how her husband was over $250,000 in arrears to the IRS, how his business was failing; how she’d left him and was in another relationship. How he came to her new boyfriend’s home when they were in bed together; how he shot her boyfriend in the neck and killed him; how he did the same to her; how it was all caught and recorded on a 911 call and how the chilling conversation and events were transcribed in the newspaper.

And I told him: please do your job; it’s important. And if you ever catch someone stealing and need to tell a tale, tell them about the Uber Lady you met and how two petty thieves’ paths aligned … then diverged.

Key experience: Flipping the energy.

To the Shell Station we shall go

Next ride. 10 pm-ish. Big girl, white, maybe early 30s, sleepy. Her verb conjugation. Her language. Her dress. Everything about her says “not many open roads ahead.” She’s talking on her phone. Baby dramas. etc. She’ll call her friend back when she’s at work. Work? A few miles down the road. A Shell Station. The night shift. No conversation between us.

The Uber fee for her ride: $6.60. Wow, she’ll need to work at least an hour to pay for that ride. Wow. I hope she has a ride home. I hope she can walk in better weather. I hope she has friends who give her rides sometimes. She’s poor. She lives in a subsidized (though really, really nice and new) apartment complex. She has a kid. She works at a Shell Station. Maybe she has other jobs. She probably has various forms of aid (rent support, various support with her kid … maybe even help from a boyfriend). But, wow! $6.60 to get to a job that, I imagine, pays minimum wage or near to it.

Key experience: Up front and personal with the cost of being poor.

The DJ who almost made me cry

Next up: off to another big-box shopping center. Realizing how many people need rides to and from work, especially those in low-paying jobs. I pick up a young man, late 20s, Black, looks like a model. Works at Nordstrom Rack. He calls me miss. (I’m 52, but no worries.) He’s polite and pleasant. No convo. On his phone. Talking with a friend. DJ plans in New Jersey this weekend. His car needs repairs.

Key experience: While quiet and driving him, I’m filled with this almost tear-inspiring feeling of the sweetness in life to be able to be close to other people. I feel a tenderness for the moment of being in my car with this “stranger,” able to listen to his call with his friend, able to take him home. It’s an unexpected emotion. I revel in it.

Down time. No calls. I read for five minutes. Move my car 500 yards. Read. Move. Read. Move. This goes on for awhile. A call comes in; it’s 20 minutes away. No thanks. Then I think I shouldn’t judge calls just on distance but how do I feel, how do I respond to the call. The same call comes in two minutes later. I take it. 

Free beers

It’s a young couple. Maybe late 20s/early 30s. White. Coming out of dinner at a fancy place. We talk restaurant talk, and I mention the restaurant where — as things have it — they both work. Many laughs, many stories, much good news to share with each other as we have circles of shared friends and acquaintances. I mention how I helped (quite a bit) when their restaurant opened, long before their time there, with social media, giving tips to the awkward new owners. And I mention they never once even bought me a beer. (Not that I did what I did for compensation … I just always thought it odd that they were happy to receive but not to give.) They both offer to buy me a beer next time I come in. Sweet! Or should I say, Cheers!

Key experience: Watch the signs — the same call came in twice, for me. Take it.

It’s late. I’m about 30 minutes from home. I drive home, open to more Uber rides; grateful that none come in.






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