THE POST THAT LAUNCHED THE ARTIST | UBER UN-SAMARITAN

I don’t think “Cassie” was her real name. It could have been the name she used on an Uber account, not the one her mother gave her.

Her location was the address of the Rodeway Inn on the northern edge of San Clemente. The guest entrance is down a steep hill and up a narrow lane behind the building. I parked and waited. I always assume that I am not in the right location, never thinking that it could be GPS or passenger error. After seven minutes, I called Cassie.

She answered on one ring. I was in the wrong place. She was in front of the hotel. I did my Uber-Turn. [I don’t think “no-U-turn” applies to Uber turns, as the law interferes with my brand of customer service.] I pull around the corner and I see a woman, in cut-off jeans and torso-hugging, torn sweatshirt. Two bulging backpacks are leaning against her legs, like bookends. She’s holding an iPhone. Must be Cassie.

My black-and-silver U placard is affixed to the passenger side of my windshield. Occasionally, passengers bend down to peer at me, as if to assure themselves that Freddie Kruger’s mother isn’t their Uber driver. Cassie was no exception. I rolled down the window.

“Yes, I am Jean, your Uber driver, not Jane Fonda.”

That’s good, Jean. So your passenger looks like she could use a joke?

Cassie thrusts the backpacks onto the back seat. I notice that her left leg has a swath of scabs and angry scrapes, as if she’d had an unfortunate encounter with a gravel back road, not so long ago.

“Good morning. How are you?”

Oh, yes, Jean. Rhetorical queries, emanating from my hardwired autopilot. Unsuitable on so many levels.

She whispers, as if her voice would shatter if she spoke louder, “I want to go to the DMV, please.”

“Ok. Yes! Right away.”

Great, Jean. Now you sound like a chirpy waitress in a Midwestern coffee shop.

The San Clemente DMV is a visual oxymoron, a cold gray building planted on a blacktop parking lot, across Pacific Coast Highway from an expansive, brilliant white, private beach. I check the rear-view mirror. Cassie isn’t moving. She is staring at the three people lined up at the entrance.

“Maybe this is a good sign, only a few outside. I hope the wait is not too long.” She opens the door, slides across the seat, dragging her backpacks out behind her.

Before she closes the door, I turn toward her and say, “Who knows. You could be lucky.”

For God’s sake, wasn’t it obvious that luck hadn’t been a part of her life for days, maybe months? Or years.

I watched her sling her backpacks up over her shoulder and trudge toward the entrance. I gave her a five-star rating. My Uber app flashes. Another fare.

I switched gears, focusing on tracking the Uber GPS to Tony, who was waiting in his driveway. He was late for work. We didn’t go far. I needed a break, but the Uber-app flashed before I could click ‘go offline’.

It was Cassie. At the DMV. I didn’t see her when I pulled into the parking lot. Something urged me to stay put. Seconds later, she opened the back door.

“I’m sorry. It will take too long in there.  I was wondering if my Uber driver would be you,” she said as she loaded her packs into the backseat.

“Lucky you. Yes, it’s me. Where to?”

“The pier.”

“The San Clemente pier?”

I must be a sociopath. I am no better than the upper one-percent and their callous politicians whom I despise. There is only one pier in San Clemente. It could have been worse: I could have asked, “I hope you’re not going to jump.”

As I maneuvered through the streets that snaked down to the pier, I heard Cassie’s voice. I thought she was talking to me. I turned. She was on her mobile phone.

“Can you at least bring me a blanket?” Silence. It could have been a few seconds, but the wait was long enough to be uncomfortable.

“I have no place to go.” Silence. “Thank you. I’ll text you when I get to the pier.”

More than once, before I wake up, this scene races through my mind – a chilling, stop-motion endless loop, audio included.

“You are cash-strapped, driving for Uber, when other people your age are comfortably retired, living within their means, whatever that means. You have blankets, Jean. You could have offered to find help. You should know where to get help. You could have done something, said something. Anything.”

I had done something: I gave Cassie another five-star Uber rating. Other than that, nothing.

Now, I think of ways it could have been worse. It could have been raining. It could have been eight o’clock on Christmas Eve. Yes, that would have been worse.

*reposted from outsidethbox.wordpress.com

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3rd Person Narration

2:25am
Bars closed 25 minutes ago but I unluckily took a fare that drew me 12 miles outside of town and have to scurry back to town to catch the surge. I get a ping in Lower Greenville (a hipster area with a number of bars).

2:27am
Street is strangely barren. Two normal looking girls stand by the sidewalk talking and laughing. I pull over by them.
“You uber?”
“Yep.”
“Alright, Stephanie, I’ll see you at work on Monday.”
“Ok, bye.”
A girl, probably about 28 years old, slides into the back seat of my Altima.

2:28am
No destination entered in the app. “Where are we headed?”
“Uh, I think Sherlock’s,” she says looking at her phone, “Just start heading north on 75. I’m pretty sure that’s where my car is.”
“Ok.” The bar is about 10 miles away so I’m not complaining. “How’s your night goin?”
“Fine, just grabbed some drinks with my coworkers. I just started a new job…” She proceeds to tell me where she’s from, why she moved to Dallas, what her job is like, and other details of her night. All in all, she seems very normal.

2:35am
A momentary lull in conversation as I meander towards the highway and accelerate to 60 mph. I look at the mirror to check on her in the back seat. She is swaying back in forth, testing the strength of the seatbelt.
“Are you alright back there?”
“…Someone is talking to me….”
“Uh, yeah. It’s Jeeves your driver. Are you feeling ok?”
“I don’t know where my car is.” In the span of five minutes she transitioned from stone-cold-sober to incomprehensibly drunk/high. She’s acting so unstable I assume she must be on something.
“Yeah, I know. I think I should take you home.”
“NO…..”
“Well, where is your car?”
“He can’t help me…”
“Who can’t help you?”
“He doesn’t know where my car is…”
“I’m right here, let me help you find your car. I don’t think you should be driving though. Let me take you home.” I proceed to give her every reason possible why she should go home.
“…”

2:41am
We arrive at Sherlock’s. A number of people are smoking and chatting in the parking lot, though the bar is closed. “Here we are,” I say, expecting her to get out of the car.
“It’s not here… He doesn’t know where my car is.”
“Lady, where do you want to be dropped off?”
“I don’t know where to go…”
“I need to get going; where can I drop you off?”
“…”

2:51am
I feel inconvenienced. “Lady, I need to get going.”
“Here, turn around this corner,” she mumbles, motioning around the corner of the parking lot. I drive over there. “Oh, there it is!” I fume at my wasted time.

Fatty on the First Night

Any gold rush hopes of making great money or meeting interesting new people were driven over my first night of driving uber in Dallas. I drove to uptown with a backseat glittering with chilled water bottles, packs of gum, and a lift-myself-up-by-my-bootstraps attitude. To my chagrin, every ping was an entitled 20 something who needed me to wait while they finished their makeup and then asked me to drive them to the bar 3 blocks away. I scraped up about $10/hr my first several hours. “It’s alright,” I thought to myself, “it won’t be like this all the time. It’s just slow and I struck out with some short fares.”

I continued accepting requests only to get several more piddling fares. “That’s it, I’m driving outside the city to catch some people as they come in.” Struck by genius, I thought, “I’ll drive to the wealthier part of town in hopes of getting some tips!”

I head towards the established affluent neighborhoods at about 12:30am and get a request about 8 minutes away. I meander past mansions worth more than the accumulation of money I will make in a lifetime and stop at the monstrous house where the pin was placed. I wait for three minutes and call “Clark” who has 4.6 stars (a red flag I didn’t recognize at the time). No answer. I drive up and down the street hoping the pin is slightly off and that I will be able to spot him. 3 minutes of pacing up and down the block and I get a call from an unfamiliar number.

“Where-are-you? I’ve been waiting for-forever.” a gruff masculine voice slurs.

“I’m at 1412 Madeup St.”

“You’re….  you’re at the wrong house. I’m at 1194 Fake Ln. Hurry up.”

“Ok sir, I’ll be right there.” I check my map and curse myself when I see that the address is several blocks away. I rush over there and pull up to an equally gargantuan house with a pick-up truck in front of it. A large man with a mostly unbuttoned suit and a Miller Light can is leaning against the bed for balance. He sees me and saunters angrily towards my car.

“Are you Uber?”

“Yep.”

“What the f*** is this?”

“It’s a Honda F—“

“—-It’s f****** tiny. And what took you so f****** long? I’ve been waiting for hours.” He opens the passenger door, slams the seat as far back as it goes, and squeezes into the seat through the door like a sumo wrestler through a hula hoop. The entire car tilts towards him and his bulbous arms overshadow my shifter. He smells like stale beer fermented in sweat. “Take me to Baby Dolls [a strip club],” he barks at me.

“Ok, sir.” I punch in the address—he clearly couldn’t be expected to pay me that courtesy—and head towards the strip club.

As we proceed he yammers into my ear about how long it took, how terrible of a driver I am, and how tiny my car is. I just turn the volume up on my radio. He stops trying to talk to me and I enjoy a brief moment of relative silence.

Then I hear a can open from the seat next to me. I look over and see him drinking a beer which he must have hidden in his pocket.

“Sir, this isn’t the Vegas strip, you can’t drink a beer in the passenger seat of my car. I could lose my license.” He erupts and begins spouting a steady stream of barely intelligible obscenities at me. I try to calm him down by making him a generous offer (which I have not since repeated).

“Sir, I will pull over and let you finish drinking on the side of the road but I cannot drive while you are drinking.”

More variations on the four curse words in his vocabulary.

Without asking him, I turn the car around and head towards the house I picked him up from. I decide not to leave him there on the side of the road because I suspect he would refuse.

Without a moments rest from his mantra of four words in the same order I return him to his home. I tell him to get out and he can’t believe it. He tries to squeeze through the door but seems incapable to exit because of his girth. As soon as he closes the door I begin driving away and he attempts to throw his empty beer can at my car. I speed down the street only to receive four calls and four slurred voicemails from him as I exit the neighborhood.

Jeeves has Started Talking….

Uber seems to have cemented itself in the headlines and rightly so: no other company has rattled the traditional business model in recent memory. The press has been notably mixed. One driver has used Uber to promote his personal jewelry business. Another was violently accosted by a Taco Bell executive when he asked him to get out of his car because of offensive behavior. The list goes on. I have trouble thinking of another company which has ever received such polarized media attention.

Ridesharing is a radically new concept which people have readily embraced. I have driven Uber for about 6 months and I still find it bizarre. Complete strangers get into my car (often hammered/turnked/blitzed/high/) and I drive them wherever they want to go. They get out of my car, I end the ride, and I will likely never see them again. He or she could be a serial killer or a distant relative and I would never know. The system is nearly anonymous. People find this to be a comfort or a license to behave like an animal.

More often than not, this transaction goes smoothly; we make pleasant conversation, they enter their destination, and nothing goes wrong. The passenger is relatively normal and everything goes according to plan.

Sometimes, it does not. This is the place for those stories.

Think of it as a written People of Walmart for ride-sharing experiences. I have chronicled my strange encounters for your enjoyment. If you are a driver and would like your story posted, please email me at jeevestellsall@gmail.com. Please attach any pictures/videos you would like included.