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When You’re A Stranger

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There are some common questions I’m asked, some specifically aimed at the fact that I’m a woman who happens to prefer driving the late night shift. Women doing this rideshare gig are rare to begin with. Women doing this late at night are practically a myth.

“Aren’t you ever scared?”

Sometimes. I used to be terrified when I first started. I was so thankful for the location services on my iphone so my (then) husband and oldest son could check on me periodically. We had a safety plan, but it was quickly abandoned. I’m well past 1500 rides in the last 10 months, and I’ve only truly been afraid of a passenger a handful of times. Which tracks with a rideshare driver I took home after being rear ended on his way to the airport Thanksgiving week. Each experience has taught me to further refine my personal safety plan, and for the most part, I feel very safe. And remember, we are allowed to refuse anyone a ride; although I haven’t yet.

“What’s the weirdest/most exciting/frightening thing that’s ever happened while you’re driving?”

I never have an answer for this on the fly (maybe I should work on that) but the reality is, it’s all pretty vanilla. That said, there are a few things that have made me raise my eyebrows…

The baller who picked up a hottie at a house party, and she proceeded to ride him like a pony all the way to Denny’s (yes, I did say baller and hottie and Denny’s, all in the same sentence). She kept grabbing my seat to lift herself up, which, you break it, you buy it. But they were going at it so hard I could barely keep the car in the lane. Had it been anyone else I would have pulled over on the side of the freeway and told them to get the hell out but since one of his friends walked by the car right before we left with a gun at his hip… Nah man, I’m from LA, I’ll just get you there and you’ll be the proud recipient of my first ever one star. My kids sit back there, dude. Seriously?

I should have known something was up when his assistant got in the front seat and told me to play some music, didn’t care what it was, and kept asking me to turn it up louder. Which means either this is a regular thing or she knew what was about to transpire. In which case, ew. I hope he pays you well for abandoning your self respect.

There have been a couple of times I’ve been sure a drug deal was going down in my car. One time confirmed, by my 13 year old finding a little packet of white powder. Thank goodness he brought it to my ex. Unfortunately my ex trashed it. Fair warning, you ever do that nonsense in my car again, that little baggie and your pickup and dropoff location are going straight to the police. Why is this a thing? Risk your own welfare, I didn’t sign up for this.

On that note, something that is happening more often of late is people asking me if I have drugs (or stranger yet, asking if I’d like to go drink/get high with them). You called me for a safe/sober ride home, remember? No, I’m not going to risk my livelihood, thanks. Why on earth would you think I have drugs, or would be dealing them in my car? Seriously? Is this a thing? Why is this a thing? Whomever is making this a thing needs to knock it the hell off. That’s just risky and stupid for a multitude of reasons.

In a similar vein, people who are quite insistent they can hail me off a street corner, just like a regular cab. And will become quite belligerent when I refuse them, and tell me I’m being racist or a bitch or whatever threat or epithet they want to throw my way. We don’t work like that, that’s what cabs do. You want to catch someone on a street corner, wave at a passing cab and they will pick you up. We are a TNC. Google the difference. I’m sure your friend/roommate/brother/cousin/random driver is also a rideshare driver and is also cool with breaking the rules but I need my money so I’m not cool with it. Besides, I’m inherently suspicious of you given how damn easy it is to just download the app and sign up if you don’t just ping a ride like everyone else. I don’t care how much you claim you’re going to pay me, I guarantee you you aren’t going to pay me my yearly income over the next 7 years or so I am likely to still be doing this so… nope.

It’s gotten so bad of late that there are people who will wait at busy locations after hours and literally stalk the car (because yes, I lock the car immediately when you get out, no it’s not because of your skin color or gender or anything else, it’s because what I do can be risky and I learned the hard way this is an important step in keeping myself safe) and as people get out they’ll grab a door and ask if they can get a ride. Thankfully busy times i’m likely to have already gotten another ping (in which case, you’re the reason I’m now keeping those folks waiting, thanks bro). If not, I’m just going to say no. If you’re the douche canoe who still won’t drop it, I have a sick kid I need to get to the doctor right away, I’m so sorry! And for the record, it should never have to go that far. I’m not sure why the uptick in this behavior either, but again, knock it off!

People who never tip, but if I take them through a drive through or to a mini mart at night will unfailingly offer to buy me something. I don’t eat and rarely drink while I work, that just means less time working, both going in, and… ahem, coming out. No thanks. A tip on the other hand won’t cost you any more, and would be gratefully appreciated, I’m just saying.

I’m always a little surprised at how often I’m asked out. I’m a well-past middle aged housewife and Mom, and not particularly attractive, at least not enough to warrant all that. And yet, on any given night I’m propositioned, invited to parties (Sometimes by groups of young 20-somethings which… yeah, I can be a smartass, but I assure you, I in no way belong at your party. But truly, thanks for the compliment, y’all were cool!), or on occasion, fondled. Uber specifically has a hands off policy, and they aren’t playing. Neither am I.

There is this weird thing with some people. I’m solidly middle class. My ex was reasonably successful. They seem to have this concept that only young Rajesh trying to work his way through school could do this job. So when in the course of conversation they learn my ex is an IT professional and I’m surprisingly well-versed in his field, or that I’m somewhat worldly and reasonably well educated they get almost… offended? Threatened? But the name dropping and lifestyle pimping will commence immediately.

I’m always confused by that. Why would someone be threatened by someone like me doing this job? I like it. I need money for a whole lot of complicated reasons, and I like that I can put my family first and I don’t have to answer to anyone else in order to make them a priority.

I go over and over this in my brain, sometimes I think maybe I should play dumb and kiss ass for better ratings and tips, but my soul isn’t for sale. If that’s part of the bargain, I’m done being a rideshare driver. I’ll settle for trying to not be in your face about it, but that’s about as much of my own self worth as I am willing to concede.

Some people seem to act as if those autonomous cars are already a thing and we aren’t there, hearing every word they say. Most of the time I do my best to not pay attention, but sometimes there’s only so much you can do. Not caring is never going to be my thing. Not worrying is never going to be my thing. Not wanting to make it better if I can is never going to be my thing.

I assure you, I’m sitting right here, and I can hear you, no matter how much music you ask me to play. If you knew anything about the physics of sound transmission, you’d know why your efforts are futile. You want privacy, talk somewhere else.

I Say A Little Prayer For You

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I think one of the reasons some passengers have such an impact on me is because I love differently than some people.

I was never one of those people who knew what career I wanted to pursue. I’m not sure I had any concept of myself as someone who had choices in that realm. But I loved science and became fascinated with heritability when a high school psychology teacher sparked an interest in Psychology Today.

Eventually a family friend who is a physician made the old joke about “What’s the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist? About $75/hr!”. I started to research medical school and the more I learned, the more enamored I became.

One fear I had was that admonition about not getting attached. I wasn’t sure that was something I could pull off. Another family friend was a nurse, and she wasn’t someone who embraced the “don’t get attached” advice. Patients often became a part of her non-work life. And as patients sometimes do, they would occasionally exit the mortal world.

I asked her once, how did she get through that? She said she went to the chapel and she cried and prayed and grieved, and then new patients came in needing care. They needed her to care for them just as openly, with just as much concern.

That helped me make peace with the idea of working in a clinical setting and dealing with the losses that every physician faces. While I never got to put the idea to the test, it definitely impacted how I approached being a foster parent. The one thing I was very clear about, is each child deserved to belong, to be fully loved, to have a parent (in the day to day sense). No qualifiers. Their experience should not be impacted by my fear of losing someone I had come to love. So I put my heart on the line with every child, and when they left I prayed for the best, did my best to demonstrate confidence in the plan the state had developed for their future, and sent them off with a wish for a wonderful future. I cried, and I grieved, and then more kids came needing love and someone to embrace them (and at times, their parents).

I think some of that shapes my experience with some passengers. When I sense that someone needs a compassionate ear, I’m not afraid to offer whatever they may need, to open up my heart. I know that separation is nothing to fear, and I hope to model, even for a brief time, a depth of connection not everyone has experienced. I’m not a platitudes and superficial smile kind of person.

Recently I saw a Facebook post from Glennon Doyle about her “love letter“, in a somewhat non traditional sense. I had to laugh because it was exactly how I conceptualized this blog. These were my “love letters” to the passengers I connected with, shared surprisingly intimate moments with, and came to care for in a shockingly small amount of time. I felt those connections deserved to be honored in some way, and my wish for a wonderful future for people I so admired needed to be set free to come to fruition somehow. As always, for me, the way to breathe life into those visions for the future and resolution of the past is through the written word. It’s how I so often process the complexities of life.

If in the process I could inform, entertain, or inspire others… well, even better

Why You Look So Sad?

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My cousin held me tighter as we hugged and whispered “you look so sad”.

She’s right, I do, I thought later. The decades of a dysfunctional marriage had taken a toll, but the three and a half years trying to salvage it were a whole new level of destructive. By the time I saw her during a Denver vacation last summer I barely looked alive. There was no light left in my eyes, I looked as burdened as I felt. It’s a phenomenon that gets endlessly discussed on various support groups I participate in. Before and after pictures are often shared, hope for those still finding their way out, proof of progress for those who have a more distant perspective.

I couldn’t deny the reality of what she said but it still came as somewhat of a shock. I hadn’t seen her in years. I thought I did a better job of hiding it. I was grateful she said something, knowing that I have three pairs of eyes watching all the time, learning both how to be a partner and what to expect from one. If I didn’t find the courage to face the truth and value myself and my contributions, I was running the risk of them meeting the same fate. Knowing I was still building the path that would in some ways shape their future gave me the courage to advocate for myself, to ask for what I needed, and to not compromise my own welfare.

Over the last few months I’ve made it a point to try and look my best, to find the joy in nurturing myself again. I love playing with colors, even if I’m not always comfortable with it. So coloring my hair, indulging in the occasional mani/pedi, and a budding makeup addiction have been a way to invest in myself. Those investments had a measurable impact on my earnings (for the better), and garnered endless comments from my loved ones about how much happier I look.

I spent so many years convincing myself that spending anything on me was frivolous and essentially stealing from my kids. Of course, I was also unaware what the true root of our financial problems were. I believed what I was told, that it was all my fault and if I just sacrificed more and more everything would be fine. It became a way of life, and I have to admit, it’s uncomfortable still to spend money on myself. My first instinct is always to sacrifice what I want and need for the welfare of my family.

It’s another one of those unhealthy patterns I’d like to break. I’m hoping to learn to model better and more consistent self-respect for my boys. I need to remember the risk of feeling the need to ask them why they’re so broken someday is very real.

The Roses In The Windowbox

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I remember walking into my Grandmother’s living room. He was sitting in Grandpa’s chair. I don’t remember seeing him cry before or since, but he cried for a long time that day. He played Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding again and again, tears silently streaming down his face. I remember trying to console him, feeling scared and powerless and overwhelmed by the loss of my Grandfather and any force that could impact my Father this way.

For my entire adult life I’ve had a copy of that album.

In the final stages of creating this blog I’ve found my heart so burdened. I’m picking off lots of barely healed scabs and opening lots of raw wounds. I’ve shed more than my share of tears. I have been playing this song so often lately. It’s funny that whenever my heart is heavy I need to hear it. It’s equal parts catharsis and visceral memory.

It’s interesting how those distant memories can so strongly impact our future, our ways of coping, and our perspectives.

I know I don’t say it enough, but some of the best parts of me I learned from you.

I love you Dad.

 

Why Do You Love Me

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He used to ask me this all the time. Every time he asked, I was pulled up short.

I’ve been a number of relationships in my decades on this giant ball of crazy we call Earth. Never once has anyone asked me that. Perhaps because being the empath that I am, I’m usually bubbling over with effusive praise. Whatever I said clearly never answered the question though, because he’d ask it again and again, much to my surprise (which quickly gave way to annoyance).

The truth is, I didn’t really have a good answer. I told him often that I loved him but I wasn’t in love with him. I was not what I wanted for him, so I held part of myself back. But it’s an undeniable fact that I cared deeply for him. In love or not, I could never explain why, what it was about him that I had come to love.

In retrospect, nearly everything about our relationship and who he represented himself to be was a lie, so maybe that’s why it was such a hard question for me to answer. I’d probably find that easier to swallow if my gut hadn’t been screaming at me the whole time. For all his calling me naive and gullible, I wasn’t fooled. I’m just a firm believer that once you know you’re dealing with a snake, you’re under no obligation to declare that fact. I did miscalculate on a grand scale about the nature and severity of his issues, but I never bought all his BS.

And yet, the whole rationale behind the ridiculous affair was the spark of something special I imagined I saw in him.

Perhaps being unable to describe it adequately should have been the wake up call that might have saved us both a giant headache.

But I ignored the fallout and shrouded myself in the comforting blanket of fantasy.

Falling In Love Is So Hard On The Knees

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If you’ve ever fallen in love with a narcissist, you are intimately familiar with that rush, the relentless yet skilled release of love bombs finding their target. It’s an emotional blitzkrieg; boom, boom, boom, as you fall back under the force of an unyielding assault. When the action pauses just enough for you to gather your senses and survey the new landscape, you realize you’ve fallen hard. And you really can’t see much beyond that. It’s a heady feeling, but like any mind-altering drug, there is always a hangover waiting in the wings.

One would think that the hangover would be enough to create a narc-proof barrier. But like alcohol, love bombing is designed to prey on our weaknesses while simultaneously soothing our wounds. It’s that double-edged sword of injury by association and nurturing that makes love bombing so nightmarishly effective. Just as there are few people who can look back on their life and claim only one hangover, one emotional eating binge, few can claim only one relationship with a narcissist.

The sad truth is, if you’ve had multiple romantic entanglements with their kind, you’re probably an empath. And as an empath, your reward for being exceptionally loving, giving, nurturing and compassionate is to be surrounded by more narcissists than your average Joe.

Most people who have worked in the child welfare arena have heard the term “broken picker” casually thrown around. I once used to nod knowingly, but now I hear the term and it makes me cringe. I don’t know why people tend to want to blame the victim, but we see this in so many areas of life. We laud bullies while blaming the bullied. We don’t hold the narcissist accountable, we blame the loving and kind person who fell for their onslaught of lies and manipulations. Empaths aren’t any less able to detect malevolence than the average person. In fact, a skilled narcissist will fool nearly everyone in their orbit, at least initially. Empaths aren’t targeted because of their ignorance, they are targeted because they don’t give up on people, and thus will endure behavior that other people who are more self-focused will not tolerate.

Narcissists need an endless supply of fuel to simply exist. Without it they will collapse; a most pathetic sight to behold. So they will put on whatever mask their empath du jour most wishes to see.

Is it any wonder the empath falls so quickly and so hard?

Godess On A Mountaintop

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She walks into the room of singles and the world tilts. Not like that (exactly). But she has that… bearing about her, and you know immediately she is different. And over the night that hunch is proven correct. She’s educated and successful and accomplished and talented and knowledgable and fierce. Ever so fierce. And beautiful. Breathtakingly, jaw-droppingly, with a mane of curly hair that makes me want to weep with envy.

Some women might find the admiration awkward, but she doesn’t, we spar and play over it, and it’s a blast. She’s not vain about my fondness for her, she’s just badass enough to accept it for what it is.

She is seemingly effortlessly what so many women wish to be, what I will never be, but can appreciate freely. How can you not appreciate art? Beauty?

Life is dark enough. I don’t want to nitpick someone’s imperfections, I’d rather revel in the perfection of who they truly are.

All You Need Is

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It’s rare that I have nights like this. It’s one of the reasons I love driving for both Uber and Lyft. Some nights used to involve much sitting in a parking lot, but I ain’t ‘bout that life, thanks.

Tonight though, I’ve been driving around for almost 3 hours, and not a single ride. After over an hour, I finally get a ping from Uber, 10 miles away as the crow flies. Usually, a ping that far away means two things: there are no cars in the area and it’s typically a short trip.

Which is ok, short trips happen; but at this point, Uber is taking more than 40% of what a customer pays on short trips. I have a floor in terms of hourly earnings, and I’m in the negative to the tune of $20 already. Earning what… $0.25 cents a loaded mile ($1.25 on average when I started, then $1, now $0.75 per our contract) is not the direction I was hoping to head in, and I have limited hours before the end of the pay period to resuscitate both my paycheck, and my evening.

I log out for 5 minutes and log back in again. Pinged to the exact.same.location. Again. Still no surge. Odd. Sorry, Uber, can’t risk it. Before I can even get my finger to the screen, I’m getting pinged there again. Oy, seriously? Time to reboot for the third time tonight my (t)rusty iPhone (Release Date is almost here! Release Date is almost here! goes the mantra in my head) and give Lyft a try. I’m done with Uber tonight.

The area I’m getting pinged to is a local concert venue with notoriously bad traffic. If I’m getting pinged down there, almost 20 minutes away, the traffic is going to be bad. Even if I’m in the area it means an hour in and out; risking a ticket, or an angry cop waving me on while I try and figure out where in this teeming sea of humanity my specific passenger is. Heart rate rising with every hand on my door handle, and sinking with every wrong name. I drive around for another hour, checking my silent screen periodically.  It’s been this way for a while with Lyft. Summer hasn’t been particularly kind to any of us. I’m told by local bartenders on their way home for the evening they’ve had the same problem. It’s feast or famine.

Hello? Are you there Lyft? It’s me…

My Screen finally goes pink. A (blissfully close) address. Yes! It’s a relatively uncomplicated pickup. We exchange the usual formalities and pleasantries. Hey, are you…? Sure am, how’s your night been? I normally offer a breezy “busy, just the way I like it!” but tonight breezy is beyond me. Lord it’s slow. “You’re my first pickup tonight. Most likely you will be my one and only passenger tonight”, I grin. He offers “Well I tip well, and in cash!”. I crack back, “not even worried about it, let’s just get you home, I know you’ve had a long day. And I’m ready to get home and write”.

“Oh really? Like self publishing a book”? “No, I’ve written various blogs over the years, but writer’s block is the bane of my existence”. “Oh, Berkley did a study, try mushrooms! Great for stimulating creativity”. What follows is a discussion of our various (very limited in my case) experiences with mind altering experiences. Mushrooms… with my Mom of all people. He, with his boyfriend. It’s a funny thing to bond over, but when in Denver…

I pull up to his apartment and I’m almost sorry to see him go. Best part of my night, maybe best ride of the week. I wish him well, and a good night’s rest. He does tip well. In cash. Almost 300%. I’m nearly in tears driving home, grinning from ear to ear, but it’s not the money. Passengers are the reason I love what I do.

House Of The Rising Sun

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“I don’t want to drop you off, I’m just going to keep you, that’s cool, right?”

“Awww, you want me to go drive around with you all night? Hey, that would be a blast, we’d have the best time, everyone would be so jealous!”.

“Of course we would! Who wouldn’t? You’re like sunshine, Angel.”

The handsome but slight young man beside her remained silent, simply grinning, content. Dark eyes twinkling, his caramel skin almost shining with excitement. On the rare occasions he spoke, we both struggled to decipher his accent, she indicating as much with measuredly flirtatious utterances meant to distance and pacify.

She was strikingly beautiful but that wasn’t what struck me. It was the fact that in spite of being so jaded at such a young age, in spite of being incredibly beautiful and making no bones about the fact that she knew it, she was gracious and loving and very sweet. She had clearly suffered a great deal but she chose to walk in the sun. At great cost, but she was committed to that choice and seemed intent on spreading a little happiness wherever she went.

She definitely brightened my night, and was appreciative to a degree that passengers rarely are.

As we pulled up to her house, I wanted so desperately to possess some kind of magic that could steer her from what I suspected lay ahead for her, in the distant, and not so distant future. The beauty of innocence in a broken world is so breathtaking, I think that compulsion to protect it must be almost universal.

So often, so very many nights, I regret my lack of magic.

Love is the only weapon I’m left with, and I’m not afraid to use it.

I Get By With A Little Help

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The first time I realized what was happening I was floored. A perfect stranger walks someone out to my car and gets them safely seated and buckled into my car. They tell me this is their good friend so and so, please make sure they get home safely. Which I of course agree to do.

We live in a world where we hear of people who take advantage of inebriated people in the most heinous and/or violent ways. Who drug others to take advantage of them.

Every week I have multiple people gently ensconced in my car by someone who simply wants to know they get home safely and aren’t harmed. And they are willing to pay to make that happen.

It’s beautiful and humbling.

One side note, I have on occasion had passengers leave important belongings behind in my car. Uber, in one of their finer moments, has created a feature that allows you to gift someone else a ride. Whenever possible, this is the wisest action to take. If the actual passenger leaves something behind we have no trail to reunite them with their belongings if they don’t use their account. One time a wallet was left behind, and it was only my memory of a distant city and the knowledge that the address on the license was correct that allowed it to get returned to its owner.

That said, keep on, beauties. I see you. I appreciate you. I wish you many blessings.

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