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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.

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.

You Are Perfect

I saw a Princess last night. All beautiful dress and regal bearing.

She held her father’s hand as she crossed the street, the whole while staring through the inky darkness, looking inquisitively at me.

I waved, and my lips curled into a gentle smile.

She looked for a minute, slowly smiled, and waved right back.

She bounced off, on her way to unknown adventures.

I was on cloud 9 the rest of the night.

Sometimes it’s the little things.

But We’re Never Going To Survive, Unless…

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I wish I could better remember the details. This pair of passengers is one of the reasons I first thought of writing this blog. They have been stuck in my head ever since.

But it was a late night pick up, the streets were quiet, The two young men had been doing what friends do, hanging out, seeing the sights.

My pleasantries were met with a trumpeted challenge by the slight figure sitting behind me.

His friend tries to talk him down, but I reassure them both I’m not easily frightened or worried. I’m from Los Angeles. I’m a mother with three boys. I’ve been a therapeutic level foster parent. Take your pick, you’re unlikely to scare me.

We have a spirited conversation, the three of us. The young man behind me, I’m not sure what he was dealing with, other than a traumatic past, but yeah, some of his thinking was a little… disordered. But never crossed a line. His friend skillfully kept him on an even keel, equal parts soothing and challenging as the need arose.

We reached their stop and my passengers walked off into the night. I sat there with tears streaming down my face, wishing that some miracle would keep those two in each other’s orbit for all of time. They need each other.

Wishing someone would keep the caretaking friend supplied with enough support to fulfill his side of the bargain.

Heroes are real. Sometimes they hide in the dark. Sometimes they radiate light.

But they are real.

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.

Who The Eff Is This?

I’ve been both a “paid” and hobby blogger before. It’s been nearly a decade since I’ve written, and much longer than that since I’ve written on a regular basis. Other than being a lousy grammarian, which tends to make me feel like a bit of a fraud as a writer, writers block has always been the bane of my existence. I think the thing that holds me back is I struggle with a massive case of “who cares what you have to say?”.

I guess I think it takes a level of hubris for me (not anyone else, everyone else is amazing, me, I’m just ordinary, says my negative Nelly brain) to write a blog. I mean I tell myself this is therapeutic, and that’s true. I have passengers that have haunted me, friends who I find to be so remarkable they need lauding, and life experiences/dots unconnected that I sure wish someone would have explored in a more approachable way before. The therapeutic aspect is why my gut wouldn’t shut up, I could not get some stories out of my head until I wrote them down (pro-tip, some are still there, but at least they’re a bit less noisy).

But if all you want is catharsis, there are millions of blank journals just waiting to have their pages filled in every store that sells books.

You only start a blog if you want people to read what you have to say, and that’s where I start to squirm.

I have many loved ones who have supported me in my years of what can only be called folksy storytelling. Some people seem to relate to what I write, some people seem to appreciate the way I string words together. And all of that is nice, I can’t lie. But the only way I can justify writing this is my life is at some interesting junctures, all at the same time. I’m writing from a perspective that is realistically more than half of my life expectancy. And I guess I’m hoping to Hansel and Gretel a trail of crumbs for others to follow. That’s what my favorite storytellers tend to do, they lure me in with entertainment and then one-two gut punch me with lessons.

So I hope you’ll indulge my hubris and maybe find something meaningful here. I’ve always understood struggles to be opportunities to serve others. Nothing would please me more than for my blunders and foibles to light the way for someone a little less clumsy.

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.

All Is Fair In Love

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As they approached the car, I saw the closed off body language. Both wore guarded and wounded expressions. My heart clenched for a moment. They were both polite as they got in; silence settled over the car like a heavy veil almost immediately. They were a beautiful couple, both dressed to the nines, clearly successful, see and be seen types in an up and coming neighborhood. The wife was fierce and proud and seemed like someone who had no problem speaking her mind, the kind of woman I most admire. And her husband was handsome, and polished, they were just beautiful.

“How could you behave like that?”

Nothing but stony silence.

Me, being the mother hen that I am, waited a few minutes for them both to calm from the rush of adrenaline; started chattering about the kind of nonsense I normally eschew but which is a useful refuge when emotions are running high. The husband did all the talking. Ok, I’ve got him off the ledge, time for a more direct approach.

“Young lady, I have to tell you how beautiful you look this evening. You’re absolutely stunning; and that dress is on point.”

I hear a soft gasp, a squeaked “thank you” and gentle sobbing.

Not what I was aiming for, but I think she needed to hear it. And it was the only thing I could come up with on what was only a very short trip.

A minute or two later I hear a shrill, “Don’t touch me!”.

I feel you, dear one; I feel you. It’s hard to feel love or compassion or accept an olive branch when the person you’ve given your heart to has humiliated you in front of a perfect stranger. But I could tell he truly meant it. I think he knew he could have handled himself better.

The trouble with relationships is we humans fear pain and abandonment, so anything that looks like either of those sends our heads spinning.

How cruel is life, that the things that first attract us to someone often become the things we find most triggering. The bonds that once drew us close often wedge us apart.

I’m sure the fact that she is fierce is why he loves her, why he won her heart. No other man had that strength, that courage. And I’m sure the fact that he is an impeccable gentleman made her feel safe, like she could let down her guard for once. But now, her independence looks to him like disrespect, and his nurturing feels oppressive.

I did something I never do, something I probably shouldn’t have done. I logged out of Uber, parked the car and got out. I asked her first, because she was on my side of the car.

“Is it ok if I give you a hug?”

She nods, and I hold her and she cries again. I never wanted to let go. In some way, it’s like holding my past self. But I remember this pain. I remember being young and in love and thinking that’s all it took.

This couple had so much going for them, and I truly felt they were well matched. The reality of this moment was painful to watch, and I know all too well how much worse it was to experience. I walked around and said “you too” and gave him a quick hug. I looked at them both and said, “You’re going to be ok, you’ll find a way through the hard times”.

I have no idea if it is true, I just want it to be, and I want to leave them with some hope to cling to.

What I really wanted to do is log out for the rest of the night and play therapist, to reframe these wounds for them, to help them remember what it was like when they first fell in love, why they loved each other, why they each won the other’s heart, and why nobody else ever came close. I wanted to help them see that the  thing that hurt the most was the very thing that could help them have a marriage others dream of.

Instead I did the only thing we rideshare drivers can do and watched them walk away.

I think of them often. I pray more for them than I do for nearly anyone. If there is a God, if there is justice, someone will help them see the truth of life, and love. Before it’s too late.

Love like that is rare, and we don’t get second chances at it.

Now I Lay Me Down

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I saw a head and elbow headed for the curb, as if coming to rest on a pillow. I had just picked up a young lady from work, exhausted after a long day, so the ride was quiet but for occasional pleasantries. It was about 20 minutes before closing time, not terribly busy yet this far north. As we approached her stop, I noticed legs sticking well out into the parking spaces, and feet, perilously close to my lane. “Oh dear”, I sighed, “not the safest place to sleep this late at night.” and pointed. My passenger nodded.

Our stop was right around the corner, but I knew if I didn’t circle back around I’d worry all night.

“Is the street ahead one way? I am going to circle back around and I want to get there quickly.”

“It is”, she replied. “But if you’re going, I’ll come with you.”

I knew she was tired and what a sacrifice this was for her. I was grateful for the companionship, and the feeling of safety she provided.

We made our way around the block. Thankfully a gentleman pushing a grocery cart full of his worldly possessions had come to the aid of the young man in the street. He took off just as we pulled to a stop. My passenger got out and went to talk to the impeccably dressed young man who stood just beyond the curb, weaving, and looking confusedly up at the buildings. I parked the car and joined them.

By the time I made my way over, she had gotten part of an address from him, and was trying to determine if he had his keys. We both questioned him a bit more until we found both keys and a complete address. He lived in her building, one floor up. Kismet.

She loaded him into the car and I drove us back around the corner. We managed to get him upstairs and with a bit of a struggle, got his door unlocked and him inside. He was surprisingly hospitable for his level of inebriation, and invited us in. We both declined, but remained in the hallway. Neither of us wanted to leave until we knew he was safely inside with his keys in his hand and his door locked. That took a bit more doing.

We walked back down the hallway so she could point me at the exit on the way to her apartment. She laughed that it wasn’t her first time coming to the aid of a drunk person while using a rideshare. Before parting ways, we turned for a hug. I thanked her again, it would have been a lot harder without her help, and a bit scary.

I see a lot of things driving at night you don’t really want to see, but rarely do I get the chance to do something to change the outcome. Or meet such a wonderful partner in crime. It was a few minutes before I logged in again, I had to catch my breath and stem the flow of tears.

People surprise you quite often, but rarely in such beautiful ways.

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