The Father Embarrassed by His Son #RideshareConfessional

Photo by John Price via Unsplash
Photo by John Price via Unsplash

I pull to a stop outside a fancy golf course’s club house. It is late – midnight? 1am? – and the parking lot is empty. A man emerges from the shadows and confirms he is my passenger. He seems friendly, in a good mood, and mostly drunk. He laughs and says he has some friends who are coming, they’ll be right out. He’s going to use the bathroom. I start the fare.

Three other men approach the car, laughing and talking about their golf outing that day. They are also wasted. They squeeze into the back seat, mostly good-natured about the small back seat. Except the guy in the middle. He isn’t happy. He makes some snide remarks about the car, some more snide remarks about Uber drivers in general, then sits there, shoulders slumped, scowl on his face, somewhere between annoyance and sleep. He is the youngest of the group, and to be honest, he looks a little young to be participating in the inebriation.

The first man returns, hops in the front seat, and off we go.

“Dad, give me your phone. I want to text Billy,” the kid in the middle seat demands.

“What are you going to text to him?”

“Nothing. Just give me your phone.”

The argue for five minutes about the phone.

“Fine, you can have it, but let me read it before you send the text.”

“What? No way.”

“Fine, you can’t have the phone.”

“Okay, just give it to me. I’ll let you read it first.”

The father hands over his phone.

The kid becomes increasingly agitated as we drive, reliving the ways he was cheated on the golf course that day. He makes fun of seemingly every person he crossed paths with. He keeps spouting off about this or that, and the father starts sliding from happy-go-lucky to morose to angry. He snaps at his kid. He’s clearly embarrassed by his son’s drunken state.

The kid hands the phone back.

“You already sent the text!” his father shouts.

“No, I didn’t.”

“Yes, you did! What is wrong with you?”

“Sorry, sorry,” the kid’s words are slurred and he looks like he might fall asleep. “I guess I did. By accident.”

We arrive at the house, a mansion dropped into one of those neighborhoods where the mansions are lined up one beside the other. Each man apologizes as he gets out. This is one common trait of drunken people who rideshare – they almost always apologize for being drunk.

The dad lingers.

“Sorry, man,” he says, running his hands through his hair. He seems suddenly full of regret. He hands me a $10 tip on a $12 fare. “Sorry.”

The Girl Who Couldn’t Speak #RideshareConfessional

Photo by Ryan Pouncy via Unsplash
Photo by Ryan Pouncy via Unsplash

She gets into the backseat of my car, a tiny thing, with limbs the wind might blow away. She is smiling and has had too much to drink but something about her seems unfamiliar with it. I wouldn’t be surprised if she held her hand out in front of her face and, with fascination in her eyes, started reaching for invisible things.

“Did you have a good night?” I ask, smiling.

“Oh, yes…Very…wonderful.” She says her words slowly, deliberately, as if spelling each one in her mind before speaking it. “I’m moving. West…Next week…Girlfriends took me out…for a drink.”

She looks out the window. This catches my attention because so few people look out the window these days.

“That’s cool,” I say. “Where did you grow up?”

“I drew…I drew…” she pauses, takes a breath. She is frustrated with her inability to speak. “I…grew…up in Philadelphia.” She smiles, happy to have gotten the sentence out successfully. “But next week my boyfriend and I move west…to Colorado.”

She stares out the window again, the city lights strobing on her face as we drive under them. I decide to give her some peace. But she starts up again, stuttering her way through explaining what she’ll be doing, what her boyfriend will be doing, how fortuitous it all was, landing jobs so quickly in the same city, finding a place.

I drive her to a dark neighborhood outside of the city, one of those sprawling neighborhoods of three-level apartment buildings with insufficient lighting.

“Here’s good,” she mumbles, and I let her out. I’m relieved. She looks like she might be sick. She doesn’t say good-bye or thank you – she’s very much focused on her feet – and I watch as she goes down the sidewalk. I make sure she gets through her door.

I guess we are all coming and going, all of us, here and there. It’s nice to think that we, even as strangers, can watch out for each other, from time to time.

The Biggest Uber Tip I Ever Got (or, Money Isn’t Everything) #RideshareConfessional

Photo by Anthony Delanoix via Unsplash
Photo by Anthony Delanoix via Unsplash

I pull up outside the bar, squeeze my car up against the curb on the corner and wait. A bouncer stands on the steps talking to two women. It’s 8 o’clock, a perfect summer night, and the sky is fading to steel blue. Flat, gray clouds hang low in the east.

A middle-aged man comes out of the bar and holds up his index finger to me, then sidles up next to the women talking to the bouncer. He flirts with the older woman. They chat for a few minutes. Meanwhile, I wait. After a few more minutes I put down the passenger side window to try to get his attention. When you have to wait around for a fare, it can kill what you might make that hour.

“Don’t you leave me!” he shouts over to me. There’s nothing kind about his voice. It is the voice of someone used to shouting, used to getting his way.

“I’m going to head out soon!” I say, laughing, only half joking. He storms over towards me. My blood pressure rises. I consider driving away while he stands there, waving to him through the sunroof.

“What did you say?” he says, squinting his eyes. “You are not f***ing leaving me!” He throws his phone into the passenger seat, pulls out his wallet, leafs through a deck of bills, and tosses a twenty at me. It falls to the passenger side floor. I do not pick it up.

He goes back to his conversation. Putting his phone in the passenger seat was actually an expert move. I’m not going to throw it back out the window at him, although I’d like to. I’m not going to get out and confront him because he’s unpredictable, at least partially drunk, and I’m a non-confrontational 9 on the Enneagram. Besides, the $20 is still on the floor. That’s what I usually make driving for Uber in a fairly decent hour.

He nudges his body up against the younger woman, puts his arm around her shoulders. She shifts uncomfortably. His hand drops, but catches her waist on the way through, a passing glance, a pressure point impossible not to feel.

A few minutes later he finally comes back to the car, loud, boisterous, owner of the world.

“Can you believe this guy was going to f***ing leave me?” he shouts to his friend who climbs into the back seat.

“I’m sure he can’t wait around forever,” his friend says quietly. Finally, a voice of reason.

“I need to make a pit stop,” he says. He bends over and picks up the $20 bill off the floor and hands it to me. “Here, this is yours.” I shrug and take it, balled up in my fist on the gear shift. He directs me to another bar.

“I need you to wait,” he says. “I’m just having one beer. I will make it worth your time. Do not f***ing leave me!” And he’s heading into the bar, and I’m in the car, typing this, thinking I’d rather be at home with Mai and the kids, no matter the $20.

* * * * *

Ten minutes later he comes out of the bar alone and climbs into the car. I confirm the address and we start driving. I just want to get him home and get on with my night.

“I can’t believe you were going to leave me,” he says, starting in on the same old topic. He asks me how often I drive.

“Fifteen to twenty hours a week,” I say. “Sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on my other work.”

I ask him what he does.

“I’m a business man,” he says. “I’ve made a lot of money. A lot of money.” His voice turns suddenly introspective, and, surprisingly, he is not bragging. He says it as a statement of fact, the same way someone might say, “I could stand to lose some weight,” or “I had salmon for dinner.” He takes a deep breath.

“I’m on my way home to my girlfriend. I was married. I have some kids. They won’t have anything to do with me, not now.” Now he is back again, chuckling, but in between each laugh is a tiny spark of something. I realize what it is: disappointment.

“Turns out I’m good at making money and terrible at making a family. So I’m on my way home to my girlfriend.” I have never heard someone trying so hard to convince themselves they are happy.

We talk for a long time and he is surprisingly candid. He fluctuates quickly from regret to abrasive confrontation. Talking to him is like being the lion tamer in the circus – circling, constantly assessing, now firm, now retreating. We pull up outside his house.

“Thanks for waiting,” he says, standing up out of the car. The street is tree-lined and dark and someone in the distance is mowing their yard. I can hear the mower. I can smell the grass.

He stands outside the car for a minute, pulling himself together.

“I can’t believe you were going to f***ing leave me,” he says with a wry grin on his face, his body swaying from side to side. He pulls out a $100 bill and throws it onto the passenger seat before slamming the door and walking into his house. The bill flutters to a rest and sits there, bent, folded. I realized this was probably a perfect picture of his life: knocking people over, being his brash self wherever he goes, and then leaving a trail of hundreds in his wake.

All in all, I made $129 on what would normally have been a $6 fare. I take the bill and put it in my middle console, and I drive home, because it’s been a slow night, and I’m tired, and money is not everything.

When She Wanted to Go Back #RideshareConfessional

Photo by Jez Timms via Unsplash
Photo by Jez Timms via UnsplashThe

The woman came through the hotel doors first, approached the car, and opened the rear passenger side door. She stood there for a moment outside the car, nervously smoothing her dress. The man she was with walked around the back of the car and climbed in the opposite side, sliding in smooth, not bumping into any edges. The woman got in reluctantly, and I saw she was young, maybe late 20s.

Her eyes flitted here and there, while his were like laser beams, never wavering. When she spoke, there was always the scent of an apology on her breath. When he spoke, he dismissed the world with every syllable.

Thirty seconds after the ride began, she said in disappointment, “I left the card on the side table in our room!”

“Oh, well,” he said curtly.

I glanced in the mirror.

“It would just take a minute,” I said.

“We’re going to be late as it is,” he said.

“But I hate not having their card with us,” she said, and again I slowed, figuring he would reconsider, realize we had only just left, and change his mind.

“We’ll be late,” he said, staring at his phone.

I have a small car, but somehow there was a lot of space between them in the back, and she tried to make small, positive comments, anything to start a decent conversation, and he answered in sound bite snippets. And they sat there in the back of my car as we drove to the wedding, him staring at his phone while she stared out her window, looking for who knows what.

Where He Was Going at 11pm #RideshareConfessional

Photo by Warlen Vasco via Unsplash
Photo by Warlen Vasco via Unsplash

I pull into the parking lot of the pizza shop in the heart of a local college town. The streets are dark. The shop is almost empty. It’s nearly 11pm.

A college-age kid knocks on the window, opens the door, throws a backpack into the back seat.

“Can I go in and grab something real quick?” he asks.

“Sure,” I say, starting the clock.

He comes out five minutes later, carrying a bag of food. His destination is 45 minutes away, east, towards Philly.

“You always make this trek?” I ask him.

“Naw,” he says. “But my girl lives over this way. Now I got to go to work. Night shift. Stocking shelves. But it’s good money, man.”

“You sound exhausted,” I say, laughing. “You should probably grab a snooze.”

“Yeah, man,” he says with a wry grin. “Not a bad idea.”

In the rear view mirror, I see him lean his head against the glass. I try to avoid the bumps. He sleeps. 30 minutes later he reaches down and eats a solitary piece of pizza, slurps down a soda through the straw. The streetlights flash on both of us. The headlights of oncoming cars glide over us. The world is a strange thing. He falls back to sleep.

I pull into his place of work. He gets out. I park. I go inside and grab a box of Apple Jacks and eat most of it during the 45-minute drive home. It’s no communion bread, but, Allelujah, it’s the fifth week of Easter and it’s good.

This is the Next Generation #RideshareConfessional

Photo by Nick Herasimenka via Unsplash
Photo by Nick Herasimenka via Unsplash

The kid gets into the car. I pick him up from an orthodontist outside the city. Traffic is heavy and the weekend is close.

“No, man,” he says into his phone. “What about Coby? We have to invite him.”

He is quiet, listening to protests on the other end of the line. I glance at him in the rear view. He’s a handsome kid and carries himself with an air of self-confidence.

“What do you mean, his handicap?” he says, grinning, but not the kind of grin that is amused. “You mean he can’t run fast?”

We drive past other cars, under bridges, into the city.

“Oh,” he smiles. “You mean his seizures? C’mon man.”

The smile has moved into his voice, but there’s also no backing down. It’s the sound of someone who is willing to be patient but knows you will come around to their way of seeing things eventually.

“No, invite him. I’ve got Coby’s back. He’s good.”

A pause.

“Okay, cool. See you tonight.”

A simple conversation, but it struck me. We hear so much about bullying these days, and it’s a serious problem, and we need to face it and stop it. But there are also really good kids out there, standing up for those on the outside. I’ve driven some of them. They give me hope for our future.