This Was Definitely Not George #RidesharingConfessional

Photo by Aaron Mello via Unsplash
Photo by Aaron Mello via Unsplash

It would have been the perfect horror movie scene if she would have been holding an axe. As it was, she stood there in the cold, her silhouette framed by the garage door light. I pulled the car further in the driveway, towards her, and she limped out into the darkness. This was definitely not the George my app said I’d be picking up.

“Are you Uber?” she asked in a crackly voice.

“Yeah,” I said, smiling. “Are you George?”

“George is my son,” she said, and she didn’t sound amused by my lighthearted question. “He said this would be easy. Can you wait fifteen minutes?”

Fifteen minutes? That seemed a little excessive.

“Ma’am,” I said, trying to be polite. “I can head out and you can call another driver when you’re ready. They’ll be here when you need them.”

She wasn’t happy.

“How about five minutes?” she said.

“Okay,” I agreed, reluctantly.

She reappeared in about ten minutes, carrying two bags at her side. I got out of the car and went over to help her get loaded up.

“Are you ready?” I asked.

“What?” she shouted.

“Are you ready to go?” I asked again.

“I can’t hear you. Oh. I forgot my hearing aids,” she said loudly. “I’ll be right back.”

And with that she set off at a snail’s pace for the still-open garage door. I watched as the hall light turned on. Then the bedroom light. After a few fumbling minutes, the bedroom light switched back off. Then the hall light winked out. Finally, the garage door began to close. She limped her way to the car, side to side, side to side.

I confirmed her address, and we started out. It was cold and dark, and she did not live in the city so the roads were vacant.

“The other drivers have always waited,” she said, perturbed.

“Oh,” I said in a kind voice. “I see. I’m sorry.”

“Now I’m here in my old clothes because I didn’t have time to change.”

I nodded. She sighed.

“It’s very difficult getting over to see my husband,” she continued. “The taxis always take so long. And they’re very confusing about how to pay. How do I pay you?”

“It’s all on the app, ma’am. You don’t have to do anything.”


“Tips aren’t expected,” I said. “You don’t have to worry about it.”

She sat there in silence for a moment, but then, as if she was scared she might lose my attention, she jumped back in again.

“It’s difficult getting over to see my husband. Very difficult. I don’t drive anymore. My son is so busy. I try to get over a few times a week.”

She sounded like she was trying to convince me that she was doing her best.

“I’m sure you do your best,” I said. We kept driving.

“Do you know where you’re going?” she asked. “Sometimes they don’t know where they’re going.”

I showed her the app’s GPS on my phone. When we got to the senior living center, she directed me through the maze of side roads and parking lots. I pulled up outside a small, single-story cottage. It was bright and it looked warm.

“That’s it,” she said, sounding relieved. “He still has his tree up. I don’t know why he still has his tree up.”

She got out of the car and I helped her with her bags.

“Do I have to pay you?” she asked again.

“No, ma’am, it’s all taken care of. Are you okay from here?” I asked her.

“Thank you,” she said, and suddenly her voice was apologetic. “Thank you for listening to an old lady. You know, I really miss him.”

“I’m sure you do, ma’am,” I said.

There was gentleness in her voice, the first I’d seen or heard from her all night. She turned away and went to the front door. It was unlocked. She disappeared into the bright lights of the house. I stood there for a moment. I got into my car. I drove back into the cold, dark night.

The Most Awkward Passengers I’ve Ever Had #RidesharingConfessional

Photo by Oskar Krawczyk
Photo by Oskar Krawczyk

The man waved me over to the curb. He was fifty feet ahead, so I pulled front and to the side. He looked like he wanted to tell me something, so I rolled down my window.

“We just, uh, need to wait. For my wife,” he said.

“Okay, no problem,” I said. But before I could even put my window back up, I heard a voice shouting from the other side of the parking lot.

“What, are you leaving without me?” she screamed, and at first she was so animated that I thought she was joking, but as she got closer, I could tell she was not joking. Not at all.

“What, you can hold the door open for someone else, but not for me?”

He left his door open and walked around to the other side.

“No, no,” she said, still shouting. “Don’t bother.”

The hatred on her face is difficult to describe. It was an anger that did not care who watched, who witnessed. It was pure hatred, welling up out of deep hurt or disappointment. She flicked her cigarette away in contempt and climbed into the car, still fuming, still angry beyond reason.

“I bet you hold the door open for her, don’t you?” she said, accusingly.

“No,” he said.

“I bet you probably carry her purse, don’t you?”


When he spoke, there was patience, and there was also a sense that he somehow deserved it. I don’t know. It’s difficult to describe. After that there was only silence, the kind that stretches flat and wide with nothing to break it. A silence at once deep and sad and full of first lines that never happen. Breathing seems like an imposition.

I am just the driver, I tell myself.

Ten minutes of silence. We approached their neighborhood.

“Should we stop at the gas station on the corner?” he asked.

She erupted again.

“Why? Do you have someone you need to meet there? Maybe someone to hold the door open for?”

“I thought maybe the kids might want something,” he said quietly.

Silence. We skipped the gas station.

I pulled up to the curb at their destination and stopped the car. They each climbed out a different side, and she was gesturing at him all the way up the sidewalk. They disappeared inside their house, behind a door that looked like every other door in the neighborhood. Hundreds of doors, all alike, and behind them, hundreds of different situations. Arguments, kind words, the sharing of grocery lists, the delivery of good and bad news. All of it, there, behind all the doors.

I drove away. It was warm, as if the new year was too preoccupied with other things to remember what season it was.

The Weight of it All #RidesharingConfessional

Photo by Katie Hetland
Photo by Katie Hetland

I got a call to pick someone up, but they were twenty minutes away. I normally don’t accept those fares – either they want to take a super-short trip or they cancel when I’m only halfway there. But it had been a slow night, so I clicked accept and drove north, away from the city, into the dark.

This guy lived in a very quiet, unlit suburban neighborhood. It felt like about the loneliest place on Earth, maybe because I drove so far, or maybe because all the lights on all the houses were out. The winter trees leaned in over the grid of streets, bare and still. I pulled up along the sidewalk and this guy came limping out to the car.

He was big, and my car was not the perfect size for him. He pushed the seat all the way back. He smelled of cigarettes and booze. He was probably in his late twenties with a scruffy beard and a ball cap tilted back on his head. He wore a camo jacket, jeans, and heavy work boots.

“Mind doing a round trip for me?” he asked, leaning out the car door to spit out his wad of tobacco.

“Sure,” I said. “No worries.” I was relieved I hadn’t driven that far for a minimum fare. I filled him in on the NPR interview I was listening to – a fascinating piece about an Iranian who was tortured for treating women, then spied for the government, then finally turned double agent and provided information for the US.

It was a quiet, ten-minute drive.

He directed me to a small line of shops. He went into the liquor store and came out with a few bags. He put them in the car, and the glass clinked. Then he went into a burger and wings joint and came out with a brown bag that smelled amazing. We drove back towards his house.

On the way, the show changed to something different, and we listened to someone who had grown up in a US city. They made the comment that, “Where I grew up, once you went to jail, you were cool. That’s when you really hit adulthood, after your first stint in prison.”

The guy beside me, quiet until that moment, burst out with a cynical laugh.

“Whatever,” he muttered. “When I went to prison, it was not cool. It was humiliating.”

He went on to tell me how he had a few DUIs, got into some other trouble, ended up spending a few months behind bars. He talked about it the way men talk about some long ago affair that ruined their lives: he was objective, but there was a wistfulness there, something that pointed toward a major loss the imprisonment led to.

He talked and talked and talked the entire way home. It was like I had pulled the small plug out of the dam. When we pulled back into his dark, lonely neighborhood, he shook my hand.

“Thanks, man,” he said, and I took it to be a thank you for talking to him, or being okay with his ex-con status, or maybe for just listening. “I don’t go out anymore – can’t risk that kind of trouble. So I get a ride out, buy some drinks, buy some food, and spend the night here, on my own. Friday nights used to be for bars.”

He laughed a laugh that said he couldn’t believe what his life had become. It was the laugh of an old, old man who regretted his entire life, except this guy wasn’t yet thirty.

“But now, this is it. It’s okay.”

He got out of the car, retrieved his bags of food and booze from the back, and walked quietly up the cracked sidewalk to the front door, his shoulders bent under the weight of it all.

He Told Me He was Ready to be a Father #RidesharingConfessional


As an Uber driver, driving the same person is rare. It’s happened to me exactly twice. The first time it happened is a ridiculously strange story I’m still trying to figure out how to tell. The second time it happened was on a rainy, January day when the year still felt like a blank journal.

He wanted to try to cram a six-foot carpet into my poor little Mini Cooper. We wedged it through the trunk and into the back seat. He climbed into the front and thanked me. He wore work clothes and talked about how he happy he was to be making double-time-and-a-half. I thought I recognized him, but if it was the person I thought it was he didn’t look the way I remembered him looking. If you know what I mean.

Anyway, it was him, and in fact I wrote about meeting him a few weeks ago because the first time I drove him made such a big impression on me. He was the same African-American guy I drove right after the election, the same one who was feeling fearful after the results came in. He told me he still felt uneasy. I asked him how his year was going. He smiled, big.

“Well, we have had some news since I saw you last. My girlfriend’s expecting,” he said. “I’m going to be a father.”

He told me he was taking on all the hours he could. He remembered when his brother was little, eight years younger than him, and he had to raise him because his dad was always at work. He used to get up early and help him with his homework. He taught him how to play sports. He kept him in line.

“I’m ready,” he said, smiling. “I’m ready to be a father.”

In Which I Feel Unexpected Affection Towards Someone I’m Driving #RidesharingConfessional


Most mornings, when I’m going to drive, I peel myself off the floor where I’ve been sleeping beside Leo’s bed. He’s not been sleeping well at night. I creep out of the room, make some delicious Passenger Coffee (Union blend), throw on some clothes, and climb into my cold car. At 5am, the city is quiet and crisp, a new dollar bill. The street lights are sharp, like stars.

I pull up to a produce warehouse and wait for my fare. He comes out: an African-American kid, maybe 20, hood pulled up, hands deep in his pockets. He gets into the front seat.

“Morning,” I say, confirming his destination. “You work through the night?”

He nods and shivers, and his voice is kind.

“Morning, man,” he says. “I’m tired. And I’m freezing.”

I wonder if his work place is refrigerated, seeing that he works with produce.

“I’ve got heated seats,” I say, chuckling, reaching forward and pushing the button to turn on the heat in his seat. “But it’ll probably put you to sleep.”

“I can sleep anywhere.”

He grins from under his hood and I can feel the connection between us. He’s tired and cold, like me. He’s working hard, for himself or someone else. Third shift, man. Third shift sucks.

His destination is fifteen minutes away. After three minutes, he’s asleep, and there I am, driving this kid home from work. His breathing is heavy, his mouth wide open, like one of my kids, and as the sun rises behind us, over the highway, I feel an almost desperate tenderness towards him, the same kind of feeling I feel when I wake up in the middle of the night to take one of my own kids back to bed.

We get to his apartment building, and I can see the river. The sun rises over it. He startles awake, rubs his face.

“Sorry, man,” he says, shaking his head. “Wow, I was out. Right here’s good.”

I pull over, wish him well, and he gets out. And I go on with my day.

That Time I Drove Around Four of the Minor Gods

Photo by Ivan Timov

They emerge through mahogany
doors, out from under Greek letters,
like four of the minor gods. They are
all cardigans and collars and suit coats
like their fathers
(lawyers, doctors, accountants)
brazen laughter at past conquests
and those to come. Nothing holy
or sacred because the world
is theirs to pillage. All around them
mortals making minor gifts,
supplications. Nonetheless,

We drive
through the city, me straight-faced
and listening. I am torn. I want them
to have fun, to drink one too many,
to make mistakes that will make
for good stories years from now
when they unexpectedly cross
paths. Remember that
night? But I also know that when gods
and mortals cross, the gods do not
suffer, even if they leave the mortals
in ruins. And I think of my daughters
ten years from now, or fifteen, perhaps,
somehow in the path of these laughing
gods as they take whatever
they want.

“We’ll get out here,” they shout, opening
and slamming doors in the middle
of stopped traffic, laughing and running
through the lines of waiting cars, talking
as if they know the entire population
of this city is listening. Maybe
it is. Has this world
always been man-
handled by such careless
deities? And where are the heroes
among us, the ones who will unseat
these reckless rulers and saturate
the world in
kindness and grace?

I pull away, into traffic, into
a sea of brake lights fragmenting
under the winter rain. Where
are those who will save us
from ourselves?

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