It’s cold out tonight. Really cold. I grab some reading material for those potential in-between spots of no activity and I open my Uber Driver app, and click “go online.”
Nothing. For a while.
Then I move. I go downstairs in my house. A call comes in. (I’ve noticed being stationary often means no calls; moving, even slightly, will often trigger a call.) Three minutes away, the Food Lion. Easy enough. I’m out the door in a flash.
The Food Lion shopper
She has finished grocery shopping and has many bags to load. I decide to start the ride while she is loading her bags in the car as this time is truly customer time, then I get out to help her. She’s late 30s, I think; Black, a mom. I don’t know much more about her. She feels a bit shy to me. I gab and am friendly, hoping to put her at ease. She has a kid in high school, the same school I attended decades back, and a kid in elementary school. Her home, where I’m taking her, is where my best friend lived for several years when she was caring for her mom whose dementia was creeping in. I’ve walked many, many, many summer nights in her neighborhood. We talk about how great the high school is; about going for walks at night; about her kids.
Key experience: It feels very sweet to help her load and unload her groceries. So simple. So civil, kind, helpful.
Cannabis is it
Beep. Five minutes away. A young man is my next pick-up. White, 23, unsophisticated, a bit childish. He’s on his way to a friend’s home for the first time. It’s a gal. Is it a date?, I ask. No. Just hanging out. We talk. He’s friendly. He works at Target. We talk about restaurants near his house, which leads to talking about bars in the neighborhood, which leads to conversation about drinking. I tell him I’d like to ask him a private question that he need not answer. I ask him whether, among his friends, if their preference is alcohol, cannabis or ecstasy/etc. Cannabis he tells me, stating–somewhat proudly–that he uses it. He prefers it: you don’t get violent or stupid, and you’re more relaxed. I agree. We bond on that for a bit then we arrive at his destination. It’s a trailer home park right in the midst of, well, an expensive housing area. After I drop him off, I drive around, explore, observe. It seems kind of cute. Not quaint but cute.
Key experience(s): Enjoying the honesty of this young man; exploring part of my home-zone area.
The security guy
Beep. Right away. Another ride. I get nervous that I’m going in the wrong direction to get to him, and I make an illegal U-turn at one of the police-hang-out-here spots. Ugh. Not good. Doesn’t feel good. I arrive at Best Buy. I tell the guy, by text and then a call, that I’m here. Nine minutes go by. He waves at me. I can see he is busy. I decided to start his trip while he is still inside. 10 cents a minute, minus Uber’s fee. It’s not worth the money; it’s a statement, though I realize later that had I not cut on the U-turn, I might have been a few minutes later and things would be different. His friend wants a ride on the way home. No problem.
Finally, they’re in the car. No apologies to me for being 9 minutes late to arrive. He’s young. He’s Black, maybe mid-20s. I decide I’m going to tell him that I could have left after 5 minutes and he’d be charged by Uber. I’m not sure if that’s 100% right, but I think it is. If the rider is a no-show or they cancel late into your ride, they get charged and I get $5. I explain to him that while we’re talking inconsequential money, it’s not fair that I wait for him to finish work he gets paid for while I don’t get paid. He apologizes. Now, I need to flip the energy. My BFF has told me many times that my wisdom is often delivered like a laser–sharp and fast–and then I soothe things with humor. It’s time to do that.
He works in security and had to check employees out as they were leaving for the night. We talk about how significant internal theft can be. I offer that I know someone who was a military guy who does regional security for Best Buy: a white guy, ex-military, stocky. He knows him. (The small world-ness of Uber driving strikes again.) I tell him that I have a story to tell, some parts funny, but with a tragic end. I was a petty thief when I was in high school, a mall rat who stole jewelry and small items more from boredom and the thrill and adrenaline rush it created than anything else. I tell him of my friend with whom I stole, a couple times a week for a season of my life. I tell him how her mother caught her and, by association, I was caught too; how I had to return the items and apologize; how the store manager told me I was lucky to have a mother who made me face the consequences of my actions. I tell him how I cried when she told me that because I knew she was right.
I tell him of my friend and how she didn’t stop stealing; how she got a professional job in college as a bookkeeper and embezzled $22,000 (or more) until she got caught; how I ran into her when we were in our late 20s and how she went on and on about her boyfriend in the Hamptons and all the parties and, well, you know, you can’t wear the same $500 dress to different parties … tra-la-la; and I tell him that I wondered who she had become. I didn’t understand her. I told him how later, in our mid-30s, we reconnected and had dinner. How she was stealing from her now-ex-husband and was laughing about making him pay for the car in cash, knowing she was leaving soon; how she lied about expenses and squirreled away money and how she got a great divorce settlement.
Then I told him about when I heard that she had died. And how through a combination of events, I’d set about with another person to discover how it was that she died. I told him about how we found a newspaper story about police going to a house the night of her death; then another story about gunshots; and another story with more background about her life. How her second marriage to a man with a house on the beach in Florida, a private jet and a fancy job was failing; how her husband was over $250,000 in arrears to the IRS, how his business was failing; how she’d left him and was in another relationship. How he came to her new boyfriend’s home when they were in bed together; how he shot her boyfriend in the neck and killed him; how he did the same to her; how it was all caught and recorded on a 911 call and how the chilling conversation and events were transcribed in the newspaper.
And I told him: please do your job, it’s important. And if you ever catch someone stealing and need to tell a tale, tell them about the Uber Lady you met and how two petty thieves’ paths aligned … then diverged.
Key experience: Flipping the energy.
To the Shell Station we shall go
Next ride. 10 pm-ish. Big girl, white, maybe early 30s, sleepy. Her verb conjugation. Her language. Her dress. Everything about her says “not many open roads ahead.” She’s talking on her phone. Baby dramas. etc. She’ll call her friend back when she’s at work. Work? A few miles down the road. A Shell Station. The night shift. No conversation between us.
The Uber fee for her ride: $6.60. Wow, she’ll need to work at least an hour to pay for that ride. Wow. I hope she has a ride home. I hope she can walk in better weather. I hope she has friends who give her rides sometimes. She’s poor. She lives in a subsidized (though really, really nice and new) apartment complex. She has a kid. She works at a Shell Station. Maybe she has other jobs. She probably has various forms of aid (rent support, various support with her kid … maybe even help from a boyfriend). But, wow! $6.60 to get to a job that, I imagine, pays minimum wage or near to it.
Key experience: Up front and personal with the cost of being poor.
The DJ who almost made me cry
Next up: off to another big box shopping center. Realizing how many people need rides to and from work, especially in low-paying jobs. I pick up a young man, late 20s, Black, looks like a model. Works at Nordstrom Rack. He calls memiss. (I’m 52, but no worries.) He’s polite and pleasant. No convo. On his phone. Talking with a friend. DJ plans in New Jersey this weekend. His car needs repairs.
Key experience: While quiet and driving him, I’m filled with this almost tear-inspiring feeling of the sweetness in life to be able to be close to other people. I feel a tenderness for the moment of being in my car with this “stranger,” able to listen to his call with his friend, able to take him home. It’s an unexpected emotion. I revel in it.
Down time. No calls. I read five minutes. Move my car 500 yards. Read. Move. Read. Move. This goes on for awhile. A call comes in; it’s 20 minutes away. No thanks. Then I think I shouldn’t judge calls just on distance but how do I feel, how do I respond to the call. The same call comes in two minutes later. I take it.
It’s a young couple. Maybe late 20s/early 30s. White. Coming out of dinner at a fancy place. We talk restaurant talk and I mention the restaurant where — as things have it — they both work. Many laughs, many stories, much good news to share with each other as we have circles of shared friends and acquaintances. I mention how I helped (quite a bit) when their restaurant opened, long before their time there, with social media, giving tips to the awkward new owners. And I mention they never once even bought me a beer. (Not that I did what I did for compensation … I just always thought it odd that they were happy to receive but not to give.) They both offer to buy me a beer next time I come in. Sweet! Or should I say, Cheers!
Key experience: Watch the signs — the same call came in twice, for me. Take it.