If everyone drives for Uber, who will ride with Uber?
Am I the first person to ask that? Uber is aggressively recruiting and I feel the call.
My driving skills are superb. The only thing keeping me out of the ranks of the millions of Uber driver millionaires is the possibility my decrepit car won’t meet Uber’s stylish profile. My car has a quarter of a million miles on it. Need a ride to the moon? I know a short cut.
I used to drive cab in Minneapolis. Twelve hour shifts are not for everyone. To start my 2:00pm- 2:00am shift, I would get up around noon. I’d ride my ten speed bike from downtown, through the Lake District and up into the suburbs to the cab company.
The contrast of riding a bicycle from manning a taxi for a twelve hour shift can hardly be exaggerated. Riding a bicycle fully engages the senses. The intense physical exertion, the constant scanning for danger, pot holes and the like, and taking in the sights and sounds of the environment, can hardly be replicated any other way. Riding late at night, one moves silently except for the working of the chain on gears and the subtle thrum of tire on pavement. Cool air flows around you and you are scarcely aware of your breath.
Once, while riding to work, a guy made a turn right in front of me. He didn’t see me until he heard me bounce off the car. No damage though.
Driving a car is much more sedentary and intermittent in its demands. The endurance is more in the hours involved than in any mental or physical effort expended. And you are swaddled in that metallic cocoon of protection.
On arrival, I checked in, and claimed the taxi, recently cleaned and gassed but still smelling of stale dust and who knows what? This was a Ford fleet car, not one of those grand Checker Marathons.
A couple of fast food burritos via the drive through and I would start my shift. The stuffy car smell and the flavor of the burritos mingled in a totally unique fashion. Sadly, after I left that job, those burritos lacked that je ne c’est quoi that made them so delicious.
I lived downtown, adjacent to the posh lakeside neighborhood where Mary Tyler Moore’s character lived in the hit sitcom named after her. I lived on my tips and banked my checks.
The corner café on my block, featured a waitress who, when not serving food, filled the time by scratching a scab on her leg. As I said, I lived adjacent to the posh neighborhood. I once witnessed two women fighting, rolling in the street as traffic stopped and gawkers spilled from a local tavern.
The movie “Taxi Driver” was years from release but I knew the life it depicted. Of course, the mean streets of suburban Minneapolis could not hope to compete with those depicted in the Robert DeNiro film. And that is okay.
For instance, there was an old regular, who didn’t want to go anywhere. He just wanted to ride, slowly. No drama. No tip.
Once a pair of wild and crazy guys, in town from the South, insisted on being dropped where they could get some local “poon tang”. Something about riding a cab makes guys want to open up and share their most personal fantasies. As if I would care. On his way to visit his daughter, one guy boasted about his love for women. His goal was to ‘get’ them all (as in “every one of them”) before he died. Such love.
I can’t tell you how many fast friends I made, who I never saw again, and never missed. Be it a ten minute cab ride or working peripherally on a job, people presume to know you and therefore, to have some claim on you. What do they know? You collect the fare or leave that job and these ‘dear’ acquaintances evaporate like windshield wiper fluid.
One joker insisted on stopping for an errand en route to his destination. Leaving the meter running, I followed him, ensuring I didn’t lose him out the back door. I discovered his ‘errand’ was in a quiet bar catering to African-American professionals. This chump just had to share his too-clever-by-half observation that sickle cell anemia was caused by licking food stamps. Who does that?
One fare claimed to be a successful writer. He traveled the world so extensively that every city now bored him. How jaded. Each second is a threshold to eternity.
One night I picked up a drunk at a bar downtown. He said to just drive west. He would guide me. My first mistake.
He lived in the sticks, where unmarked streets meandered around unknown lakes. I had to rouse him for directions at every fork in the road. He’d point and fall back asleep. Round and round we went. I should have radioed in.
He saw the meter read over $25 and went ballistic. Getting the address allowed me to get him there. He refused to pay though, saying I gave him the run around.
His wife was yelling at him for being so late. I got out to speak with her about the fare and he attacked me from behind. She screamed at him for that.
The small claims judge awarded me the unpaid fare but the headaches persisted. A tip was not forthcoming.
The airport run was good for racking up big fares and good tips. One driver dropped his fare and the meter read $19.80. The passenger tossed him a Jackson and said “Keep the change. The driver bolted from the car and threw two dimes at him. “You keep the change!”
I heard the legend of a cabby hired to drive some guy 150 miles, all the way to Duluth. Drivers talked about that fat tip wistfully. I never went to Duluth.
One driver planned to buy a fleet of Cadillacs and call his company ‘Caddy Cab.’ He was ambitious. He told me he thought I was someone who always knew exactly what I wanted. I didn’t have a clue.
He invited the drivers to his apartment to play Risk after our shift. We were just getting rolling when his girlfriend stormed out of the bedroom yelling about the time. It was only 3am, but she kicked us all out. She could have played too, if she’d wanted.
Was that the night I saw her? It was late, no traffic. No lights, but the moon was bright. Just me coursing through silent neighborhoods on my ten speed. I sailed down the hill and turned onto a tree lined street rounding the lake. I came through a curve fast and she emerged from the gloom. I almost hit her. Crossing the street in a robe and slippers, she heard me and turned, startled. I swerved by. Our eyes locked for one silent second. Her perfume lingered.
Then she was behind me.
Was she Mary Tyler Moore? Maybe not.