Uber Tooth Fairy


Unknown-1The call came from Pacific Coast Highway, from a place that’s not so easy to pick up an Uber ride. “Nicky” was standing in the far-right lane, blocking cars from slamming into me.

He jumped into the passenger seat, announcing “Today is a perfect day. A good day. Want to know why?”

I slid the destination across my screen . . . Nicky was headed to Mission Viejo. He was just short of wired, in a natural way, looking as if he might jump out from his torn-off jeans.

“Why?” I asked. Sometimes I wonder why I do this. Oh, I’m a writer. Or just curious.

He leaned as far as he could, almost in front of my face, and said “To get new teeth.” He grinned, without teeth. Not one tooth peeked through his lips.

It was one of those cases that I hoped for a proper response. One came from experience. I am a Sharks Hockey fan. His smile looked like the shots of the team in the game program, with or without their smiles fixed. I had a crush on Mike Ricci . . . now in Arizona.

“You played hockey?” I love rhetorical questions. On medium Uber rides.

“I used to, when I was younger.” He couldn’t have been more than 30, but without teeth it was hard to nail a year, let alone a decade. “I’ve spent my life pushing the edge. The older I get, the more dangerous my quest. Boogie board, shredding into nothing, climbing up cliffs one isn’t supposed to, but I live.”

“Except without your teeth,” I said. “Maybe your teeth have gone to outer space and you’ll get them back when you visit that last place that takes your life,” I have no idea why I said this. The ‘wired’ was contagious.

“Ah, you know, then. I figured it out, you have an old soul.”

“No,” I said. “I think this is my first time on earth.”

“No. You’re 5,000 years old. Been here many times. I know. I think I saw you land. It was on a ship, just south of the nuclear power plants, San Onofre.”

“I didn’t land here. I arrived in Seattle.  I am certain,” I said. I was at the off-ramp, to a road taking us up to the medical building.

“You take care,” Nicky said. “I’ve had this dream about America. You will survive. Many won’t.”

I was going to ask him about what would happen to him, but he jumped out of the car and dashed across the parking lot. He turned, at the door, and pointed to his mouth. He was smiling.

I could swear he already had his teeth in.

Uber Gas Buddy




My late afternoon ‘ping’ passenger was down the hill from my house, in the industrial park. “Patty” jumped in my backseat without entering a  destination.

“Where are we going?” My usual question, before my passengers offer “How long have you been driving for Uber?”

“I can’t say, that’s why I didn’t put a place in. We do have to make one stop, before that,” she said. “I ran out of gas, somewhere on the I-5. Don’t worry, we can find it. But a gas station would be the first stop.”

We headed to the first gas station. I say ‘first’ because that station had run out of gas cans. It was only Thursday and the cans were gone. Not a good sign. The second station had one. Then, off we went down the I-5. [Or, is it plain I-5, without the ‘I’?]

“Where do you think your car is?” I thought I’d get a wee idea of the area. I-5 runs smack dab into Camp Pendleton, one of America’s largest Marine base, hugging miles and miles of scenic California coast.

We passed the last south of San Clemente exit, passed Trestles beach and kept trucking south.

“What brand is your car?”

“A little Fiat. ”

A little Fiat. On the northbound I-5.

“Yes. I was late for an appointment, so I thought I’d just get to San Clemente, but when a Fiat gas gauge registers “E,” it’s empty, no leeway.”

Camp Pendleton covers both sides of the highway. No way to turn around, unless sneaking through the Highway Patrol turnaround dip, after the INS Stop-and-Desist installation.

NOTE: Mr. Dictator: We do not need a wall, not with those guys who peer into your car when the INS system suspects a breach.

At last, I could see her car, three miles further toward Mexico [I’m a writer. Instead of saying ‘south’ I thought the reference to Mexico is stronger.] I was surprised that her car was still there. Someone could have come along with a truck and shoved the wee car into the truck’s belly and disappeared..

I urged the car off the highway at the first off-ramp, did a U-turn and headed north. I turned off the Uber fare as soon as I pulled up behind her car, parked a car-length behind her, put on my emergency signals and waited for her to fill her car with the gallon of gas. Of course, the thought that we both could be smushed flashed through my mind. I ignored it.

It took ten minutes, but she got every drop of gas into her tank, came back to the car, picked up her purse from the seat, then handed me $10.

“This is cheaper than AAA,” Patty sold software for a living. She’d figured out the trip and expenses. She’ll go far.

I don’t think Patty will run out of gas again.

I looked at my gas tank. One eighth of a tank. Now, that would be a great ending, but my S-Ca-Pay is like an old VW, and would get me back to San Clemente, another 20 miles, unless I was attacked by illegal aliens, running down the hill, escaping from a band of Marines.

The Post That Launched The Artist | Uber Un-Samaritan

A picture is worth 817 words. Original art courtesy Richard Escasany.

A picture is worth 817 words. Original art courtesy Richard Escasany.

I don’t think “Cassie” was her real name. It could have been the name she used on an Uber account, not the one her mother gave her.

Her location was the address of the Rodeway Inn on the northern edge of San Clemente. The guest entrance is down a steep hill and up a narrow lane behind the building. I parked and waited. I always assume that I am not in the right location, never thinking that it could be GPS or passenger error. After seven minutes, I called Cassie.

She answered on one ring. I was in the wrong place. She was in front of the hotel. I did my Uber-Turn. [I don’t think “no-U-turn” applies to Uber turns, as the law interferes with my brand of customer service.] I pull around the corner and I see a woman, in cut-off jeans and torso-hugging, torn sweatshirt. Two bulging backpacks are leaning against her legs, like bookends. She’s holding an iPhone. Must be Cassie.

My black-and-silver U placard is affixed to the passenger side of my windshield. Occasionally, passengers bend down to peer at me, as if to assure themselves that Freddie Kruger’s mother isn’t their Uber driver. Cassie was no exception. I rolled down the window.

“Yes, I am Jean, your Uber driver, not Jane Fonda.”

That’s good, Jean. So your passenger looks like she could use a joke?

Cassie thrusts the backpacks onto the back seat. I notice that her left leg has a swath of scabs and angry scrapes, as if she’d had an unfortunate encounter with a gravel back road, not so long ago.

“Good morning. How are you?”

Oh, yes, Jean. Rhetorical queries, emanating from my hardwired autopilot. Unsuitable on so many levels.

She whispers, as if her voice would shatter if she spoke louder, “I want to go to the DMV, please.”

“Ok. Yes! Right away.”

Great, Jean. Now you sound like a chirpy waitress in a Midwestern coffee shop.

The San Clemente DMV is a visual oxymoron, a cold gray building planted on a blacktop parking lot, across Pacific Coast Highway from an expansive, brilliant white, private beach. I check the rear-view mirror. Cassie isn’t moving. She is staring at the three people lined up at the entrance.

“Maybe this is a good sign, only a few outside. I hope the wait is not too long.” She opens the door, slides across the seat, dragging her backpacks out behind her.

Before she closes the door, I turn toward her and say, “Who knows. You could be lucky.”

For God’s sake, wasn’t it obvious that luck hadn’t been a part of her life for days, maybe months? Or years.

I watched her sling her backpacks up over her shoulder and trudge toward the entrance. I gave her a five-star rating. My Uber app flashes. Another fare.

I switched gears, focusing on tracking the Uber GPS to Tony, who was waiting in his driveway. He was late for work. We didn’t go far. I needed a break, but the Uber-app flashed before I could click ‘go offline’.

It was Cassie. At the DMV. I didn’t see her when I pulled into the parking lot. Something urged me to stay put. Seconds later, she opened the back door.

“I’m sorry. It will take too long in there.  I was wondering if my Uber driver would be you,” she said as she loaded her packs into the backseat.

“Lucky you. Yes, it’s me. Where to?”

“The pier.”

“The San Clemente pier?”

I must be a sociopath. I am no better than the upper one-percent and their callous politicians whom I despise. There is only one pier in San Clemente. It could have been worse: I could have asked, “I hope you’re not going to jump.”

As I maneuvered through the streets that snaked down to the pier, I heard Cassie’s voice. I thought she was talking to me. I turned. She was on her mobile phone.

“Can you at least bring me a blanket?” Silence. It could have been a few seconds, but the wait was long enough to be uncomfortable.

“I have no place to go.” Silence. “Thank you. I’ll text you when I get to the pier.”

More than once, before I wake up, this scene races through my mind – a chilling, stop-motion endless loop, audio included.

“You are cash-strapped, driving for Uber, when other people your age are comfortably retired, living within their means, whatever that means. You have blankets, Jean. You could have offered to find help. You should know where to get help. You could have done something, said something. Anything.”

I had done something: I gave Cassie another five-star Uber rating. Other than that, nothing.

Now, I think of ways it could have been worse. It could have been raining. It could have been eight o’clock on Christmas Eve. Yes, that would have been worse.