Uber Journeys

Uber | Silent Silver Passenger

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“Your mission, if you should choose to accept . . . “

As an Uber driver, unless the fare is an amateur-green-at-the-gills-drunk, my mission is to give ‘em the ride they want. Period.

Sometimes I receive texts from my fares. I could be my rider telling me to wait in front of the red car in the driveway; or, letting me know he’s the big guy with the San Clemente Triton hoodie in front of MathWorks, always a good sign that the future is bright.

This time, however, I was to pick up Jason. Two minutes up the road, my iPhone dinged.Incoming text. The message was too long for me to read without causing an accident. The signal turned red. I could read it without risking my life.

 “Proceed to xxxx in the San Clemente Business Park, pick up a package from Leon, then deliver it to Josh at xxxx Company in Anaheim. Thank you. Jason.”

So, Jason, the name of the rider, was not human. Rather, a package. The directions were clear. My writer’s brain engaged my what-if gears.

What if it’s drugs? What if it’s a million dollars? The data for the takeover? Something that the sender and receiver couldn’t risk being seen transporting on the 55 Freeway?

I drove to the Business Park on top of the hill, marched into xxxx Company. Reception desk, empty. Offices beyond the reception desk, empty. Not a sound. Dead space.

”Hello?”

“Hello, you’re here?” The man popped up from a cubicle. He had to be a computer programmer. Plastic pocket guard. Three mechanical pencils. Didn’t look like Cosa Nostra.

“You’re a delivery person? Here to get the package?”

“I’m an Uber driver. Yes, I’m supposed to get a package.”

“Funny, you’re not wearing a uniform. Very strange, sending Uber.”

“I have a T-shirt, but it’s for Uber Car Pool and that’s only in San Francisco.” I could tell this was too much information.

He handed me two square Mylar packages. They were heavy, but not heavy enough to be a bomb. Or a brick of marijuana [do they still make those?] “Sign here.”

“What’s in here? Inquiring delivery people need to know.” I squeezed the packages.

“LED lights. For an awning. On a motorhome.”

I placed the packages on the passenger seat. [Rides have the option to sit in front or back.] I didn’t offer it a lifesaver. Or  remind it to use the seatbelt.

Silence for the next 45-minutes. I kind of miss the usual . . . “So, how long you been Ubering? . . . How do you like it?”

At last, I wound my way through a forest of motorhomes, in various stages of upgrades, to the front office. I stopped the car and reached for the package.

It winked at me.

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.