Uber Journeys

How Many Cenks at LAX?

 

The Young Turks

Most of the time, my Uber celebrity experience means that I’m the only soon-to-be-famous person in the car.

Not so, late one Friday afternoon.

The name on the ‘ping’ was unusual.

“Couldn’t be,” I muttered. It was awkward. First time picking someone up at LAX. I’d waited 12 minutes before, got a ride who cancelled [do NOT cancel when you’re ordering an Uber at LAX. It takes 20 minutes to get back to the holding pattern!]

So, the second time, I waited 15 minutes.

Pick up at Terminal Three. I called, just to make certain. And to let him know that my car wasn’t black. It is silver grey. The shot of my car on Uber isn’t right. Many times, people don’t see me.

Even though I recognized the name, he didn’t sound familiar.

I lurched into World Way then pulled up toe Terminal Three. I went past him; called again and this patient man sat down in my back seat. I turned around, just to check if this person were the one I thought it might be.

It was. The Cenk of The Young Turks!

I think I scared him. “Oh my goodness! It’s YOU!. You’re The Young Turk of the Turks! I’m on your list. Get twitter feeds all day long from TYT!”

“So, we’re working for each other, here.” Yes. An Uber driver who thinks Cenk Turks is something that everyone should listen to. Why? Because, I was a Young Republican. For many years, standing alone for capitalism, working hard to get more work, figuring out how to get myself out of danger, then getting back into it. Not so since GWB took a huge bonus and destroyed the Middle East . . . but you know all that.

Last year, at Politicon, I’d met Newt Gingrich. Tried to get an answer as to why he never responded to my letter of resignation to the Republican Party. If I’d seen the light, where were anyone else with a brain?

“Where is everyone else?” I would ask myself, after I’d realized that the [R] didn’t stand for Abe, Ike or anyone with a heart anymore.

Now, in my back seat, was another one. Only famous and noteworthy as a spokesperson.

We talked of current events, most notably the Turkish upheaval into right-wing camps. And, the one we have here, with the [R] party’s final – they’ve been working on this since Nixon – take into the realm that begins takes on 20th century fascism.

He also told me about where he asked his wife to marry him. Not far from where I grew up.

At the end, he shot me in my grey car, and I heaved a sigh of relief. I’d gotten him home, while engaging in a decent conversation.

That’s what Uber-ing is all about. Oh, check Cenk and the rest of what the world needs to hear at The Young Turks!

 

Uber La Bohème.

Sunday coming

I have two categories for early Sunday morning Uber fares:  Uber of Shame and Uber of Fame. I try to avoid Ubering in the wee hours so I don’t have to play Shame vs Fame roulette. Last Sunday, fear of scraping the bottom of my bank account overcame the voice of common sense: “Don’t turn that thing on. Wait until noon. Give them a chance to shower.”

It’s the end of the month. Roulette won. I activated Uber Driver at 7:47 am Sunday. Ping! Wendy needs a ride.

The fare was up the hill, in a half-baked gated community. No little house with a uniformed guard and clipboard – just a gate and a call box. Wendy hadn’t texted the code to me by the time I arrived. I had to call.

“Hello.” A low whisper, the don’t-wake-up-the-baby-kind.

“Hi, Wendy. This is Jean. Your Uber driver. I need the code for the gate to get in so I can pick you up.”

“There’s a gate?”

“I should have texted,” Now, I’m whispering.

“No, it’s all good . . . ”  I could hear a man’s voice, close to the phone.

A car cut in front of me, the gates opened. “Hey, Wendy! A car just went through the gates. I’m sneaking in.”

One minute later I pulled into a driveway and parked facing three garage doors. I waited four minutes then began to worry. Was it the right house? Had she been strangled?  Just as I was about to call again, the center garage door began to rise.

Like an exhibition at an exotic car convention, the door slid upward revealing the rear of a black Mercedes Maybach 600. A couple was embracing by the driver’s side door. The woman was barefoot, on her toes, holding her sandals in her left hand. Her right arm was resting across his shoulders, her fingers digging into a crop of black curls.

I’ve played this scene. It’s not an ordinary goodbye. It’s a new category of goodbye – for one, an aloha; for another, simply good, bye-bye. If it’s aloha on both sides, it’s magic.

Wendy turned and nodded to me. I gave her the thumbs up. It was like browsing the Bodice Ripping novel section at Barnes and Noble.

She extricated her arm from beneath the curls, then headed toward me. He took a step, touched her shoulder, she turned and they embraced again. Before he kissed her, he peered around her, pointed to me and said something. I couldn’t read his lips, or hear him.

Seconds later, Wendy was in the rear seat. “Let’s get out of here. Thank god you’re here. I’ve been trying to get Uber since 7:30 am . . . before he woke up. But he did and wants to fix me coffee. Wants to fix me breakfast. I don’t want breakfast. Where am I? It’s pretty here. I just want to go home.”

We headed up to I5. I could hear her iPhone message ringtone. Little train whistles.

“Oh god, he’s texting me. Oh god. He’s Italian. I’m Italian. Where am I? I went out last night with my pals. He was with his pals. Somehow, we all ended up at his house. Then, everyone left, except me. Nothing happened, except for the tour of the indoor pool, the paddle ball court, the five bedrooms and pool hall. Oh god, he’s texting me again. Did I tell you he’s Italian? I’m Italian. All Italians talk with hands and eyes, but he yells. I’m loud, but he yells. Didn’t you hear what he told you?”

“He wanted you to know that nothing happened. And, that you are to get me home safely.”

My universal mother thing kicked in. “I think you’ve got a live one.”

“A LOUD one. He yells. ‘Why are you going?’ ‘I could fix breakfast for you.’ ‘Don’t you want some coffee?’ ‘Please don’t go.’ I can’t listen to all that yelling.”

“Maybe he’s deaf. Or, has wax in his ears?”

“No. It’s his voice. Now, what? Oh, here’s another text. He wants to know if we’re still on for dinner on Tuesday.”

We were almost to her house. I turned off PCH and headed up one of those 45-degree Laguna hills. “Are you going to dinner with him?”

“Maybe. Right now, I just want to go home.”

The mother thing again: “Wendy, I’ll bet your the only woman who has ever jumped up, called Uber and left him on a Sunday morning. You’ve hit him in the male-ego-furry parts.”

One more thing: “If you do go out on Tuesday, I suggest a restaurant with the acoustics of the Hollywood Bowl.”

PS. I now have a new category: Uber La Bohème.

Plans, Trains and Bucket Lists

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A circle, the size of an oversize negative Oreo cookie, pulsates on my iPhone. I have five seconds to touch it and voila, another Uber adventure begins.

Monday morning, I drove up Pico, then entered the hallowed lands of the gated Talega community. “Sam” messaged the gate code to me. I crept up to the house. For those who are unfamiliar with the driver perspective of Uber, when the GPS determines that you have arrived, the screen turns to green. “Driver has been notified. Please wait.”

“Sam” came out the front door, practical suitcase behind him. I had time to jump out and open the boot to accommodate his suitcase. Then, small talk.

“John Wayne or LAX?”

So much for assuming. [Why haven’t I learned this yet?]

“Neither. Train station.”

“San Juan Capistrano or San Clemente?”

Still haven’t learned the never-assume lesson.

“Neither. Irvine.”

“All right. What time is the train? Want to make sure I get you there on time.”

“Doesn’t matter. We have time. A friend is picking me up, in a private railroad car, attached to an Amtrak train.”

My imagination took off. I wanted to know more.

Sam told me that his old college friend traveled anywhere and everywhere, in his private railroad car. The only limit, of course, is that the destination has to involve railroad tracks. What’s more, he had not one, but two cars. A full-time chef and dining room in one. Living quarters, guest sleepers, in the other. Sam had gone to the Kentucky Derby with his friend. “Another world.”

Another world indeed. I resisted the temptation to ask if this Pullman adventurer was married. “What does this man do, or did, to make this possible?”

“Marketing.” Must be MARKETING. Obviously I missed something in my advertising career.

I wanted to see this vision of what I have determined is an updated version of the 19th Century American Breath of Freedom Train – Breath of freedom for the uber wealthy

I got another fare, so I had to miss seeing the vision of the engine pulling into the station, and a smoking-jacketed gentleman floating down the steps into the sunshine, noticing me and beckoning . . .

Back to reality. Since then, I have found a round house full of possibilities.  Based on their names alone, a journey in a chartered railroad car could put you in contention for the World Bucket List Grand Prize: Moonlight Dome. Northern Sky. Silver Solarium. Stampede Pass. Babbling Brook.

I could be ready in an hour.

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.