Uber Tales, Short and Crappy Ride-Advice, Edition

Please know as a full-time Uber driver for almost four years, I have driven in some supremely crappy road conditions: raging thunderstorms, fog so thick I couldn’t see past the end of my hood, roads so dark I couldn’t see past my headlights, massive traffic jams, crazy speeders, tail-gaiting idiots galore, and a host of other hazards. Bu today was my first exposure to ice, snow, and churned up mud because I just did a very short run when the sun came out and there was some clearing on the roads because I needed some money for my dwindling bank account.

And if anyone wants to rip me about this, don’t. I heard my dad’s voice in my head ripping me a new one for doing this and let me say that man could rip better than anyone could ever dream of, even from beyond the grave. Then he started giving me advice and I was grateful for that.

I had a passenger ask me what it was like to drive today and I said take the worst road conditions and turn them up to eleven, or drive like you’re in a slow-moving version of Mario Kart. Even if the road is dry, there are chunks of ice, snow, and churned-up icy mud flying off cars and trucks and those are enough to make you skid if you go too fast. So don’t drive fast and watch your damn following distance. Because of those turtle-shell like hazards of ice, snow, and churned-up icy-mud, you don’t have the room to stop like you think you do.

Second, with the freeways shut down everyone’s on the access roads and those slow down to a crawl. In addition to the crawling traffic, you have patches of ice and churned-up icy-mud to contend with. Oh, and there were a lot of traffic lights out so those intersections were even slower to get through because of that. You don’t realize how nice traffic lights are until you go without them.

I’m forever grateful for the traction-control in the car I’m driving at the moment. I felt it kick in several times when I hit a slick spot or a piece of churned-up icy-mud. The spin only lasts for a few seconds before the system kicks in and you gain traction again. I did feel a bit of a slide in a couple of places but as my dad told me, if you feel your car slide let the car do the work and be gentle on the throttle and the wheel.

Another thing I could hear my dad tell me was get into someone’s treads, or what you see on the road when you follow a car on wet streets. You may not line up perfectly with them but they’ll give you some traction on slick roads. This is something I always do when it rains and trust me, it works.

Be gentle with your brakes. Treat them like a delicate piece of equipment and be gentle as you apply pressure. You slam on them or aren’t gentle with them, you’ll skid and slide. So be kind to your brakes and they’ll be good to you.

Most of all, take your time and if all possible, don’t go out unless you absolutely, positively have to. Or if you’re professional-crazoid like I am.

Uber Tales, A Tale of Two Different Conversations, Edition:

A couple of days ago, I had two different conversations that were as different as topics discussed and how well they went.

First off was picking up a lady at the airport who started spouting that this pandemic wasn’t as bad as people said it was and that we were too afraid of this virus. I told her we weren’t afraid enough and over four-hundred thousand people are dead because of that. That shut her up fast on that topic and then she started talking about just taking vitamin-d and everything will be alright. I almost asked her if she was trying to sell me something but I didn’t. I think if I had pushed it she would have gone full-on Karen on me because she struck me as a Karen-type, pushy know-it-all.

Before 2020, conspiracy theories could be humorous and I wouldn’t really respond to them. But now they’re getting people killed and I can’t stay silent in the face of those deaths and all the families grieving. And if you don’t like this, too damn bad. That line about not being afraid enough probably cost me a measly tip but it was worth it to stand up to someone on principle.

Luckily, my day then took a turn for the better when I picked up a guy a couple of hours later for a cross-town run. He was friendly and early on he quoted a line from the movie ‘Bull Durham’, which I immediately recognized and we were off to the races. We quoted and talked about that movie for a while then he asked me if I’d seen one called ‘Long Gone’.

I went, ‘Oh heck ya!’ and we were off the races on that one. ‘Long Gone’ was made back in the mid-80’s for HBO and starred William Petersen and Virginia Madsen. It was about a minor-league baseball team in the early 1950’s in south Florida. William Petersen played the manager of the team and Virginia Madsen played this really hot and sassy beauty-queen he got together with. The movie has a ton of quotable lines like ‘Bull Durham’ though my favorite is from a scene where William Petersen’s character panics and asks her if she’s pregnant. To which she replies, “Unless there was a star in the East last night, no.”

My mother was fond of quoting that line at doctor’s offices and such because as a woman, you get asked if you’re pregnant or think you might be a lot anytime you go in for a workup or for surgery. When I went in for neck surgery, I was in the pre-op ward and I was tired and not quite thinking straight when I said that in reply to being asked if I was pregnant or thought I might be. I brought the house down and had every woman in that room laughing her ass off when I said that line. I then told them I wasn’t the original on that but it’s a good one to use, ladies.

I always say in almost four years of Uber driving the only thing that’s predictable is the unpredictability of the job. Yes, you will have conversations go in totally different directions just like your routes will. You’ll meet people who will make you laugh your ass off, and people who will make you want to ask them what they’re trying to sell you and what planet they live on. But yes, there is a possibility that you’ll get a day where you have to shut down conspiracy theories on one ride and quote old movies on another.

I’ll take the old movies, thank you very much.

Uber Tales: Around the City, Edition

I know I said I’d take things a little lighter and easier here. I’ve got to quit saying stuff like that because this isn’t a light and easy read. Maybe when I get my grove going on my hard books I’ll be able to do light and easy. But today is not that day.

I tell people in my almost four years (yes, it’ll be fours years as an Uber driver at the end of this coming March), I’ve probably been in every part of the city. I’ve been in the wealthiest enclaves with multi-million dollar homes. And places where the homes are worth a fraction of that.

I had a passenger one evening say to me as we came into his neighborhood, “Sorry for bringing you to the ghetto.” I told him this wasn’t a ghetto. I said it was a working-class neighborhood because people there worked for a living. I then told him I grew up in working-class neighborhoods and that I’d never had a bit of trouble in any of them. He told me I was alright and gave me a big tip.


I meant every word I said to him. I sometimes feel more at ease in a working-class neighborhood than a rich one. I like looking at the big nice houses but I also see the extreme conformity of those high-dollar neighborhoods where everything has to be in its’ place or you’ll be called a low-rent slob. I see the extreme pressure to look and act a certain way in high-dollar neighborhoods. I’m not saying there aren’t busybody assholes in working-class neighborhoods but you can ignore them a lot more than if everyone on the block is like that. In fact, I had a passenger grousing to me one morning about how all his old fart neighbors used to give him the stink-eye whenever he let his lawn grow out a little.

I also see the homeless encampments under the freeways, the people sleeping in doorways downtown, and the ones panhandling at intersections. And I’m glad the mayor of San Antonio recently told off some dumb-ass reporter when she asked him about what the city was going to do about the homeless tent cities popping up. He told her the problem was much more complex than anyone realized and he’s right. There’s a severe lack of funding for transitional housing, social services and mental health and substance abuse issues.

What I’ve seen on the roads and streets here in this city is the huge income disparities and an eroding middle-class. The term ‘affordable housing’ is a dirty word to so many people, even church-going Jesus freaks. Yet to me, Jesus Christ is in those tent cities giving out food and comfort to those people. If all the wealthy churches were torn down and sold off and all the proceeds went to helping the homeless, the city would be a better place. I love the beauty of our old churches, but when I see new mega-churches and new apartments and houses for people only making money I get sick of looking at them.

Before I hit the road with this job, I thought I was a compassionate person. Now there are days when that compassion hurts like hell. It hurts because of what I see some days, and because I can’t keep my mind from thinking about it so much. Then I come home and read so much fucking bullshit on social media about right-wing nutjobs who don’t give a flying fuck about anyone but themselves. Assholes who turn every freaking issue into a ‘partisan’ issue.

Since Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation began in 1932, helping people has become a ‘partisan’ issue. It’s like an ‘us vs. them’ kind of thing. Or some bullshit about how to pay for it all, which is bullshit because the money is there. Now that partisan bullshit has just become deadly as hell with the covid-19 pandemic and tremendous income inequality and systemic racism.

From my perspective on the road, it’s not ‘us vs. them’. It’s not about poor people wanting to raid the suburbs and take them over. It’s not about giving people a ‘handout’ and ripping them apart for accepting what little help there is. It’s about the need to put resources to work where they’re needed to help every person we can.

Most people don’t really go outside their own little enclaves past a certain point, not like I do. I know that all too well. But that doesn’t give anyone the right to judge and deny other people their fundamental human right to not only exist and live in peace, but to not be cold, hungry, and alone.

If you are someone who has to see shit like this up close and personal, or that you have to suffer yourself in order to have compassion and fight for what’s right and help people… all I can say is ask yourself why. Why do you have to make someone’s else misery yours before you’ll do something about it?

What am I doing, you might ask? I vote for leaders who are working to use resources and policies to help people. And I have vowed to use my small little voice here to tell it like I see it, and to try my best to treat people with compassion and kindness. And to those who disagree with me: you know I feel so as far as I’m concerned, the ball’s in your court now. Because today, I’ll be back on the road.

Uber Tales: The Subdued New Year’s Eve Edition

Subdued

That is the word I would use to describe last night on the road. A year ago as we rang in 2020, on the road it anything but subdued. There were massive parties, gatherings, and fireworks galore. On the side of the town I was mostly in last night parking lots were mostly empty, a lot of restaurants closed before midnight, and the few places there were open after midnight weren’t nearly as full. This was a good thing as COVID-19 cases are surging pretty badly here in San Antonio. I hit my financial goals before two a.m. though I made about half of what I made last year.

But I did get my first ‘what’s said in my Uber, stays in my Uber’ bit that I haven’t had since all this crap began back in March:

I go to a pickup just after midnight and I get to the house and this guy walks out with this chick who takes a couple of selfies with him then gives him a kiss goodnight. Now she doesn’t come along with him but this dude starts telling me about her. He said he’s known her for about ten years and that she’s an actress (I’ve never heard of) and he was pretty blown away by how lovey-dovey she was with him. But then he started talking about how she’s out of his league and deflated his own happy bubble. I just listened because I really wanted to tell him if he had feelings for her and if they were both single then he should tell her he cares about her and would like to spend more time with her. Alas, like a good bartender or Uber driver, I kept that to myself.

Last night was the night for not giving relationship advice on my part because earlier in the evening I picked up this lady and after she got in and we got rolling, she called her boyfriend and based on her side of the conversation it didn’t sound like he was listening to her too well. I almost thought she was going to say that out loud but instead after she hung with him she said to me, “Boyfriends are such jerks.” I would like to have said if he’s that much of a jerk and won’t listen to you then why are you with him in the first place? Instead, she changed the subject and asked me about having cats as pets because her son was asking about a cat. I told her I’ve had cats all my life and they make great pets and are pretty low-maintenance for the most part. Unlike boyfriends…

Then just before midnight I picked up these three chicks from a place and they were really quiet in the car and when I dropped them off at another place, that place looked sad. Barely any cars in the lot and all I could think was that a year ago the parking lot would have been full and there would have been a line of people out the door. Just because I’m not a bar-hopper or bar-goer doesn’t mean I’ll poo-poo anyone who has done that. Bar-hopping was always good for my business.

The loss of money has been tough as hell but I also have missed the loss of energy. I miss my Saturday night conversations that sounded like a bad reality-tv show. I miss the ‘what’s said in my Uber, stays in my Uber’ conversations. And I miss sometimes actually being able to give advice when people come right out and ask for it. I miss seeing people out and about even if I’m just on the outside looking in.

I never really thought about the energy in my job as an Uber driver. For me, it was just a part of the job and a mostly pleasurable one at that, especially on Saturday nights. I got to live vicariously through my passengers and be grateful I got to do a job where I wasn’t chained to a desk getting my ear chewed off for eight hours day while supervised mostly by mediocre idiots.

I think in this year 2021 eventually we’ll get this damn virus under control and pull just enough heads out of enough asses to get things back up and running. But it won’t be like before. The memories and emotions will always be there, hovering over the present for many years to come. I think the initial rebound as it’s being called will probably be pretty strong but I won’t forget this last year.

We should never forget what we lost, who we lost, and our pain and grief. And most of all, we should hold those responsible for this shit accountable. Vote them out of office, investigate them, charge them for breaking laws they did, and send the rest of them into exile. And most of all, never let these bastards forget what they did even if they never take responsibility for it.

I’ve been trying to put into words what I’ve been feeling for quite some time and the word ‘subdued’ has clarified those feelings. It’s a quiet word that shows a lack of energy and vitality and it recognizes pain and loss, too. Many years ago I once said the silence after a battle is just as loud as the battle itself.

We’re not done with this battle and things will be subdued for a good while longer. We’ll try to reenergize ourselves when we can but I know it won’t be like before. And before wasn’t perfect, far from it. But before there was energy and possibility, and hope. I’ve been able to hold on to the hope. Now I want the possibility and the energy back, and we need to fight like hell to hold on to that no matter what.