Nothing much has changed in my life. No promotions, prizes, movie deals. No launches or new loves or Instagram-worthy meals. In short, no news. I should probably get back to work, but I’m stuck at the end of a scene and don’t know where it should go now. So I’ll talk about a disturbing incident a couple weeks ago.
Let me set the scene. It's late-ish at night in a downtown neighborhood with houses, trees, garbage bins. I’m about to leave a party. Uber is outside. A couple of pals want a lift to their hotel so I say, Come on along. They climb in the back.
I get in front with the driver, a young woman with a big smile. Before we start off, she draws a hand across her mouth and shakes her head. Still smiling, she nods at me. Do I get it? I get it. She’s mute.
I explain the change in plan from my original Uber request. We’ll take Art and Sheree to their hotel and then go back to my place. Okay? I say. The driver points at her GPS. There’s my address. Right, I say, but first go the Marriott Hotel. She nods again, more doubtfully.
In the course of a misunderstood life, I have spent a lot of time with people who don’t know what I’m saying. I recognize the symptoms. Oh dear. I don’t know how to extend an Uber trip. I figured the driver would be able help me.
When we get to my place, I explain again. I gesture back at Art and Sheree, and mime the idea of driving forward. The driver smiles, nods hopefully, and keeps going. A few more blocks, a few more traffic lights. The driver is getting increasingly anxious. She points at the GPS, which is still showing my address.
I make soothing gestures and take out my wallet to show her that I will pay extra. She makes a noise in her throat. A sort of growling.
Art asks if there’s a problem. His city doesn’t have Uber. Sheree may not do Uber, but she knows suffering when she hears it. How can we help? she asks.
I don’t know, I say. I really don’t know.
A few more blocks and our driver has had enough. She pulls over to the curb, stops the car, and puts her head in her hands. The noise she’s making now sounds like an over-revved engine. I hold out a twenty-dollar bill. She shakes her head vehemently. No tipping.
The Marriott isn't far away. I decide to walk there with Art and Sheree and catch another cab from the hotel. I apologize to the driver, who still has her head in her hands. Her throat slips a gear. I leave my 20.00 on the seat.
What’s the most distressing part of the experience? Not the language barrier, or the driver’s handicap. No. It’s her big smile at the start of the trip. She has a good one. Lots of teeth, lots of enthusiasm. Optimistic. That's the thing. Despite the obvious bumps on her life road, she's travelling hopefully. I hate throwing that kind of optimism off the cliff of reality.
That was my very first Uber ride, says Art, crossing the street. Are they all like that?
No, I say.
Good, he says.