Tales of the Road
Life of an Uber Driver
P. S. Gifford
© Copyright 2019 by P. S.
Photo by Paul Hanoka on Unsplash.
yesterday's driving was at times frustrating, boring and ultimately
was a particularly slow Sunday but I needed just seven rides to meet
my bonus for the weekend. I thought I could achieve this in three
hours- four at tops. This hope was reinforced as my first four rides
arrived quickly. They were pleasant enough rides, jovial conversation
and banter and decent tippers to boot. What more could I ask for?
there was a lull. It took me forty-five minutes to get my next ride.
He was a jolly chap and we talked music and dogs. Two of my favorite
dropping him off I drive a few miles to get to Dana Point Harbor.
There are several bars there and usually an abundance of Sunday day
drinkers- and also there was football on that afternoon. At this
point darkness had fallen. I pull into my usual spot, put the beast
into park, and check Facebook as I wait for a ride. Fifteen minutes
go by. Then half an hour. Then forty-five minutes- and then an hour.
I have never waited that long for a passenger in the two years I have
the evening was slipping away and Joanna was home I decided to call
it a night. The bonus would have been much needed I reasoned, but I
would get by. As I am want to do I leave the app on as I head home. I
was just about to turn into the housing estate when I get a ping. It
is a long pickup as it was six miles away. I was already anticipating
my girlfriend's arms and that first sip of ale. With some reluctance
I accept the ride. It would probably be a short trip anyhow and i
will get home within thirty minutes I considered.
was two thirds the way there when the phone rings.
is Paul the Uber driver," I said.
this is Harvey your passenger," came the reply.
you like dogs," he added, "as I have a small one for the
I know many a driver who will not let dogs into their vehicles and I
understand why. But as a dog lover with leather seats I am not overly
concerned. Besides it was a small dog and would no doubt be in
problem, I love dogs." I said.
you soon." we both said simultaneously.
minutes later I pull up. I see a distinguished looking gentleman who
appeared in his seventies waving at me. I pull alongside the smiling
fella and roll my window down.
you Harvey?" I asked.
sure am," he answered.
later a lady whom I presumed to be his wife appeared with a beautiful
golden Labrador in tow. The dog was limping along and I could tell
she was older. And a small dog she certainly was not.
had a pizza with them which they placed on my front seat and cheesy
goodness filled my nostrils. It made me realize I was getting hungry.
is Ellie," Harvey said.
wagged her tail.
Ellie," I cooed.
Ellie in my car took a little doing. I discover that she is fourteen
and having hip issues. Memories of my beloved Eddie Valentino--my
first dog--flooded my mind. I knew the sadness in watching your loyal
four legged friend get older.
they were in--Ellie between them and panting heavily.
start the trip and discover it was a forty minute one to Huntington
Beach (Surf city, CA for those unfamiliar.) I was not getting home
anytime soon. But I wasn't the least bit concerned. It was a
profitable trip, I was making my bonus, and they seemed a charming
we go. I always pick the radio station that i feel will best suit my
rider. I appreciate a variety of music and enjoy doing that. I had
picked a 60's station and the disc jockey Uncle Brucy was on. I felt
victorious as they hummed along to the catchy melodies.
soon discover that Harvey had been a taxi driver in Chicago as he was
in medical school on his road to becoming a dentist. That was in the
sixties and he drove a Checker cab. I wondered what stories he
could tell about his cab driving days-- am sure he had some
learn that Ellie had come into their lives after somebody tied her to
a tree in their front garden. As they owned two other labs at the
time they reckoned they were picked deliberately. She was not much
more than a puppy, apparently skittish, and certainly underfed. They
took no hesitation in their decision to keep her. In time their two
other dogs passed and Ellie transformed into the loving companion she
was today. I share about how Sir Winston came into my life. I
discover that their son lived in the house I picked them up at- and
that they had driven from Chicago in their RV which they were heading
asks about my music taste and if i liked jazz. I told him I do and he
says he has played the stand-up bass for over fifty years and still
does it every Saturday night. I was liking Harvey increasingly so.
were not even the slightest awkward silences in conversation during
the trip. we chatted with ease and warmth. We discussed his dentistry
and that after many years as a dentist he was semi-retired at taught
his skills at a nearby college. he explained that a good dentist
establishes trust with their patients- and how that diminishes the
inherent fear that having dental work done brings to most people.
They fussed over Ellie who was a little scrunched between them still
panting heavily. We chatted about literature, art, Chicago pizza and
music. I also learnt that he volunteered at a local no kill animal
shelter and he goes on to say how he gets to see how cruel people can
be to their dogs. But, given time and a whole lot of love, even the
most troubled dog eventually regains trust.
time went by all too quickly.
we arrived at the RV park--located next to a huge electricity plant.
We pull up to their smaller RV in a park full of massive ones. It
made me want one. How wonderful it would be to spend several months
driving from state to state. I made a mental note to add it to my
gets out of my car and slipped a twenty into my hand. I shake his
hand firmly in thanks. His wife--I never did catch her name--gets out
also and their attention is turned to their beloved Ellie. She would
not budge. They attempt to coax her with zero result.
wants to go home with you,": Harvey commented. There was more
than a hint of sadness in his tone.
the end they needed to lift Ellie out of my car. I knew she did not
have much life left in her and I confess to tearing up a little.
These were charming and intelligent folks--and Ellie was their love.
I also know that Ellie had been cherished and well taken care of.
I turned around they both waved as I went by--an onlooker would have
never guessed that we had met less than an hour before. I waved back.
Ellie was resting in the grass--looking noble and wise with her years.
I felt it a privilege to have met these folks and discovered that my
mood had been elevated.
Yep, I shall never forget Harvey, his wife and, of course, Ellie.
driving yesterday was an emotionally draining experience. I only
needed nine rides to make the second tier of my bonus for the week
and earn an extra ninety dollars. Those bonuses stack up nicely and I
usually achieve them.
set out a little later than I had
wanted to at about 3:30. I was hoping to be home in four hours--or
five the most. I go to my usual spot and wait for the ping. I
some more. And then some more after that. I occupied myself by
fiddling on Facebook as one does. After forty minutes of
ping-less-ness I decided to change locations. As I sped to another
usual spot I discovered why I had zero pings. I had not switched the
app on. Both frustrated and distraught by my own incompetence I turn
it on--and within a couple of minutes get my first ride. I was
were some notable rides as the hours slipped by. I picked up a
president of a board game company. The story of how he got to that
position in life and how gamers on the Internet were once his biggest
fear but became his biggest market. Gamers like to well, play games,
online or otherwise. Board games have prospered as a result of the
twenty somethings requiring their daily fix.
was 7:30 and I needed one more ride to complete my day. I was already
tasting the wine I intended to have as I made dinner later on. I get
a mediocre ping. A couple going four miles from the grocery store to
their home. I completed it in high spirits. I looked at my app. It
was still one ride shy of my prize. I know there are frequent
glitches. All of my rides needed to be completed in Orange County and
some of the borders are askew.
decide to do one more ride.
get a ping and off I set. It is to a gated community and the code to
enter was texted to me. I follow the sat nav to the letter. It keeps
taking me in circles. I am tired and getting frustrated. very
frustrated to tell you the truth. after twenty minutes I reluctantly
cancel the ride. The app is still showing no bonus. I accept another
ping. This too was in a gated community. I make it through the gates
and the sat nav freezes. This happens in the part of town I was in
due to bad reception. I had the address though and start to drive
around. Just then my phone rings.
this is Paul your Uber driver," I said.
the f--k are you? I am going to be late," came the reply from a
female with an unfamiliar accent.
have a policy that if you call and yell/swear/threaten me I cancel
immediately. So cancel I did.
I hadn't the ride would have been a nightmare. There was no charge
for me cancelling and she would have got another ride within a couple
ping comes in. It is at a nearby hospital. I set off. Moments later I
am parked outside the destination and I get a text.
are picking up a Lorena."
wait. after a few minutes and the ride reaching the no show period I
spy somebody pushing a wheelchair my way.
they approached I hop out my car. There was a young orderly doing the
pushing. An old lady is in the chair.
you go," he said as he parked the chair next to my car.
is Lorena and she is ninety-two," he said quickly.
with that he scurried off.
had three bags with her. One on each arm of her chair and one on her
are you?" I asked.
breathing," she replied.
take the bags and put them on my back seat. Then I take her purse and
place it in front of the passenger seat.
I maneuver her chair adjacent the car door.
we go," I said as I eased her up and managed to get her in the
seat. I fastened her belt. She had to have been only 4 feet 10 and
was only wearing socks on her feet.
collapse her chair and try to get it in my trunk. It refused to fit.
I ended up, with reluctance, squeezing it on the back seat.
get in the car, put on the Sinatra station on my XM radio and slowly
drive with extra caution.
used to love to drive," she told me with sadness in her fragile
voice. "I used to be able to do everything for myself- now I
cannot even go to the bathroom alone or dress myself."
to taking care of my father come rushing back.
a problem," I said. "It is my pleasure to drive you."
I meant it. Was I annoyed that hospitals are now using Uber as cheap
patient transfer vessels. You betcha. But was it her fault. Far from
it. I had a responsibility at this point to get her to the nursing
care facility and give her the most pleasant experience i could
follow the sat nav--I more-or-less knew the destination it was about
a twenty minute drive.
should turn left here," she told me as I pulled into the right
full well that attempting to disagree with her would be futile I do
you," I said. "Technology gets muddled at times."
were you born," I added moments later.
Texas," she said. "But during the great depression we drove
to California near Fresno. That is where I grew up and spent most of
the life she must have had, and knowing that the present confused
her, but her older memories were intact and vivid I banter on.
chat about her sixty-three year old marriage, and how he passed a few
years ago. Her children and grandchildren.
have had a great life," she said. "But now I know my time
has almost come and I am just waiting for God to reach down and bring
fought back tears.
we headed down a dark street to where I was being directed to she got
where are we?" She said. "this isn't right."
worry, we will find it," I assured her.
wasn't very effective.
over, " she said.
complied. She peered out into the darkness.
just don't know..." she said.
pulled forward searching for house numbers. I find it.
this is it!" she said. "You need to go up the driveway and
ring the doorbell, let them know I am here and then drive to the back
alley and let me in."
house was dark. I have encountered nursing homes in residential
houses several times.
rang the doorbell. No response. I repeated it.
light sprung on and moments later the door cringed open.
She said in broken English.
explain in my awful Spanish that I had a passenger. I utilized my
best charade skills to relay the message.
OK!," she said.
go back to the car and drive to the alley in the rear. It was thick
with darkness and all rather unsettling. I spy the lady with a
flashlight. I ease my Cadillac through the night and parked near
unloaded the wheel chair from my car- and ease her into it.
are a good grandson," she said.
back tears I got her things together.
caregiver helped out and was sweet enough. I know the long hours and
low pay they get.
care of yourself," I uttered as I gently grasp her hand.
you soon, " she replied.
that was highly unlikely I got in my car. I sigh deeply before
starting it up. My mind was awash with many things at this point. My
father, my own ultimate fate, the importance of love, and so
eased once more through the darkness of the alley, which now seemed
less threatening, pulled onto the street and made it home in under
appreciated that my last passenger of the night had made an impact on
me. I also appreciated that I needed to tell the gist of the
experience--however much of what she confided in me, the more private
details, should remain just that.
Perks of the Trade
I had meant to share this yesterday--but the
joyfulness of the day, simply relaxing, was too lovely to interrupt with
It was the day before when it happened. It was a steady night being the
night before Thanksgiving, and I was making decent money. I get a
notification to pick up at Maggianos--an upscale (and boy is it...)
Italian restaurant next to the prestigious mall known as South Coast
The passenger texted me to meet them at the side door. It would have
been around eleven in the evening at this point. I slowly pull up and
see a female in her early thirties staring at me with hesitation. She
looks at her phone and then my license plate, smiled and clambered into
the back seat. I do not blatantly display my Uber decals and simply
have one on my dashboard.
She had several bags with her and it took a minute to get sorted, we
notice each otherís accents immediately and this prompted some
delightful conversation. She was from Montreal so had a French style.
She informed me that England was her dream place to visit but she did
not want to go to the traditional places--but off the beaten track. She
stated that Blackpool was where she wanted to begin. I cringe at the
thought of the town--having spent a few drunken nights there in my
earlier years. The place does not want for charms--if you are in to a
boisterous fun pier, cheap drinks and fast food, the constant
ching-ching-ching of one arm bandits, bed and breakfast homes oozing
with rustic character, with worn carpets, the aroma of stale cigarettes
with a nuance of disinfectant, and large full English breakfasts served
daily. But I did not want to disillusion my passenger--and perhaps she
was aware of its reputation. I do have a fondness for the place. And,
excuse my diversion, the last time I was there was in my single days
and I went with my good friend Ian. We found a B&B around noon
on a blustery day that teased us with impending rain. The owner was a
middle aged, round faced, Irish woman who was full of cheer. She
welcomed us with a slice of homemade cake and a generous pour of
whiskey. That set the tone for my weekend. But that is a different
It was then I heard, and realized, my passenger was undressing on the
back seat. I see a top coming off and the wiggling movements suggested
so did her skirt.
"Oh, I worked all day at the restaurant and now i am going to a
Thanksgiving party--then it is fourteen more hours at the restaurant
tomorrow. I need to put my party clothes on." She informed me.
As a former restaurant manager I understood the long hours the gig
entails--more so over holidays.
"I understand," I said.
The banter continued. She told me that her husband won a trip to
Ireland the year before and how surprised she was by the delicious
seafood. I comment that oysters and Guinness was one of my all-time
It was a twenty five minute ride and we finally pull up. She phones her
husband to put the bags into her car. He makes his way over and I am
introduced. That always makes me feel good when I am seen as a person
and not just a driver. He nods at me with an air of suspicion in his
"Are you hungry?" she asked.
"Always," I truthfully replied.
"Here is some chicken fettuccine," she said handed me a catering
container from the restaurant.
I thanked them both and as I drove away thinking about how delicious
that was going to be I appreciated my job is never dull. Far from it in
fact. I then see she also tipped five dollars on the app. My spirits
elevated, off I went to my next passenger.
But I will save that for another day.
Now i must ready myself for another night of adventures on the road.
Oh, and that pasta dish she gave me was bloody fantastic.
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P. S. Gifford's Story
List and Biography
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