Tales of the Road 
Life of an Uber Driver


P. S. Gifford 

© Copyright 2019 by P. S. Gifford 


Photo of a person calling Uber.

Photo by Paul Hanoka on Unsplash.

 A Dogís Life

So yesterday's driving was at times frustrating, boring and ultimately satisfying.

It 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?

Then 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 topics.

After 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 been driving.

As 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.

I was two thirds the way there when the phone rings.

"This is Paul the Uber driver," I said.

"Hello, this is Harvey your passenger," came the reply.

"Do you like dogs," he added, "as I have a small one for the ride."

Now 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 Harvey's lap.

"No problem, I love dogs." I said.

"See you soon." we both said simultaneously.

Five 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.

"Are you Harvey?" I asked.

"I sure am," he answered.

Moments 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.

They 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.

"This is Ellie," Harvey said.

Ellie wagged her tail.

"Hello Ellie," I cooed.

More wagging.

Getting 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.

Finally, they were in--Ellie between them and panting heavily.

I 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 couple.

Off 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.

I 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 interesting ones.

I 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 back to.

He 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.

There 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.

The time went by all too quickly.

Finally, 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 bucket list.

Harvey 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.

"She wants to go home with you,": Harvey commented. There was more than a hint of sadness in his tone.

In 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.

As 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.

 Lorenaís Lasting Impression

Well, 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.

I 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 then wait 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 off.

There 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. 

It 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. 

I decide to do one more ride.

I 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.

"Hello, this is Paul your Uber driver," I said.

"Where the f--k are you? I am going to be late," came the reply from a female with an unfamiliar accent.

I have a policy that if you call and yell/swear/threaten me I cancel immediately. So cancel I did.

If 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 of minutes. 

Another 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.

"You are picking up a Lorena."

I wait. after a few minutes and the ride reaching the no show period I spy somebody pushing a wheelchair my way.

As they approached I hop out my car. There was a young orderly doing the pushing. An old lady is in the chair.

"Are you Paul?"

"I am."

"Here you go," he said as he parked the chair next to my car.

"This is Lorena and she is ninety-two," he said quickly.

And with that he scurried off.

Lorena had three bags with her. One on each arm of her chair and one on her lap.

"How are you?" I asked.

"Still breathing," she replied.

I take the bags and put them on my back seat. Then I take her purse and place it in front of the passenger seat.

Then I maneuver her chair adjacent the car door. 

"Here 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. 

I 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.

I get in the car, put on the Sinatra station on my XM radio and slowly set off. 

I drive with extra caution.

"I 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."

Flashbacks to taking care of my father come rushing back.

"Not a problem," I said. "It is my pleasure to drive you."

And 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 muster up.

I follow the sat nav--I more-or-less knew the destination it was about a twenty minute drive.

"You should turn left here," she told me as I pulled into the right lane.

Knowing full well that attempting to disagree with her would be futile I do so.

"Thank you," I said. "Technology gets muddled at times."

"Where were you born," I added moments later.

"In Texas," she said. "But during the great depression we drove to California near Fresno. That is where I grew up and spent most of my life."

Appreciating the life she must have had, and knowing that the present confused her, but her older memories were intact and vivid I banter on.

We chat about her sixty-three year old marriage, and how he passed a few years ago. Her children and grandchildren.

"I 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 me home."

I fought back tears.

As we headed down a dark street to where I was being directed to she got suddenly flustered.

"Oh, where are we?" She said. "this isn't right."

"Don't worry, we will find it," I assured her. 

It wasn't very effective.

"Pull over, " she said.

I complied. She peered out into the darkness.

"I just don't know..." she said. 

I pulled forward searching for house numbers. I find it.

"Yes, 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."

The house was dark. I have encountered nursing homes in residential houses several times. 

I rang the doorbell. No response. I repeated it.

A light sprung on and moments later the door cringed open.

"Yes?" She said in broken English.

I explain in my awful Spanish that I had a passenger. I utilized my best charade skills to relay the message.

"Ah, OK!," she said.

I 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 her.

I unloaded the wheel chair from my car- and ease her into it. 

"You are a good grandson," she said.

Holding back tears I got her things together.

The caregiver helped out and was sweet enough. I know the long hours and low pay they get.

"Take care of yourself," I uttered as I gently grasp her hand.

"See you soon, " she replied.

Knowing 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 on. 

I eased once more through the darkness of the alley, which now seemed less threatening, pulled onto the street and made it home in under thirty minutes. 

I 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 actual thinking.
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 plaza.
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 story.
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 favorite meals.
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 eyes. 
"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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