One Sunday morning, I pick up a woman in Echo Park headed to downtown LA. I immediately think of how slow downtown is going to be, and how I’ll likely have to waste gas headed back to a crowded area to get my next ride.
The woman starts making small talk with me and tells me it’s going to be very busy downtown. Does she mean traffic, or Uber business? Both? Either way, I’m certain she’s wrong. On Sunday mornings, downtown LA is a modern urban ghost town.
So as we approach downtown, she explains herself a little, as I actually do see some traffic ahead. She’s an executive for AirBnB, and they are having their second annual convention for their hosts and giving out awards.
“We’ve got thousands of people in LA for this. Cool things all over the city. Bands playing, movie screenings, you name it. It’s pretty cool.”
So I typically lock my doors between customers, because you never know what weirdo is going to try to hop in. But I got my next request before even finishing the first one, which threw off my rhythm a little.
“See! I told you you’d be busy. And look at this traffic!” She genuinely seemed so excited to be right, that I didn’t even bother pointing out how very annoying the gridlock Sunday morning traffic was. She gets out of the car and I have to pick up a woman named Whitney, just four blocks away. Reality never meets your expectations yet I still wanted this to hop in my car and brighten up my Sunday:
Now Whitney is only four blocks away, but with this current bumper to bumper traffic situation, it’s going to take ages. Ten minutes pass and I’ve only traveled two of the four blocks, and I’m not stuck at a red light that has cycled through a few times and I can’t go anywhere.
I’m worried that Whitney is going to cancel. Then I’ll be stuck, directionless, in this traffic. Then before you know it, I get a new request and have to go a different way. Then that person cancels. It’s a vicious cycle that’s giving me anxiety just thinking about it.
The thing a lot of people don’t realize when your driver is taking a long time, is that they’re not going slowly to be funny or just to annoy you. They’re going slowly because they’re in a car and there are other cars, and even people, in the way. Sometimes order a car on your phone and watch the map thinking “Why is my driver turning right at that intersection? He should’ve gone left!” Sometimes we get requests when we’re already in a turning lane, so calm your tits, Brenda.
Whitney doesn’t cancel. But as I’m sitting at this red light, I see this random goon on the sidewalk. Some insane looking white guy, possibly homeless, total methhead look. He’s covered in face tattoos and neck tattoos, like a tight paisley print all over him that looks to be at least a few years old. He’s got on sloppy sweat clothes with holes and stains all over them. Aaaaaaaaand he’s looking right at me.
I panic for a second and white knuckle the wheel and stare straight ahead. If I just ignore him, he won’t see me and he’ll go away and nobody will die.
Just don’t make eye contact, and everything will be ok.
Except I’m an idiot, so I made direct eye contact with him after that thought. He starts walking out into traffic directly toward me, and I still look forward, praying that the light changes and the traffic disappears and I can go. It doesn’t, so he taps on the window and says, “Hey man, roll down your window.”
He knocks on the car and starts almost shouting at me. “Hey man, are you fucking deaf?! I said roll down your fucking window!” And I’m panicking a little, just trying to bide my time until traffic clears. I don’t want no beef!
I tell him, “I’m sorry, I’m working right now,” and motion toward my phone. “I don’t have any change.”
Now he’s irate, straight up punching my car. “DID I FUCKING ASK FOR MONEY, DICKHEAD?!! I SAID ROLL DOWN YOUR FUCKING WINDOW!!!”
At this point, I need to comply because next he will break the window for sure. So I roll it down, about half an inch, just enough to technically have rolled it down. Surely this will appease him. With his fists balled up in the pockets of his hoody, he pulls one out and I’m like, “Oh God. This is it! He has a gun and I’m being carjacked but I haven’t got a huge will to live, so I’m letting him kill me over a 2016 Kia Soul!” He pulls his right hand out and in it is…
“I’m Whitney, you fuckin’ asshole,” and gets in the car.
Now all my de-escalation training from my previous career comes into play. It’s best to just be calm, take the blame off of sweet Whitney, and get him where he needs to go as calmly, politely, and efficiently as possible.
“Sorry about that,” I politely say.
“Yeah, what the fuck, man?! This is ridiculous. You’re like the fourth fucking driver I had. They keep cancelling on me.”
“You know what it probably was?” I’ve got a laundry list of obvious reasons but don’t want to aggravate the guy. “The address you put in was still a few blocks away, so I didn’t think that was you.”
Also, you fucking ingrate, has anyone ever told you that you’ve got *kind of* an intimidating look, what with the face tattoos and all? Also, you don’t super-duper look like a Whitney to me. Also…. if you’re trying to inspire any amount of confidence for the driver to let you into the vehicle, TRY TO DO LESS PUNCHING/SCREAMING/SWEARING AT HIM!
He said he had to start walking toward me because I was taking so long and he had “to go to work.” We’re calling our drug deals ‘work’ nowadays? Cause you’re not going to any other job in stained sweats with holes in them.
I politely informed him, to avoid the headache in the future, to just use the “contact” feature in the app and you can text the driver and describe yourself to them:
I apologized for the delay and said we’ll be at his “work” in less than 15 minutes, and prayed to God silently for some mercy from this cruel, wicked world.
As we approach the address, I ask him if it’s a regular street address or if it’s located in a plaza that I see on the right. I wanted to make sure he didn’t have to walk far or be unsafe, because God knows he would probably stab me if things didn’t end perfectly here. That’s when he gets a little weirder…
“I think it’s the place on the right?” Ummmmm… It’s your fucking work, and you *THINK* it’s there? Oyyyyy…
It was one of those ghetto burner cell phone places. Everything but a sign that said “Stolen phone? No problem!” And he confirmed that was definitely the spot.
…Which was precisely the moment that I realized, I didn’t have Whitney in my car. I had the guy who stole Whitney’s phone from Whitney, in my car.
I drop him off and let Uber know about the situation, but doubt that anything will get done. I hope the real Whitney is fine, wherever she is nowadays. And I hope for God’s sake that she has a fucking passcode lock on her phone these days. Not to blame the victim or anything, but your whole life is in that phone.