“Are You A Jew?”

I got a request in Culver City about a year ago.  As I drive toward it, the map shows that it’s a cul de sac of some sort, so I’m thinking it’s a giant office building or something of the like.  As I approach, I see it’s actually a senior care center.  The nurse is already flagging me down.  She seems like she’s had a few drivers already see this mess and drive away, cancelling the ride.

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In case you were wondering, there area a few reasons why drivers don’t like taking these rides.  The first being, that it’s a lot of extra work and extra time for no extra pay.  If I hurt my back lifting a heavy wheelchair into my trunk, Uber doesn’t care.  I can screenshot their response to two separate cases of this, if you doubt it.

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A second reason is that they are typically very low fares, just going a few blocks away after an appointment or something.  Who wants to take ten unpaid minutes loading and ten more unpaid minutes unloading somebody and their stuff for a five minute ride that pays $2.50?

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Another reason is, if that old person falls getting in or out of your car, with or without your help, YOU can be held financially responsible.  Which of course is ridiculous, given that we have no choice over the rides we take, nor any knowledge of the destination or clientele.

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I’m a good person, and I like to have things to complain about, so I took the ride.  As I approached, the woman says that Gerald or Ebenezer or whomever might need a little extra time getting in and out of the car.  Thanks for telling me what I already know!

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He gets in, in the front seat.  Avid readers of the blog will recall that I hate this like the South hates making wedding cakes for gays.   We drive in silence for a solid 60 seconds or so, as he’s made it evident that he doesn’t hear very well.  But he breaks the silence with a rather bold and… interesting question:  “Are you a Jew?”

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More than a little stunned, I respond, “No, I’m not.  I get that a lot, because of my dark hair and big nose.  But no, sir.  I am not Jewish.”  I’m wondering to myself if it would’ve been a problem for him if I were?  His voice seemed so abrasive when he asked the question, that I was sure there was a hint of anti-semitism in it.

He insists my name is a Jewish name, which I can kind of understand.  But I’ve had Armenians tell me it’s Armenian as well.  And bottom line, white people seem to just co-opt everything, so nothing is sacred anymore.

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Then he says something that carries a lot of weight.

I wasn’t prepared for this.

He nods his head approvingly and says, “Ah.  I was in Auschwitz.”  He pulled up his sleeve and revealed his numbered tattoo on his arm.

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I couldn’t believe my eyes.  I didn’t have words.  I did have them, I just couldn’t find them in that moment.  Perhaps there were too many words, and I knew it was going to be a short ride, so I felt pressure to sift through them quickly.

“My father was murdered in front of me.  Me and my brother were spared because we were able to work longer hours than him.”

He told me brief vignettes, and I wished that I had time to hear everything.  I did find the words to tell him that he was an amazing and strong person for surviving what he went through physically, mentally and emotionally.

He nodded quietly, seeming like he was uncomfortable with the compliment but also was used to hearing things like that.  As he got out of the car, I said simply, “Thanks for being here.  I hope you’ve found a way to share your story,” and he said “They fly me to DC once a month to tell it.”  That felt right.

I said goodbye, but this was one time that I didn’t want the ride to end.

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RIDESHARE TIP #1945: If you are a Holocaust survivor, try to go on longer trips if I’m your driver.  Because I want to hug you forever.

 

 

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We Shall Overcomb

Trump’s inauguration was difficult.  For a lot of us, it was hard to believe in a lot of ways and for a lot of reasons, and everyone processes that differently.  My grief process (yes, that is grief!) is longer than most, so it took me a long time to stop being upset and turn that into power.  The gloomy morning of the actual ceremony, I woke up and saw all the news alerts on my phone and with tears welling in my eyes, I literally pulled the covers over my head like one of those cringeworthy sitcom-y trite Meg Ryan rom-com moments.

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I eventually remembered that I needed to go to work, and if I didn’t do that, I wouldn’t have money.  And without money, I couldn’t pay rent.  And without paying rent, I would be homeless.  I’m not letting our new leader make me homeless on his first day in office!

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So I pulled it together, showered and got dressed, and got started for the day.  My first trip was an older Hispanic guy who barely spoke English, but voted for Trump and wanted to talk about it.  At this point, I think I’m well within my rights to tell him he’s a fucking idiot for voting against his own interests.

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Let’s do this.  I told him, “He’s a horrible human being, but I’m not really truly worried deep down.  He’s not going to be President for long.  Not that we want Mike Pence, the Devil’s closeted little brother.  But at the very least, he is simply only terrible, disgusting, bigoted bad policy.  He’s not a combination of that and an irresponsible child who would get a tweet from Justin Bieber and say, ‘Let’s nuke Canada!'”

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The guy in the back seat scrunches up his face, confused at the reference.  “Who?” he asks.  I’m exasperated and angry at this point and my mouth can hardly keep up with my brain as I’m reading this guy his rights.  “Justin Bieber!  It doesn’t fucking matter, it could be fucking anybody!”

That’s when the guy looks a little closer at me, narrowing his eyes.  “No, the other guy.”

“Wait, wait.  You fucking voted for Trump and you don’t know who Mike Pence is?  This conversation is over.”

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The guy gets out of the car, and I’m amazed, bewildered, saddened, and hopeless as to how stupid our society has become.  I hold back a tear and decide that I’m just going to be a driver today – nothing more, nothing less.  No conversations, just confirming names and destinations, and telling them I hope they have a good day (or at least a better day than mine).

I pick up the next passenger and it’s a woman headed to the airport.  I confirm her name, help with luggage (grrr…), confirm her destination and off we go!  A minute or so in, she seems eager to chat, so she gets started.  “I’m excited to fly today!  I haven’t been to Washington, DC in a long time.”

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I don’t say anything, but she continues.  “Thankfully, I won’t be there for the inauguration.  You couldn’t pay me to sit there through that fucking shit show.”

I breathed a huge sigh of relief as if to say, “You’re one of the good ones!” and told her about our clueless friend from the previous ride.

“Yeah, I’m actually meeting up with some old college friends and we are going to the Women’s March tomorrow.”

At this point, I had a laundry list to say to her:

  • Thank you for doing this.  It means everything.
  • Some people, like me, are too sad and emotionally exhausted to march.
  • Some people, like me, can’t even afford to take the day off.
  • Some people, like me, are worried about things getting violent at the march, like a counterprotester attacking.
  • But it means everything to know that there are people in cities across the country and even the world, standing up for the rights of the people who can’t stand on their own yet, be it out of fear, sadness, or finances.  And it’s beautiful to see neighbors in my own city doing it.

Now approximately 3-5 seconds into that speech, I start ugly crying.  I search for tissues in the glove compartment and apologize.  “I’m *sniff* so so *wahhhhh* sorrrrrrrryyyy.”

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The woman stops me, and puts her hand on my shoulder very firmly, and gives me the kindest and most empowering speech.

“Honey, first off.  Stop apologizing.  Don’t ever fucking apologize for your feelings.  Let it out.  Let it all out!  Listen, your head’s in the right place and so is your heart.  When your body’s ready, you’re gonna be out there marching with us.  In the meantime, do what you need to get by.  You’re helping in your own way by driving for Uber.”

Well if said that, it’d be a copout, but sure.  I’ll take it.

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“People need to get to these protests.  They need to get to the airport.  Without you, they can’t do that.  When you’re ready, I’ll see you out there.”

The next day, Los Angeles outgrossed the Women’s March in DC.  We had over 750,000 people in downtown LA showing their resistance.  It was another day filled with tears, but for the opposite reason.  It was the first day I’d felt hope in a long time.  I met strong women, beautiful immigrant families, and empowered LGBT people.  It was a beautiful day.

In LA, nobody meets their neighbors because if you want to borrow a cup of sugar from them, you have to hop on the 101 for two exits.  I had moved into this place several months earlier and had never seen any neighbors.  But this day, I saw people coming out in droves from the big buildings on my block with huge picket signs.  “Leave the pussy control 2 Prince!,” “This pussy grabs back,” and my personal favorite, “We shall overcomb.”

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It was a beautiful day that left me hopeful.

RIDESHARE TIP #45: If you’re political, know your audience.  And vote responsibly, you fucking idiot.

And IIIIIIIEEEEEIIIII Will Always Be Terrified Of Youuuuuuuuu

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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…

His phone.

“I’m Whitney, you fuckin’ asshole,” and gets in the car.

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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!

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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:

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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.

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RIDESHARE TIP #666: HAVE FACE TATTOOS?  TAKE THE BUS INSTEAD.

Bucket List

Can you remember a time before cell phones?  All conversations you had were in the privacy of your own home, which posed a problem for some people after they made the switch.  For a while, you could be walking down the street and overhear someone’s private conversation about an STD or a cheating husband or their roommate’s incontinence.

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Eventually, people realized where to draw the line.  The next learning curve seems to be happening with the way people talk to an Uber or Lyft driver.  With taxi drivers, you often would never exchange a word with them unless you needed a recommendation in the city or wanted to know how long it would take to get to the airport the next day at 7pm.  Nowadays, when people use a rideshare service for the first time, they feel compelled to talk to the driver, sometimes with great self awareness and other times without it.

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But where does one draw the line between small talk and getting too personal?  Is it about sex?  Or money?  Is it religion?  All of these can cross a line, but these days, the biggest one seems to be politics.  Shocker!

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The week of the election, you know – THAT election, proved to be a difficult one for me.  I’m a Democrat, and I live in LA so it’s pretty easy to know my audience, and pretty easy for my customers to know theirs.  But it didn’t stop a lot of people that week from trying to get me to listen to their views on how we should give the new President a chance.

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So after a week of having some terrible people in and out of the car, I had had enough.  It was hard enough for me to simply go through life at that point, knowing the impending removal of the rights of myself and my friends.  But I reached a boiling point, where I was picking someone up at the airport and it was going to be my last ride of the day, no matter how far from home it would take me.

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So a woman gets in the car, and I’m downright miserable.  She’s alone, and needs help with her luggage, and I’m immediately thinking, of course she does!  Ugh!  I get out and help her, and she sweetly says, “Thanks.  Oh, I love your shoes!” and I angrily think, Yeah, me too, lady!  That’s why I bought them!  Ugh!  But within a few minutes, her kindness makes me realize I’m being a baby.  I need to open up and accept the positivity she’s putting out there.

So we start talking, and she says she’s never been to California before.  I immediately inquire as to what brought her here.  Work?  Vacation?  Family?  She tells me hesitantly that she’s done with work for a while and needs a vacation.  Don’t we all, honey.  It’s been a week.

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She tells me she’s from Arizona originally but has been traveling a lot for work for the past year, year and a half.  It’s kept her mainly in New York but she’s really been all over the place.

“What kind of work do you do?”

She pauses, with her eyes closed.  I wasn’t sure if she was in extreme pain, or was tired of explaining her job to people, or both, but she was bracing herself for something.

“I was a… campaign manager for Hillary Clinton.”

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I’m immediately both speechless and ugly crying.  I tried to get words out about how I wasn’t supposed to cry today and she said, “Listen, I’m there with you but I just don’t have any more tears to cry.  I’m hitting the reset button and then turning this into power and change.  In the meantime, I wanna see my family, I wanna see the ocean, and god damn it, I want to see a celebrity!”

I told her she’s got quite a lot of that accomplished already.  “You’re staying with family.  Check.  I don’t know if you know where they live, but they’ve done quite well for themselves.  Two blocks in from Ocean Avenue.  So, I think we can check the ocean off of your list too.  Celebrities are hard to spot in Santa Monica, though.  You usually have to go up to Malibu, but they’re hidden either in private beaches or in giant sunglasses and hats.  Take a day and head inland to Beverly Hills, you’ll see somebody.”

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We reach her destination and I get out to help her with luggage because, as you may remember, I am a nice person.  She gives me a huge hug and tells me we’re going to get through this together.  I’ll be honest, I needed that hug more than ever.

Just then I notice something in front of my car.  Someone is crossing the street to go into their car.  I recognize the woman immediately but play it coy.  I put my finger over my mouth so my customer would know to be quiet, and I motioned toward the woman in front of us, and she just couldn’t keep a secret.  She starts screaming, “JULIANNE MOORE!!! OMG!!!!  IT’S JULIANNE MOORE!!!”

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If it’s 1% of payback for all the hard work and heartbreak she’s gone through, she checked everything off of her vacation bucket list in the first hour after landing in LA.  I’m sure she’s turned that pain into power by now.  (For the record, I’m not there yet.)

RIDESHARE TIP #45: Be nice.  And keep your eyes peeled for celebs at alllllllllll times.