The Life Cycle of an Ub3r Driver
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Part 1: Elizabeth
Your first passenger will be wearing a grey sweatshirt, dark yoga pants, and sneakers of some brand that you do not recognize. Behind her, she will be dragging a large purple suitcase which she will stand upright as she stops at your passenger side window.
She will squint, tap on the glass, then announce your name like a distressed southern mother searching for a lost child. “Jay, Jay! Are you, Jay?”
In her hand, she will have a large cell phone shaped like an owl. She will turn the screen towards you and begin shaking it like a bottle of Yoo-hoo. “Jay, are you Jay?” she will ask again.
You will stare at her and wonder if she thinks you can read a shaking cellphone from this distance.
“Are you U-B-3-R?” she will ask again.
UB3R is not my name, you will think to yourself, but you will smile through your teeth and manage a polite greeting, “Hello, ride for Elizabeth.”
“O-M-G!” She will say as she snatches open your backdoor and flings her bag into your car. She will then begin speaking at the rate of a bullet fired out of a gun.“I’m so glad you waited. I had three guys cancel this morning, because I wasn’t ready. I was like, you guys get paid to wait, but I’m not worried about it, UB3R will refund the fee. I really need to get to the airport super-fast. I’m running late for my flight.” She will then place a meaningless, “Thank you!” into the air and dive into the glowing light of her cell phone. “Can we hurry?” she will say to punctuate her request.
You will think this is impolite, so you will begin plotting a way to interrupt her time with her owl phone. You will open with general questions to set the trap. “Is the temperature, OK? Let me know if it’s too hot or cold.”
She will sigh and say, “It’s fine. I’ve had a rough night. I really want to go back to bed, but I’ve got to go home to—” She will pause, take a breath, then say, “LA.”
You will continue by encouraging and complementing your prey as you continue probing. “That’s cool! Is that an owl you’ve got for a phone?”
“Yeah, my boyfriend got it for me.”
You will understand the statement, “I have a boyfriend,” generally indicates disinterest and leave me alone, but this will not deter you, because you are not romantically interested in your passenger, you are out to prove you are a bigger jerk. You will continue to close the vice.
“You know owls represent BAAL! The Ancient Middle Eastern god of dew, self-worship, and selfishness. Some people believe he is a golden calf, like in that Ten Commandments movie, but he is actually an owl. Some people warm themselves in his glow, sacrifice virgins, and have big hedonistic festivals for him at the Bohemian Grove.
Parts of what you said about BAAL will be true, other parts conjecture, but she will be confused by your assertion and interrupt you before you ask if she worships the devil.
“I had no idea,” she will say. “You know a lot about owls and BAAL or ball,” she will say then look over her phone case. “It’s just a cute phone to me,” she will add then dive back into her task.
You will continue interrupting her screen time “Hey!” you will say. “Are you from LA?”
She will say, “I’ve been here for three years. I grew up in…LA.”
You will then say, “I’ve noticed something. Why do people from LA always take a breath before saying the letters ‘L’ and ‘A.’”
In your rearview mirror, you will watch as Elizabeth takes a breath then mouths the letters “L” then “A.” She will laugh out loud and look toward you. “I never thought about that.” She will laugh again. “You’re right! Are you usually up this early?” she will ask as she begins tapping a message into her phone.
You will say, “These are my serial killer hours.”
She will laugh again. “That’s really funny. I needed that, thanks,” she will say as she stares at her phone again. “Are you really a killer, though? You aren’t supposed to admit that.”
“I never said I was a good one.”
She will laugh and continue staring at her phone. “I see what you’re saying. No one has time for that. What else do you do besides this?”
You will avoid this question with a simple answer. “I just pay bills,” you will say with a long sigh as you signal and change to a slower lane.
“Amen to that,” she will say as she taps her screen some more.
“What about you, Elizabeth? What’s got you out this early?” you will ask.
She will place her large phone in her left hand and tap it against her knee. “It’s my grandma. She’s fighting cancer.”
“Oh—” you will say and pause as you imagine a casket closing. “I’m sorry,” you will say.
“Don’t worry about it. We knew. She was at hospice.”
You will remember that your family would always share food with others when any close friends or relatives experienced loss or grief. You will also remember carrying large platters of hot food to people and trying not to burn yourself or drop the food as you hauled the platters from your family’s vehicle into the homes of your loved ones.
You will think of food that you have in your car and say, “I have some granola, water, and mints. Would you like one?” you will ask.
“Yeah….water…” she will say and take a deep breath. “Oh, and I’ll have one of those mints.”
You will reach into a small cooler you keep in the front passenger seat. “I’ll warn you. I give out the baby-sized bottles when people get on planes, because of the liquid restrictions.”
She will laugh again. “Oh, baby-size works, that’s nice. Thank you,” she will say as she grabs the small bottle of water and mints from you.
“Thank you,” she will say again, “I really mean it this time.” She will sigh then begin staring out of the window. “I have a question,” she will add. “I don’t have anyone else to ask about this, so I was wondering if you could help.”
You will think of the many times you’ve had to pretend like you’re a therapist while driving. You’ll remember the stories you’ve heard about pets dying, toxic lovers, unrequited love, envy, wrath, and sins that have yet to be listed because times are constantly changing. Above all, you’ll remember communication is about listening to others more than yourself. So you’ll say, “Sure, go ahead. I’m listening.”
Her voice will sink to a despondent tone, and she will focus on the half-parts of your eyes she sees in the rear-view mirror. “OK, here goes. My friends think we all just die and go nowhere, but do you ever wonder if death is just another beginning?”
You will consider all of the time you have to sit and think in your car and you will happen upon a thought you had some time ago. “I think of it like opening a door to a new house. We’ve seen pictures and heard about the new house a million times, but we can’t enter until we have the right key.”
She will place her owl phone on the seat of your car and begin staring out of the window. “That’s one way to see it. I really just want my grandma to be happy. She’s been in hospice for six months, and tonight my dad calls and says, she’s ready to go, but she wants to see me one last time.”
You will shift to a faster moving lane. “That’s a good reason to travel,” you will say.
“I packed in an hour.”
“I would too.”
“I have a project due in the morning. I’ll call my boss when I get to LA. They have my notes. They should be fine.”
“That’s brave. You gotta go when life calls.”
“Thanks,” she will say.
“It was worth it,” you’ll respond.
The two of you will drift into the mutual silence that follows a meaningful exchange of truth. The miles will pass and the engine will cycle and cycle as the soundtrack for the rest of your journey.
When you arrive at the airport. She will grab her owl and you will help her wrangle her bag out of your car. She will shake her phone at you again, but this time as a gesture indicating goodbye.
She will say, “It was nice. Be safe out there!”
You will tell her, “You too, safe travels.”
She will turn from you and disappear into the airport. You will drive away pondering the unwritten rules of UB3R.
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