The Life Cycle of an Ub3r Driver Part 4: Effishent
Friday Paul Ayo
All Rights Reserved, Copyright 2020
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It was the early morning rush hour. The streets were filled with fast- movers, who crawled and honked their way to the work. I had been swept into the frenzy, and I dodged and darted through traffic to reach a Downtown hotel.
I mentally prepped for a business woman with a thousand things to do, a miniscule amount of patience, and not much time to talk. A quiet ride would have been perfect, because I wasn’t in a friendly mood, but when I arrived at the pick-up location. I found a man wearing a brown business suit, black glasses with square frames, and he had a thousand things to talk about.
His hair was cut into a thick bowl and trimmed closely on the sides of his head. When he got into my car, he started adjusting his tie and scanning the car like a quality control inspector. I usually kept things clean, besides the smell of work as Queen put it, but I planned to keep quiet as he scanned for whatever he was searching for. My plan was to keep my eyes on the road and make this journey easy for the both of us, but this changed quickly.
“Hohw lohng hauve you been drivhing?” He asked me.
I couldn’t place his accent, but he sounded like he was from Eastern Europe or some place near Russia. I wasn’t sure, and I didn’t want to be rude or interrupt my plan to avoid a conversation, so I didn’t ask my question, and I didn’t respond to his.
He asked me again. “Sir, how long hauve you been drivhing?”
I sighed inside and considered the box of Pandora this conversation might open. Then I figured being rude to a customer this early wasn’t the way to start a good day, so I engaged with a grain of salt. “I’ve been driving a couple hours,” I said. Then with a little skepticism and add a lot of reluctance I asked, “You don’t work for UB3R, do you?”
“Oh, noh, noh, noh,“ he said. “I’hm just a pahssenjer. I’hm on my way to a meeting.”
I thought to myself, that’s what a bait passenger says when they’re secretly planted by UB3R for secret spy missions. After driving so much, I’m beginning to think I’ve grown more paranoid over time, but my caution has never steered me wrong.
So I double checked, because, you know, that’s the best way to tell if you’re dealing with a spy. You ask them the same question 5 times and eventually they’ll get so annoyed they’ll give up on their espionage. “You sure, you’re not a spy?” I asked again.
This time he laughed. “Ha, ha, youh’hre a personahble drihver. Its good to meet new peohple who can make the world not so serious sometime. Everything is mohre interehsting like this. The art of conversation is lost. This talking is the real work, no?”
I always wondered why some people place “No” as question at the end of sentences. Then I began to consider if I actually like this job, considering how long I had done it, it was easier to not think about it because that may lead me to stop my car right in the middle of this trip. NO? “It pays the bills,” I told him. Then I punctuated that with another spy question. “You sure you don’t work for UB3R? This is isn’t a survey or something?”
He said, “Oh, noh, noh, noh. Ih’m glad that you want to talk. It makes time pass effishently. Mohst drihverhs dohn’t tahlk. Lihfe is bohring if we don’t talk.”
I thought he had a point. “I see what you’re saying,” I told him.
“Youh don’t mihnd if Ih ask youh another question, doh youh?” He asked then he started smiling this eerie long smile.
I took a look at the app and it said we were about 10 minutes from his destination. I could’ve said, no, and ended the conversation, but I figured this may be a good story and good practice for other situations with spy passengers like this. So in the name of fun, I said, “Sure, go ahead.”
“I was wondering, hohw much mohney youh dry-vers make pehr weehk? I ahm asking fohr hypo-theh-tikals. I have ah cousin who wahnts toh loohk into this worhk.”
This really was a spy question, but it was also one of the top five questions passengers ask when they take UB3R rides, so I gave him the routine answer. “Usually…about a thousand bucks.” This wasn’t as truthful an answer as it could have been, considering gas, insurance, maintenance, etc. but I figured, it was enough to fulfill his data needs for the moment. Then I thought I thought to myself, who shows up at a person’s job and the first question they ask is, how much money do you make? Who does that?
“Thaht is noht bahd. Hohw muhch do youh spehnd on gahs-oh-leehne?”
Now gas? I thought about sending him my monthly expense reports that I keep for taxes, because there are three people my dad always told me to beat, the tax-man, the doctor, and the undertaker. He said, with taxes always itemize, with the doctors, prevention is better than any pill, and with the undertaker, ashes cost less than coffins, but back to this gas thing. Gas is usually a dart board of prices or it’s like playing Yahtzee, 1.95, 2.23, 3.34. It’s never the same, so I just threw out a number, “150 bucks.”
His voice rose and squeaked, “ A weehk!” he said like he swallowed a mouse. Then his voice got low and serious again, “That means youh ohnly mahke eight-hunderd ahnd fifty dohllars pehr weehk.”
Yeah, a week, I thought. All this great conversation and life giving energy for $850. The sound of the road started getting louder and I was thinking about the text Queen usually sends me in the morning with an affirmation. I checked my phone and nothing had been sent, so I sent a message to her:
Jay: You slackin’
I didn’t really care anymore about the possibility of having a bait passenger, and I decided I might as well go full force into the danger and text while driving, because that may throw him off his question loop for the moment.
Queen: Hey King, don’t test me. I got you later. Make that money.
Her messages always made my morning and kept me going when I needed a little boost to get through a “special” ride.
“Hohw muhch do youh spehnd on in-sure-ranse?” he continued.
I knew the correct amount was $125. I was proud of this number, because last week, I lowered this expense by $75, but I figured I’d give him a number that’s hard to quantify, so I said, “One hundred thirty-six dollars and thirty-seven cents.”
He said, “Ohh!” like he had just gotten an ice cream cone from his favorite ice cream shop.
Then I glances in rearview mirror, and I saw the face people make when they are thinking hard. You know, the visualization face where you build a mental picture as you solve a problem. Then I understood this guy wasn’t a spy. He was one of those people who liked doing math in their heads, and they were always searching for new things to count and quantify.
“If youh calculate youhr weehkly earnings less gas ahnd insurance, youh mahke $713.63 per weehk. Yohu shouhld quit.”
I thought about what this guy said, then I started to run through all of those stages of grief, because I felt like I had lost something, but I couldn’t quite figure out what I lost at the moment. So I decided I would stick with denial, because acceptance wasn’t a place I was going to consider, because this was definitely an insult.
Our ETA was 5 minutes, so I knew I had just enough time start ruining this guys high. “Hey, that sure is a nice haircut. Where’d you get it?” I said.
“Oh, no time for that.” He said. Then he went on. “My brohthers uhsed to drivhe the cabs when they arrihved here ahnd they usehd to tell meh howh muhch thehy mahde. Now they complaihn ahnd wahnt mohre regulations, because of rideshare driving. In some countries, they attack rideshare drivers and burn their cars. I tehll my brothers, this is nonsense. This industry diehs and that is what life is. You live and die. It is inehvitahble. These companies and their routines are the same.”
I imagined a mob of angry cab drivers setting fire to my car. Then I considered, I had max insurance coverage for vandalism and theft, and I contemplated that if I survived I could get a huge pay-off and more than a month off work. I didn’t even remember I was trying to be a jerk. Then he kept going on about cabs.
“The cabs charged more money, but that was the market rate. Your wahge is tooh lohw to maintain your cars and live-lee-hood. UB3R does nothing, but boss you here and boss you there. Thehze carhz wihll be rohbots, soon, and they will pay thee robots nothing. Then you will be thee ones burning thee robot cars. All these peohple do is take, take, take, until there is nothing left, but that is the point of it all, they say.”
I was still stuck in the denial phase, but I was pretty sure the current state of rideshare driving was changing faster than I realized. I wanted to turn the radio up, and drone to his destination, but he had more to say.
“Thaht is thee way this place works. No brohtherhoohd, youh evolve or others eat your work and your labor like food. It shouhld noht beh like this, but that is what they call thee survival of the fittest,” he said then made a spitting sound.
“It’s a primitive mindset,” I said to agree. “What do you do for a living?”
He took a long breath and adjusted his briefcase.
“I ruhn numbers. I ahm an Analyst. It’s good you have other things like talking going for you. My brothers are working, now, on a strike. I tell them to do something else. I tell them to build or invehst in rohbot cars. They do not. I’m sure you have a plan to talk to more people. People like you, the ones with a different way, should be big and loud like the people who survive the fittest. Yohu shouhld hurry before they make us all rohbots.”
My next turn placed me at his destination. I put the car in park and unlocked the doors, so he could exit. I was still in denial.
“You could have gone another way, but you are a special driver at a special age. Youhnger ahnd ohlder peohple will listen whehn youh tahlk. Youh shouhld fihnd sohmenthing special to tahlk about. Share it whehn youh drihve. Iht willl mahke things Eeffishent.”
He closed the door and left the car. I drove back into the morning rush, dodging the traffic to get to my next passenger and considering new things I’d share if the opportunity presented itself.
Photos By: Nabeel Syed, Craig Whitehead, and AURRIGO
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