My first ride of the day is Omar, a quiet black teenager, who needs a ride to Mount Trashmore, where he’s going to join a protest over the recent police shootings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota and the retaliatory shootings of police in Texas.
“I don’t really want to go.”
“I’m sleepy. But I promised this lady I’d go.”
“I bet you’ll be glad you did.”
Two trips later, I picked up Alice. It was about 6:30 in the evening and she was already drunk.
“Don’t go left here, go straight,” she said. “Don’t take me through nigger town.”
“Oh, sorry. Don’t hate me. I’m really not a racist. You probably hate me now.”
Apparently Alice gets very emotional and self-conscious when she’s drunk.
“I don’t hate you, but that’s a really ugly word.”
“I know, but that’s a bad neighborhood. My boyfriend’s a vice cop. He’ll tell you.”
“Is that what he calls that neighborhood too?”
Alice giggles, “Yeah.”
Just a few rides later, I pick up Angelo and his wife, Katina. They are a black couple from Chattanooga, Tennessee. They are in town for a four-day vacation. I drive them from the oceanfront to their hotel at Waterside in Norfolk.
We talk about our children and the challenges and joys of parenting. We discover that Katina and I are both English teachers, but only as I pull into their hotel parking lot. I suggest we drive around some more and talk about books we like to teach. They laugh.
Most of our drive is a discussion of recent events and the various protests around the area.
“It’s a mess,” Katina says. “I just think we all need to treat people fairly. We’re all just people.”
“When’s the last time you felt treated badly because of the color of your skin?” I asked.
“The day we got here,” Angelo said. This lady at the hotel told us there was a dinner for guests, but she kept looking at me and saying, ‘It’s professional attire only.’ Like I didn’t know what it meant or didn’t have any nice clothes with me. She didn’t tell that to any of the white people there.”
It was their first Uber ride and I showed Katina how to use a first-timer discount code. When I dropped them off, she saw on the app that the ride had been free.
“This has been such a nice ride. And it was free too!”
She gave me a hug when she said goodbye.