I was looking for an Irene, but a lean, black man in a black shirt was the only one waiting outside the restaurant. He hopped in, and I wondered if he just had an unusual name.
“Are you Irene?” I asked.
“No, that’s my mom. She got me the ride. Listen, we gonna go a roundabout way, okay? Don’t worry. I’ll take care of you.” He flashed me some cash and a smile.
“That’s fine.” I said. “I’ll take you wherever you want to go.”
“Cool.” There was a moment’s pause. “Man, f– millennials!”
“F–ing millennials, man. They’re so selfish. I just don’t understand them. I’m thirty-eight years old. That’s not old, but I feel like I’m from another generation.”
Henry was a passionate guy. He spoke rapidly and with volume. And he really didn’t like millennials.
“Nobody wants to give me a ride. I mean, one girl lives one exit away, and she still won’t give me a ride. So f-ing selfish. Back in the day, you give somebody a ride and they give you like five bucks for gas and everybody’s good. I’m offering twenty dollars and they’re still like, ‘No.’ It’s millennials, man. This world is just f–ing selfish.
“Go to any bar today, and what is everybody doing?”
“Well, I don’t go to bars much, but I bet they’re staring at their phones,” I said.
“On their f-ing phones, man! I mean, what the hell? They are out with their friends! Friends are right there! And they’re all just staring at screens. What the f–? When I was their age and I’m out with my boys and the phone rings, I ignore it. Right? Call ’em later. I mean, unless it’s my mom or something and then I’m like, ‘let me just get this a minute.’ Nobody knows how to have a conversation anymore.
“I know what you mean. So, where are we going?”
“I just gotta make a quick stop in Norfolk. It’ll be quick, I promise. Then we’ll go to the address you got. It’s not far out of the way though, and I’ll take care of you, okay?”
“Okay. It doesn’t matter how far we go, you know. I get paid based on the mileage and time. It doesn’t matter what address you put into the app. Your mom will get billed for the whole trip when we’re done.”
“Really? I thought she just got billed for the trip she put in there.”
His phone rang. It was his mom.
“Hey, Mommy. I’m in the Uber. We’ll be there soon. What? Oh…um…yeah, we took the wrong exit. We’ll be there in a minute. Mommy. We’ll be there in a minute. I gotta go. See you in a minute.”
He hung up.
“Your mom doesn’t know we’re taking a side trip?” I asked.
“No. That’s why I was just gonna pay you extra.”
“That’s not how it works.”
“Yeah. I get it now. How did she know where we are?”
“She’s looking at the app. It shows where we are on a map. A little car. You can watch it take the trip.”
“Really? She can see where we’re going? Sh–! It’s cool though. I just gotta get a good lie going.”
He paused for a minute, thinking.
“I know. I gave somebody else a ride. He needed to get dropped off in Norfolk. I’ll give her some money to pay for the extra trip.”
“You could tell her the guy gave you ten bucks for her.”
I don’t know why I offered to help Henry perfect his lie. He made me laugh. And the customer always comes first.
As we turned off 264 onto Brambleton, his mom called again.
“Hey, Mommy. Yeah, we need to go to Norfolk real quick. I gave somebody a ride. He just needs to go to…Mommy! That guy in the kitchen. You know that guy I told you… I know, Mommy. I got money for you….Yes, but I didn’t know that. I thought you just paid for…Mommy! I know that now. He gave me…Mommy. Mommy! I know, Mommy. I gotta go.”
He hung up. Then he made another call. No answer. He tried again. No answer.
“What the f– is wrong with this guy? How’m I supposed to meet him if he won’t answer his f–ing phone?”
The guy, Possum, picked up on the third try.
“What the f–, Possum? You gotta answer your f–ing phone. You wanna call yourself a businessman but you don’t answer the phone? Damn. You ready for me? I’ll be there in two seconds. You better be ready. I’m in an Uber and I can’t keep him waiting. I’m almost there.”
He hung up.
“Man’s gotta answer his phone. Why’s he even have a f–ing phone if he’s not gonna answer it?”
“His name’s Possum?” I said.
“Yeah. We call him Possum.” We both laughed a little.
“Pull over right here. I’ll be back in a second.”
We were beside Youngs Park, a notoriously bad Norfolk neighborhood. It was just after midnight. I parked on the side of the road. He got out and trotted across the street, disappearing around a corner. I locked the doors, but there was no one in sight. It was well-lit and Brambleton, though quiet at this time of night, is a major street. I wasn’t too worried.
He was back in no time, jogging. He really didn’t want to keep me waiting.
“See? Only took a minute. Thanks, man.”
“No problem. Got everything you need?”
“Yeah. I’m good. Gotta get home.”
“You in trouble with your mom?”
“Nah. It’s cool. I didn’t know how Uber works. I didn’t know she could see where we are. I thought I could just pay you extra to take another trip. I don’t like that they can watch you.”
“You need to download the app and do it yourself,” I said.
“Yeah, but I can’t get a credit card. I’m trying to get a Pay Pal card. That’ll work. I gotta do it now. This is crazy.”
I can’t recall what else we talked about, but it was never quiet. We were pals. When we got to his apartment complex in Greenbrier, he took my card.
“I’m gonna call you next time,” Henry said. “You’re a good Uber driver. I want you to drive me all the time.”
He left me a ten dollar tip. Henry was a man of his word–to me at least.