“How’s your night been?”
I get that question a lot from friendly passengers. This time it was from Ken, an Old Dominion University student I’d picked up from Central 111 and was taking to his family home in Virginia Beach.
“Good. Kind of boring though,” I said. “I mean, I’ve been pretty busy, and I’ve made decent money, but I’ve had nothing but nice, friendly people.”
“That’s not a bad thing, right?”
“No. It’s fine. But I don’t have any good stories. I like the out-of-the-ordinary kinds of rides.”
Ken wasn’t one of those. Don’t get me wrong–he was great. We talked about his successes and failures at picking up girls at the club. We talked about his ODU major and plans for the future. We even talked about books, trading recommendations¹. It was an easy, interesting conversation. It just wasn’t anything to blog about.
That came next.
It was about two in the morning and I was tired when I dropped Ken off. I intended it to be my last ride. I even told him so. But I forgot to shut off the app, and as soon as I ended Ken’s ride, I got a ping for another one. I hesitated, but it was only three minutes away. I could handle one more short ride.
The name of the passenger was Amanda, but she wasn’t alone. I parked at the end of the driveway and they came out of a small brick ranch.
Two were young black men, one with shoulder-length dreads. Amanda and the other guy were white. And they were a happy bunch.
Amanda climbed in first, informing me that others were on the way. She reeked of marijuana, and as the other three entered, the smell became almost overpowering.
To this crew, everything was funny. I was particularly hilarious, and I wasn’t even trying. They were giddy when they discovered my Jolly Ranchers (I realized later that they had practically cleaned me out–they must have taken a handful each). I took them a few miles down the road to a Walmart. I don’t know what they needed at that time in the morning, but the Town Center Walmart, I learned, is a happening place in the wee hours.
As we pulled into the parking lot, a heavy white woman in a floral blouse smiled and waved eagerly. She was a complete stranger, but I waved back and said, “She sure is friendly.” My passengers responded with waves of laughter. I told you I was hilarious.
They burst out of the car and said their goodbyes like they were parting from an old friend. They were loud and caught the attention of a well-dressed young black couple who were inexplicably taking a selfie together in the parking lot beside their BMW. The woman yelled some kind of enthusiastic greeting at them as they walked through the automatic doors.
I had to circle this couple on my way out, and they greeted me too.
“I gotta get inside, it’s getting cold out here,” the man said to me through my open window.
“Yeah, the weather’s finally changing. Have a good night!”
“Goodnight!” they both called to me.
I was done. The ride with the stoners was entertaining, and I was in a good mood, but it was well after two and I was ready for bed. I remembered to turn off the Uber app this time.
But the friendly waving woman was waiting for me at the stop sign near the Walmart exit. When she saw the Uber sign in my window, she flagged me and put her head in the open passenger-side window.
“You a Uber?” she asked.
“I am, but…”
“Listen. This is my situation. I have been here since 10:30 PM. You see that white minivan down there? My eleven-year-old boy is in there sleeping. I’m trying to get us home. Can you help me?”
“Well, I’d like to but…”
“My tire is flat, okay? And I got some people to help me try to put on the spare, but the damned spare doesn’t fit! It’s the wrong size. Can you believe it?”
“Yeah, I’m really sorry…”
“So I saw you’re a Uber. I been trying to download the Uber app on my phone.” She showed me her smartphone. “But I can’t get it to work. I don’t have a credit card, but I’m trying to use a twenty dollar coupon. It won’t let me. I’ve tried Lyft too, but it says it’s going to take forty-five minutes to download the app. I got to get my son home. Can you please take us home? I live in Norfolk.”
I’m not supposed to take passengers off the app. It’s a big no-no with Uber. But I felt sorry for this lady and her son.
“Can you pay me in cash?” I asked.
“I don’t have any money on me, but give me a few minutes. I’ll just ask some people here if they can give me some money for you.”
“No, that’s not necessary. Let’s get your son. I’ll just take you home.”
“Thank you. Let me just go inside and tell the manager that I’m leaving my car here. I’ll meet you by the van.”
It was a hundred yards away around the side of the building. Getting there, I drove past grizzled black man seated on a running moped. It occurred to me that he had been there when I arrived. Parked beside the lady’s minivan was a red sedan. A black woman and what looked like her 8-year-old son were getting in and out. I don’t know what they were doing, but they were busy. When they popped the trunk I saw it was packed with what looked like household goods.
I couldn’t believe how busy this parking lot was at two thirty in the morning. I thought, that kid should definitely be in bed.
I waited five minutes and the lady hadn’t come, so I drove back around to the entrance of the Walmart, figuring I’d give her a ride. She didn’t look like she was used to lots of walking. I drove past the guy on the running moped. He hadn’t budged.
When I turned the corner, I saw her engaged in conversation with the gregarious selfie-couple. Why they were still in the parking lot, I had no idea. I pulled up close.
“These people are going to help us out!” She turned to them, “That’s the Uber driver who’s going to take us home.”
“You’re the Uber?!” the woman exclaimed. “We got you some money. Thank you for taking care of this lady.”
She came over to the car with her phone.
“I’ve got to snap this!”
She recorded us all in a short video that she narrated. “Jesus takes care of us don’t he? There are good people in this world. This lady needs a ride and this Uber man gonna take her home.”
This was all great, but I really wanted to hit the road. After hugs, the lady finally got in the car.
“Do you know those people?” I asked.
“No. They just wanted to help. Here’s five dollars they gave me.”
We drove past the guy on the moped.
“I wonder what’s up with that guy. He hasn’t moved since I’ve been here.”
“Oh,” she said, “He’s deaf. He’s been here for hours. I didn’t think deaf people could get a license for those things.”
I didn’t know what to say to that.
It took her another five minutes to get her son up, out of the minivan, and into my backseat. During the process, she struck up a conversation with the lady in the red car. The one with the eight-year-old and her earthly possessions in the trunk. I couldn’t hear what was said, but the they chatted for another few minutes as the boy went back to sleep. Soon the black woman was searching in her car and handing the heavy woman some bills.
“Here’s three more dollars that nice lady gave me,” she said as she climbed in at last. “That’s ten dollars. Will that be okay?”
It was eight dollars, but I didn’t bother to correct her. “Of course. That will be fine.”
During the ride, we had talked about her crazy day and her car struggles. Some people had ignored her plight, but many offered to help in one way or another.
“At the end of the day, I think most people are basically good people. Don’t you think?”
Without waxing theological, yes, I do. And I told her so.
They lived in Norfolk off Campostella.
“Turn here. Whatever you do, don’t go down that way. People freak out sometimes when they see where we live. It’s not the best neighborhood. We hear gunshots at night all the time. Not on our street though.”
It was almost four when my head finally hit the pillow. That’s what I get for complaining about a boring night.
¹That reminds me. He recommended Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kaheman. I really want to read it. I gave him Just Mercy by Brian Stephenson.