Editor’s note: This story is based on the recollection of the authors and does not contain exact quotes. Additionally, the drivers have been given pseudonyms to protect their privacy.
Uber is so interesting. On the surface, it’s an app that makes transportation more convenient. But an inevitable byproduct of that is a stranger coming into your life for a period of time. Perhaps we’re overly analytical writers who attribute meaning to everything, but nonetheless, here are several encounters that had a distinct impact on us.
Uberisms: School, Steve Jobs and drugs
Over the summer, I went to a San Francisco Giants game with friends, and was the only one going back to Berkeley afterward. During the last inning, my friend told me that her friend was also going back. She asked if I would want to split an Uber with him, and I said sure.
When she told me who the friend was, we all laughed.
I should offer some context. The joke was that I can keep a conversation with anyone, but I cannot, for the life of me, talk about sports. And this guy, Zach, was a big baseball fan. My friend knew him well and the idea was that he would, of course, talk about the game. And mind you, a drive across the Bay at this hour would be roughly 40 minutes.
I recognize that this was a pretty stupid concern, and all really a joke, but I was definitely curious about how this ride would go.
We met outside the stadium. Suddenly, I found myself nervously interjecting, “How was the game?”
“The HELL, Kathryn? What do you mean ‘How was the game?’ You were there, too,” I thought to myself.
“I mean, same as it was for you, I guess. We lost,” Zach replied casually.
“Ha, OK, that’s actually good to know. I was realizing on my walk over that I didn’t fully register the score amid talking with my friends the whole time,” I thought.
The Uber pulled up and within a minute, it became clear that our driver, Alex, would be carrying the conversation. He first asked us what we were studying. After our responses, Alex went off on a tangent.
His English wasn’t the best, but I did at least gather that he discovered a theorem in primary school. But his teachers didn’t believe him.
Abruptly following some silence, he assured us with a passionate finger-wag, that he was in fact correct and had proved them wrong. His disheveled curly hair hung over a satisfied expression.
“Lmao,” Zach texted me from the passenger seat. I emphasized the message.
Next, I believe the topic was Alex’s interest in coding. Particularly how it makes him feel like he’s … oh yes, I remember: “On MDMA.” And if there’s a god out there, he thinks it’s math.
“God this is getting so personal,” Zach texted me.
“This should be a podcast,” I replied.
We also got to talking about tech. Then Steve Jobs. We discussed some of Jobs’ quotes, too.
I might also add that he was a terrible driver. Our conversation bounced around as we sporadically changed lanes and nearly missed exits.
But before we knew it, we were back in Berkeley. The whirlwind of a drive and conversation had come to an end. We got out of the car, both a little stunned.
Five stars for you, Alex. But also, stay safe.
Good things come in threes
Fate arrived on a Tuesday evening in the form of Chan and his Toyota Prius. Tuesday. Third day of the week. Nothing special. But today was anything but ordinary.
I found myself by the Berkeley Marina, looking for something a family member had lost the week before. The wind blew, the leaves rustled and the sun set as I realized the failure of my search. It was on that day that I recognized something I had lost in the past month: myself. I had lost myself to a broken heart.
It was close to raining as Chan pulled up.
I peered in. Asked if it was for me. Chan gently nodded, smiling simply. I slid in. It looked like it would be a quiet ride, but Chan had other plans.
As he bumped across the bridge from the Marina back to Southside, he decided to turn up his music. And the result was nauseating, or so it seemed. Chan had turned up one of the number one love song stations in the Bay Area. I tuned the first song out. Hell no. This was not the mood. Until … it was?
As we bumped along, “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor blurped out of Chan’s radio like a battle call. “Do you think I’d crumble?/ Did you think I’d lay down and die?/ No, not I, I will survive/ … Oh, as long as I know how to love, I know I’ll stay alive.”
It was in this moment that something began to stir in me. As this anthem played, my heart began to beat with it. Each disappointment has the potential to make you stronger. And no person should have the power to make you crumble. But was this song just coincidence?
Stuck in traffic on Shattuck Avenue, Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” began to beat from Chan’s speakers.
“There’s a fire starting in my heart/ Reaching a fever pitch and it’s bringing me out the dark/ … We could have had it all/ Rolling in the deep/ You had my heart inside your hand and you played it to the beat.”
My heart beat faster. I felt newly invigorated. And as crazy as it seems, a fire “was starting in my heart,” too. I felt like my heart was in his (no, not Chan’s) hand and in a certain sense it was, but I would eventually bring myself out of the dark. By this point, I could’ve started dancing in Chan’s backseat. It was a party.
As Chan turned up my street I was feeling better, but — no, it couldn’t be?
Maroon 5’s “She Will Be Loved” began to fill Chan’s Prius. “I don’t mind spendin’ everyday/ Out on your corner in the pourin’ rain/ Look for the girl with the broken smile/ Ask her if she wants to stay awhile/ And she will be loved, she will be loved.”
Although Chan and I never spoke more than “hello” and “goodbye,” his taste in music spoke volumes. Maybe I was looking for it, but I found hope and love again on that Uber ride. Maybe I’ll meet the guy I fell for again. Maybe I’ll find someone new. But in the meantime, I know “I will survive” even if I’m “rolling in the deep.” Because after all, “She will be loved.”
It was my friend’s birthday and we went to the city to celebrate. At the end of the night, we took an Uber back to Berkeley.
Our driver Franklin was great. Middle-aged, calm, happy. Probably a dad. But he did not know what he was in for. Offering us the aux was probably a mistake.
My friend Casey queued up her favorite playlist, and at high-volume. But Franklin stayed calm, even laughed to himself a little. I know because I had shotgun.
We rounded a corner and an overwhelming amount of traffic appeared as we tried to get onto the Bay Bridge. I looked up the news on my phone. I announced to the car that a van had gone up in flames and most of the eastbound lanes were closed. We’d be sitting in traffic for a while.
“Oh, Franklin, I am so sorry. You’re stuck with us,” I thought to myself.
In the back of the car, my friends’ hype level didn’t waver. But in the front seat, I got a little more quiet. I had had a difficult week and was starting to think back on it a little. After a while, Franklin turned to me. He bottled up his fists and shrugged his shoulders, motioning to me that I seemed on edge. He then playfully tapped me to loosen up. I was sort of embarrassed.
“He’s right,” I thought.
There’s something about a stranger noticing something about you that makes you reflect.
Even though Franklin didn’t say a word our whole drive, I really appreciated him. The moment made me smile and I somehow started to feel a little better.
And so we proceeded across the bridge. Past the flames, surrounded by friends, we all made it home OK. I definitely tend to attribute meaning to everything, but I will go ahead and call this a metaphor for my college years thus far. Chaotic yet supported, and everything will be all right.