It’s 10 o’clock on a Tuesday night and I get a request to pick someone up. He says he wants to be dropped off at the truck stop because he’s a truck driver and he’s heading to Toronto. We approach train tracks and the lights begin flashing, a train barely moving our way but I stop and say “I’m so scared of trains. I could have gone but I won’t.” We start talking and as with most people lately, the conversation doesn’t take too long to arrive at the topic of Trump. “I don’t know how we got here,” he says to me and soon I learn he is from Wisconsin - an African American and a gay man. He tells me he has yet to meet a Canadian who supports Trump and I assure him the right-wingers are indeed everywhere but for the most part we are chill. We discuss our outrage about the election and agree that the hardest pill to swallow has been minorities - people of colour, women, LGBTQ, etc - who voted for him. I drop him off and think about the pleasant interaction, happy that most of the people I get to meet are very liberal and easy to talk to.
However I don’t always have pleasant interactions. For the most part London is a student city so 98% of the people I uber are in the millennial bracket. Working afternoons and evenings almost every day, I frequently notice people’s surprise when they see a female uber driver. They ask me if I’m scared or if I ever encounter “weirdos”. I tell them it’s never the people you think are going to be weird that are and vice versa. I think about last Sunday night when I picked up a guy who was my age. He sat in the front seat as we waited for his friends to pile in the back. Not entirely sure if he was on drugs but the situation started having strange vibes. We were having a casual conversation while we were waiting, which was not that bad, and after I reached the destination, his friends got out of the car... but he didn’t.
To be clear, since ubering I have formed legitimate friendships with some of the people I have met. The first night I started working, I made friends with a guy who’s in a local band. “What are we listening to?” was the first thing he said after getting in my car. We talked about music and when I dropped him off he casually asked me if I wanted to hang out sometime, added me on Facebook and went home. Whether or not he was hitting on me didn’t matter; it was all in the way he carried out his request which was more or less very chill and didn’t rub me the wrong way. Two months later, we are still friends and see each other on a regular basis.
The lingerer however, remained in my vehicle long after his friends left, staring at me, asking me questions and trying to get my number. I was dodging his questions about “hanging out sometime” and thinking to myself that the power of rhetoric lies in not what you say, but how you say it and how you are perceived. I finally asked him for his number just to make him go away, told him I’d text him (never did) and was a little annoyed when he finally got out of the car. Then I proceeded to beat myself up about being too nice - a daily challenge for me and every woman I know facing awkward and difficult situations.
I try not to make a habit of necessarily getting into long conversations with people as I sometimes feel like the way most tattoo artist feel for example, when they answer the same questions from clients every day. “How long have you been doing this? How long have you lived in London?” It becomes a little redundant after a while.
On the upside, I’ve had a lot of really wonderful people cross my path. I once drove an elderly man, complete with a walker (which I stored in the trunk) to the mall, but soon after his wife disappeared in the rear view mirror he asked me if we could stop at the LCBO. Adorable.
I picked up a woman once after work who wanted to stop at the Wine Rack and we got pretty chatty during our trip, which for some reason made her want to buy me a bottle of wine along with her purchases. “Welcome to London,” she said and I was completely floored by how sweet the gesture was. I’ve also had a pack of 20 year old boys tell me that I had the highest rating they’ve seen in the city, which also made me feel warm and fuzzy. My favourite trips though are probably the longer ones - I’ve driven some people to Toronto twice now which works out better financially and cuts out all the time I spend using my brakes at stop signs and red lights in the city and throughout the Western campus.
Though sometimes the job creates a Taxi Driver or Drive fantasy and the benefits of choosing your own hours outweigh the risks, the truth is you really don’t know where you’re going and who you are picking up every time you accept a call. Which makes it sort of interesting in an unpredictable spontaneous way.