My night of driving ended around 3:00 in the morning at an all-night casino, “Hey man, be honest.. Do I look okay?”
The 2 stop trip started at a Motel 6 with the guy singing to Rap playing on his phone, he either knew the songs less than me or was just changing the words. He appeared to be jacked on coke or tweaking on something worse.
We stopped near the house he had as the first 15 minute destination, “Wait here with your lights off.” I did. Quietly I listened with the windows down for something, anything that might sound like a reason to take off.
In silence I contemplated canceling the trip and pondered whether he was just sneaking in for more money or maybe something worse or doing something worse.. 5 minutes later he came running around a different corner.
As we headed back towards where I found him, he called someone and whispered about being lied to. After the call he mumbled at his phone as if recording the moment, something about staying away from her.
“Hey, I’m changing the stop to a casino.”
Every city has its dark places, areas once normal – likely even prosperous before Now rotted Then. Each of these zones have local warnings of; don’t go there, oh I wouldn’t, have you heard about the latest. The signs are there if your eyes dare wander..chain link fences, plywood windows, spray painted scars, litter, shopping carts loaded with discarded treasures and other modern assorted souvenirs of broken urban meets transitional decay. Streets run through all of them, connecting normal through necessity and back. Once significant names like Hosmer, Pacific and Aurora fade on tired metal signs. When the sun goes down those brave, uniformed or dumb enough are there along with those who subside in the darkness, where choices collide on edges of perspective.
Now as requested needs and wants of others drive me to and down these stained streets I am reminded of an old late night scary television series hosted by Vincent Price. His age old voice hissed with dark danger and hair raising laugh warned of dangerous tales. Vincent dared you not to while teasing you back for more.
Driving through these places the voice of my GPS changes over to Vincent’s. At least in my ear.
In darkness I picked up a couple at a Motel 6 and dropped them at a Dollar Store. The gal moved slowly, as if to be around eighty but on closer observation probably around forty maybe fifty. A weathered hand tattoo showed the world she once had it by the tail or another appendage. As I opened the back for her walker she gave a grateful smile and a warm, “Thank you.”
For a moment I stared. For a minute she made me think of my deceased friend Dori; and not just because she looked like her.
While waiting for three drunk young guys to get a box of beer and assorted snacks at a gas mart by a casino around 1:00 AM (before dropping them at an extended stay motel); some parking lot action caught my people watching tendencies.
Two stalls over a guy in white vans (without socks) was spray painting his engine, and using a propane torch to speed up drying time..as it was 33degrees. Pausing to finally light the cigarette bouncing around in front of his face, he traded the torch into the trunk for a second color (or maybe just a second can for a second coat). The painter had a modern Vanilla Ice wannabe look about him. The sedan he was ‘improving’ looked as if it had done some slaloms down overparked streets during a recent snowstorm – not an unscathed panel on it.
When my passengers finally finished shopping I pointed out the action.
“He’s painting his catalytic converter.”
“No! He’s painting the head gasket.”
“You guys stop looking at him.”
As we drove off so many questions collided in my head leaving me with nothing, nothing to focus wonder on.
My last good memory of The Swiss was picking up a family of three pre-Covid lockdown – first lockdown.
Dad was Liquored. He sat up front, mom and daughter in the back. He went on and on about how important it was to see live music (even if it wasn’t that good, like the band that night). He said they go there a few times per year and wanted to take his daughter there while she was home for the holidays from college. Then he went on and on about Vodka and he didn’t really appreciate the differences..
I told him, “Tito’s is my favorite, it has a unique smoothness. It’s made down south and they do things to support dogs.” He kept talking in circles (Liquored) so the daughter started teasing him, “He already told you about Tito’s.”
When I dropped them off in DuPont the daughter got out last. “Have a shot of Tito’s for me.”
She burst out laughing..
A couple of winters ago I drove a young guy home who used to work at the Pacific Grill in Tacoma until it became another Covid casualty.
In conversation he said, “Unsure what to do now.”
“Look at the jobs that don’t get locked down, if even for just a few months…years..”
His family had a memorial gathering for his dad at The Swiss before Covid came around and caused it to go out of business. I guess it was his favorite place. “We used to go there all the time to hear local bands and meet up.”
“It was a favorite of mine, they use to have car shows in the street out front.”
Weekday commuting starts early and grows into a crowded tailgating typically rude frenzy that inevitably slows to an intolerant crawl. I call it The Gauntlet. This busy time of day is my least favorite and rarely driven despite its financial opportunities.
However one weekday morning I was awake very early and decided to turn my app on and see if I could catch a rider while I watched tv. Ping – I got a request. The rider was nearby in a newer housing development that I hadn’t noticed before. It was just a couple blocks off of the always bustling Pacific Highway, being downhill and tucked into some trees this group of houses enjoys some seclusion.
Driving slowly past the house to turn around in the culdesac and return to stop in front gave the rider enough time to be ready when I stopped.
“Good morning,” she said in a warm voice with an African accent.
On the drive we talked about her neighborhood, job and the town we both called home.
Near the end of our trip I shared, “You spell your name the same way my mom does.”
“Your name is spelled the same as my son’s. Maybe we are related?”
Belly laughing spilled from the backseat into the front. The best tip of the day – laugh more.
I drove a young guy home from work on my way back from a personal trip to see a car collection. In our conversation I said, “Think it’s going to be a tough winter.”
“Yeah, me too. My dad doesn’t celebrate his birthday, he celebrates ‘surviving winter’ in the spring. We’re part Native American, it’s a cultural thing.”
“Interesting.. When is his birthday?”
“I don’t know, in one of the winter months I guess.”
“If Hunter Thompson was still alive he’d be a Rideshare driver,” said a friend after a year of stories.
A few years ago a couple of my friends started Rideshare driving, they didn’t know each other but around the same time both decided to acquire purpose driven vehicles and started shuttling people around. My first reaction(s) was, “Why are you doing that?!” They both had established construction related careers and this didn’t make sense to me; I even looked down my nose a bit. Basically Steve wanted something flexible to fill unwanted downtime and Rick needed a change. They both found this self-scheduling – pay as you go opportunity to work for them. Over the next months (turned years) I found my curiosity growing and often asked them and the occasional Rideshare drivers that I rode with about their travels..they all liked it.
Gig work driving is a blend of different experiences. The driver doesn’t know when the next request will appear on their app, where the rider is nor where they want to go, never-mind who they are; it is like fishing. Learning and tracking demand is a constant navigation of social trends, using past observations to predict future needs. Moving the driver’s position icon on the app map to chase down surge bonus pay icons and trending demand arrows is much like an 80’s video game. When the ride ends the driver is automatically paid.
While finding the work schedule flexibility and paid upon completion appealing I wondered about other potential gig work – something other than driving strangers around.
Things change. With a slow winter approaching I found myself at an intersection of want and need, so I chose to try, to drive through it. A few months down this detour the pandemic came around, shifting everything.
After two years and over four thousand trips down the road of this experience – it seems time to capture some of it. Every trip yields an adventure and each personality contributes to these short experiences..some are worth sharing.