The Grid

It's funny to watch how people engage me when we first meet.
Some people see my car as a cab, and they automatically climb in the backseat.
Other folks see it as a car they are paying for, and those people sit where they see fit.
Sometimes, people just sit in back, and they don't ever say a word. I'll ask, "How's your night?" And they don't respond. At all.
Sometimes they stare at the phone the whole time.
Once, a very tense person sat in the front seat and did not say one word the whole drive from Chinatown to Hillsboro. That was weird.
Sometimes they ask me where they should sit. That's a logical question. I mean, it's my car, right? Maybe I have a preference where people sit. I do.
For starters, really chatty people shouldn't sit in the back. It's unnerving that we can't see each other's faces. Besides that, the acoustics in my car aren't that good front-to-back. It's hard to hear what the other says. Why aren't cars designed to optimize conversations? Maybe self-driving cars will better facilitate social interactions. If I can sit and hang with my friends and family, facing them, merrily eating and drinking, then sign me up!

Most of the people I talk to are in favor of self-driving cars. Cars will be safer, more efficient, and stress-free. Some people are afraid of being tracked all the time. This is where I get to tell one of my favorite "my friend" stories. It goes like this: My friend helped with the construction of the Green Line, which is a local light rail line that goes down the east side. He helped with the construction of the platforms, and he said all of the new stops have RFID indicators built in. These can read RFID chips as they pass by. If you don't know, RFID chips are in everything from your cell phone to your new debit card. Tri-Met knows who gets on and off and at which stops. I imagine that someday we won't need to buy train passes. The RFID indicator will bill our credit cards automatically when we get off. Convenient! Arthur C. Clark described such a system in his Mars series.

Somewhere, there is a computer screen showing a grid, and on that grid is every GPS locator in Portland. Some are Lyft drivers, and some are Lyft riders. It's kinda creepy, but it's also kinda handy when someone says they're at the Heritage Pub on SE 82nd, and they're really two blocks south. That happened one night. I notified them that I was at the Heritage to pick them up. I thought they might be settling their tab, so I waited. After I sat there for five minutes, I called them up.
"We're in the parking lot," they tell me. "We can see you [on the map] up the street."
WTF? I was in the parking lot!
I scrolled the map downward and saw the little yellow person on the grid -- two blocks south. A few minutes later, I found a man and woman in a gas station parking lot. The gas station was closed, and the lights were off. They flagged me down, I pulled up next to them, and immediately the dude was like, "Where have you been?"
"What?"
"Did you get lost? We could see you on the map."
Behold: the power of the grid.

One night, I picked up two dudes by the Library downtown. They looked like 1970's versions of ZZ Top. Drunk and high, they were super chatty, and we had a great conversation all the way up I-5 to Vancouver. About half-way across the river, one guy was like, "Where are we going?"
"The map says Vancouver," I said.
"I'm not going to Vancouver."
"You typed Vancouver in the destination."
"No I didn't," he said. "I live in Troutdale."
Once he typed in a new destination I was rerouted eastward, down Washington 14.
They were super chill back to I-205 and down to their place back across the Columbia. The two dudes invited me in for some beer and weed. I politely declined. Deciding I had had enough driving for the night, I went home.
The next morning I told Alia, my wife, about the ZZ Top dudes and the crazy route we took. I always recap my shift. Something wacky happens almost every shift. I realize most people don't have any associations with ZZ Top, but my dad was a fan, and they had a big impact on my childhood. That car ride was like a trip back in time. It was profound. Really. I kinda wished I could have partied with them after, but I like to keep my work life and my private life separate. After briefly chatting with her, I hopped in the car. I had to drive to Sellwood real quick to meet my Grandma.
We don't live in the nicest neighborhood, so as I walked out to the car, I immediately noticed this sedan driving by our house really slowly. I climbed into my car, started it, and waited for the sedan to pass so I could back out of the driveway. In the rear view mirror, I caught a glimpse of the passenger. He looked remarkably like ZZ Top. Weird -- twice in as many days. I back out and started to drive away, but then, as I pull out, the other car's brake lights flash on, and the car slams it into reverse.
I hopped out of my car. They hopped out of their car. It was the ZZ Top dudes! They were at my house! WTF?
One of them said he had left his phone in my car, and they said they had tracked it all the way back to my house from Troutdale!
Creepy!
At first, I didn't believe them. It was too weird -- I think I was in denial. I like to keep my private life separate from the strangers who fill my car. The thought of them creeping by my house the next day was not a happy thought. Sure enough, though, wedged between the seat and the rear door on the passenger side was a giant smart phone. I wondered if they would have followed me all the way to Sellwood.