Back in June of 2016, Carol Nichols tweeted an ironic truism:
1998: - Don't get in strangers' cars - Don't meet ppl from internet
2016: - Literally summon strangers from internet to get in their car
The ride-hailing industry goes against a social norm: don't talk to strangers. To make the whole thing work, both the driver and the rider need to place their trust with a complete stranger. Knowing that everyone is "in the system" reassures me. It's what swayed me into trying this job in the first place. When a person uses the app they see my picture, they see my name, and they see what kind of car I drive. This way, they can be sure to get in the right car. When I get a ride request, I see their avatar and their name. I know they've already put in their credit card information "in the system", so I know I will get paid no matter what. I just have to get them from point A to point B.
It makes me nervous when a Wild Card is introduced. Sometimes the rider is not in the system. The wild card could be the rider's friend or spouse. Early one Sunday morning, I picked up Brian and his friend outside Sassy's, on Madison. It was closing time. The crowd in the parking lot filled the sidewalk and spilled into the street. There was a crowd outside Holocene, too, and the people all mixed in the middle of 10th ave. Ubers and Lyfts nudged through, eager to get their rides and come back for more. I squeezed in next to the curb out front. Brian hopped in back. "I'm waiting for someone else," he said.
We waited for a long time. His buddy was in the parking lot talking to a couple of dudes. They were laughing, swapping numbers and Snapchat info.
Brian kept leaning out the window, "Let's go!" He called out. Sliding back down onto the seat, he apologized to me, then "C'mon!" again out the window. After several minutes, Brian got out of the car, dragged his friend into the seat behind me and then climbed in the other side. I started driving.
Brian's friend was animated and out of breath. "Those guys were in a gang!"
"Oh?" was all Brian said.
"A real gang," he said wistfully.
"Were you giving them your number?"
Somewhere down on McLaughlin Boulevard, Brian's friend started talking shit on white people.
Brian looked white. I look white to most people. Brian's friend said something about shooting white people. Then he said something about shooting my "white ass."
"No," Brian said, either to soothe his friend or to reassure me. "You're not going to shoot him."
"I'm gonna shoot his white ass," he said.
"I'm not white," I said. I know I look white, and I pass as white, but I honestly don't identify as white. That's a story for another time, because Brian's friend didn't want to hear it. My mind was fixed on one question, "Is he going to shoot me?"
"I've got a Mexican at home with a shotgun. Do you think he'll think you're white?"
I didn't know how to answer that. I understood the question, but it wasn't making sense. That question seemed like an important question at the moment, and I really needed clarification... "You have a Mexican at home?"
And I can't stop the words that come out of my mouth anyway. "As a pet?"
Brian's friend was confused by my question.
Brian said very calmly, "His Dad is Mexican."
This is where the system had broken down. The angry guy wasn't in the system. The genial guy was paying for the ride. Brian was in the system, but I didn't know his buddy's name. Even worse, his buddy was sitting right behind me, so I didn't even know what he looked like, other than "dark skin with a ball cap." Also, he was right behind me saying he's gonna shoot me.
I cruised through downtown Milwaukie at thirty miles per hour.
It was 3AM on a Sunday morning. There was no cop in sight.
I tried to rationalize the situation.
I figured there was a 50/50 chance he had a gun at all. Either he did, or he didn't. Really. It was that simple.
If he did have a gun, then there was a 50/50 chance he would use it. Either he would, or he wouldn't.
That meant I had only a 25% chance of getting shot, and a 75% chance of not getting shot.
Seventy five percent is pretty good odds!
I pulled up in front of the house.
Brian apologized again and said, "I'm just living with them. I'm just renting a room."
Brian's friend asks through the open back door, "You want to come in and meet my dad?"
"Nope." I drove away stunned. What had just happened?