Just in case you’re here for salacious reasons due to the title, I don’t want to disappoint you with a bait and switch. Truth in advertising, nobody gets blown in this blog post.
I was doing my Uber run the other day. I figured I’d take a different tack by starting early to get a jump on the competition for higher-paying airport rides. Not because I’m overly ambitious, mind you — I fell asleep early at 9 p.m. and was wide awake at 4 a.m. and had nothing better to do. Usually, I might have played a video game on my PC, but the Houseguest has been going through a bout of insomnia. Her room was dark — but she has the hearing of a bat, and the sound of my fingers pounding on my keyboard (I wasn’t called Hammerthumbs Layton at a previous job for nothing) would have brought her rushing out like an implacable Fury if I woke her up. Safer by a longshot to tiptoe out of the house and cruise the darkened streets picking up strangers.
So there I was, sitting in my driveway at 4 a.m. with my Uber app running, waiting in vain to be deluged with airport requests. The problem was it was only 3:25 a.m. — way too early — but it took me a while to figure out.
I’m blaming the SRP guy. According to the Houseguest, while I was out the day before, he had shown up out of the blue to change my electric meter because he claimed it wasn’t working properly (My luck, it was probably undercharging me, the bastards) and he flipped the power off to the house with no forewarning causing all kinds of chaos. I had to reset all the clocks except my bedside clock that somehow kept its time — or I thought it did. (In the age of smartphones, who still uses a bedside alarm clock? I do, so bite me) In reality, my alarm clock was inexplicably running over half-an-hour fast. Which I didn’t realize until I had been sitting in my driveway like a dumbass waiting for a ride request. I finally got one around around 4:30 a.m., when people normally venture forth to catch early business flights,
Things take an interesting turn
After my airport run, I made a couple of quick pickups in Tempe and Mesa and ended up in the sketchy area around Alma School and Eighth Avenue, when I got a request for a pickup from a guy named Oscar. Navigation took me to a rundown apartment complex. Standing in the shadows by the front gate was a tall, curvy woman who looked Polynesian. She was dressed pretty sexily for oh-dark-thirty in the morning with the sun about to crack the horizon — but maybe that was her normal attire. Or she was ending her night out? Who knows? In fact, I’d just dropped off a dude who looked — and smelled — like he’d been up all night and on the losing end of a beer pong championship.
The passenger got in, and I said I was supposed to be picking up Oscar. According to her, Oscar had ordered the ride for her because she didn’t have a phone. Huh, okay. I’m still learning the nuances of the Uber trade, but my Spidey Sense was tingling slightly. I’ve seen drivers posting on the Facebook group about various scams, and I was leery. I was hoping I had picked up the right person and not a freeloader trying to get a ride on someone else’s dime. Confrontation is my worst nightmare.
For being an introverted homebody, I admit I am kind of chatty one-on-one when there’s a natural conversation opening. My passenger was friendly, but there was an evasive quality about her, which took my Spidey Sense up a level. While she looked every inch a shapely woman, as she talked, the timbre of her feminine voice betrayed a faint masculine quality. I began to suspect that she might be a he, or a former he. I wasn’t sure, but no biggie, the money was all the same to me. Maybe she was actually Oscar but worried I might hassle her over the whole gender identity thing, hence the obfuscation. But again, I didn’t care.
I had never really had a chance to have a proper conversation with a transgender person before, so I was curious. When I was a young man, the thought of talking to a transgender person would have been alien because they just weren’t visible, except for the most wildly extravagant or fucked up ones on talk shows. Straight guys typically treated cross-dressing and transgender as a joke and told horror stories to freak each other out. Typically it involved picking up a hot woman at a bar and taking her home only to discover she had a bigger dick than you did.
Things get real
As we chatted, I mentioned I had just started Ubering, and she asked me what I normally did for a living, so I told her I am an underemployed writer avoiding full-time work while struggling to produce a book that may never see the light of day. Curious, she asked me what my book is about, so I told her it was about my gay brother’s battle with his drug problem and identity, how our family handled both issues, and how we evolved. This seemed to hit home and hook her.
Suddenly, there was an unknown call popping up on my car’s screen. I didn’t want to take the chance that answering it might knock me out of the app. So I hit ignore and sent it to voicemail. But immediately after, I wondered if it was Uber related because riders and drivers can communicate through a proxy number. What if the transgender person wasn’t really my passenger? Maybe she had seen my Uber decal and decided to grab a free ride? What if the call had been from the real passenger wondering where the hell I was? But then again, the person in my back seat hadn’t asked me to change the destination — yet.
Filled with doubt, I glanced back in my rearview mirror. It could have been my paranoid imagination, but the rider seemed to be acting a bit sketchy. My Spidey Sense was tingling strongly and ignoring it in the past has gotten me in trouble (a la the Crips carjacking incident back in college). What if she was scamming me for a free ride? I worried about what to do if the phone rang again.
At that moment, it did. By the second ring, I apologized to my fare and said that I needed to answer it. I mentally prepared myself for an angry Oscar and a confrontation with the freeloading scammer in the back seat. What would I do? Demand that she get out? What if she wouldn’t? Sitting behind me, she had the superior position if things went all pear-shaped and a brawl broke out. I didn’t want to end up being videoed by a passerby and ending up on Youtube as I was dragged out of my car and beaten up by someone in stiletto heels and a belly shirt.
Discombobulated, as I tried to answer the call on my hands-free system, I made a wrong turn. I was apologizing and trying to make a U-turn as a man’s voice greeted me by name over my speakers. He identified itself as Oscar. My stomach knotted itself. Oh fuck, here we go, I thought. But he spoke calmly and unexpectedly asked to speak with the passenger, and I breathed a mental sigh of relief. She jumped in and demanded in an aggrieved tone to know why Oscar was calling her. He told her to chill; he just wanted to make sure she was going to room 205. Indignant, she told him she knew where to go and cut off the conversation by snapping “Bye!” with a whole lot of attitude. Oscar let it go and when he hung up, I breathed a sigh of relief.
Up until that moment, I’d been using circumstantial evidence to make an assumption. But after Oscar’s pimp-like call, I was pretty sure I had a prostitute in my car. Maybe I was wrong because I often am, but I didn’t think so.
To break the tension, I resumed talking about my brother and all the problems he had experienced growing up gay in a Catholic family, where you guarded your secrets like the Soviet KGB was after you.
My passenger relaxed and told me she understood all about that and then hesitantly, she confessed that she was transgender. I didn’t bat an eye and carried on with the conversation. She confessed that at one time she too had had a bad drug problem and been through rehab. I had a ton of questions, but I didn’t want to be rude, and so I let the conversation take its natural course.
Eagerly, she told me she would definitely read my book, that people would find it interesting and authentic. Then she asked me if my brother had ever stolen from people. I answered reluctantly, not wanting to mischaracterize him to a stranger. However, she had trusted me, so I told her he had, but only twenty bucks here and there. Actually, my mom would leave money around where he’d find it, so in her mind, he wasn’t stealing. For years afterward, he felt incredibly guilty, but no one in the family ever held it against him. In our eyes, he wasn’t the real Kevin when using drugs because his personality was so different.
My passenger said firmly that she had never stolen from anyone, but she paused and added she had found other ways to pay for her very expensive habit. For the briefest of moments, I got a glimpse behind the curtain. There was an air of sadness and regret emanating from this person. I wondered if she had locked herself into a life she’d rather not be living. There was so much more I wanted to ask, but it was none of my business, and then we rolled into the parking lot of a seedy looking hotel, and the ride was over. She thought the room we were looking for was on the backside of the building.
“I’ll buy your book,” she said, “but not a digital copy. I don’t like digital books. Has to be hardback. Then I can tell everyone you were my Uber driver.”
I told her I’d sign a copy for her. We said our goodbyes, and she wished me good luck, and I dropped her off at Room 205, and she disappeared through the door.
I pulled out onto the street and drove away from that depressing area, and waited for my next fare.