Prince of Darkness

Dear Uber Rider:

Tonight, as my car glided noiselessly down the cobblestoned surface of Cary Street, a very strange and disquieting affinity for this place came over me. Perhaps I really will miss this little metropolis when I leave in January to pursue a career in one of the world’s largest cities. And so, to steal a turn of phrase from eminent creep Robert Frost, the story of my life in Richmond is little more than a book of people.

This city–and this state, for that matter–has seen me become the musician I always truly believed I could be, and has seen me at the nadir of my progress as an artist. I have laughed, loved, wept, and, more than anything, I have had conversations. Mostly with women. Because my friends are almost always women, and while most of them are not in my life anymore, I remember each one so specifically, and can recall, with great clarity, singular conversations that promised, simply from the depth of their import, that we would remain close until death stole over one of us in its furtive rapture.

But, no. I don’t talk to Tori anymore, nor Katy. Lauren and I are strictly Facebook friends, and Raquel cares so little about me, she’s failed to return my texts for the better part of a year. I am still close friends with Jerrika, Jessica, and Amanda, and of course, my Noodle, Melissa. But experience has taught me to downplay the concept of permanence. The fact that you and I were best friends for about 20 minutes dovetails with this concept nicely, as your last words to me were “See you later, dude.” You won’t ever see me again.

It’s funny: anytime I get a ping that says it’s coming from Cha Cha’s, my testicles retract about 18 inches back inside my body, and I start looking around for fixed objects to fatally crash into. I saw you, saying goodbye to a friend, oblivious to me in the middle of the street with my flashers on, as two police officers flapped their arms up and down in a vain attempt to appear like they were doing their jobs. So when the lightbulb above your head finally sparked on, and you entered my car, I was relieved to be moving. Listen, Alicia–killer outfit btw–I am so happy that you’re alone, because during most of my Cha Cha’s trips, I’m portering 4 or 5 of you around, and that’s a lot of drunk to deal with. But you’re not blackout drunk, only clumsy drunk. After being in my car for no less than 15 seconds, you had already lost your phone in the irritatingly small crack between the passenger seat and the center console.

You complained that you had long legs, and short arms, like a t-rex, and that made life hard for you. I laughed at the mental image. Then you got saucy! Upon retrieving your phone from the depths of despair, you, in the most earnest of tones, voiced your satisfaction. “Thank Satan!” you exclaimed boisterously. Almost did a spit-take on that one.

We exchanged the normal pleasantries, and, as it turns out, you, Little Miss Thang, have, with a 3.3 GPA, just graduated, after only two and a half years, from VCU, with a double major, no less, in two things I, in all honesty, don’t recall. But I’m proud of you! Backing up to the initial sentence in this paragraph, 13 commas in one sentence? Don’t test me, I will run my sentences as long as I damn well please.

It was, however, when we were getting onto the expressway that you dropped, in the most ambivalent patois, your bombshell. “I think I cheated on my boyfriend tonight.”

Wow, ok, what a thing to be confused about. “I mean, I know I cheated on him, but he’s a little bitch.”

The next 5 minutes I remember as a blurry, hazy filibuster on the man you’ve been dating for almost a year. He’s bad in bed, because he jackrabbits away at your unassuming orifice for 45 minutes, and you have to use lube EVERY TIME you have sex, and he was a virgin when you started dating, and that puts a lot of pressure on you, and you hope to get laid one more time before you break up, and about 100 other things I don’t want to know. You ask for advice, and my advice is to let him down firmly, but gently, and don’t tell him you cheated on him, as no good can come from it. You tell me that you hope he made tacos, because you don’t want to break up with him on an empty stomach. Just at the point that I fear that you are a complete sociopath, you ask me if I would not take the next turn, onto the street where you live, and instead drive you down the road for about a mile and a half. You admit that you don’t want to face the upcoming uncomfortable situation, and would really like to go down Laurel, because you have heard that someone has a killer Christmas light display. Fuck it, I’m down. You are the reason, Alicia, that I missed surge tonight, but who cares; we were hunting dem lights. We momentarily hatched a plan to break into Hollywood Cemetery, but you quickly chickened out, pointing to the fact that you’ve never been to a cemetery. I don’t even know how that’s possible, but sure, let’s keep looking for the lights.

After driving down Laurel to its terminus, it was with a heaviness in your voice that you expressed your fear that the lights weren’t on Laurel. So, we rolled down the next road, back the way we came, and about halfway up, there it was, in all its tacky opulence. I rolled by at about 4 mph as you snapchatted that motherfucker into oblivion. Then, as I reset my GPS for your apartment, the melancholy was back, and we sat in silence for a second. I broke the silence with some bullshit about how everything would be ok if you approached the situation the right way. After showing you a human level of tenderness, I glanced over at you, and realized that you were staring at me the way a lion stares at a gazelle, or a gazelle stares at a blade of grass, or a blade of grass stares at a particularly osmotic-looking droplet of water. I hastily mentioned having a girlfriend, in a fashion just qualifying as being pertinent to the conversation.

So the night was over for us, but you’ve got a big conversation ahead of you, and I feel for you. As I pulled up, you told me you’d be praying to Satan for guidance. Cool…?

I told you to be a good person, and you in not so many words told me you weren’t. Can’t argue with honesty. You shut your door, and turned around. “See you later, dude.”

And as you prayed to Satan, the strains of a Christian hymn played rhapsodically in my mind while I realized that, for the most part, I don’t care if people are good or bad. What wondrous love is this? Oh my soul. Oh my soul.

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Kissing Cousins

Dear Uber Rider:

You’ll really have to forgive me on this one: sometimes it is impossible to be completely removed from your place of birth, and in this case, my sensitivities were piqued by my Yankee blood. You see, in my early days, as a nascent, snotty little boy, I was at home in the bucolic splendor of my Pennsylvanian upbringing. I can see it now, my mother, speaking nothing but immaculate Dutch, would send me off to school with a hot hay-penny, fresh from the stove, in each pocket. It was in school that I learned about a far away–and horrible–place called “the South.” Things were simple growing up north of the Mason-Dixon. Most people had a full set of teeth, a “honey boo boo” was a particularly pernicious bee sting, and the Confederacy was, without a doubt, the bad guy in the Civil War. But life isn’t black and white, nor grey and blue. In western Pennsylvania, life is black and gold, drunk on Iron City, and currently waiting outside in the parking lot to bang my teacher on her lunch break.

I still can’t escape the urge to fall back on my training, however, and so when I left my Heavenly Union for the South more than 15 years ago, I was terrified of what this new place was, and what it meant to be in the South but not of the South. Tonight, after a long journey, I am quite certain that all of my worst fears are immutably true.

When I picked you guys up, I didn’t know what to expect. Capital Ale House? Cool. It isn’t Cha-Cha’s, and while there is the outside chance that you have become grievously intoxicated there, I’d take those odds in Vegas any day. So you guys weren’t sober, but you’re holding it down, and that’s all that matters in my Uber.

Your name is Thomas, your buddy is Ben, and you seem like genuinely good guys. “But wait!” you say. “Dear Uber Rider isn’t about good guys!  It’s about pukey U of R students, and the pukey U of R students who love them!” You’re quite astute, fictional person who I’m now adding to my very real conversation with Ben and Thomas. Have patience.

“I didn’t even hear any of the Chris-Katelyn drama going on,” says Ben, with a note of disappointment that fireworks have been set off outside of his purview. Thomas, you then hugged the passenger seat and thrust your head forward into the driver’s cabin to tell me the story of tonight. I haven’t in the past told stories secondhand, but this one is so good, I have no choice.

Apparently, Chris and Katelyn are a beautiful young couple, much in love, and looking forward to a wedding in the spring. They also happen to be cousins. This fact was dropped with so much gravity, I feared that my car would be thrust into the ionosphere, and I would soon stand before my maker to be adjudged for every Minion meme I had ever made in vain secrecy. But, grounded as I was, I couldn’t shake “Turkey in the Straw” out of my head as a pandemonium of barnyard animals reveled like impish hobgoblins at the precipice of my consciousness. Since I have been in Virginia, I have met moonshiners, seen gays being openly accosted, talked to “lost causers,” eaten scrapple, witnessed the effects of meth, and watched my brother attempt to kill a deer with a small hunting knife (the deer was unmoved). But this was proof. Sherman really should have kept marching, and burning. I know a guy, who knows a guy who is about to marry his cousin.

Tom, I appreciate that you were so quick to point out, in defense of your friend, that he and Katelyn are second cousins, therefore, they don’t actually share blood. I understand this, and while it might be a less vital bodily fluid they’re set on swapping, I’m still very disturbed by all of this. The New South is supposed to be about vegan bakeries, and vintage clothing stores, and pre-war jazz speakeasies that allow millennials to cavort like the geeks of old.  Not good old-fashioned, Country Bear Jamboree incest!

At this point, I drop Ben off at his place, and his night seems to be winding down. I wish him a safe one, and roll to the next intersection, bent on getting you home safe. But there’s more to the story, and you’re going to tell me.

You see, Chris has a problem, and he’s been mad all night. Why? Because his brood-born betrothed has a thing for “getting double teamed,” as you, Thomas, so eloquently stated it. And now Katelyn is drunk, in the middle of the downtown Capital Ale House, talking about her affinity for the beast with three backs.

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Oh dear. Who would have guessed that the chick fucking her cousin would be into some weird shit, sexually? But seriously, are threesomes even taboo anymore? In a world where anal means love, and some people get castrated for sexual gratification, who is he to be jealous of his cuzzie’s former life? Still, I can’t shake the image of a rotisserie chicken…

Rotisserie Chicken

Wait, what? She’s still friends with the dudes who used to go co-op on Miss Pacman? Wait… WHAT? She’s a flight attendant, and routinely has 4 or 5 day stops in Boston, where these dudes live? Uh oh. For a city that loves their double plays, Boston is the last place Chris should want her going. I’m not saying they took the Green Line to Park Street just to walk her Freedom Trail, but if there’s grass on the Common, I say the King should protect his Chapel before someone gives her a Bunker Hill Monument in her Faneuil Hall…

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So this is where I leave you, with more questions than answers. But apparently the wedding is going forward, they enjoy a robust sex life, and some things are doubtlessly true. Like the fact that despite the way it pretties itself up, the South is still about killing black people, and having sex with relatives. To paraphrase a Geico commercial:  If you’re from the South, you marry your cousin. It’s what you do.

There is hope, however. Thomas is my man inside, and he will be updating all of you, through me, via this blog, on any updates about Richmond’s favorite power-couple. Thanks for being a good sport, dude. As long as Kentucky keeps making bourbon, I’ll be a fan of your home state, for sure.

Reader, goodnight. Until next time, may the winds of change leave you changed only for the better, and let all of your romantic encounters feel like you’ve been worked over with a Goddamned two-man saw.

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Black boyfriend? Big problems.

Dear Uber Riders: Guys… come on. We were doing so well. It’s Halloween and you’re in love. Downtown Richmond is filled with a nervous excitement as the sweet smell of marijuana hangs heavy on every corner. Drunk twenty-somethings are cavorting in the street, unaware that the dawn will soon wash over them with all its throbbing migraines, hazy memories, and attendant guilt. Drunk girlfriends are offering blowjobs that they are too drunk to perform. Blowjobs that never were… But love is a many-splintered thing, and often at our peak of romantic affection, those familiar culprits lie in wait to tear us apart. Among these culprits, none is greater than jealousy. No, racism. No, jealousy.

It would probably be unfair to say that you two should know better, but I’m going to say it anyway, because you guys are school teachers. Linda, you are an English teacher, so when I, as small talk, asked you what the past tense of lie was, and you said laid, I almost wept for your students (it’s lay, if you’re wondering). Ryan, you are a history teacher with an interest in English history. This gave us some common ground,  and I was able to ask you who your favorite English monarch is. You said George the First, and I said Charles the First. Linda said she liked Mary–if I understood her correctly, the Mary who married into the House of Orange. You see, I can have adult conversations in my Uber.

Linda, things went off the rails when you started saying racist shit. Like, “This isn’t the ‘hood, those kids are white.” Later on, when you convinced me to stop at McDonald’s for you, you blamed the slow service on the fact that they weren’t “hard-working white people.” Listen, I enjoy a bit of racial taboo humor as much as the next guy, so I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt, but your justification for your off-color jokes only made things worse.

“I’m not a racist, my last boyfriend was black.” *pause* “You knew that, right, Ryan”?

Apparently, Ryan didn’t know. And though he said he didn’t care, he offered you what you called the “double chin of disgust,” so the rest of this particular ride was awkward. I will have to take solace in the fact that the 3.5x surge that was on made this trip lucrative enough to keep my entire family well-stocked in tender vittles. Maybe the most alarming part is that on Monday, the two of you are going to go back to molding young minds.

I kid, of course. I’m sure you’re both great teachers. I think everyone deserves a night to get drunk and say messed up shit. My Uber is a censorship-free zone.

P.S. Linda, Catherine the Great is the famous monarch who fucked the horse. So… that story’s veracity is dubious. It was fun hearing you talk about it.

Cutest Uber Riders Ever

Dear Uber Riders: Madeline, Natalie, let me tell you ladies, I’ve had a crazy first night of the 2015 Halloween weekend. In one night I drove some U of R girls to a hotel to meet Chiddy Bang, had my third puker (this girl got it all in the bag, LOVE HER), and received so many phone numbers from people that I don’t know if I have put the right names with the right numbers. But you guys win, because everything about our trip was so eminently enjoyable, from the moment I saw you two shuffling out of a house party at an alarming speed. First off, Madeline, I love your first question to me: “How many skanky girls have been in your car tonight?” When you said this I smiled from ear to ear, because finally, a rider who gets it. You know my life, and while I wouldn’t necessarily call any girl skanky, I would be the first to say I’ve often wished, in my passengers’ more salacious moments, that I’d put a tarp down or something.

Natalie, your night was a rough one. Both of you are art students, and as a fellow artist, I understand how much it hurts when someone falsely appeals to your vanity in order to take advantage. So when the boy you like told you he loved your art so he could wrangle himself a few moments of Resusci Annie-style tongue play, only to make out with three other girls in the same night, your ire was up. And that’s why you guys needed an Uber tout-suite, because you had just told him to go fuck himself, and the two of you were now beating a hasty retreat back to friendlier confines. I’m glad to have been there in your time of need. But stop blaming yourself. Your willingness to express that men lying to receive physical intimacy is, while not precluded by law, fucked up in a moral sense struck a chord with the feminist inside me. I don’t care about Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton can get fucked, but you’re a fucking badass, and I love that you stood up for yourself. But this goes beyond egalitarianism, and touches on an important point. There are people out there, men and women, who will assert power over you by taking away those parts of yourself that make you feel strong. This is how humans treat each other, sadly, and there is only one remedy: do not become that yourself. You’re a good kid, I mean that, and I respect the fuck out of you.

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I was slightly unnerved, however, when you asked me my age, relationship status, and interest level within 30 seconds of getting into my car. Certainly I’ve never been more ready to fend off unwanted sexual contact in the cabin of my CX-5 than in that moment, but you reigned it in nicely. The two of you even offered me a meaningful superlative as “Cutest Uber Driver Ever,” and while your level of intoxication likely makes this opinion dubious, I am nonetheless flattered, and touched.

The one thing I can’t do, however, is turn left on a one way street moving right. So, no, Madeline, I won’t be turning onto Clay when there is a huge NO TURN ON LEFT sign hanging above the intersection. But you seemed to appreciate the way I deftly rerouted us, and when we arrived at your apartment, none the worse for wear, you seemed deeply grateful. Our arrival was timely, because you were getting pretty serious about your plans to send away for a mushroom growing kit, and yes, I agree, watering them 4 times a day seems like it’s more work than the high could ever be worth. I think, however, that maybe you should keep your money-making efforts purview of the law, because the two of you are way too kickass to go to jail.

In fact, as you guys exited the vehicle, and you turned back around to thank me for the ride, I saw, for the first time, what everyone else should have seen at the disastrous house party I scooped you up from: that you two are the coolest, hottest, smartest chicks there, and they are all lucky you even showed up. I will keep in my heart as long as memory serves me your parting words as I rolled up the window and ended the fare: “Stay adorable, Uber driver.” No, you stay adorable, and never stop shining on. xoxo

Originally Submitted October 23rd 2015

Disclaimer: The following installment of Dear Uber Rider is the second semi-sad contribution in a row. If you are missing my hilarious tales of a ne’er-do-well musician forced into a life he hates shuttling drunk, pukey, horny women in trouble across the greater Richmond metro area, then return tomorrow night for my next installment: Dear Uber Rider: a Comedy. I wanted to tell this woman’s story while it was fresh in my mind. Rest assured I feel nothing but compassion for her. For now:

Dear Uber Rider: a Tragedy, or Shelter From a Stranger

Dear Uber Rider: It was about 1:45 when I received a ping. The requester was named Tiffani with an I, and against my better judgement I accepted. As I waited in a cue of Ubers and taxis stationed outside Cha Cha’s, I saw a light-skinned black woman load her grievously intoxicated white female cohort into an Uber. I was thankful I wouldn’t be dealing with that calamity. As if to punish me for my hubris, I watched the same woman drag her stumbling friend out of that car, and begin walking towards mine. Uh-oh.

Heather, you probably looked stunning about 4 hours ago when the night began. Now your eyes are bleary, and your makeup is smudged. Your hair is preternaturally untouched however, and you walk in graceful, drunken undulations of balance and maladroitness. Tiffani, your friend, will not be joining us on this particular sojourn, as she wants to continue her night of revelry, and she is willing to put your safety in the hands of a lightly vetted stranger. “Make sure she gets home safe, or I will find you, and make you pay,” she says, not realizing the irony of expecting a stranger to treat you better than she would as your friend. She tells me to take you to an apartment on Ryland Street, and I accede, pulling out into the sea of people who are obliviously raising Cain in the middle of Cary Street. In the stress of not running over any of the pedestrians participating in the Bacchanalia, I accidentally press the “finish trip” slider instead of the navigate slider. Fuck. Looks like I’ll be doing the rest of this ride pro-bono.

You are unable to speak. The words coming out of your mouth are pidgin Tanq and tonic, and you smell like industrial solvent. As I make a left onto Main Street, you utter the first distinguishable words of the ride. You want to know if you can sit in the front seat with me. I say that’s fine, and you drunkenly scramble over the center console and promptly fall over into the front seat. Your head is in the leg area, and your legs, at once wild and futile, are knocking the car into neutral, then into manual, then back into drive. I grab your ankle, attempting to right you, and immediately let go. In a moment of well-indoctrinated political correctness I ask you if it’s alright if I touch you to help you right yourself. You grunt the affirmative, and I grab your thigh, pulling up in a single motion that flips you into place in your seat. You look at me with beautiful nothing in your eyes. I ask if you need to puke, because you look like you need to puke, and you say no with a surprisingly sober vigor.

I was able to recall the address with Waze, so even though the official trip was over, I was headed in the right direction. You told me you had to pee, and felt shitty, and grabbed my hand, tightly. You held onto it for the rest of the ride. Then you began to fall asleep. This is bad news, because experience has taught me that sleep puke is projectile puke. I nudge you gently. “Stay awake Heather, we’re 5 minutes away.” Little did I know that I would be spending the next 30 minutes with you.

Moments later we arrived at the apartment. I made the decision to walk you up the stairs, as I can’t get the image of you falling on the stairs out of my mind. First I have to wake you up. That’s when you start making zero sense. You tell me you can just sleep in my car. I tell you that’s not going to work for me. You tell me to take you to a friend’s house. I tell you I promised Tiffani I would get you to this specific address safely. Finally you open your eyes and allow me to help you out of the car. Your poor coordination, exacerbated by your five-inch wedges, means that I am carrying you on one shoulder. You ask me to set you down on the sidewalk, and I comply, as you pull out your phone and begin making a phone call. You hang up before it’s even begun dialing, and stand up. You look me dead in the face and tell me that you can’t go up there. I ask why not, and you won’t say why. You begin to walk back to my car, which is parked in the middle of the street with the flashers on, as there is no on-street parking. I open the door for you, and as I climb in you tell me to drive to your friend Brandon’s house. I give you a firm no. Then you start crying. Not sniffling. Sobbing. I instinctively touch your hand and ask you what’s wrong. You say that I can’t understand. I ask you to try me. You tell me you can’t go up there because you have a DUI. I tell you that I don’t understand, and inform you that having a DUI does not preclude you from entering the apartment. You keep repeating that I can’t understand. At this point, it is 2:05, and I’ve missed surge. But I’m singularly focused on understanding you. I begin to call Tiffani to ask for assistance. Three straight calls go to voicemail, and the specter of utter hopelessness has fallen on two strangers, one crying, and one aimlessly attempting to calm her down. Then you get out of my car, and begin walking down the street angrily. I follow you, and just then Tiffani answers my call. As I chase you down the street I tell Tiffani that you won’t go into the apartment, and that you are becoming totally unresponsive. Tiffani asks to speak to you, and I hand you the phone. A rush of relief washes over me when you accept it, but now I’m in a predicament. My phone is headed down Franklin street, and my car is on Ryland, locked, but begging to get broken into or towed. Traffic can still pass it, but it’s a bad situation regardless. As you argue with Tiffani I realize that you’re walking to your friend’s house, and I ask you to please stop before we get too far down the road. You turn on me, angrily staring me down and telling me to shut up. I reluctantly comply, and not three steps later, you trip, and fall, hard, with a cracking thud on the pavement. I am mortified. The first moment in the entire ordeal that I have stepped too far away from you to catch you, you have hurt yourself badly, and it’s my fault. I pick up my phone, which went skidding across the sidewalk, and talk to Tiffani. She tells me she’s on her way, and she’ll meet me at Ryland.

At this point you’ve stopped crying, as the pain of the fall has supplanted your emotions. I ask you, in a calm, still voice, if we can go back to my car. You nod your head like a child, and I help you to your feet. Now we’re headed back to the car, and you have to pee. So you duck behind a car on the street to relieve yourself, which presents a host of issues for me, as I can’t watch you while you pee, but you’ve proven yourself to be a definite flight risk. So I wait, and listen for the stream, and after it ebbs, I ask you if you’re done. You reply in the affirmative and we get back in my car. I open the front door for you, but you get in the back anyway. I get in the driver’s seat, and in a moment of passionless vulnerability you ask me if I’ll sit with you in the back seat. I say of course.

After getting in the back seat you begin to cry, softer this time. I ask you if you want to talk, and you say no, staring into my eyes with yours, which are definitely sobering as they are at once earnest, and piercing, and disquieting. I tell you that we’ll probably never see each other again, so you can talk to me, and you repeat the previous utterance. I try to make small talk, and when that doesn’t work, I resign myself to staring at my phone in silence.

After about 30 seconds, you begin drifting off to sleep, and lean over onto my shoulder. In a move of incredible boldness, you then take my arm, and forcibly wrap your arms around it, squeezing it tightly, and squeezing my bicep repeatedly with your hand, in an unsteady, clutching motion. I am about to take exception when I realize that you are totally asleep, and wherever you are, you’re safe. My arm has become a tangible object to latch yourself too, and I am filled with compassion, and love for my fellow man.

Moments later Tiffani has arrived, and you are coming to. One of your friends gives me five bucks for my trouble, and I thank him profusely. I am so overjoyed that you’re okay, because there was a time tonight that I had a legitimate fear that things were going to get much worse than they did. But you taught me something about myself, because I never became angry with you. And I never even pitied you. I think that in the future I will wonder what clutching my arm meant to you at that moment. Drunk, unconscious and afraid, you needed something, and I was in the right place at the right time. I will never see you again, and having shared a moment so profound, I indulge myself to be somewhat sad for that. In our most vulnerable moments we are often alone. You sought shelter from a stranger, and that trust, so earnest, and childlike, is truly admirable. It is also foolish. But so goddamned admirable.

Tiffani thanked me, and I said my goodbyes to you. You said nothing. As I returned to my car, I realized, to my horror, that you’d left your cell phone in the back seat. I grabbed it, and sprinted, coming down hard on the heel I’d reinjured playing hurling today. But I caught up with you guys and returned it. Tiffani gave me an additional 10 dollars, insisting I take it, and once again I thanked her. As I was about to leave I said “Bye Heather” and you reached your hand out to me. I shook it, and you grabbed onto it, hard. I began to walk away, and so did you. But you didn’t release my hand at all. You held onto it until our pinkies came apart, and then our forefingers. Finally our ring fingers, and middle fingers slid off each other, and I turned around, and without looking back, walked to my car and drove home.

Originally Submitted October 18th 2015

Dear Uber Rider:

Note to reader: Many of you have laughed at, lauded, and even silently wept at my Dear Uber Rider installments, and I have, for the most part, taken it upon myself to put the narrative ahead of any convoluted explanation of timelines. It is in my interest, for this installment, that you realize that Uber rides are not straightforward, linear conversations. They are high stress, often-drunken clusterfucks with the gravity of a slow-moving frigate collision, and the subtlety of a late-term abortion. Therefore, I am presenting this Dear Uber Rider in four parts–one for each of the beautiful ladies who graced my car on a single ride from Sine on 14th and Cary to their respective apartments in the Western Fan. It is by this method that I hope to best capture the nature of the ride, but it should not be lost that all of these events are happening simultaneously. What follows is a dark chapter in my driving history, and if one of these girls ends up dead, I suppose I deserve some blame. I only ask that you consider the earnestness and repetitiveness of my appeals to reason. You should know that as I recall tonight’s events with a good dose of humor, my prayers really are with these women, especially one of them tonight. Now, as our Lord taught us, and we are bold as to pray, Our Father, who art in heaven…

Names have been changed for the sake of propriety.

Dear Michaela: It was right about the time you were grabbing my chest to describe the way a coworker had grabbed you earlier in the week that you realized that demonstrating harassment might very well be harassment in and of itself. After demonstrating a consummate knowledge of how inappropriate the touching was, you continued it, and I admire that boldness, but maybe you were just hitting on me. Whatever, still uncomfortable, and it does violate the whole customer-employee dichotomy. But maybe you needed a few carnal squeezes; after all you’d had a hell of a night.

It’s a tough break, isn’t it? All you were trying to do is show your girlfriends a good time, and now all three of them are cackling incoherently at you from the back seat… and at me as well. You see, it’s just, when you change your destination five times in the first two minutes of the trip, I might make a wrong turn or two. That’s okay, ’cause you were sweet as fuck to me. But now all of your friends are screaming at us. One of them thinks we just passed a bar which is literally three miles across town; they are drunk to the UNK. So when you plead with your friend to let you drive her to her boyfriend’s to get her dog because you are sober and she is not, I backed you up. After we had dropped all your friends off, you confessed to me that this is all your fault. After all, you had supplied all the cocaine for the night, and your little red nose belied your genuine concern, as you looked more ready to guide Santa’s sleigh than drive her home. At least after spending $8,000 on a DUI charge, you understand the dangers of drinking and driving, and, truth be told, I’d rather have a coke head behind the wheel than an alchy. Still… As you walked out of my car, you turned to me and told me you hope you don’t get a horrible phone call later tonight. As for me, I’ll never know one way or the other.

Dear Abbie: With great hotness comes great responsibility. I mean, we’ve all been there, so drunk we didn’t realize that the person we’re dancing with is old enough to be our parent. Wait, no. I’ve never been that drunk, and I have a feeling you haven’t either. I think you were trying to piss off your friends by dancing with the weirdest guy at the bar, and I think it worked. In fact, aside from the cocaine headache you’ll have tomorrow, I think you’re going to get away from this one scot-free. Good on you. You were nice to me, too. As your friends were literally screaming at the top of their lungs as I got off of the downtown Expressway, you grabbed me by the upper bicep, and pulled me closer so you could whisper something in my ear. “Good times” is all you said. All things must pass, flicka, but yeah. We’re young. Good times.

Dear anonymous: You sat directly behind me, so I have no idea who you are, or what you look like. That being said, you are the rudest passenger I’ve ever had in my life. I’m trying to get you girls home safely. Screaming at the top of your lungs that you don’t like the way I’m taking isn’t productive. Talk to me calmly, and in between your pukey burps we can come up with a plan of attack. Don’t call me names, don’t attack me, you don’t know me. You’re lucky your friend was sitting in the front seat apologizing for you, because Belvedere to Boulevard is a hell of a walk.

Dear Mary: You lost your voice, you lost all control, and I hope that’s all you lose tonight. I get it, you want your dog, and I told you I would drive past your boyfriend’s place to get him. After finding out that he was just a teacup Chihuahua, I was all about getting that little dude home to you. But no, you’re going to drive across town to get him, ostensibly ’cause you don’t want to pay for the Uber. At that point I offered to turn my meter off, and still go get him, and you still said no. As you and Michaela argued, the fever pitch was almost intolerable, enough so to silence myself, and your two other friends. Let me let you in on a little secret: Abbie, Anonymous, and I were not only scared for you–we were scared of you. There is no excuse for an adult woman to have to be restrained by her friends, lest she attack her other friend and the driver of a moving vehicle. I’m sorry if my trying to talk you out of driving upset you, but I don’t believe being able to name the businesses that we are rolling by is akin to a field sobriety test. You are drunk. Your dog will be there tomorrow when you are sober. Please do not drive. If I could offer you, or anyone, the most valuable insight, it would be the immutable impermanence of life. Every dream, every friend, every experience, and the breath you take, and the food you eat, and the sensations you feel hinge on moment-by-moment decisions, and you most likely tonight made the wrong one. I hope you are safe. I hope all of you are safe.

Usually in Dear Uber Rider I make fun of our culture, our gender roles, and our desperation. Tonight I wrote a bummer, but with it comes an important message: I don’t care if you scream at me, try to buy drugs from me, try to fuck me, touch me inappropriately, call me the n-word, cry in my car, make out in my car, or cancel the ride when I’m a minute away. I want you to be alive, and safe, and while I enjoy my paycheck, the only kind of job satisfaction I get from any of this is that you didn’t have to drive. Dear Uber Riders, I love you. Not as a faceless conglomerate of fares, but as individual, and sentient human beings. Ultimately you’re all just trying to have a good time. Some of you overdo it, and that’s okay. We all have our own ways of staving off the crushing realities of life.

Mary, I hope that the crushing reality of life returns to you in the morning. I also hope that the crushing reality of death is a lifetime away.

Originally Submitted September 26th 2015

Dear Uber Rider:

Lo the early halcyon days
of mine profession passed
But e’er the glow of faded summer
lingers, full and fast

As if from Ajax’ mighty breast
does a roiling tempest break
And leaves until the brooding dawn
no starlight in its wake

You summoned me from far away
I hurried to your beckon
And navigated through dark clouds
what moon there was to reckon

But lo, thou art a common brute
and I no greater still
Two travelers in fruitless search
for that bitter, poison pill.

Dramatis Personæ

Roland Noel Wend, a ruddy porter, of good stature, whose station is neither noble, nor disgraced.

Cray, his tawny charge, a Moor from darkest Portugal, or perhaps the Isles of Canary. Cray appears to Roland as a loathsome Ghost minutes after the summation of their journey.

ACT III

SCENE IV In the interior of a red CX-5

[Enter Cray and Roland]

Roland
You have a safe night!

Cray
You too, big man.

[Exit Cray, Enter Ghost of Cray]

Roland
Countryman,

The basis of human morality, and ethics must be summed up in one word: universality. Therefore when you told me you were planning to murder your wife if she had cheated on you during your recent work trip, yet you had carried on premarital liaisons with no less than five women in that span, I had to hand it to you. You done broke the game. Lacking anything like empathy, yet imbued with all the jealous rage of the tenderest ego, you might be the most selfish person I’ve ever met, and for the love of God, it’s working for you, so keep doing you.

What was the exact breakdown of those women again?

Ghost of Cray
A Dominican bitch, three white bitches and a black girl.

Roland
Ah yes, it seems the UN was in session this week. But it still seems strange that you would tell a complete stranger your plans to end the woman you married’s life. Then you asked me if you committed a bank robbery and called an Uber, if the Uber driver would help you get away. Now listen, buddy, I understand that you would give me some of that cash, and I appreciate it. But by accepting that cash I would be stealing it, and as I am already accessory to murder at this point, I think it would help my plea deal if I didn’t take you up on the offer.

Ghost of Cray
One of them bitches was a receptionist for the company we was doing business with. She was the Dominican, she had perfect titties. One of the white bitches I fucked I met at Arby’s.

Roland
Listen, I think we’ve all been there. What self-respecting, red-blooded American man has not picked up an easy bang at a Maryland Arby’s? Curly hair on my women, curly fries on my tray. But still, you cheated on your wife, and I can’t abide by that. Can we just talk about something else? What’s your favorite kind of music? Oh, you like hip hop? And Elton John, who you describe as “pretty fucking good for being gay.” That’s cool, doesn’t get much more Thug than Elton John. What other music do you like? EDM, but only when you’re high as fuck on ecstasy? Yeah, I know those feels, and I agree, if you don’t have some gum, you might grind a tooth out.

So around this point you told me I could get crack on Mosby Street if I wanted. Thanks for the info, I’m going to take it to heart. And I do agree, your description of a perfect day, which includes a Corona and a couple of Percocets sounds tempting, but I don’t need my liver pulling double duty for a fist full of pills. That’s when you ask me the best question I’ve ever been asked.

In answer to your question, no, I do not have any Percocets on me, and I’m not interested in selling them to you right now. Really, is this how we treat people who drive us around? Assume we’re all drug dealers? We’re not degenerates. There’s only one thing in my pants that I sell and it’s not drugs.

Ghost of Cray
Man, and the Dominican bitch pulls out her phone, and she’s got like pictures of her pussy, and it’s got a landing strip and everything.

Roland
You know what, for the first time in Dear Uber Rider, I’m at a loss for words. I can’t even remember all the shit you talked to me about, except that it was all terrifying. Listen, buddy, thanks for the $10 tip. You have a safe night. I’m going to try to get out of the East Richmond before I hear sirens. And remember, you loved her enough to marry her. Maybe save some D for her, or at the very least, don’t end her life. Universality, buddy. Think on it.

And… scene.

[Curtain falls]

Originally Submitted September 19th 2015

Dear Uber™ Rider:

Cheeky bastard, you thought you could pull one on me by puking in my car and ruining my night. But I struck back, with the unrelenting force of a Ziplock™ Big Bag–you know, the kind mothers use for clothing, and serial killers use for masks. You still managed to speckle my dashboard with your odious gall, but I feel like I won this particular battle, and after a few Armor All™ wipes, my love wagon will be good as new. Maybe you were just trying to feed some baby birds, which I respect, but there’s a time and a place to Fus Ro Dah in the passenger seat of a Mazda™ CX-5™, and you missed a memo somewhere. I’m not mad. You are neither hot, nor cold. You are puke warm, so I spit you out.