The Old Uber Driver

The Old Uber Driver

If it’s rainy during rush hour in Medellin, it’s impossible to get a taxi.

You can try to summon one through the Easy Taxi app. You can call the taxi company. You can stand on a street corner try to flag one down with your wet arm, competing with dozens of others doing the same.

But you will not find a ride this way.

The only option with the slightest hope of producing a ride to your intended destination is through Uber.

On a particularly dreary day I was aching to get back to my in-law’s apartment from the office, so I requested an Uber.

Once my request was accepted, I got a phone call. She said hello, told me she was my Uber driver, and asked me where I was.

If you don’t know how Uber works, you might think this is normal. But it’s not. When you request an Uber, your location appears on a map that the driver has access to. So you might assume that the driver is either too lazy to look at the map or doesn’t know her way around at all.

One of my top pet peeves as an Uber rider is a driver that refuses to use the map. (Other gripes include loud radio commercials, driving too fast and strong scents.)

Uber driver: Where are you?

Me: I’m exactly where I said I am. Right where the pin is on the map. Do you know how to use GPS? Should I report you to the company, citing insufficient knowledge of map technology as grounds for removal?

I didn’t say that to her. I just told her where I was. I didn’t want to miss my opportunity to catch a ride. I didn’t want to compete with the other wet-arm wavers. I wasn’t about to get picky now.

Her car pulled up and she cracked the passenger door open. I darted across the street through the rain and pulled the door open. The driver moved her clunky handbag to the backseat as I ducked in the car.

A woman of at least 70 waited in the driver’s seat.

She did not fit into the typical Uber driver demographic. Most drivers are men between the ages of 20 and 45.

“Where are we going?” she asks.

Again. Use the map lady. I am actually going to the exact address that I plugged into the map, which you now have at your fingertips.

Once she started driving, I was happy to give her audible directions. She was not from a generation that grew up using technology. She lacked the coordination to navigate the unforgiving wet streets while reading a digital map.

The traffic was fierce. During the long stops, she glanced over the seat at me. I sensed she wanted to talk. I would’ve preferred to ride in silence, but the loneliness leaked out of her like smoke from an old truck’s tailpipe.

She asked me where I was from. We started chatting about the U.S. and living in Florida. Up until recently she had lived in Orlando. She liked it enough.

Until her teenage son was murdered. Shot dead. She didn’t have the money to take him out of the morgue and give him a funeral. He sat for an entire month before he was buried.

The cost of the funeral, plus her mounting medical bills, sent her back to Colombia for more affordable healthcare and way of life.

“My sister told me to buy a car here so I can Uber,” she told me. At her age, it’s almost impossible to get a job in this city.

She gets another ride request. When she accepts, the rider calls her. She wants to know if it’s okay to bring her dog.

She doesn’t have a problem with it. “Where are you?” she asks the rider.

After the call, she looks over at me again. “I think this will be my last ride tonight,” she says. “I’m tired.”

The weariness leaked out of her like the exhaust from an old truck.

Photo by BenjaminNelan on pixabay.

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