**This entry draws from driving Lyft in Davis on two separate occasions (in May and August 2017)
*Names changed to protect confidentiality
Exploring the city
Butts against lawn chairs, grass beneath feet, vendors selling fruit, vegetables, and Bolani breads at the white tents to the right of them, families watch a Pixar movie projected onto a giant screen at Central Park.
Spoken word poets spout passionate creeds about police injustice and housing discrimination next to the flickering fireplace of a cozy, low-ceilinged room.
Baby goats, piglets, kittens, and children run across hay-covered ground at Grandpa’s Farm, a yearly attraction at the northwest end of town. Nearby them a tractor circles the surrounding bucolic landscape, carting kids and families in the trolley attached to it.
These are a few scenes from Davis, the town I attended college in from 2008 to 2012. Founded as Davisville in 1907, the community in time grew to the family-oriented and environmentally friendly place it is today (home to 69,000 residents, about half of them college students).
Five years after graduating, I take in its sights. Tree-lined streets I’d once traversed daily on my bike, I now cruise down inside my four-wheeled Toyota Corolla, transporting students at least four years my junior whose shoes I had once walked in, albeit sans Uber. Back in those pre Rideshare days, to get to parties friends and I took the Tipsy Taxi, rode our bikes or took turns being Designated Driver.
“I haven’t even heard of the Tipsy Taxi,” one passenger says to me, when I mention it to him. “And I don’t think I know anyone who’s taken it. It’s so standard to just request Lyft or Uber now.”
Memories resurface as I drive: of living in a yellow house on a cul-de-sac just outside of downtown with four close girl friends; of biking from the dorms freshman year to visit the cows who lived on campus; of all the wonderful FOOD options.
Food like plates of sushi traveling around on little wooden boats before our hungry eyes; deep pools of tikka masala and curries next to towering piles of warm naaan at Indian buffets; frozen yogurt mountains topped with cookie crumbles and coconut shavings.
And of course, of Picnic Day–that time of year when the entire town and campus comes to life. Mimosa pong matches begin early. Dachsunds race each other. Kids and families line up to milk cows. Drunk frat guys throw a beer can at a girl in broad daylight to get her attention.
I’m happy to see that even though some new businesses have (bittersweetly) replaced old favorites, the town not only still has its pulse, but remains one of the few places I’ve been to where bikes seem to outnumber cars. As it did back then, downtown’s straightforward, grid-like layout (with trees providing ample shade) allows for easeful navigating for bikers, cars and pedestrians alike.
Among the passengers [I drive] are a musician, a geographer, and a verbose group ready for an evening of downtown bar-hopping who talk about the problems with dating in a small college town (or a small town at all for that matter);
One couple I pick up at Hunans were there to reward themselves with Chinese food for having biked forty miles to Winters (a town 15 miles west) earlier that day.
Girl college student passenger: “I’m not trying to run into Brandon* (girl’s ex) tonight. A few weeks ago I saw him at G Street Pub and he came up to me and apologized and said, ‘I don’t want to take places away from you.”
Guy college student passenger: “It’s like having joint custody of kids. ‘Here, you take Devere’s (*popular Irish pub in Davis) on Friday night, Saturday it’s mine.”
Car full of cavemen
A man dressed as a Viking approaches my car as I pull into a shaded cul-de-sac of West Davis. “Are you LYFT?” he mouths. Another guy and two girls clad in caveman costumes trail him.
Before they all get in Viking Guy asks if I can take their picture before we leave. I tell him sure, leaving my car parked in the middle of the street (which they assure me is safe in the emptied, almost perpetually trafficless residential streets of West Davis).
After I snap both a vertical and a horizontal shot, they thank me and pile in to the car.
As we drive I begin lowering the window to get some fresh air, only to roll it back up again immediately, my nostrils recoiling from the pungent smell of cow poop. We are headed to Woodland, a town twelve miles north. The cave people will be attending an end of the year party for vet school graduates there.
“It’s a huge celebration,” the guy says. “And also pretty controversial.”
He explains that in the years since its 1981 inception in Davis the party has involved a large amount of nudity– which resulted in various shutdowns and re-openings.
“Long story short, that’s why it takes place in Woodland now, not Davis anymore,” he clarifies.
I learn that the cave-woman in the backseat is Viking Guy’s wife. The two of them met as under-grads at Davis, and in a few weeks will be moving to Washington, where Viking Guy has secured a job at a dairy farm.
After dropping them off and watching them join a swarm of other costumed folk in front of the colossal, warehouse type building, I cruise past the calming fields of repetitive yellow scenery on my way back towards Davis.
I get a LYFT request while riding around town on my bike. Because I’m in a weird brain fog when I accept it, it’s not until I’m more than halfway to the passenger’s pick-up spot that I become aware of the slow and precarious ride that we’re both in for.
Passenger Story: the Ellen meme, punching down and personal sensitivities
I’m pulled over in front of Delta of Venus– a hippie, LGBT-friendly cafe I spent much of my time at as an under-grad, inside of which funky music plays, vibrant paintings hang from multi-colored walls, and Queer Student Union dance parties occasionally overtake the space, infusing it with life.
While waiting for the passenger to arrive I gaze at the peaceful front patio, peppered with black circular tables and yellow-orange leaves fallen from the branches of surrounding trees. I recall the devouring of many sumptuous weekend brunches out here, the sipping of coffee, the copious annotating of psychology and Spanish class readings. My mind is busy recreating the taste of their hearty, potato-stuffed breakfast burritos when passenger Chase* gets in.
Chase is headed home to his apartment in North Davis after a few hours studying at Delta. As we drive, the person on the radio brings up the recent controversy surrounding a meme that Ellen Degeneres posted wherein she rides the back of famous black Olympic runner Usain Bolt.
“This is how I’m running errands from now on!” she’d written next to the picture below.
Many people interpreted the meme as racist. Chase, however, thinks those people are overreacting.
“If I were the guy, I don’t think I’d have cared,” he says with a shrug.
After he leaves the car, I park next to the tranquil winding paths of the North Davis Greenbelt and get out to walk around. The evening air is warm; I’ve always loved how during Davis springs and summers one can walk around in shorts and a tank top past sundown and not get cold.
As I stroll past a brass sculpture of a dog– the greenbelt is filled with whimsicalities like these– I think more about the larger questions the controversy brings up: What does ‘too sensitive’ mean? Where do we draw the line between free speech and causing harm to others? What role do our own personal experiences and sensitivities play in our reactions to content that we see on the Internet?
**Check back later this week for a continuation of this entry that explores answers to those questions!