A Weaponless Hold-up
“Please. I’m on the car now. You can’t drive off,” says the woman with her head inside my passenger’s rolled-down window, hands gripping the car.
Minutes earlier, I’d picked up Liana and Jessie* outside of Elbo Room in San Francisco’s Mission district.
“It was too hot in there!” they exclaimed, the fluffy sweaters they’d been wearing now bundled in their laps like reposing house pets.
Still overheated from their time spent on the tightly packed dance floor, the ladies asked if they could roll their windows down.
A few blocks later as we’re stopped at a red light, a woman makes a beeline for our car, pausing at the open window with her right arm extended and her palm facing the sky.
“Money please?” she asks.
“Sorry ma’am, not tonight,” we reply. I always feel guilty being dismissive towards people in need, but with my purse in the trunk and the flow of traffic about to resume at any second now, this is genuinely a less than ideal moment.
“But…please?” she counters, as the light changes from red to green.
As we apologetically decline for the second time, the woman proceeds to grab onto the car, reaching her hands through the window and clutching the inside of the door the way one might when steering a shopping cart at the supermarket.
“She has to go, Ma’am,” the passengers insist, while I too reiterate that we can’t stay—the light has been green for almost a minute now—but the woman doesn’t budge.
I’m in a pickle. Driving off would likely result in a number of injuries for the already somewhat vulnerable-appearing woman. Staying would mean continuing to hold up traffic on a busy street.
Thus, the only solution seems to be succumbing to this woman’s gunless hold-up, where sympathy and guilt, rather than guns and knives, are the chosen weapons. And hey—it’s working. Anyone who resorts to something like this must really need the money, I reason as I dig through my glove compartment in the off chance of finding quarters inside.
Liana turns toward the woman. “What exactly is it that you want from us, Ma’am?” she asks with a sigh.
“Just a little bit of money,” the woman replies honestly.
“Just a little bit of money?” Liana reiterates, her tone somewhere between wry and irritated. “Okay. We’ll give you some money but then you really have to go.”
The girls rummage through their bags while I continue searching my glove compartment. Liana, who finds cash more quickly than I do, hands the woman five dollars and gestures to me to put away the money I too have just found.
The woman though, who has already glimpsed the wadded-up bill in my hand, insists: “I’ll take that too.”
As we’re driving away Jessie yells back towards her, just before I roll the window up: “You should be in sales!”
The Salinas Sunrise Ride
It’s five in the morning and I’m at a Denny’s in Salinas, seated at a spacious booth with plush teal seats, coffee, and a half-eaten slice of molten lava cake in front of me. Through the window the sun begins to rise above the farmlands. Apart from a group speaking softly in Spanish a few feet away, the diner is completely quiet.
What the heck brought me here? It’s a reasonable question. My answer:
At 12:45 the previous night passenger Jesus* had requested a ride in Sacramento (where we both lived). At 3:45 am I dropped him off in front of the Monterey County Jail, from which his boyfriend had just been released. Jesus had promised to come see him as soon as he got out, only to have his car suddenly break down on him. With or without his vehicle though, he wanted to uphold his promise. Rideshare was summoned. Lyft to the rescue.
Since we’re not provided the passenger’s location until they’re inside the car with us, I’d had no way of anticipating the length of our journey. As soon as I did though, I thought at the very least a three-hour trip would be lucrative. Having worked night shifts for the past week or two anyways, I was used to being awake at these hours (which lessened the risk of falling asleep at the wheel).
Why voluntarily drive the night shift? Very good question. Though it’s something I definitely wouldn’t do now, at the time I think it was the serenity, and peacefulness of the empty roads that appealed to me. How the din of the daily world dimmed to a hush by night fall. How the weight of other people’s worries and anxieties lifted as they brought them to bed with them.
My own thoughts—which I found were normally stamped out or muffled by the noise, demands, and expectations of the day— could arise naturally amidst the stillness. I liked the idea of being awake while everyone else was asleep.
Walking from my car to a Denny’s at four in the morning felt like how I imagined taking steps on the moon might feel—lighter, weightless even, unencumbered by the force-field of other people’s moods, anxieties, and sorrows (which all humans carry to some degree, myself included) surrounding me.
Driving night shift in 2016 felt a lot like driving during the day towards the beginning of 2020’s shelter in place. Both reminded me of my appreciation for quiet, how it both calms and energizes me.
I can’t remember the last time I was awake to see the sun rise. The sight of it alone makes this trip worth it, I write in my journal while taking a final bite of molten lava cake and looking out the window.
Later that night I have a #LyftDream (spurred by this trip):
After arresting me for double parking on a busy San Francisco street to wait for a passenger, officials fly me to a jail in Tokyo to serve my time. Once there I walk the streets of bustling downtown, capturing photos. They all come out blurry and crooked though, because I am in a hurry–I’m supposed to be inside my jail cell after all, not out here.
When the guards track me down, upon my recapture it’s decided that I am not a good fit for the Tokyo prison. I am flown to a different one on the Central California coast, but wake up before finding out whether Monterey had also deemed me an unfit prisoner for their facilities.
*That concludes the Wild Lyft Ride Series! Check back soon for nature excursions through some of California’s lesser known outdoor escapes (all discovered while driving Lyft in different areas). Follow us on Instagram @lyft_tales
Farmlands sunrise– https://wpmisc.com/wallpaper-692858