On the line-up for today: Spanish practice paired with 90s ‘arcade nostalgia, anxiety on the road, and a jazz-playing widow Lyft driver opens up about his methods for offering an impeccable music experience to his passengers.
# Passengers Speak Spanish : Luchador de Cocodrilos (Crocodile Fighter)
“Me encantaba ese juego cuando era un niño. Pegarle a los crocodilos. Prefería cuando nos daban esa herramienta negra para golpear sus cabezas- dolía demasiado golpearlas solo con tus manos. Aunque me sentía muy cool contándole a mis amigos que mis manos estaban rojas por haber peleado con cocodrilos.”
“I loved that game when I was younger! Bash the crocs. I preferred it when they gave you that black instrument to hit them with– it hurt too much to smack the heads with just your bare hands. Although I did feel pretty cool telling friends afterwards that my hands were red from fighting crocodiles.”
–A passenger I’d picked up at Brewcade (arcade bar on Market Street) during our conversation about 90s arcade games.
#Road Thoughts: Overactive Driver Nerves
I realize I can be a reactive driver sometimes. Maneuvering chaotic streets and congested freeways, where the drivers around me are capable of doing (and have done) unpredictable things, has primed considerable vigilance on my part towards any perceived threats.
At times this impulse saves passengers and me from a head-on collision; other times, like when I’m gasping and swerving after a small harmless piece of cardboard has just fallen from the back of the truck in front of us to the ground beneath my wheels, it makes me look silly and histrionic.
And yet as a passenger in my car you can at least rest assured: I will protect you. I will protect [all of] us.
“I’ve never said I love you to someone then retracted it the next day. That shit’s not okay.”
— A 30-something woman to her friend.
Bigger Passenger Story: The Jazzy Lyft Driver on What Keeps his Soul Alight
Think about the coolest musical experience you’ve had when riding in an Uber. What songs did the driver play? What sort of vibe did they create?
Mine was on the way to a pizza restaurant with a date, while inside the car of an older butch lesbian driver who turned her van into a Latin / European dance club– complete with a disco ball and Edward Maya pulsing from the speakers.
I’ve heard some people say they’d ridden in cars that felt like Warped Tour, while others recalled being transported back to the 1950s.
Passenger Jerin*, a classy older black man who is himself an Uber driver and gets into my car outside a small downtown Oakland venue smelling like peppermint and barbecue (from the takeout box in his hand)–tells me, as his eyes shine from behind glasses with chestnut-colored frames, that he plays jazz for his passengers.
“The older, classic stuff— and I’m careful with the songs I choose,” he specifies. “It’s all about the music. You put together a quality playlist, you’ll get quality tips. I even have a Spotify station that I use on a separate phone so that GPS directions and incoming calls don’t interrupt the music.”
Looking back towards the venue I’d picked him up in front of: “They’ve got live jazz music in there,” he says, smoothing out his already impeccably smooth and wrinkle-free red button-down shirt. “Every Sunday. And five-dollar plates of soul food.”
We get to talking about how driving Uber (which Jerin has done for four years) and frequenting the jazz bar along with other music venues has helped to keep his mind and soul alight during the few years since his wife passed away. To stay busy he also does contracts for the city, plays the saxophone, and recently got a job riding boats around the bay, he says to me as we drive past the waterfront.
Eyeing the one or two empty paper coffee cups in my car at the end of our ride, Jerin hands me a few folded-up dollar bills as tip before saying to me: “You go ahead and get yourself a nice cup of coffee or something.”
His gentleness stuck out to me. A poetic air–similar to that of Randall’s birth dad in This Is Us--set him apart from other passengers. He chose his words carefully (slow and wistful when talking about his deceased wife, passionate and filled with fervor when describing boating and his jazz mobile services).
Talking to him didn’t feel like eating up a sales pitch (“buy the product: ME!”). It felt more like going on a peaceful stroll alongside someone.
Often when I drive past the Oakland Marina now, I picture Gerin out there, sailing while playing the saxophone, his maroon paper boy hat blowing in the wind, jazz tunes waltzing from his boom box (tucked into the corner of the boat as he glides across the bay). Later on when the boat comes to a stop he will return to his car to drive Uber Jazz Club for what remains of the evening.
Maybe some day he’ll be my Uber driver so I can partake in that auditory experience.
“Buy yourself some more tracks on iTunes,” I’ll say when I tip him at the end.
“She said she did it to empathize with deaf people, but we all know it’s just because she’s lazy and broke.”
–A passenger in reference to her friend who watches Netflix without the sound (rather than taking her computer in to the Apple store to get the speakers fixed).
# Lyft Dream
For some reason I am exhausted by the time my Toyota Corolla and I have finished ascending the winding hills of Oakland, en route to pick up passengers John and Layla. The exhaustion continues once they are in my car and the three of us begin descending the hill, and is still there when we reach an unforeseen dead end.
Foggy-headed, I get out to investigate an alternative route on foot. A few minutes after leaving both my car and my two passengers behind in it, I find myself unable to retrace my steps.
I never do find my way back; instead, I stumble into the nearby “Lyft Headquarters” (a made-up place concocted by my dream mind) where I discover that the passengers have turned in my car after canceling the ride to avoid being charged.
Relief at having located my car comes accompanied by embarrassment over my incompetence.
I wake up just as I’m vowing to always drink enough coffee to conquer the mental muddledness that might lead to similar experiences down the road.
** The severe brain fog and confusion: early subconscious signs of my undiagnosed Celiac?
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