“The area of teenage life is not necessarily rarefied; we’ve all gone through that period. It’s not as rarefied as a western or a space adventure or a gangster film, but it has its own dynamic.” —Director and musician Gus Van Sant
Swinging open the front door, an ebullient adolescent female plops herself without hesitation onto the seat to my right. She and her crew are headed to a concert at the Shoreline Amphitheater.
“But we’re not going for the music… If you know what I mean,” one of them explains.
I don’t, but nod anyways.
The girl in front reaches over to turn the volume up on the car stereo. She plays a clip of a DJ sequence (recorded from the party they’d all been at earlier) that sounds like a duck with allergies.
In the backseat, one of her girl friends has gotten into her boyfriend’s lap (because who needs seatbelts?) and the two are now making out.
The loud music shakes the car. Kissing sounds from the backseat add to the soundtrack. A cycle of the girl tearing herself away and apologizing for something before going back to making out with her boyfriend repeats itself throughout the ride.
This raucous crew were among the handful of adolescent passengers I drove during my stint as a Lyft driver. Some were experiencing love for the first time. Others were rebelling against their parents. Still others were insightfully dissecting aloud the lyrics of modern-day music. Come along with me this week to meet these young folks.
When their behavior annoys me, I remind myself that beneath the bravado and occasional shamelessness, there exists a human just trying to find their way. We’ve all been there.
And as Robert Cormier put it: “I have always had a sense that we are all pretty much alone in life, particularly in adolescence.”
# Lyft Overheard
Teenage guy: “Max’s biggest cock block is himself.”
Teenage girl” “I think girls think he’s cute at first–but then he starts talking and that just kills it.”
A New Couple’s Earnest Firsts
Two young people who seem to be a new couple are cuddled in my backseat. They have just come from dinner at the guy’s parents’ house.
Guy: “I’m glad you got to meet them for the first time.”
Girl: “I hope it’s not the last time.”
Guy (while squeezing girl’s hand): “I don’t think it will be.”
Too cute to be real?
Angsty Teen On a Mission
The ship is slowly sinking / they think I’m crazy but they don’t know the feeling / they’re all around me, circling like vultures / they wanna break me and wash away my colors…
These lyrics are from the song “My Demons.” They are sung by the Columbus, Ohio band Starset, who Wikipedia describes as “blending the progressive aspirations of Muse with the openhearted approach of emo and muscular power of bands like Breaking Benjamin.” And at this moment they are blaring from my car’s speakers.
Passenger Damien* likes his angst music, and he likes it loud.
Let’s back up to a few minutes ago though.
After I pull up to the dark-cul-de sac, a teenage boy waiting at the curb approaches my car. He is dressed in a baggy black t-shirt. The black-grey sports cap on his head is emblazoned with the insignia of a marijuana leaf. Opening the back door, Damien deposits his skateboard on the floor before coming to join me up front.
The angst in his life becomes apparent pretty much instantly.
“My mom’s gona freak when she realizes I’m gone,” he warns me.
Uh-oh. What have I just unwittingly walked myself into? I wonder.
Damien tells me we’ll be making a pit stop to scoop up the girl he’s been seeing– his “something like a girlfriend”— before we head to our final destination.
Removing his cap, he runs his thick pale hands through his hair–which, cedar-brown and slightly damp, looks as if it’s been shampooed using a bucket of melting Samoa Girl Scout cookies.
As I turn the car around and pull out of the cul- de-sac, he takes a peak back at his house a couple of times–and then we’re on our way.
Looming trees line the sides of the dark road as we drive, their gnarled, leafless branches shaking furiously in seeming opposition to Damien’s act of defiance. I wonder if his mom put them up to this (more likely, it was just the wind).
Our ride is absent of conversation but full of noise. For most of it Damien looks down at his phone, occasionally scream-singing in unison with Starset as he converts my glove compartment into a set of drums, tapping at the upholstered rubber in rhythm with the music. As we get closer to his destination he momentarily leans over them the way professional bike racers posture themselves above their handlebars when focused in on the final stretch of their race. Anticipatory excitement accompanies his drumming.
About three blocks away now, we drive over a speed bump. For some reason Damien chooses this moment to ask me a question about my life, which comes out sounding more like a statement: “What do you like to do in your spare time.”
Less than a minute remains in our ride, so I toss out a condensed answer that I’m not sure he hears. Finally we pull over onto a road that’s just black pavement without sidewalks, lined with single-story houses and slightly unkempt lawns.
A picket fence painted red perimeters the house on the corner. An orange cat scurries across the unlit road. Coral and yellow slides—tubular and enclosed, like the ones you see at McDonald’s or Chuck E. Cheese, only taller and longer—coil and contort ominously at the playground across the street.
Damien gets out of the car and tells me he’ll be right back. I wait as he bullets toward the front door of the country-style home, then rings the bell. I watch as a middle-aged Latina woman, who I later learn is the girl’s aunt, answers the door. From inside, Sara* (his something like a girlfriend) peers through the drawn curtains of the living room window.
“It’ll just be another minute,” Damien tells me when he returns. “Sara just has to talk to her aunt.”
Sara never ends up joining us though. A middle-aged man with a ponytail and rolled-up sleeves lumbers toward our car instead, his facial expression bordering somewhere between stern and livid. I roll down my window, feeling suddenly implicated in an ordeal I hadn’t signed on for.
“You guys gotta leave,” the man insists. “She’s fifteen.”
Not giving Damien a chance to argue back, I concede and drive off. Damien says I can just take him back to his mom’s house. Mission aborted.
“The guy’s a prick,” he mutters, his demeanor markedly different than it had been on our way over. Forlorn sighs have replaced his angsty ones. Dejected, I might even go so far as to call them.
His playlist returns— this time set to a Lana del Rey track (the kid is eclectic in his musical tastes) to match the new mood as we drive.
We’re one freeway stop from his destination when Damien looks up from his phone.
“Shit. Sara just texted and is gonna sneak out. We’ve got to go back now.”
I can only hope his description of me was kinder than the one he used for the girl’s uncle when I too said no.
# Lyft Quote
“How do you get away with stealing a mattress, that shit’s hell of big??”
–A teenage passenger drunkenly commenting to his friend after the Chainsmokers’ lyric “with the mattress that you stole” (from their song “Closer”) plays on the radio.
“He texted me afterwards saying, ‘I guess I’ll see you later…’ It was so ominous, that dot dot dot. And cryptic.”’ –Girl to her friend.
Here’s my favorite image that comes up when you Google the word “ominous”: (photo by Nicole Peterson)
# Lyft Dream: Eternal Youth
I pick up *Max and *Shayna—two kids I used to babysit for— and their mom, from a goat farm in Pescadero.
Though ten years have passed, they look exactly the same. When I inquire with their mom as to why this is, she shrugs it off, providing an evasive answer that offers little clarity. She then leaves the car after asking me if I can continue driving them without her– since I’m being paid to babysit, after all.
At the end of three hours of shuttling the kids to soccer practices, art classes, and finally a birthday party, I note that my pay is far less than what I earn as a medical interpreter.
Why did I even accept this job?? I ask myself. After four years of college and an online certification course for interpreting, how have I ended up back as a babysitter? And why do Max and Shayna still need a babysitter??”
An old man appears and delivers the following spiel to me while rubbing his long white beard:
“Time is a man-made construct. Tomorrow and yesterday and today are essentially one and the same. These crystallized specimen, these forever children, serve to remind us of this truth. Take heed.”
I wake up, leaving the “crystallized specimen” behind in my dream world.
*Follow us on IG @lyft_tales
Adolescent cartoon– https://www.shutterstock.com/search/adolescent+cartoon
Orange cat– https://www.shutterstock.com/search/cat+running