On the line-up for this week: My thoughts on Uber Carriage, a babysitter explains the concept of ride share to two young children, and an anecdote from a passenger inspires a short story about the line between altruism and boundarylessness.
“People think we are Spanish because the accents are similar.”
—Four Greek guys on vacation from Thesoliniki (a city in Greece). I also listen, using the limited Greek I can understand, to them commenting on how they don’t see as many pedestrians here in the Bay; a lot more people walk in Europe.
# Road Thoughts: Uber Carriage
It’s hard to imagine life without Lyft and Uber these days. I could not escape thoughts of it even while watching Beauty and the Beast (the newest version with live actors) in theaters. During the scene where the Beast tells Belle she can leave the castle to go rescue her dad, my first thought was of an Uber Carriage coming to pick her up.
I pictured her receiving a text informing her of co-drivers Gaston and Emerald‘s imminent arrival. Minutes later another text would come in announcing said arrival (“Your drivers are outside”). Pulled over to the side of the dirt road below Belle’s balcony, Gaston and Emerald would then wait to transport her.
At the end of her ride, a prompt would ask Belle if she would like to tip the duo in carrots. Only she’d get it too late, because they’ve already left, and now her only option is to tip them in useless electronic carrots, which do little to satiate Emerald’s voracious horse appetite.
# Lyft Overheard / Adults Explain Things
I receive a request from a woman in Berkeley, near the Cal campus. Two kids and their babysitter get into the car.
“This isn’t the same car as earlier,” the little girl observes, straightaway.
“Lyft isn’t just one person, honey,” the babysitter clarifies. “It’s a lot of people. Whoever’s closest to us says yes, then comes to get us.”
“How did you know she was Lyft before we got in?” the little girl asks, pointing to me in the front seat.
“On my phone it shows her picture and license plate number and car model.”
The little girl slurps on her soda. Her older brother, who’s reached the bottom of his, now uses his straw to stir the ice.
“How come you don’t drive for Lyft?” the girl asks the babysitter.
“I have something that’s called a full-time job. Now I do know some people who have full-time jobs who also drive on the weekends, but I don’t think Lyft driving fits my personality type. You have to be friendly to strangers and I don’t always have the energy for that.”
Neither do I, I think. Luckily passengers don’t always want to talk. These are my occasional moments of respite.
Once the little girl has learned all she wanted to know about Lyft, she moves on to other topics: “Are we gonna have string cheese when we go home?”
“You guys got sodas instead, remember?” the babysitter answers.
The girl doesn’t respond out loud, but her face communicates disgust at this answer.
Short Story: The Old Man Who Spurned Selfie Sticks
“We were just hiking in Glen Canyon,” a passenger says to me. “We asked this old man who was sitting on a bench if he could take our picture. He just glared at us and mumbled something about how we should get our selfie stick to do it.”
Hearing this compelled me to write about this disgruntled senior, wondering what might have motivated his curmudgeonry. The following short story re-imagines the occurrence from his point of view.
“Excuse me… Sir? Would you mind taking our picture?” asked the girl (who looked to be of college age or in her early 20s) while offering me a conciliatory smile.
She was slight— small, Asian-American, and with bangs that stopped just above her eyebrows. The young man next to her loomed nearly a foot taller. Hair that resembled uncooked Top Ramen spilled out from beneath his sand-colored fedora.
Ordinarily, one might pause in between the utterance of those two words—”Sir” and “would”— so as to provide the recipient of the request an opportunity to respond. This young woman, however, did not. Instead she went right ahead and launched the ask. No matter that I’d been walking straight ahead, navy- blue wool beanie pulled down past my ears, body slouched, hands in pockets— giving no signs, in other words, that I was open for business.
I’d noticed the couple in pursuit of a photographer before they’d approached, and had hoped they wouldn’t see me and flag me down. In fact I had intentionally adopted the precise body language I deemed necessary for warding off the advances of strangers—but perhaps this deliberate safe-guarding of myself had only caused me to appear more conspicuous.
Can you please use your selfie stick? was what I wanted to ask. The young woman was holding one that looked perfectly functional, after all. Why purchase such an absurd and superfluous item— not only purchase it, but carry it around— if one does not plan to use it? If any positive has resulted from these inane objects, it would be that they allow for some modicum of self-sufficiency. Selfie sticks may not have been created for the sole purpose of protecting the boundaries and personal space of strangers, but it sure would be nice if they could begin to adopt this secondary function.
I can sense it now—many of you on the other end of that screen, forming an opinion of me. One that’s not favorable. Perhaps you think me selfish. Or perhaps you’ve deemed me a hermit; curmudgeonly at best.
I can understand why you would think this. Yet I would argue that I am none of these things. No more than the rest of mankind is, at least.
Allow me, please, to introduce the following facts about my past into your mind’s jambalaya, where they can rest alongside the less favorable details that you have gleaned of me thus far:
In 2014, I gave up my bed for a cat to give birth in. Since 2005, I have donated to PFLAG, even in the absence of homosexual offspring (or any offspring at all for that matter). In 2017 when an incontinent chihuahua defecated on my shoe, rather than admonish, I gently stroked him on the head— because I could only imagine the indignity.
If I were self-encased, why then would it be that when a visually impaired lady old enough to be my grandmother’s grandmother asked if I could help her read the menu when out a fine dining establishment one night, I agreed without any resistance?
These actions aren’t glossy finish for my personal brand. Nor do they function as self-aggrandizing fuel. How could they be, when no one I know is present when I execute them? No witnesses behold my benevolence. No audience applauds my altruistic behavior.
My attention, during, is turned away from my image and onto the actions themselves, as well as their recipients. In fact, while fulfilling them I am not even aware that I exist. The mental construct of Oliver Moon and his life legacy dissolve entirely.
Here I am now— putting effort into convincing you of my unselfish character. And why? Because I care about your opinion on my palatability? Because I want or need something from you? Because your indictments on my character carry, for some unknown reason, considerable weight?
It can’t be that. And yet…
Here I am, throwing time and energy into proving myself.
I have crossed the line that protects my dignity, and am not sure when or where it happened. I only know that it has.
I now feel as if it’s no longer my soul that’s speaking, nor my heart in earnest— rather, it’s my ego that’s yelling for its life after a near-death experience.
Less than ten minutes have passed, yet somehow I feel as if I have just run fifty laps around the nearby Lake Merced. I feel as if I have bench-pressed a moose for two hours without pause. I feel as if I have been forced to ride along inside the mind of President Donald Trump for one week straight. Though the clock has yet to strike noon, my body feels prepared already for a deep and restorative sleep.
Ego preservation is exhausting. I regret ever picking up this pen.
I conclude that excessive self-justification is a futile endeavor— much like pointing to a pile of sticks while yelling to those around you that it is a house, rather than using the time to covert them into an actual house.
I conclude as well that an un-examined psyche retains far more vitality than one that has been prodded, torn apart, and subjected to question and scrutiny.
Numerous flies buzz around my face as these truths become apparent to me. I begin to feel offended, then self-conscious— taking mental inventory of the last time I’ve bathed.
Likewise, I feel insulted when bugs choose to perish on my face, which one has just done. I imagine their thought process being, when they land there: “Ah, fertile dying ground for my tired, aged, buggy body.” I wonder why they could not pick the pile of excrement a few feet away from me instead. For peace of mind I tell myself they were just too lazy or exhausted to fly that extra distance.
Just as I am about to surrender for today, a small nugget—one that my therapist offered to me during our session the week prior—taps at my brain.
Because you see, this is not the first time I have depleted myself through self-justification. I have told my therapist this. And she has suggested, as a means of shifting my mind energy when caught in the throes of it, that I engage in its opposite. The inverse of self-justifying, that is to say.
So I look to this young woman I have just criticized internally. To answer the question, Why might she have eschewed her seemingly functional selfie stick? I momentarily make the leap from my skin into hers. I seek to inhabit her emotional landscape.
I hypothesize: Perhaps she seeks a full body shot. So that her ex-boyfriend, peering in on Instagram, can see the fruits born from the labor of her first full month of Bikram yoga.
Perhaps said ex was here at the park. Perhaps the young woman has just unexpectedly crossed paths with him, and felt foolish using the gangly robot arm in his presence. Perhaps she presumed that being photographed by a handsome and sophisticated older stranger would appear less foolish.
As I sense myself arriving at a place of understanding, I no longer feel so closed-off to the young woman’s request. I even feel prepared to smile when I answer the young couple now, tell the two young lovebirds that yes I can take their picture, would they prefer vertical or horizontal, do they desire for me to include a specific tree in the background of the shot?
It becomes apparent to me now though that considerable time has passed since the young woman made her initial request. I realize that somewhere in the time span during which my inner monologue snatched me away from the present moment, the couple had moved on. They are no longer standing before me. They have asked another passerby to take their picture.
As I walk away I tell myself that I’m sure it will happen again at some point. A stranger will approach me and ask for a favor. And when they do, I will at least be prepared. The next time it happens, I will redeem myself.