On an otherwise indiscriminate summer evening in late June, I got behind the wheel of my Chevy Malibu, propped my cellular device on its magnetic holster, and set out into the night in search of my very first Uber fare.
After driving up and down an east-west road in Grand Rapids' Creston neighborhood for a few minutes, I finally located the individual whom was to be my first passenger. Three weeks later, I can scarcely recall what his name was or to where I chauffeured him; I can only say that he signaled the beginning of a venture called forth, regrettably, out of (temporary) necessity rather than plain old curiosity, which would have been my preferred route.
Nevertheless, I have repeated the routine of jumping into my Malibu, firing up the Uber application on my phone, and delivering faceless individuals from point A to point B for going on three weeks now. This I have only done between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. on nights/mornings when one would expect the masses to be out in force, gulping back mind-numbing beverages and devouring the typical pub fare.
So yes, I have picked up a drunken fellow or two — but no, the interior of my vehicle has not yet been reupholstered with some overindulgent individual's vomit. (Breathe your sigh of relief.)
Rather, I have run into a cast of characters that have elicited in me a range of feeling, from reassurances of the existence of kindness and caring in my fellow man, to utter disbelief, epitomized by one individual who told me of his travels far and wide and yet still spoke of the people he met abroad with what can only be described as a closed mind.
"It's conversing with strangers, continually examining human nature up close and personal..."
Just the other night I picked up a woman who might have been in her upper 20s, perhaps early 30s, whom we'll call Christine. She hailed me from a popular spot in the downtown G.R. and immediately struck up a conversation upon entering the vehicle, inquiring about my career, should we like to call it that, as an Uber driver and whatever else I might be up to.
Our conversation was interrupted by a phone call, which Christine excused herself in answering. On she went talking to some man who she seemed mildly upset with; he'd apparently been paying a little too much attention to one of their other lady friends and not enough to Christine while they were all out together.
Christine explained as much after she'd ended the call, telling me that she and the man on the other end of the phone conversation were something a little more than friends, and so it had hurt her to see him and this other woman interacting as they did. "You'd think I'm old enough for petty things like this not to bother me anymore," she said.
Just as soon as she had though, she switched gears and — this is why I brought this up in the first place — attempted backtracking to the conversation we'd been having before she'd gotten on the phone. She said she didn't want me to feel that our interrupted conversation was any less important than her phone call, apologizing that she had taken the call in the midst of our rather impersonal chat.
And I got the distinct feeling that Christine was someone who truly tried treating everyone around her with care and respect, regardless if they were a guy she was more than friends with or an Uber driver she'd just met and would probably never see again. There's your renewed faith in mankind, if you were in need of some.
Take caring Christine; the British college girl on her way to Electric Forest who could not stop describing things as "wicked"; the materials science engineer on his way home after saying goodbye to friends shipping out overseas; the pair of hipsters discussing the subjectivity of such a thing as taste in music; the totally-blasted, post-bachelor-party Trump supporter; the 25-year-old social climber who asked if I knew any single doctors — take all of them, and you see that driving for Uber is more than just transporting people from one spot to another.
It's conversing with strangers, continually examining human nature up close and personal, and maybe learning some things about yourself too — like describing things as "wicked" is wickedly awesome, for example.