Trip length (pool): 24 minutes / 18 minutes. Trip distance (pool): 12.4 miles / 8.8 miles.
Fare (pool): $16.73 / $13.55
Song of the trip: “Butterfly On A Wheel” by The Mission
One of the questions I'm most asked as a driver is what's a good rule of thumb on when to choose a Pool fare (where you have the possibility of sharing the car with other random passengers, but pay less) versus when to choose an X fare (where you pay a little more, but have the entire car to yourself).
Things in Pool's favor
- You pay a lower rate, which is good for long trips that might sting the wallet!
- You get to meet interesting people!
Things in X's favor
- You don't have to worry about detours that can add up in delaying your arrival time!
- You can change your destination en route or even add additional stops!
- You don't have to meet interesting people!
I pull up to a trailer park in Sunnyvale on a Friday night, looking for someone named Connor. I glance at the phone again, and the little minimap seems to be directing me around a few corners, so I start to steer the Altima to the left, keeping my eyes on the roads for the endless cavalcade of speed bumps that seem to infest northern California.
Just as I'm turning the corner, I hear the familiar ringing of my hands-free so I tap the button on my steering wheel to answer it. "Howdy," I say, so they know I'm here.
"Hey, is this Billy?" the voice on the other end asks.
'No,' I think to myself with mirth, 'it's Pope Goddamn Francis.' "That's me. You Connor?"
The voice on the other end sounds relieved. "Yeah! The navigation in Uber always seems to take drivers to the wrong place. If you just turn around and head back to the entrance of the trailer park, we'll meet you there."
"No problem, man. See you in thirty seconds." I make it a point to not get mad at people who aren't where the app says I'm supposed to pick them up unless they can't navigate me to where they actually want to be picked up, and this Connor guy seems nice enough, so no harm no foul.
I pull a 3-point turn at the first turn off I see and start heading back towards the entrance, and sure enough, there's two people waving for me right on cue. I slow the vehicle down right next to them, tapping on my hazard lights as I bring the car to a stop.
Connor, a dude who looks like a hybrid of a Mexican cowboy and an Oregon lumberjack, gets in one side, and his companion, a lady who splits the difference between a roller derby queen and a 1940s librarian, slides in the other. "Hey man," he tells me, "thanks for picking us up. I wish Uber would fix that."
"You just gotta let them know via email. They're usually pretty good about fixing that kind of thing, especially if you use the service regularly." I check the phone, making sure they're booked for 2 seats, and then start the trip. Looks we're heading to downtown San Jose. "Date night?"
The woman nods, sliding in a little closer to Connor. "We're heading downtown to the Continental. Our first time going there."
I nod, tapping off the hazard lights as I let the vehicle start to gain momentum. "Never been in there myself, but it certainly seems like one of the more popular joints these days, and you don't see the cops blocking off that section of 1st anywhere near as much as they do between Santa Clara and San Fernando."
"I always see that!" Connor says, happy to have someone to talk to about this, as apparently his curiosity is bubbling over. We're not far from the freeway, and Fair Oaks doesn't have that much traffic on it for a Friday night, which makes it easy to chat. "You know what that's about?"
"Too many bars in a concentrated area, so I think they're just trying to make people disperse a bit so it isn't blocked off with Ubers and Lyfts trying to avoid the super drunks walking into cars. Although some of that, I imagine, is all the fights that apparently break out around Tres Gringos."
The phone chirps just about the time we're hitting 101, the quick beep informing me there's another passenger we need to go and pick up along the way.
"You booked a Pool?" the woman whispers to Connor. I'm not sure why she's whispering - the music isn't up that loud right now, so I can hear everything.
"Baller on a budget, baby," Connor laughs a little, and she giggles a little with him. Seem like nice enough folks.
"Hope it doesn't take too long."
The time is far from the reason they're gonna be talking about this trip, but none of us know that as I turn off onto Montague Expressway heading northeast. When I'm about five or six blocks from the destination, the phone rings, so I tap the button on the steering wheel again and the hands free springs to life. "This is Billy."
"Hey Billy, it's Chip. How far away are you?" Who goes by Chip these days anyway?
"Couple of blocks? I'm approaching Lafayette now."
"Great. When you get to Lick Mill Boulevard, turn left, then immediately make a U-turn at the light. We'll be standing at the corner of Lick Mill and Montague, on the side of the road, to make it easier for you."
"Got it. See you in a minute." I don't even push the button to hang up, as the guy ends the phone call for me.
As I'm turning left onto Lick Mill, I can see the couple standing near the corner on the opposite side of the street, but only for an instant. Of course, I'm close enough that the phone thinks I'm in the vicinity to pickup already, so it tells me I'm looking for 'Chip' but that it's supposed to be a fare of one person, not two. I can correct that as soon as I stop.
After flipping the U, I head back towards them, and pull over to the side of the road. These are high-end apartments and condos in the towers next to us, so there's a nice amount of space to idle the car for a minute or two. This guy's gotta be making six figures to live here, and I'd give you three-to-one odds the first figure isn't a one.
Chip is probably 6'2" and has a portly belly and is mostly bald with a silver U of hair struggling to hold on. He's somewhere in his early fifties I'd guess, and utterly pale. He's dressed in slacks and a collar shirt that looks like it was hastily pulled on. He's also got on silver wire-frame glasses that don't do him any favors, either, as they look a little askew. He's a common enough sight in the Silicon Valley - an older tech exec who's coasting in life - although usually they look a bit more composed.
The girl standing next to him is 5' if she's lucky, and barely looks old enough to drink. While the guy's skin is paper-white, she looks Cuban maybe, with tan skin, dark wavy hair pulled back into a ponytail and a dusting of freckles across her cheeks. She's in a red flower print dress that does not go even half way down her thighs, with a neckline that even the most confident of women would call 'daringly plunging.' Her hands are holding a clutch in front of her, just below her waist.
He moves over and opens the door to the front passenger side, his other hand on the small of the girl's back. "Get her where she needs to go, okay?" he says, as the girl is getting into the seat, saying absolutely nothing to me, or to the two people in the back seat.
"No problem, man," I tell him, as I start his portion of the trip. She's clearly heading downtown somewhere, and I desperately want to believe this is his daughter or niece or something. You have no idea how badly I want to believe that.
"Thanks again," he says, to me or to her, I'm not sure, then closes the door, as she's buckling her seat belt.
I pull the car towards the corner and tap on my turn signal, and I'm barely back onto Montague heading towards 101 before the girl up front pulls part of her dress forward and reaches in with her other hand, then pulls a wad of cash from her bra, and starts to count it. She does a second count, with nobody in the car saying anything, and the sound of my Mission UK CD all there is to fill the air. Satisfied with her count, she tucks it back into her clutch, while fishing out her phone. She taps at the iPhone before lifting it up to her ear. "Yeah, I'm in the Uber now, I'm fine. He paid $240. Nothing too freaky." There goes that belief. "Yeah, I'm heading back to the hotel where Desiree is staying. What? Okay, I'll tell the driver when we're close."
For the record, I'm in agreement with George Carlin on the subject of prostitution. He once said, "Selling is legal. Fucking is legal. Why isn't selling fucking legal? How can it be illegal to sell something that it's perfectly legal to give away?" So don't think I'm judging what the girl does for a living. We all have to pay the bills somehow.
The conversation in the back of the car has completely stopped, and sadly, I'm dropping the couple off before the girl in the front, so I won't be able to talk to them about this surreal thing we've all just experienced together. Because this is a real question of etiquette here - if you are using an Uber or Lyft to take your hooker back downtown, shouldn't you at least be courteous enough to get them a car to themselves?
We get to the Continental, and the couple hops out, thanking me for the ride, and I start heading over towards Hotel Elan, also on 1st, but south of 280, in the more sketchy part of the area. "Can you go a little past where it says you're supposed to go and drop me off at the Walmart?"
Normally with Pool fares, we're supposed to go to exactly where the dropoff point is, but the Walmart is less than two blocks further, so I decide what the hell. I glance at the clock and shrug. "Sure, but it's going to be closed. It closes at ten and it's almost eleven."
"I'm not going in," she says. "Just meeting someone there."
As I'm pulling into the parking lot for the Walmart, my phone beeps, offering me another fare, which I tap to accept. The app does this from time to time, lining up our next fare when it's busy and we're just finishing up a fare. I bring the car to a stop in front of Walmart and the girl starts to FaceTime as she's getting out of the car. "Okay, papi, where is he and what's he look like?"
She closes the door behind her, and she immediately walks past the Walmart, over towards the Chevron or the high school, I can't tell which, because I'm already heading back to 1st and barreling for downtown, shaking my head.
I end the trip at the first stoplight and get the little pop up, telling me to rate Connor and Chip. I give Connor 5 stars like I do most passengers, but my finger hovers over the stars for a few seconds for Chip's name before I tap 3 stars. The little sub popup springs up, asking the reason and I tap 'Attitude' and then Submit Feedback before the ratings screen disappears and the map reappears, directing me over the corner of 2nd and San Fernando, to find someone named Annie.
"Bet that cheap bastard 'Chip' doesn't even tip me."