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The Tyranny Of Seatbelts

Trip length: 38 minutes. Trip distance: 27  miles.
Fare: $48.90. (split/UberPool) Year: 2018. 
Song of the trip: “Battle Without Honor Or Humanity” by Tomoyasu Hotei

Being in San Francisco around bar close is, I imagine, a lot what the evacuation of a war zone is like. Everyone is scrambling to find their way out of town, many people are nervous and aimless, and there's a general sense of impending disaster on every face you see.

As a rule, I try to avoid driving in San Francisco for any length of time, but tonight a chain of events had ended up in me dropping off a guy at 1:45 a.m. at his home in downtown SF, and short of just turning the app off and heading home, there was no chance I was getting out of here without a fare.

This conundrum was that any fare I was going to get was going to pay well, but it was also going to be high risk. See, the city of San Francisco swells during work days and on the weekends, but empties out because no one can actually afford to live there.  

The average one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco runs about $3,405 a month. A month. If you want to get to somewhere even vaguely affordable, you have to go quite a ways. I live out in Milpitas, some 46+ miles from downtown San Francisco, and we pay $2,815 a month. Thankfully, that's offset by my lesbian flatmate Gail, who works at Facebook. 

So Friday and Saturday nights, San Francisco has a huge number of people calling for Ubers, Lyfts, Flywheels, taxi cabs and any other way they can think of to get home without risking a DUI. (Doesn't mean there aren't drunk drivers on the roads, though.) And many of them are horribly trashed.

But, on the plus side, most of the drunks call for UberPool, so you're often double-dipping on fares (although, let's be honest, with the unrealistically low fares for UberPool, it's more like 1.5 instead of 2) and you're generally guaranteed to be going a good distance, be it down to Mountain View or across the bridge towards Oakland.

This particular night, I've already got a passenger in the back and we're starting to head towards the Bay Bridge when the app diverts me to do a second pick up. The first passenger isn't all that important to the story - nice guy, quiet, kept to himself. It's our second set of passengers that are the problem.

The number one reason why an Uber driver is going to give you a bad rating is wait time, especially when there are other passengers in the car and/or it's bar close. It's a confluence of drivers both want to be moving and we're paranoid because it's the most likely time to be hit by a drunk driver, especially if you're only sort of able to pull over and put on your blinkers.

We're stopped at the corner of 7th and Mission, and while I have my hazard lights on, I can already see there are a couple of cars turning that aren't paying too much attention. Despite the fact that I'm right up against the curb, a few vehicles come inches from clipping my ass. As we're just about to hit the 2-minute mark (which is the point where we can collect a cancellation fee for a rider no-show after arrival), the back door opens and guy crawls in, mumbling, "For Luis, right?" as a large woman in a two-sizes-too-tight dress is struggling to open the front passenger side so that she can get in. 

"Yep, I'm Billy." Luis manages to get in and get himself buckled in without too much trouble, but the woman struggles a little bit, and has to be reminded twice to put her seatbelt on before she finally does it.

The first leg of our trip, east out of San Francisco and into Oakland. Everyone's asleep when we get there, so I have to wake up the first passenger, who unfortunately wakes up the other two as he's getting out.

Here's where the problems start. I'm only a block away from the first guy's drop off point, stopped at a stopsign, and I've just started to accelerate again when the women in the front unbuckles her seatbelt and opens her door. I stop again immediately. "Do you need to throw up, ma'am?"

"Fuck off. No."

"Then you need to put your seatbelt back on and close the door. I'm not driving anywhere until you do."

This is the point where the guy in the back gets concerned. "What are you doing, miha? Put your seatbelt on."

"He said he's not driving," she mumbles, trailing off into a series of sounds that might have been words, but I certainly didn't understand them.

"Do it!" he hisses.

She pulls the door shut and then struggles for a second before clicking the seatbelt back on. At this point, I think the matter is settled. How foolish of me.

About ten blocks later, I'm stopped at another stopsign, watching for a break in traffic so I can make a left turn when it's second verse, same as the first. Unbuckles her seatbelt and opens her door.

"What are we doing here?" I say, putting a bit of bass in my voice.

"I don't wanna wear my seatbelt."

"What the fuck is the matter with you, girl?" the guy in the back says. "I don't even know where the fuck we are right now."

"Don' wanna."

"Okay, look," I say, tapping on my hazards, although there aren't any cars behind me. "You've got two options here. You can close the door and put your seatbelt back on, or I can throw you out of my car right now, and you can try and get some other driver to give you a lift home. I'm not going onto a highway if you're going to keep opening the door randomly."

"Close the fucking door, baby!" After a good minute or so of waiting, I'm just about to throw them out of the car when she grabs the door and yanks it shut. As she's starting to put on her seatbelt again (with considerable effort), the guy in the back says to me "Can you please lock the doors?"

I hit the power lock button and all four door locks click at a volume level than can't possibly be as high as it feels. When I finally hear her seatbelt latch once more, I exhale a deep breath. "The next time that seatbelt comes undone, you are both getting out of my car, no matter where we are, no matter how far you are from your destination. Am I clear?"

"Sorry sir," the guy says. "We understand."

I'm on edge for the next few minutes as we get out of the Oakland residentials and get onto 580. As soon as we're on the freeway, both of them have passed out, and the rest of the 20 minute drive down to San Leandro passes without incident. 

When we finally get to their location, I have to turn on the dome lights to wake them up, and the guy gets out of the backseat without incident, but the woman in the front, who couldn't wait to get her seatbelt off twice before now can't figure out how to undo the damn thing, and is poking at my cup holder, as if it's going to unlatch the seatbelt for her. I reach over and push the release latch as the guy is opening the front door and reaching in to help her out of the car.

He starts helping her away from the car and walking towards their front door, leaving both his door and her door wide open. I curl my fingers into a fist, uncurl them and then put the car in park, as I hop out, walk around and close both doors. 

No apology and no tip (not to mention not even shutting the fucking doors) means no stars. 

I should've thrown them out the first time.


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