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When The Levee Breaks

Trip length: 18 minutes. Trip distance: 3.4  miles.
Fare: $11.14. Year: 2015. 
Song of the trip: “Happy When It Rains” by The Jesus & Mary Chain

So this is a flashback trip, and it's a short little one, but it's worth telling, I think. While the several year long drought in California ended in 2017, in 2016, we had one day of insane, unbelievable rain in January that felt like it was going to overwhelm the South Bay, and it very nearly did.

Because the greater San Jose area had gone without rain for so long, many of the drains hadn't been flushed out, and leaves and detritus had been accumulating in them for years. Sure sure, they were supposed to be kept up, but when it seems like the rain will never come again, people tend to slip or forget.

All of that resulted in a single night in January where any Uber driver who'd never seen rain was tested, and those of us who grew up in rain got to see exactly how bad it was for an entire generation of drivers who had never driven on wet streets, trying to adapt for the first time.

You see, I'm not kidding when I say that this rainy Saturday in January was, for many of these people, their first time driving on rain, and they did not handle it well. They were sliding all over the place, whipping out into traffic, causing pile ups on the freeways, but when it got dark, it seemed like most of them were too terrified to try night driving in the rain, so the streets were an eerie kind of empty.

Except for us, of course.

A bunch of the drivers who were out on the road were unfamiliar with driving on rain as well, but there were more than a few of us who were transplants to California, and we knew what we were doing. That meant we were able to get through more fares than most people and were making better money at it.

By midnight, though, the demand had slowed down and the rain had picked up. But I was doing my best, despite the fact that we had more than a few obstacles to overcome like downed trees and flooded streets.

Did I not mention the flooding?

See, it was so much rain in such a short period of time, that those drains that hadn't been properly tended to were overwhelmed, and many of them backed up. The police actually went out and barricaded off some streets, and it was near one of those barricades that this story takes place.

Before they moved to their new swanky current (as of 2018) location, Bay 101, the local 'card club' was on the other side of 101, away from the airport, in what looked like it was just some converted office park building, probably some old corporate headquarters of a fatality of the Silicon Valley's less prosperous era. And as I turned off onto Brokaw, I saw that Bering Dr., the side street that I needed to go to get to Bay 101 wasn't blocked off, but it sure as hell wasn't traversable.

The entire street had flooded (there was a sign up that said 'Flooded' but they hadn't put it blocking the street off, so I had turned onto Bering Dr. before I saw it. I stopped suddenly, and saw a bit of steam rising from the front of my car so I shifted into reverse and backed up, turning on my hazards. There was no other passable way to Bay 101, and yet, that's where my fare, Fong, was supposed to be.

I shifted the car into park and tapped on the app, calling the passenger. My BluTooth hands-free filled the car with a ringing sound before I heard a voice. "Hello?"

"Fong? This is Billy, your Uber driver."

"Are you here?"

"That's just it, man. I can't get there."

"What do you mean?"

"It looks like Bering Drive is flooded, and I'm not risking my car getting submerged and stalling out. I can wait here, or I can cancel the fare. You might be able to get an Uber XL to get through there if they are driving something raised enough."

"Can you wait?"

"I can wait if I can start the fare."

"Where are you?"

"I've got my blinkers on."

"Hang on... all the way over there? That's like a block and a half."

"Yeah, well, I don't see any way to you, man, that doesn't involve me borrowing the Red October for a few minutes."

He seems to pause, considering his options. "Okay, start the fare. I'm going to walk across the field so it could take me a few minutes."

"I've got a book, I can wait. Nobody else is going to be coming this way, although I might back up a little bit if the water level starts to rise."

"See you soon."

He hangs up on me, and I back up the car a few more feet until I'm at the corner, backing back onto Brokaw but along the side, as close the curb as I can. I can't imagine a cop's even going to front me, but if he does, he'll get a great story. So I start the fare and I pull out my book.

 I get through a couple of chapters, and when I hear the back door open, I glance at the clock. It took him about 12 minutes to get to the car, but thankfully he isn't dripping wet. "You weren't kidding! I saw there's already a car stalled out when I was walking through the field, and the water line's almost up to the windows."

I grin. "Yeah, well, lucky us, we're both too smart for that kind of thing."

He holds out a twenty. "For waiting. Get me home, bro. This weather could kill me."

And off we go.


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