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The Story I Tell The Most

Trip length: 56 minutes. Trip distance: 4.8 miles.
Fare: $21.37 (Surge: 1.6x) Year: 2015

I pull the car up in front of La Victoria Taqueria on San Carlos St. between 3rd and 4th. It's right off the San Jose State University campus, and a short distance walk from the strip of bars over on 1st St, and it's open until 3 a.m. most nights. The name on my phone says Taylor so I don't know if it's a guy or a girl I'm picking up. Kids these days. Better than the tech bros, I guess.

There's actually enough space for me to pull in front of La Vics and wait, so I bring the car up against the curve and turn the blinkers on. Most of the time, Lac Vics pickups are college students who need a lift home, and they're short drives, so you can get a number of them in quick turnaround during surge pricing. But sometimes you gotta wait.

The timer is on. 2:18 a.m. Five minutes until they're officially a no show, and I can safely collect a cancellation fee.

About two minutes later, two drunk girls dressed in their night clubbing finest stagger over to the car, clutching their burritos like life saving talismans. They'd clearly left one of the bars a little bit before the 2 a.m. close because they'd already gotten their burritos, and that meant they were here almost half an hour ago.

La Vic's is one of the late night havens for people to get their drunk food on in downtown San Jose. The burritos aren't half bad, but it's their orange sauce that really draws them in. They sell that shit by the bottle, and people just gobble it up, not that I could blame them. It really is that good. But I generally prefer Hoagie Steak Out next door, mostly because the line at La Vics often runs out the door during the weekends, and I don't have that much time off the road.

One of the two girls opens the right rear passenger and pokes her head in. “Are you an Uber driver?”

'No,' I think to myself, 'I put the stickers in the windshields of my car and wait at random places for fun. It's how I get my kicks.' “Yes,” I say, “are you Taylor?”

“Omigod, I'm not, but she is. Taylor! Bitch, who are we looking for?”

“It says 'Billy' on my phone. Is he Billy?”

“Are you Billy?”

“Yep, that's me. Hop in. Where we headed?” I ask that question a lot, because it seems like at least one out of every five fares, the person getting in hasn't punched in their destination yet, and so we're just sitting there, waiting for them until they do.

The two girls push into the car, and the one with the phone stabs at it, trying to punch in her address, but it takes her a few tries. She's tipsy and has to correct it a few times. The first time she types a few random numbers and letters in and the phone beeps to tell me a destination's been entered, but it's in Wyoming, so I know that's not right, and sure enough, she removes the destination immediately and tries again.

“So, um, you're gonna drop me off, and then you're gonna drop my friend off, is that okay?” She doesn't wait for me to answer, though, and closes the door behind herself, turning the dome light of my Nissan Altima out. “You can, you know, leave the meter running or whatever.”

“That's fine,” I say, looking back at them, “and please don't get any mess from the burritos on my seats, or I'll have to file for a cleaning fee.”

The girl without the phone laughs, much more loudly than she needed or probably intended to, but drunk people rarely have their volume in check. “Omigod, yer funny! How much would it cost Taylor if I spilled orange sauce back here?”

Taylor, the heavier set of the two, smacks her friend in the shoulder. “Bitch, you better not!”

“I'm just asking!”

“I'm serious, Francesca, you do and I'm going to make you walk home from my house.”

“Depends on the level of mess,” I interject, hoping to quell the fight. Both of these girls are hammered, and the last thing I want is a catfight with burritos in my back seat. “Can range from $25 to $250.”

“I'm not fucking paying that, so don't you make a mess.”

“Omigod, I totally won't, bae!”

Fucking millennials.

I glance at the address when it pops up. Seriously? 6th and Reed is like, a ten minute walk at best. Fine. Whatever. I'm not paid to judge people for their desperate need to not get off their asses. The ride to drop Taylor off is short and sweet, and as she gets out of the car, she makes a big deal of giving her friend a hug, kissing her cheek, telling her what a great time she had, but both of them are slurring their words a bit, and that's the point I start getting a little more nervous that this could be one of the rides that goes south. Why oh why can't they both just get out here?

After driving for a while, you learn to spot the signs of people who are more intoxicated than they wanted to let on when they get into the car.

Signs You Have A Dangerous Drunk In Your Car
  1. They tend to put their arms over their heads for long periods of time.
  2. They roll the windows down, no matter what the temperature or weather conditions.
  3. They tend to ramble on in long, borderline incoherent sentences.
  4. They can't remember where they are in a conversation, so they can repeat things, or jump forwards with no warning.
With Taylor dropped off, I'm halfway through this shitshow. Now I just need to get Francesca to her destination. The address she gives me is over by 1st and Taylor, so I can forgive her needing a lift. That'd be twenty minutes walk for a sober person. She'd never make it. Not in her current state. And the cool September weather means that short skirt of hers isn't doing her any favors. The light rail isn't running this time of night, despite the fact that people could really use it. But I suppose they aren't any more eager to handle drunks that the rest of us are.

“Uh oh,” I hear a singsongy voice in the backseat say as we drive past Trials Pub, most of the way to Francesca's dropoff point. “Oh, c'mon Franny, get it together...” she says, rifling through her purse a bit.

I pull the Nissan into the little driveway in front of the apartment building a couple of blocks off 1st, and turn the hazard lights on, by force of habit at this point. I'm expecting her to take her sweet ass time getting out of my car, so she doesn't fall over, and the last thing I want is someone trying to drive into the little parking area through my car because they're drunk and impatient. “Okay, here you are.” I don't swipe to end the fare yet, because I know better. This lesson has been seared onto my brain. Once everybody's out of the car and the doors are closed, then and only then do I end the fare.

“Look,” she sighs at me, “I don't know if I have my keys. Can you wait a few minutes? You can leave the meter running or whatever...”

“Sure, it's your nickel.” The surge rate isn't up that high, so sitting around and waiting isn't going to make too much of a difference. It isn't all that busy out tonight, which is surprising for a Friday night, but some weeks are busier than others.

“Thanks babe. I'll be right back.” She staggers out of the car and heads into the building.

While I'm waiting, I grab my Kindle and pull up the book I'm reading, John Scalzi's Redshirts, which is hilarious. It's a sci-fi novel about a bunch of people in a Star Trek like world who notice an alarming fatality rate in their away teams, and decide to do something about it. I like Scalzi's writing – he doesn't muck around and lets his stories keep things moving. And I think we've all felt a bit like redshirts in our lifetime.

It's a good four or five minutes before Francesca comes plodding back to the car, each of her footsteps haphazardly following the previous one, like a fawn walking for the first time. I'm sure those five inch heels aren't helping any either. She places one hand on the door, and at this point, I notice the burrito has mysteriously gone missing. She must have lost it somewhere between the car and her door, because the backseat of my car is clean. I'd checked it while she'd been away. Force of habit. She pulls the door open and then basically heaves herself back into the backseat of the car. That leather miniskirt hikes up so that she's flashing me black lace panties whether I want her to or not. Doesn't pull the door shut.

And then she says to me the sentence that tells me we are officially in the weeds. “I don't have my keys on me.” Not that one. THIS one. “Could you come in and break my door down?”

No. No, no, hell no, fuck no, and absolutely fucking not. There's about a thousand reasons I'm not going to do that. It might not be her apartment. It might not be her apartment building. The cops might come by and then I'd have to explain all this to them. Hell, I could bust up my shoulder if the door's good enough, and this part of San Jose, I wouldn't put it past them. “I can't do that, miss,” is what I actually tell her, though, knowing any hope I had of this being over quickly is shot to shit now. Time to move onto our next option.

“Wellllllll....” she says, dragging out the last letter like she's not even sure herself where her sentence is going to go from here, “I don't know what to do then. I don't want to sleep in the hallway. I could get raped or murdered or someone could fuck up my hair.” Priorities.

I have a plan. Of course I have a plan. After carting drunk people around long enough, you start to develop a sixth sense for this sort of thing, and I'd already been running variations in my head when the girls got in the car. Being asked to break a door down was new, but the rest of this? It's the kind of garbage fire that seems to happen at least once a weekend.

“Thankfully, I remember the address I dropped your friend off,” I tell her, “so I can just drive you back over to her place and you can crash with her for the night. You can figure out what to do about your keys in the morning when you're a bit more clear headed.” And be somebody else's problem, I think but don't say.

“Oh,” she says, all of that clearly not having occurred to her. “Okay, that'll work then I guess. Let's go.” She lunges, nearly falling out of the car to reach for the door, but she gets it, and then lean back, yanking on it, playing tug-of-war with her inebriation. The door gives way to inertia and slams shut.

It's only about a ten minute drive, and that's mostly because of the long lights and weird stopsigns along the path, but I navigate the mean streets of San Jose and get back to the previous destination. I get to hear a Charlatans song followed by a Fury In The Slaughterhouse song playing on my stereo before I pull the car over to the side of the road in front of the first apartment complex we were at earlier. “Okay miss, you're here,” I say, to utter silence. I glance back and she's motionless.

Fuck me with a rubber spoon.

I try again. “Miss!” I say quite loudly, “you're here!”

At this point, I know I'm truly up the creek, and that's my paddle drifting away from the boat. I turn on the dome light so I can see better, and glance back into the back seat. She's passed out, leaned on her side, her head resting against the middle of the leather seat. She's breathing at least.

I reach back and grab her shoulder and try to shake her, but to no avail. I think about shaking harder, but as I mentioned, she's in nightclubbing gear, and those plump tits are precariously perched, and it looks like if I keep shaking her, they're going to pop right out. That'll make my night hilarious for about five seconds and then awkward for about fifteen minutes. Would I try and tuck them back in? Pretend like she did it herself? None of these strike me as fun choices, even if the flashing itself might be a gas. I'd feel bad about it forever, anyway. Nobody deserves accidental exposure while unconscious.

I look back to my phone, mounted on the dashboard, and switch to the “contact passenger” portion of the info screen, pushing the button to call the number through the pass-through line. See, Uber drivers don't actually get your phone number and you don't get ours – there's a relay system, designed to protect everyone's privacy. But I can still call Taylor, the girl who requested the car, and tell her about her hot mess of a friend asleep in my car. The phone starts to ring on the hands free, and I listen as the car stereo speakers play those ring noises. One. Two. Three. Voicemail.

“Hey, you've reached Taylor. I'm out having fun somewhere and I can't hear my phone ringing, so leave it and I'll call you when I'm less fabulous. Bye bae!”

Isn't that just ducky. She's probably already passed out asleep in her place, and the ringing of the phone isn't enough to wake her, assuming it isn't on silent mode. I don't know which apartment she's in, and I don't know her last name, so here I am, stuck with her friend black out drunk in my back seat.

I see Francesca's got her phone in her hand, so I pull it from her fingers with absolutely no resistance. The phone's locked, though, and so that passcode screen just stares back at me. I toss the phone next to her on the backseat and give her one more shake, to no avail. Okay, moving on to Plan C, then, shall we?

“Hey, miss, if you don't wake up, I'm going to drive over to the cops I saw by La Vic's and let them handle you.” Nothing. No response. “Alright, don't say I didn't warn you.” I turn off the dome light and punch the button to turn off the hazards, shift the car back into drive and off we go again.

I head back up to Reed, hang a right, then head down to 1st St. before turning right once more. I'm actually heading to a different La Vic's, the one on Santa Clara and San Pedro. Yes, there are a number of La Vic's all over downtown, many of them less than ten minutes walk apart. The one on Santa Clara tends to get less college students and more late twenty-somethings. I'd driven past it on my way over, and while it didn't look that busy, I had seen a couple of cop cars outside of it.

It's pretty easy to find police officers in downtown San Jose on a Friday or Saturday night. There's usually a handful of them on 1st and 2nd streets between Santa Clara and San Fernando, but if not, you can also check around San Pedro Square, or over by the La Vic's on San Carlos where I'd started this whole disaster fare.

There isn't any place to park in front of La Vic's, so I have to park on the other side of San Pedro Street, towards the SAP Center. (It used to be called the HP Pavilion, and I still slip and call it that a bunch.) I hop out of the car, close the door and glance in the back seat. She's still unconscious. I lock the car doors and start walking over towards the cops, who are talking to a drunk guy with a bicycle next to him.

I wonder for half a second whether or not there's a crime called Biking Under the Influence. A BUI, if you will. It wouldn't surprise me. The cops in San Jose are pretty serious about the whole drunk driving problem. It seems like one out of every dozen or so people who gets in my car tells me how they're taking an Uber to avoid their second or third or fourth DUI.

You can bet that makes me feel safer on the roads all the time.

“Evening sir,” one of the cops says to me, noticing that I'm walking towards them purposefully. I see three members of SJPD's finest, a Latino guy, a white guy with a buzz cut, and a woman with her hair drawn back into a tight blonde bun. The woman's talking to the guy with the bike, and it looks like the Latino officer is the senior guy here, as he's taking point with me.

“Hey officer,” I say, “I've got an unconscious drunk girl in the back seat of my let me start this story again... I'm an Uber driver, and I've got an unconscious drunk girl in the back seat of my car.”

The two cops chuckle a bit at that. One of them, Buzz Cut, says, “Nice save,” before Latino starts to talk. “Have you been paid?”

I wave my hand at him. “Relax. Meter's still running and it's all billed straight to their credit card. That's not the problem.”

“So what's the problem?”

“The problem is that she will not wake up. Like, at all.”

“What do you want us to do about it?”

I shrug a little. “I dunno, man. She's non responsive. I dunno if you want to take her to the hospital or the drunk tank or what, but we got to the destination and she would not wake up to get out of the car. I didn't want to just pull her out of the car and leave her passed out on the sidewalk. That seems like a dick move.”

Buzz Cut interjects, “You tried shaking her?”

I nod a bit to him. “Yeah, man, but I didn't want to shake her too hard, otherwise this would be a way more awkward conversation.”

Buzz Cut arches an eyebrow as Latino smirks knowingly. Buzz Cut sighs, shakes his head and then says, “C'mon. Let's go see if we can wake her up.”

The three of us walk the half a block over to my car and I unlock the doors. Buzz Cut says to me, “you locked the doors?”

I grin at him. “Sure, don't want some random passerby to make off with my unconscious drunk chick.”

They both laugh and Latino shines his flashlight in through the window. “See why you didn't want to shake her too hard. That top's about ready to pop, isn't it?”

Buzz Cut shakes his head again, but this time he's smiling a bit. Clearly they're more amused with this situation than I am. “Man, the girls never dressed like that when I was in college.”

Latino laughs a little bit. “Not for you, they didn't. Girl was clearly on the prowl and struck out.” He gives her the once over with the flashlight and sees that leather skirt is practically around her waist at this point. “You didn't hike up her skirt did you?” he asks me, shooting me the side eye.

“C'mon man, why would I come and get you...”

“Relax, hoss,” he says with a laugh, patting me on the shoulder. “I'm just messing with you.” He opens the door and shakes her with one hand while he's shining down the flashlight with the other. 
“Ma'am. You need to wake up, ma'am.”

He shakes her for about ten seconds, nothing popping loose thank Christ, and then suddenly she sits bolts upright, her glasses almost flying off her face, her splayed legs snapping together. “What... where am I?” she says, as the cop takes a step back.

“We're over at San Pedro and Santa Clara Street, miss,” I answer, helpfully.

“Why... why are we here?” she whines. “I told you, if you're not going to break my door down, I need to get to my friend's place.”

The cops look over at me, I lift my hands in surrender in reply, and at this point, they're doing their honest best not to bust out in contagious mirth. I'd left that detail out, and Latino placed a hand on my shoulder sympathetically again, as I tried to explain to her once more. “Miss, we were there for ten minutes and you would not wake up.”

“Well, I'm fine now,” she sighs, and grabs the door, pulling it closed suddenly, before leaning her head against the window. She passes out again immediately. As expected. Didn't even try and tug her skirt back down.

Both cops sigh, and Latino shakes his head. Finally, they're starting to truly know my pain. Maybe they thought I was exaggerating. “You want us to follow you back over there?”

“Absolutely,” I say.

“A'ight, wait just a minute for us to pull up behind you.” The two start walking back to their car. I glance back and see the other cop car is gone, as is the cyclist and the bike itself. I'm a little sad I didn't see whether she hauled him off to jail or if he tried to walk that bike home.

I hop into the driver's seat and fire the car up again. At this point, I'm thankful that I found sympathetic cops and that it looks like this situation isn't going to get too far out of hand, but mostly I'm thankful that she hasn't puked all over my back seat.

The cop car cruises over to me, and turns its flashers on for just a second and then back off again, my cue to go. So I drive the twelve blocks or so with a police escort, and believe you me, when you have a cop deliberately following you, you tend to make sure to be overly careful with each and every traffic law. I don't think they cared too much at this point – there wasn't anyone on the roads but us – but it doesn't hurt to be sure.

Five minutes later, we're back in front of the apartment on 6th and I pull the car over to the side of the road. I don't bother with the hazard lights this time. There's a black-and-white Crown Vic behind me. That should more than do the trick.

“We're here,” I say, knowing damn well it's not going to do shit, and sure enough, the girl in the back doesn't so much as stir.

The two cops get out of their car and start making their way over towards me, so I unlock the doors and turn on the dome light. Buzz Cut opens the back door and the girl nearly falls out and into him, but he's quick on the reflexes and catches her. The sudden shift of tipping over shakes her from her slumber, though, and she sits back upright and spends a good twenty seconds fumbling with undoing her seatbelt. It's not as complicated as she's making it look.

While she's working on the seatbelt, I hear Latino talking to her. “Miss, if you cannot get from the door of this car to the door of your friend's apartment, and correctly identify which apartment is hers, we will be taking you downtown and you will spend the night in the drunk tank.”

“I unnerstand,” she mumbles, as she moves to get out of the car, Buzz Cut already having to help steady her as she stands upright. He glances into the back seat and sees she's left her phone so he grabs it, but leaves the door open as they start moving towards the apartment building.

Latino leans his head into the back seat and smiles at me. “A'right man, you're good to go. Thank you for your service.” They all say that, like we're combat veterans, in the line of fire. I suppose we sort of are, considering the number of drunk drivers I've had to avoid on the roads over the years, or the number of them I've had in this vehicle. “Take care of yourself.” He leans his head back out, closes the door shut and pats the top of my car twice with the palm of his hand.

What a way to end my Saturday night.

I drive off, and I have no idea which destination that girl ends up at.

Not my fucking problem.


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