Trip length: 18 minutes. Trip distance: 1.1 miles.
Fare: $9.82. Year: 2015.
Song of the trip: “Enjoy The Silence” by Failure
So this doesn't look great, I gotta be honest. I'm outside of The Brass Rail in Sunnyvale, waiting for someone named Dale, and it's 2:25 AM, which means the place has been closed for almost half an hour now.
Opinions of The Brass Rail vary a great deal, but I've never been in there, so I can't testify to whether or not it's any good. It's a bikini bar – there are a number of these places scattered over the Peninsula, but I've never really understood the appeal. If you want a strip club, go to a strip club. If you want a bar, go to a bar. But these bikini bars are a weird half-way zone between the two, and they don't seem to satisfy either desire if you ask me. But they've been around since 1960, so I suppose they must be doing okay for themselves.
I've been out here three minutes now, so this Dale fella's got two minutes before I collect my cancellation fee and get out of here. People ask what the cancellation policy is, how it determines when we collect a fee or not, and I would love to tell you what the rules actually are, but they tweak and toy with them so much, I don't think any of us drivers really understand what does and doesn't cause us to get the fee.
There's a couple of things I can tell you with some certainty. If it's a Pool fare (as opposed to UberX) then you have two minutes from the time we show up to get to the car, otherwise the app will pop up a little notice that time has elapsed and we should cancel the request and collect the fee. That's the easy one. With UberX, it's trickier. To be certain we collect the fee, we generally have to wait five minutes from the point we arrive at the location. If we try to cancel sooner than that, often times it doesn't give us a fee, which can be very annoying, if you're, say, in the middle of surge pricing, and someone being too drunk to find the car is affecting your bottom line severely.
Also, cancellation fees aren't affected by surge pricing, which is a complete load of bullshit, let me tell you. If we show up somewhere and wait five minutes while you called us under 4x surge pricing, it ought to be a $25 cancellation fee, not just $6.35 or whatever. Or the very least, if we're in surge pricing, it should be a 2 minute wait, and not 5. I've had too many busted fares that no one showed up to short me out of any surge pricing money.
But with a minute or so to spare, the doors open, and two guys are being escorted out by a bouncer, who's arguing with them with intent to discourage. One of them looks like he's trying to deescalate the situation, but the other dude, he's clearly jonesin' for a fight. The guy trying to place peacemaker sprints over to the car and opens the back door, craning his head in. “You're here for Dale, right? Billy?”
“That's me,” I tell him.
“Go ahead and start the meter. I'll try and get my friend in here as soon as possible.”
I nod and swipe my finger across the phone to start the trip. Normally I'd be annoyed at sitting here waiting during the bar rush, but it's the Saturday night after Thanksgiving and nobody's really out tonight, so we're barely even in surge pricing.
Dale leaves the door open as he goes back to his friend, who is starting to get into the bouncer's face, and finally, Dale grabs his friend's shoulder, pulling him back. They're a decent distance away, but I hear “Either get in the car, or I'm leaving you here, Ricky.”
Finally, the two young men, neither of whom looks like they're past a quarter of a century, get into the back seat and close the door. Dale's sitting behind me and his friend is sitting in the far side. Before I've even had a chance to shift from park to drive, they're already shouting at one another.
“I can't fucking believe you, man,” Ricky says. “You are a fucking pussy.”
“Shut the fuck up, Ricky. You are always trying to get involved in shit that isn't your fucking business.”
Jesus. It's going to be one of these rides.
“That dude was all up in that girl's face.”
“And the bouncer had it fucking handled.”
The volume keeps getting louder and louder, and my patience is getting thinner and thinner.
“Fuck that. I see a dude yelling at a chick, I'm going to put him on his fucking ass. There's no cause to raise your voice to a lady.”
“Even she told you to butt the fuck out of it, Ricky!”
“She was just scared, man! Scared that dude was going to hit her.”
“He wasn't going to hit her with the bouncer right there, man.”
“But I bet you he's waiting outside for her right now. Bet he's going to try and beat her ass in the parking lot.”
“She told you she had it handled!”
“But she shouldn't have had to have it handled, fuckstick. We should've handled it for her.”
“You are always looking to pick a fight anywhere any time, Ricky. Even when it doesn't concern you.”
“Only the fights that need fighting. That girl just needed someone to stand up for her.”
“It looked to me like she was doing a fine job of standing up for herself.”
“That dude was huge, man. I bet you twenty dollars that's her boyfriend and he fucking beats her when she gets home.”
“The way she was yelling at you to mind your own fucking business, I truly doubt that.”
“That's just frontin', man. I can't believe you're such a fucking pussy. She would've been so thankful she would've blown us, and if she didn't, we could've just beaten her ass too! I should kick your ass just for not backing me up.”
The drive isn't far, and thankfully we're basically at the hotel I'm supposed to be dropping them off at.
“Shut the fuck up, Ricky.”
“Let's go, right now, you pussy!”
“Fuck you, Ricky.”
“No, fuck you Dale. You bitching out?”
“I'm not fighting you, Ricky. You're fucking drunk.”
“I don't give a fuck! I did time in Chino. I'll do more, but I ain't gonna be no pussy!”
“Ricky, get the fuck out of the car, otherwise the driver's going to call the cops.”
“Fuck you and fuck him. I'll kick his ass first!”
This is the point I've had enough. Nobody threatens me in My. Fucking. Car. “That's it,” I say. “Everybody get the fuck out of my car.”
Ricky's only drunk enough to make him aggressive, so he reaches forward to put his palm on the back my shoulder and shove forward. “Fuck you, asshole. I'm not going fucking anywhere. I can beat the shit out of you any day of the week and twice on Sundays!” He pushes like he thinks I'm just going to shrink and let him yell at me like his friend's been doing.
That ain't happening.
At this point, I've got a couple of options. The smartest thing to do would be to call the cops. I should call the cops. I know that I absolutely should. It's the simplest and easiest thing to do. I should let the police handle this and save me the hassle. But some days this job gets to you something fierce, and today, well, today I decide I've had enough, and I'mma see what this little shit is made of.
Ricky's got to be 5'8” or so, and maybe 145 pounds if he's lucky. He's scrawny and while he looks a little wild-eyed and threatening, The Brass Rail's bouncers do a check for weapons, so I know he's not packing a knife or a gun, and that emboldens me a bit. Let's see how much bluster this kid's really got.
I put the car into park, pop my seatbelt, kill the engine and start to get out. “Last warning,” I say, keeping my voice as even keel as I can.
“I don't give a fuck!” Ricky shouts, but he's taking a second, fumbling with his seat belt.
Once I stand up outside of the car, he can get a better look at me, 6'2”, 290 pounds, overweight sure, but still big and menacing. He also sees me reach into the cubby hole in the driver's side door, and pull out my ballistic baton. I grab it in my right hand and snap it out with a whip of my wrist. It makes a satisfying SHUNK sound as it extends to its full length.
I draw all the bass into my voice and say, “get the fuck out of my fucking car, you chickenshit motherfucker, so I can beat the shit out of you.”
I think it's the baton that finally caves his courage in, but I'd like to think my voice added to it. Ricky gets that seatbelt unbuckled, and pops the car door open, and he just fucking bolts. Like, one second he's the back seat, the next he is running across the hotel parking lot at top speed, not even looking back, threatening to fall over with each step he takes. I watch him for a couple of seconds, but then he's around the corner and out of sight.
I walk around the front of the car and towards the open door on the opposite side. I'm still holding the baton in my hand, and I see Dale's already getting out on his side, as I close the door that Ricky had left open when he fled in desperate retreat.
When people get into the car, they make a snap judgment about their driver, and it's hard to shake them of that initial moment. Sometimes people think I'm a short tiny guy, because I keep the seat very low. Sometimes they think I'm way younger than I am, because it's night and nobody wants to admit to taking a good look at their Uber driver. Sometimes the glasses make them think I'm soft, and easy to push around. I'm well aware that I'm a white man and that that gives me at least a little bit of unearned deference. So I'm sure whatever Ricky expected to see, an armed guy half a foot taller than him, ready and eager to beat the shit out of his punk ass probably wasn't it.
I look at Dale with a little bit of sympathy in my eyes. Most people know a moron like Ricky, and about half of them call someone like him a friend. Someone so hyped up on their own testosterone, youth and bullshit that all it takes is a little liquor and they're trying to find someone they can get into a brawl with. Dale's got that hangdog look on his face that suggests he and Ricky might be parting ways here and now, like he's finally hit the breaking point in dealing with this dude's bullshit.
“I'm sorry about all that man,” he says as I'm moving back towards the driver's seat. He's holding out his hand and there's a folded up bill in it, a peace offering. “I don't know him real well, but I didn't think he was this fucking dumb when my friend asked me to make sure Ricky got back to the hotel safely. Don't spike my rating, please. I've got two DUIs already and if I get blocked out of Uber, I don't know how the fuck I'm going to get home most nights.”
I take the bill from him. The parking lot's lit enough that I can see it's a ten dollar bill, and I draw in a long breath, hold it in for a second, then just let it back out again, all my anger with it. “I know how that is,” I say, as I tap the baton straight down on the concrete to get it to collapse again. “You're good, but I'd stay clear away from that dude,” I say as I open my door and slide in, starting the car back up.
Dale nods, his face just drained of all the energy now, a sigh of relief rushing across his lips. “No shit,” he laughs a little bit. “I'm just going to go up to my room, crawl into bed and pass the fuck out. Thanks Billy. For the ride and getting rid of that douche nozzle.”
I drop the baton back into the cubbyhole and pull the door shut, rolling down the window. “Just getting the client home safe and sound. Have a good night, man.”
Could I have kicked the shit out of Ricky? Probably. Would it have made me feel any better? Probably not. But it was nice to feel a bit respected, even feared, even if it was just for a fleeting moment. You spend a lot of time in this job feeling invisible.
I tap the hazards off, put my foot on the brake, shift from park into drive, ease off the brake and head back into the night.