Uber Trouble Alexander Carver

Honorable Mention, Fiction Open Contest 2017

“How’s your night going so far?” Eva asked the Uber driver, as she led me by the hand into the backseat of his Prius.

The car door was still open when the driver began to answer and I suppose a less polite couple might have hit reverse and backed out of the car when they heard his response.

“Not too good, actually. Actually, pretty bad in fact. Everything’s all fucked up in my life,” the driver responded, as he eyed the two of us in the rearview mirror.

I reached for the door handle, paused, and then felt the cool night air blow into my face as I slammed the door shut.

Eva and I had a good buzz going from several glasses of wine, topped off with our first ever hard root beer, and as usual when we were in each other’s company, all was fine and dandy in the world. We’d spent the evening having dinner in Playa del Rey, a small, drunken beach town several miles south of the apartment we shared in Santa Monica, and, deciding to play it safe, had chosen to Uber to and from our dinner at a tapas restaurant by the ocean.

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” Eva said to the driver in a tone of genuine compassion. “Do you wanna talk about it?”

“Yeah, feel free to vent all you want. We’ve got a fifteen-minute ride ahead of us and at least five-minutes until we pass out,” I said, trying to lighten the mood with humor, as was normally my role when the two of us were double-teaming someone in need.

“I would like to talk about it, actually. I need to talk things out very badly,” the driver said, pulling away from the curb, as he simultaneously turned his head and peered into the backseat to get a better look at the friendly, dark-haired couple he’d picked up.

He then executed a sharp U-Turn onto Culver Boulevard, which I monitored more diligently than he did, looking both ways twice, while feeling my breathing intensify. I had lived in Playa del Rey for three and a half years a decade earlier and had dodged a few speeding cars on that hellish street.

“Well, go ahead and talk away, we’re great listeners,” Eva said, reaching across the seat and smacking her hand down on my knee—our code for acknowledging that we may be in it for quite an experience.

“It’s been a bad year. A terrible year, actually. My girlfriend dumped me and my father died,” the driver said.

“Oh man, I’m sorry to hear that,” I said, noting that he had placed his girlfriend’s dumping him ahead of his father’s death in order of importance. He must not have been too close to his Dad, I remember thinking in the moment.

“Things are real bad. Terrible, actually. I live with my mother and she treats me like a slave. We live in an apartment next door to this Italian restaurant and there are people around all the time yelling at me, telling me I’m an asshole and a loser. And then there’s this cop who lives in the apartment above us that radars me through my bedroom window at night when I’m trying to sleep.”

Hearing that, I reached over and located Eva’s hand. I ran my fingers through her fingers and tried to make out the expression in her eyes in the darkness across the backseat. There wasn’t enough light to get a good reading on what she was thinking, but her hand was moist, and that was all I needed to know. She was thinking what I was thinking. That we’d gotten into a car with a madman. I leaned in closer to her and then craned my neck to get a sidelong view of the delusional guy driving our car. His face was young, and he had long, dark, curly hair, and an even longer black beard, which he must have been growing out for over a year. Just another one of these long beard growers that are popping up more and more these days, I thought. I had seen a recent photo of David Letterman, a comic hero of mine, and he had joined the ranks of the long beard club, too. What possesses a person to want to look like that? It’s like some sort of hairy outbreak in society. The driver’s eyes, which I could see clearly in the tilted rearview mirror, thanks to their large size and to the headlights of the frequently passing cars, were light colored, either blue or green, and didn’t appear to be threatening. At least they didn’t look dazed or watery, the way a drunk person’s eyes might look. As I studied his face in the mirror, I thought: Don’t look at him too long and let him catch you looking. He’s obviously paranoid and unstable, and if he thinks he’s being persecuted by the world, he may think I’m one of his persecutors and do something crazy. So I got a quick feel for his face and his demeanor and then tried to keep my eyes averted from the mirror for the rest of the drive. By that point, he was only saying crazy things, not doing crazy things, and I wanted to keep it that way.

“My mother’s such a bitch. She won’t listen to anything I say, and I don’t have anyone else to talk to,” he continued. “She just wants me to get my life together and become a cop like a guy upstairs. The two of them are working together to get me to live a life I don’t wanna live. Watching everything I do. Both of them. Watching me at night in my bedroom. They’ve probably bugged this car, too. They’re probably listening to us right now. I can’t take my mother’s bullshit anymore. She’s forcing me to do something I don’t wanna do. That’s what I keep thinking about. That’s what’s always going through my head when I’m driving at night, trying to do my job. That maybe I should just kill myself or do something else that gets me away from her. I wish my mother would just die like my father did and go away forever. Something needs to happen to change things ‘cause I can’t stay in this situation any longer. I can’t live with her in that apartment anymore. It’s killing me.”

We had driven past our turn onto Lincoln Boulevard, which the driver’s “Waze” G.P.S. app had told him to make, and which he had ignored. I watched as Eva looked tensely out my window on the right side of the car, at the entrance to the wrap around leading to Lincoln–the quickest route back to our happy little abode in Santa Monica. I squeezed her hand as I raised myself up off the backseat and leaned forward to see if there was anything lying on the passenger seat next to our driver. I was sure I was going to see a gun. Maybe several guns. Maybe an automatic rifle like the ones all the crazy killers had been using to mow people down across the country. Like everyone else, I’d been horrified by the murderous run of all the lost youths in America. Desperate, lonely men in their twenties, who, like our driver, often alter their external appearance in order to change themselves on the outside because they’d given up trying to change themselves on the inside. The pain and self-loathing too overwhelming for them to overcome, with no help appearing on the horizon. In many cases, these marginalized young men had turned to drugs for an escape, and the repeated drug use had ruined their brains, rendering them even more paranoid and irrational, delusional and dysfunctional. I had written a song for Eva to sing with her band about a young man at his wits end, who wanted to go out with a bang, shooting a gun into a crowd…and now it seemed that he was right there, at the wheel of our car, holding our lives in his hands. I peered down into the passenger seat, but in the darkness I couldn’t see if anything was lying there.

“My mother co-signed for this car and I can’t get away from her until I pay it off,” the driver told us. “But I can’t sleep because of the cop upstairs and because of all the people at the restaurant next door yelling at me, and if I can’t sleep then I can’t drive this car, and if I can’t drive this car, how am I going to make enough money to get away and live on my own in peace?”

For several moments, I’d been listening to him talk, trying to decide what was the best way to respond, cautious not to say something threatening that could make him come unglued and want to take us out with him…if tonight was, in fact, the night he’d chosen to go out. Hey—maybe I was being paranoid too, but I wasn’t about to take any chances. Too much of this shit was happening all over the country.

“Hey, if it makes you feel any better—when I was your age I wanted to get away from my mother, too,” I said.

“‘When I was your age’…God, I hate when people say that,” he responded, with what sounded like a laugh, or maybe even a mocking snort.

Eva laughed, too, wisely taking the driver’s side against me.

“Are you guys laughing at me?” I said.

“We certainly are!” Eva said, forcing out another laugh.

The driver, following Eva’s lead, laughed again too, and she made sure to keep the laughter flowing.

“I’m glad you two are enjoying yourselves,” I said.

Their laughter peaked, and then fell away, and the car was quiet for several long seconds.

“So, how old are you, anyway?” I asked the driver.

“26,” he said, eyeing me again, more suspiciously this time, in the rearview mirror.

“Oh, wow, 26, you’re young. I’m 43. I’m an old man. I wish I was 26. Hell, I’d even live with your mother if I could be 26 again.”

Eva dug her fingernails into my leg, and when I turned and looked at her, she gave me the “cut it out” gesture with a diagonal slash of her hand. I thought about what I’d said that she was opposed to, decided that she’d probably thought it was unwise to bring up the driver’s mother again, and then nodded my compliance at her. She’s right. It’s best not to make light of a situation that he’s threatening to kill himself over.

The driver gave me another look in the mirror and then said: “You don’t look 43 at all. You look great for your age. 35 at the oldest.”

“God Bless you, my friend,” I said. “And, hey, look, maybe you don’t wanna hear it, but when I was 26, I had my share of problems, too. Being in your 20’s is tough because you’re so full of energy and passion, and you have all these goals, and all these plans for how you’re going to conquer the world, but not enough experience and money to do it yet. And it fuckin’ sucks. It does. I know it does. I’ve been there. Hell, I’m still struggling to be the guy I told myself I was going to be years ago, and now look at me, the clock is starting to tick faster and faster…”

I turned and looked at Eva for her approval. She nodded, and then shrugged, sending me mixed signals on my performance.

“And women. Oh man, women…” I said, marching onward through the tension inside that dark car. “Finding a good woman, that’s right for you, is a bitch. I’ve been through it all. Getting dumped. Your heart stomped on. All those happy photographs of the two of you sitting around your apartment…no longer relevant. It’s brutal. Absolutely brutal. It sucks going through what you’re going through right now, my friend.”

Eva gave me the wrap it up gesture with her index finger.

“But, hey, I came out on the other end of things and now I’m sitting back here next to this incredible woman. And before you know it you’ll be an old, contented man just like me, in the back of an Uber, happily retired from the world of dating and…”

“…drunk on too much wine,” Eva chimed in, before giving me another “cut it out” slashing gesture with her hand.

The driver and Eva laughed.

“Don’t you love how he ends up making this about him?” Eva said to the driver.

They laughed again and I joined in. Three people laughing in a car seemed like a wonderful development under the circumstances.

“So, anyway, to sum up my meager advice…”

“Oh my God, is he still talking?” Eva said.

“I think so…” the driver responded.

“…you’re gonna be fine. That’s all I wanted to say,” I said. “Once you reach your 30’s, and God forbid your 40’s like me, it gets a lot easier and you start to calm down. You accept yourself for whoever the hell you become and go on with your life.”

“He’s right, you’re gonna be fine. Just hang in there,” Eva said, reaching up into the front seat and squeezing the driver’s shoulder. “Someday you’ll end up in the backseat of an Uber just like my boyfriend here, drunk off his ass, and preaching to the youth of America…before quietly passing out and wetting himself.”

I laughed the loudest this time and then reached over and gave Eva’s hand an appreciative tap. The car made a right turn off the 90 freeway to our original destination of Lincoln Boulevard. We had taken the circuitous route, but at least the driver had gotten us back to the main road. From Lincoln, it was a straight shot through Marina del Rey and Venice, back to Santa Monica.

Eva had moved into my walk-up apartment in December and it was now the end of February. Living together was going beautifully, and we both said we were as happy as we’d ever been, even posted evidence of our happiness on Facebook (though I was originally against it–fearing I’d pay for it with my buddies…which I did). As a couple, everything was going our way. Eva had quit her thankless job as a personal assistant to a tyrannical music producer and was now teaching music to children and singing in a couple bands, and I had been having a little more success with my comedy writing. I was even dabbling a bit at writing folk songs for Eva to sing. The good luck I’d been hoping for my whole life, had finally found me. Us. It’s “us” now, and if we could just survive the next ten minutes in that car, the long, sought after phase of my life, marrying and raising a family, would soon begin.

But in that moment, I was thinking that maybe I was cursed, “we” were cursed and that at any moment our driver was going to stamp down on the gas pedal, drive up onto the sidewalk, and take out everyone in his path, and along with everyone else…us. Just let us get through this moment, please. If we get through this moment, I’m going to go right out and buy Eva a ring.

“I really appreciate you guys talkin’ to me,” the driver said. “I don’t know too many people I can talk to. No one, actually.”

“We’ve really enjoyed talking to you,” I said.

“Yeah. You seem like a really sweet guy,” Eva said.

“Thanks.”

“What’s your name?” I asked.

The driver found my eyes in the rearview mirror. “You really wanna know?” he said.

“Of course.”

“Of course we do.”

“Jacob. It’s a biblical name, but I forget what it was Jacob did in the bible. I used to know, but now I forget,” he said.

“I remember reading about him in Sunday School as a kid and I seem to recall him being a pretty great guy,” I said. “Hi–Jacob, I’m Andy, and the beautiful girl back here next to me is Eva.”

“It’s nice to meet you guys. It’s nice to meet a couple as cool as you are.”

“Well, it’s nice to meet an Uber driver as cool as you are,” Eva said.

“Are you feeling a little better?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Jacob said. “But, it won’t last. I gotta go home tonight to my mother’s place and start it all over again. I need to get some rest, but I know I’m not going to be able to sleep.”

“Well, I’m sure you’re gonna raise enough money Ubering to get your own place soon. It won’t be long,” Eva said.

“Yeah, it won’t be long until you’re free and on your own. I’m really excited for you,” I said.

“No, I’m never going to be on my own. My mother won’t allow it. She’ll keep fuckin’ with me until she gets me to do the desperate thing she wants me to do. Because that’s what she wants more than anything. For me to ruin everything for myself.”

I turned and looked at Eva and she shook her head.

“Well, I really think things will get better for you soon,” I said, with less conviction in my voice then there had been moments earlier. “You don’t realize it right now. But you will soon. Life’s about to get a whole lot better for you.”

“Well, I don’t think so, but thanks for saying that. And thanks for listening to me. No one’s listened to me in a long, long time. In years, actually.”

In Santa Monica, we turned onto 10th Street and Jacob dropped us off in front of our apartment complex. After his car disappeared from view, I sat down on the flight of steps leading up to our apartment and started to cry. Eva, seeing me crying, sat down next to me, and joined in. I really felt like we had talked our way out of something terrible. It was obvious that Jacob was a heavy drug user and that drugs were at the heart of his problems. There was nothing Eva and I could have said to fix that. Maybe we had saved ourselves, but it appeared that there was no saving Jacob from the roaring lions inside his mind.

We climbed the stairs and went inside the apartment, sat down on the couch, and poured ourselves another glass of wine from the bottle we’d been drinking before we’d set out. We were both shaken up. For the rest of the night we were shaken up like two people who had escaped a plane crash. The plane’s wings clipping the tops of the trees, the wheels jolting against the uneven ground, as it came in for a landing in a grassy field that appeared out of nowhere to save us.

“We should contact Uber and report him,” I said, after I’d had a couple sips of wine. “He didn’t kill us, but he’s unstable and maybe insane, and eventually he’s going to kill someone.”

“I don’t think we should,” Eva said. “He trusted us to listen to him. We can’t just call them up now and get him fired from his job. Then he’ll really do himself in.”

“Eva, that guy’s out there wielding a two-ton weapon, he’s a danger to society. We can’t just sit around and wait to read about a Los Angeles Uber driver who drove his car up onto the 3rd Street Promenade and took out fifty people. That guy is exactly the kind of guy we keep seeing on TV, who loses his shit and takes out a bunch of people to get back at society for not appreciating him. We have to do something. We can’t let him continue to pick people up in that car and take them on a death tour.”

“But maybe talking to us helped him, and he’s going to go home, and wake up tomorrow and feel a whole lot better about things. Maybe we were the people he needed to come into his life and help him along. Maybe he’s going to turn his life around now. Why not? You never know.”

“No. I don’t think we even put a dent in helping him fix his problems. For all we know the next people he picks up are going to curse him out because he missed a turn or something, and he’s gonna lose it and go on a rampage. Don’t forget, very few people are as friendly and tolerant as we are. Not everyone out there’s in love, you know?”

“Well, then let them call Uber and report him. He needs to think of us as friends.”

“Eva, it may already be too late! We have to do something! That guy was either tripping or just plain out of his mind, but whatever’s wrong with him, he’s going to kill someone soon!”

“Look, you can report him if you want, but I don’t think you should, and I don’t wanna be a part of it if you do!” Eva said, grabbing her glass of wine, and heading off into the bedroom.

“Eva?! People’s lives may be in our hands!”

“Jacob trusted us! I don’t wanna get him fired!” she called back from the bedroom.

I jumped up off the couch, crossed over to the bookshelf, and extracted my New American Standard Bible from the lower shelf, where it had been feasted upon by Lacy, Eva’s pet rabbit. I paged through it until I found the story of Jacob, and discovered that Jacob was a lying, stealing, manipulating schemer, who’d had an all-night quarrel with God, causing God to touch his hip, and render his leg useless for the rest of his life. I told Eva about what I’d read, fully convinced it was a sign that our Uber driver, Jacob, was also a broken man, incapable of being cured.

“I told you: you can call up Uber and report him. It’s up to you, and if you feel so strongly about it, you should do it. But I’m against it.” Eva said. “I’ve had friends who’ve lost their way because of drugs, and they just needed people to help them along, and get them through a tough time. That’s what we did for Jacob tonight and I don’t want to undo it.”

“Well…now I have no idea what I should do,” I said. “I don’t wanna ruin his life, but I don’t wanna ruin anyone else’s life either. If something happens, I’m going to feel responsible for it, and I’m never going to get over it.”

“Neither will I,” Eva said.

In the end, I chose to act as an “us” instead of a “me” and I didn’t report Jacob. It’s been several months now, and we didn’t hear or read about an Uber driver in the area who killed several people along with himself, so I guess, at least for the time being, we all escaped disaster. But maybe not. Maybe Jacob was the kind of guy who attacks inward, instead of outward, and he left this world quietly without hurting anyone else. I don’t know and I guess I never will.

The truth is I love Eva and I didn’t want to go against what she truly felt in her heart was the right thing to do, even if I truly felt in my heart that it wasn’t. During a conversation about trying to live a happy life on our first date, I remember Eva said to me, “Sad times find everyone eventually, so it’s best not to seek them out.” Maybe my decision had something to do with that.

Here’s the song I wrote for Eva to sing about the epidemic of marginalized young men in America turning to violence, it’s called: “A Man with a Gun.”

A MAN WITH A GUN

They met at the concert
And danced all night long
He could make her laugh
She could sing him a song
Life was gonna be heaven
They both could tell
Before a man with a gun
Turned it all to hell.

A man with a gun
Turned it all to hell
No rhyme or reason, they say
Just under a spell
Now don’t blame the gun
It knows not what it does
Changin’ it all from what it was

All alone in his life
The gunman did feel
No woman, no friends
He’d gotten a bad deal
When love had failed him
He turned to hate
Bought a gun at the store
And shot Tim and Kate

A man with a gun
Turned it all to hell
No rhyme or reason, they say
Just under a spell
Now don’t blame the gun
It knows not what it does
Changin’ it all from what it was

Before pullin’ the trigger
He’d danced with his prey
The newfound lovers
Could not get away
He wanted what they had
He wanted it bad
Bein’ all alone
Had driven him mad

A man with a gun
Turned it all to hell
No rhyme or reason, they say
Just under a spell
Now don’t blame the gun
It knows not what it does
Changin’ it all from what it was

So when you see him
Sittin’ all alone
Try a friendly word
Instead of a drone
The life you’re savin’
May not be just his
It may also be the lives
Of Don, Winnie, and Liz.

A man with a gun
Turned it all to hell
No rhyme or reason, they say
Just under a spell
Now don’t blame the gun
It knows not what it does
Changin’ it all from what it was

BEFORE THE RAZOR button ver 2

Alexander Carver is a writer living in Santa Monica with his new bride, Elise, and their anti-social rabbit, Lucy. His stories have appeared in ZYZZYVA, Foliate Oak, Dark Matter, The Satirist, The Southern Pacific Review, and Writeout…among others. As well as being a short story writer, Alexander is also a produced playwright and screenwriter. He recently completed his first novel, “O Jackie,” and a collection of short stories entitled “Chasing Tales” — an ode to his bachelor life, which also has recently been completed.

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