The dumbshit grabbed my head.
It’s that simple, really. The kid crossed a line. But he didn’t do himself any favors leading up to it, either: He kept me waiting. He required a laughable amount of hand-holding to make it to the door of the Sonata. And his first contact with me suggested the soft, stupid disrespect of a college-age doofus whose worldliness extended no further than the wall of empty Molson cans he erected in his summer sublet.
I pretty much hated Patrick from the start.
It’s coming up on 3 a.m., and I’m headed toward the one area near my ‘hood where the bars stayed open late. I’m hunting for one last fare—maybe two—before heading home. Halfway to my destination, I receive a ping.
The name: Franz. An older gent, I figure. Probably a European immigrant, who, in my Uber experience, have been almost unfailingly polite and low-maintenance. Franz. Sounds harmless enough. On a Saturday night, at this late hour, he sounds perfect.But when I reach the pickup spot—a well-kept mid-century ranch located in a posh residential suburbanscape west of the city—not a soul can be found. I troll ahead a bit, turn around, park. I flip on my blinkers and wait. And wait. Finally, a call. It’s Franz.
“Jason?” a cheerful, earnest voice asks. I detect an accent, the hint of a Low Countries lilt. “This is Franz. I’m calling for my 20-year-old son, Patrick. Is he there?”
“Hi, Franz,” I answer, glancing at the house. “No, I don’t see anyone yet.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. He should be on his way out now. I ordered the ride for him on my app and I just want to make sure everything works out OK. Thank you for being so patient. Would you please call me in a couple minutes if he doesn’t come out?”
“Yeah,” I blurt out, just glad—like a squirrel looking for a nut—to find a little appreciation for my efforts. “Yeah, I’ll let you know.”
Franz and I hang up. Minutes pass. Still nothing—literally, crickets. The front room of the house, lit by an artsy-fartsy lamp in a bay window the size of an IMAX screen, shows no activity. Our boy Patrick remains MIA. Again, the phone rings.
“Hi, Jason,” Franz coos. “Is Patrick with you yet?”
“No, sorry. No sign of anyone.”
“Hmmm. Let me call him now. He should already be there. Can I call you back in a moment? I don’t want to inconvenience you. But if he comes out, please do call me back and let me know if there are any problems.”
I say goodbye and turn again to the house. Suddenly, my Uber-senses are tingling. “Problems”? What sort of problems? Is the kid some sort of second coming of Damien the Antichrist? Franz … bubby … who are we dealing with here? Earlier, he’d said something about “making sure everything works out OK.” I initially chalked it up as a provincial quirk, but now I’m not so sure. I’d been outside idling for 10 minutes, received two phone calls from the old man, stewed over all the riders I could be scooping up right now—but still no Patrick.Then, iPhone chimes. It’s Franz. Again.
“Hello, Jason,” he says, almost apologetically. “Has Patrick arrived?”
I stare into the IMAX screen, looking for proof of life. Finally, there is stirring. Shadows flicker. A figure darkens the corridor. Then more, advancing toward the door, onto the front stoop. Now I can distinctly make out the silhouettes of several … bros.
They’re slapping hands, bro-hugging, bullshitting. A tall, slender, dark-haired man-child takes two steps toward the Sonata. Then, slowly, another. Now he wheels around, shuffling back toward his boys. Then a backwards step in my direction. Patrick appears to be drunk. And, quite possibly, an imbecile.
“Uh, yes,” I tell Franz. “It looks like he’s making his way over here.”
We exchange a few more forced pleasantries before the boy reaches my car and Franz signs off.
“Sorry to have made you wait. Again, I just want to make sure all goes well. If you need anything, please do call me back.”
Patrick opens the rear passenger-side door and crumples into the seat, catching the tail end of my discussion with the old man. He would have heard “sorry” and “made you wait,” coupled with daddy’s concern that “all goes well” on the 12-minute sojourn home. Franz, you see, is a helicopter parent and an enabler. But if he’d instilled so much as a shred of awareness or courtesy in the kid, Patrick would have mustered a fuzzy half-apology to grease my wheels.
“What’s up, man.”
Not a “sorry.” Not a “my bad.” Not even an answer in the form of a question, Alex. His muffled “What’s up, man” was a throwaway statement from Patrick that, yes, he had indeed arrived and, blessedly, I was now free to ferry him home posthaste.
In the moment, it was all I could offer—that and a pounded accelerator pedal.
Patrick begins giving directions home, but he soon trails off, surrendering to drunkenness, boredom or the stark realization that I have a fucking GPS app with the prescribed route on my phone perched on the dash. It’s also possible that he senses my condition has advanced beyond irritated to a level approaching homicidal. He falls quiet, and when I notice his head dance like a bobber in my rearview, I assume he’s passed out. Thank Christ. Eight minutes until I dump Junior on daddy’s doorstep.
From the backseat, though, the silence is broken.
“What’s up, Brandon?”
Patrick is calling one of his bro-buddies, I assume. This isn’t unusual. Riders often jump on the phone without warning, so I think nothing of it. It’s very late, the kid is only nominally coherent, and I can’t imagine what they’d have to talk about at this point, but I honestly don’t think twice about it.
“Hell-ho?” Patrick huffs.
Connection problems? Maybe his buddy is as blotto as Patrick is, and isn’t answering back. I don’t even steal a glance in the mirror to find out. I don’t give a shit. I’m just ready for a couple stiff drinks back home before bed.
But that’s when it comes.
Face forward, eyes on the road and mind keenly focused on the bottle of Absolut waiting at home, I nearly jump out of my skin when, reaching from out of the darkness behind me, Patrick’s fingertips settle around the crown of my head, palming it like a Wilson Evolution.
Now, two nights earlier, I had been handled somewhat similarly. The rider doing the handling, however, was a gorgeous, mildly tipsy woman in her early 30s, who was deeply impressed by my beard and then asked if she could touch my hair. (Not one to offend a lady, I complied.) But this business with Patrick? A different ballgame: Unexpected. Uninvited. Unequivocally uncool.
I hit the brake, spin in my seat and stare down the kid. If I hadn’t had my back turned and both hands on the wheel, I might have, without thinking, balled up one of them and winged it at his temple. I was glad that I didn’t, of course, but now the mood in the Sonata has shifted dramatically.
“I was just saying hello,” Patrick sneers at me. Again, this is not an apology. He’s defensive, bothered that I have failed to recognize that my name is actually “Brandon.” It’s my fault that he has wasted my time, fallen in a boozy heap into my car and then put hands—or hand—on me.
Having quickly scuttled my knee-jerk punch-to-the-face instinct, I’ve moved on to the where-might-I-stuff-this-kid’s-lifeless-body-in-a-barrel-and-bury-it-deep-below-the-Earth? phase of anger. I say nothing to Patrick, turn and continue driving. Five more minutes. Just five more minutes to chew on my rage. Five minutes between Patrick and the rest of his at-this-moment-undeserved life.
The car is silent, but my head is spinning. In the back, Patrick is either doleful or indifferent. I can’t tell. I think of myself at his age. Was I that oblivious? That fucking stupid? No. But was I worse than I remember? Maybe. I think of Franz. Does he know his kid is a tool, on the verge of exploding into an asshole supernova? Unlikely, but possible. Could Franz just be a bumbling but well-intentioned father? Would he be embarrassed by his son’s behavior? Would he smirk and write it off as youthful indiscretion? I think of my own boys. Great kids, both, but not perfect. And, at ages 14 and 12, not remotely out of the woods. Might I, for all I knew, have a couple of Patricks-in-waiting on my hands? Parents are all martyrs—just ask any of them—but raising a child is exceptionally challenging. Franz sounded like a good guy. How bad could his kid be? Perhaps I was being too hard on this young, besotted boob.
We pull up to the destination, a brick townhouse where roughly a half-dozen adults congregate in the garage. Again, the hour is an obscene one. The group is yukking it up. I spot a few Solo cups. Patrick steps out of the Sonata, ducks his head back into the car for a moment. “Thanks,” he says. And it almost sounds sincere.
He whirls, sashays toward the garage, arms outstretched in an “Are you not entertained?” pose. Franz—it has to be him—calls out to Patrick, doesn’t take his eyes off him. But he isn’t upset. He’s … proud?
When I back out of the drive, neither Franz nor Patrick glance my way. As I study the mask of mock outrage and amusement on dad’s face, notice mom standing in the doorway grinning, and watch the boy throw up his hands to signal touchdown, I find myself caught between a chuckle and my curiosity in the average sentencing length for a firebombing.