I roll up to one of my usual haunts a bit reluctantly, aware as ever that the place will be thick with soused imbeciles.
In the wee hours of any Friday night in downtown Naperville—not far from my own ‘hood—you’ll find no small number of people seeking transportation from piss-drunken revelry to a waiting bed or, for the more strategically minded, a toilet-seat face-perch. It’s barrel-fish-shooting for an Uber driver, but it comes with risks.
Exhibit A: Zuri.
A petite, half-dressed young woman in her early 20s, Zuri wobbles through the boozy mass of humanity that has spilled into the street outside the bar. Although she would have been immediately notified by the app that her chariot awaits, Zuri isn’t the first rider to treat Uber like a personal car service. When she flops into the back seat of the Sonata, it’s already been several minutes since I arrived and she is on the clock. And on my nerves.
“Hold on a sec” are the first words she speaks after I greet her. “We’re waiting on a couple others.”
Initially annoyed by her punctuality, I’m now irritated by her manners—and her choice in friends.
“Where are you?” Zuri hisses into her phone.
I can make out the response: “I’ve gotta go to the bathroom before we can come out.”
“No, just hold it,” Zuri answers back. “I’m already in the Uber.”
“I can’t! I’ve really gotta pee.”
“Hurry up!” Zuri snaps.
Why Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew haven’t worked out the logistics of their bathroom schedule before ordering an Uber is beyond me, but we’re already five minutes into Zuri’s “ride” and the Sonata hasn’t budged.
“They’re coming,” she tells me matter-of-factly.
They are not coming.
They won’t get to my car soon, anyhow, and that’s a problem. If the Uber isn’t moving, I’m not earning. Even during a ride, I make only 15 cents a minute. If I’m stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, that’s $9 an hour. Minimum wage. None of this accounts for my time between rides, gas money, wear and tear on the Sonata, or opportunity cost. It also means I’m no closer to hitting a ride bonus that has become an essential part of my take-home pay. As I ponder grocery bills and doctor co-pays and mortgage payments while the seconds tick away, the overhead dome light flicks on and a wave of humidity floods the cab. Zuri has a surprise for me.
“I’m just opening the door for a sec to puke.”
Horrified, I look over my shoulder to find Zuri—ass still planted firmly in the rear right seat—hanging off the interior door handle, the Sonata still agonizingly within range of her projected spewing arc. Really.
Understand, I don’t have a lot of rules. With a healthy mistrust of authority and a distaste for rules in general, I believe it’s only fair that I don’t draw too many lines in the sand myself. But I do have one golden rule: Thou shalt not puke. I talk of it often. It’s right there in my too-clever Twitter bio. I remind riders that I shuttle my kids to and from basketball practices and band recitals and dental appointments in the same unremarkable—yet fastidiously cleaned—automobile in which they sit.
And here, now, Zuri threatens to empty her insides across its starboard bow.
“Uh-uh,” I sputter. “I need you to get outside the car.”
Zuri, hacking and spitting at the pavement but not yet in full-on chunk-blowing mode, suddenly snaps to attention in her seat. She exudes the calm of a Buddhist monk.
“Uber driver. Uber driver. Uber driver,” she chants at me.
I’m three feet away. I hear her. I’m also the only person, let alone Uber driver, in the car. Also, also: She can instantly learn my name—through the app opened on the screen of the phone in her hand—but instead calls me “Uber driver.” She juts her right pinkie at me.
“Look into my eyes,” Zuri says. “Look into my eyes.”
I’m already looking at her. To be accurate, I’m staring lasers through her.
“I pinkie promise,” Zuri says earnestly, “I will not throw up in your car.”
Her pinkie extends toward me like an olive branch. I melt just a little. She actually appears to be in control of her faculties. I’ve been in her tiny little high-heeled shoes before, and I can tell you that a little sympathy toward the over-served can go a long way. “You tell me right away if you have to puke,” I say sternly. “I’ll stop—I’ll stop in the middle of the street if I have to—and you’ll get out.”
She doesn’t blink. I exhale. She smiles. I hook her pinkie with mine.
Then Zuri’s phone rings. The back-and-forth is muffled this time. But we’re friends now, and I relax just a little, feeling reasonably certain that I’ll have this inebriated, adorable little lady tyrant and her friends on their way soon enough. Zuri nods, swipes her phone and looks up at me with all the self-assuredness of a five-star general.
“Just give them five more minutes.”