Spilling blood in the mud

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A composite sketch of me in the Sonata after another five-month tour driving Uber.

If I’ve learned anything out here on the road, it’s that this Uber Life ain’t for everyone. Look, I’ve seen things. Done things I’m not proud of. I am forever changed in mind and body—to say nothing of my car’s transmission. On the day I finally turn in that TNP airport sticker and come home, I’ll be leaving a little part of me back in the Sonata. That’s the cost, y’all.

Skeptical? Think I’m overselling it? Here’s a short list of the damage thus far:

  • One thousand one hundred and thirty-two trips, and roughly 15,000 extra miles. Technically, those figures don’t fall into the category of “damage,” but tell that to the Sonata. I’ve knocked roughly a year of life off this bad boy in less than half that time. I’d love to think it simply puts me that much closer to the purchase of my next ride—a Tesla Model S—but let’s be reasonable. By the time I’ll be able to afford such a luxury, the robots will have taken over Uber (and everything else), and I’ll surely be swinging a pick axe in a salt mine on Neptune.
  • Three oil changes in five months. What a pain in the ass it is staying lubricated, but a gearhead I trust once told me it’s the simplest, cheapest, most important upkeep you can perform on a vehicle. Motor oil is motor oil, just keep the engine clean.
  • One flat tire. I’ll see you in hell, Rahm.
  • Ravaged upholstery. Before I started Ubering, the Sonata’s interior was pristine. In the sterilized setting of the back seat, you could have performed heart surgery. Now it only looks like several have taken place there.
  • Nicks, dings and rust. The usual wear and tear? Sure, if you accelerate the timeline a hundredfold and remove the asshole factor. You know what I’m talking about: It’s the riders who return a car to Hertz after leaving a steaming turd in the driver’s seat and later tell anyone willing to listen, “Hey, it was a rental.” Beyond grinding doors on street curbs, denting panels with briefcases and scratching the finish with house keys (among other thoughtless abuses), the asshole factor has also done a number on my systolic and diastolic numbers. Oh, and about that physical toll …
  • Early-onset rigor mortis. As I hobble through my 40s, the creeping death of mid-life physical breakdown sets in like a pox. On those days I’m able to feign grace, I call up Longmire on Netflix and blame the TV for my spontaneous old-man sounds. When I’m cranky, I work on my manifesto calling for an international-coalition-led body-shaming campaign against Hugh Jackman (49, my ass). But here’s the kicker: Driving Uber accelerates this process. Hunched in the Sonata, I can hear my ligaments calcify. Gripping the wheel for hours at a time, my fingers curl up like a daddy longlegs in a modern-dance class. My hip flexors? Hell, Roy Clark could pick the theme to Hee Haw on them.
  • Screaming knee pain. Over the past several years playing basketball and pretending to be a moderately athletic person half my age, I have pulverized my left knee. The kneecap was smashed about two years back and, for good measure, the whole joint was torqued quite thoroughly a few months ago. I’m reminded of these meatheaded indiscretions every second of every Uber ride and patiently await Elon Musk’s public-sector rollout of bionic body parts.
  • Ankle swelling. It may be a complication of the knee, but in recent months my left ankle intermittently blows up like … like a much larger ankle, I guess. (Why do we compare swollen ankles to exotic fruit or athletic balls? I have yet to see one that resembles an actual cantaloupe or volleyball. At best, it’s a childish exaggeration; at worst, it’s fraudulent advertising.)
  • Crumbling Infrastructure Back. When I slipped a disk a couple years back, I visited a chiropractor. He walked me through some excruciating stretches, asked me what hurt (uh, all of it?) and hit me up for $70 on my way out the door. But for my troubles, I received a helpful metaphor. The chiro likened the back to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, with all its interconnected cables allowing for a certain flexibility while still maintaining critical structural integrity. He said a weakness in one or more of the “cables” of my own “suspension bridge” is what precipitated my “breakdown.” (This cheerfully delivered comparison, you can understand, made me want to “throw him into the wet concrete of freshly built bridge footings, from where he would never again see the sweet light of day.”) At any rate, the initial agony of an electric cattle prod constantly applied to the nerve endings of my lower back have, over time, dulled to a fuzzy moan of intermittent localized pain. But anytime I want to Benjamin Button my back injury, I can count on Uber. A short shift in the car ramps the pain back up to zapped-with-a-personal-defense-purse-taser levels.

Frankly, it’s a wonder I’m able—with a shot knee, a watermelon-size ankle and multiple fraying back cables—to heave myself from the smoking rattletrap of a Sonata at the end of a shift. Still, together we rave at close of day, trudging stubbornly forward, ensuring every night that no man—nor machine—is left behind. In the end, we are comforted by the thought that some things shall forever remain unbroken: the holy bond between flesh and steel, and our collective fighting spirit.

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