I lived in upstate New York for seven years, so I have a pretty good idea of the New York mindset. It usually fits the stereotype most non-New Yorkers have of New Yorkers – direct, in-your-face, talkative, and tough are a few characteristics that come to mind. One size does not fit all, however, and this is true in New York, as it is in California. My New York pax was direct, but not so much in-my-face, and, true to his New York roots, he was talkative. There’s little room left for quiet self-reflection, pensive meandering, or deafening silence in a car when a New Yorker is on a roll. As to tough, well, you decide if that label fits …
I pulled into the motel parking lot and waited. He emerged from an open door to my left, saw me, waved and came over to the car. A gentle looking man with a nice smile opened the door and sat in the front seat.
“How are you doing today?” I asked pleasantly, testing the water as I always do. His response suggested it might be a long ride.
“I’m all right, but don’t stay at this motel. My shower was broken and there were no towels when I got here. They fixed the shower and brought me towels, but so what? That shouldn’t happen when guests arrive. I mean, it all should be ready to go, right? They’re charging and I’m paying, so the shower should work and I should have towels.” His nice smile remained.
The immediate lambasting of the motel suggested my pax was annoyed, yet, his demeanor and voice inflection indicated maybe not. The dynamic was familiar. My pax hailed from the upper east coast, New York perhaps, but I wasn’t quite sure. I was curious about him.
“By the way, where are you from?” I asked while backing up and circling to head out of the parking lot.
“I live in Connecticut, but I grew up in Brooklyn.” He answered directly.
“I figured as much. Where do you want to go by the way?
“I got about 45 minutes before I need to meet someone. The guy at the desk told me about something called Madonna, a place to hike. Do you know about it? I want an easy and quick hike.” I understood exactly what he wanted and I knew precisely where to take him.
“Yes, I do. It is a good hike. Do you want to go up the front side or the back? The back side is much easier.” I went on to tell him that I lived right at the base of Madonna Mountain and I would take him there, let him off, and then pick him up at the other end of a short trail that crossed the face, with only a little incline at the beginning.
“That sounds good. Take me there, but I have to get to my meeting on time. You will pick me up at the end?” It was more a statement than a question, typical New York-ese.
“Yes, I will pick you up at the end of the hike. The whole walk takes about 20-25 minutes.” And off we drove not knowing the series of events about to unfold.
He quickly launched into telling me about his business that brought him here for a convention, a conclave of life consultants, people who help other people straighten out their lives through better organization, removing clutter, opening spiritual pathways, and feng shui. He was quite informative and fast talking. I did manage to slip in that I once lived in New York, upstate anyway, and that took the already animated chatter in a new direction about New York. He liked me. With New Yorkers, you know quickly, either way.
And then it happened. We had been driving for about four minutes or so when the Uber app malfunctioned. I had to interrupt my pax to tell him the bad news.
“Sorry, but I have to pull over here. Something went wrong with the app and we have to start the trip again.” He went silent and, as any New Yorker would, he instantly became suspicious.
“What happened?” I could hear the change in his voice, the subtle but clearly defined wariness. “I am new to Uber. I don’t know how this works. Is that normal?”
“Hey, it’s technology. Now and then it screws up,” I said wryly to keep it light. “I’ll pull over up here and we’ll get it right again.” I saw a wide space on the side of the road and began pulling off. The crunching gravel was the only sound. To the right and left of us were gently rolling hills, wide pastures brown from drought, and rustic farm buildings off in the distance.
“What do I have to do?” he asked directly. He is looking intently at his phone, as if he had never seen it before. “What do I do?” His second asking of the same question contained a bit of urgency, so I leaned over close to him to get a view of his phone, to see his app. I saw the rating icon, so I said,
“Rate me.” Quickly, he pulled away from me. His slightly contorted face created a look bordering on horrified. His wide eyes were staring at me. I pulled away from him as well.
“What did you say?” The abrupt question was connected with a clearly confused look, but as I would find out in just about 10 seconds, he was not confused; he was afraid.
I looked squarely at him, pointed my finger at his phone and said again, “You have to rate me.” He looked perplexed for a moment, as if he were figuring out the meaning of my words. Our eyes connected, and it was weird. His shocked look from a few seconds before had morphed into something less fearful, and then he laughed loudly and with vigor, which opened the door to his next words.
“Shit! I thought you just said, ‘rape me’. And when you pulled off the road, I guess I thought, well …”
I laughed with him, as the whole scene was both surreal and ridiculous. Like that, the palpable tension fizzled like water dropped in a red-hot pan. Uber life resumed. I showed him how to “rate me” and then re-ping me and we got back on the road, still laughing about what just happened. And what happened obviously was quickly forgotten because he resumed his New York ways and his talk kept coming.
We arrived at the trail head. I pointed out the trail and told him to call me when he reached the end. I then showed him how to get through the barbed wire fence that the kept the cattle in, and there were lots and lots of cattle dotting the hillside.
“This is legal? This hike is legal?” Again, suspicion. Once more, his tone and attitude pegged his origin. “You want me to go through the fence? And what about all those cows?”
“Yes, the city has purchased the right to allow hiking on Madonna Ranch, and don’t worry about the cows. They are harmless. Ignore them.”
I pulled the barbed wire apart and told him to carefully bend over and step through. The action was so familiar to me, as this was how one entered grazing land when a gate was not handy, but it clearly was not familiar to him. He struggled to get through. I had to push his back down to avoid his shirt catching and tearing on a barb. Once through safely, he took off on what would soon add to the story of the Uber driver who asked to be raped. I went home and told Mrs. Uber Driver what just happened. We had a good laugh.
In about 10 minutes, I received a frantic call from my pax. He tells me a lady ordered him off the hill. She is screaming at him that he is trespassing. She is going to call the police to have him arrested. She called a neighbor to protect her. There are two of them confronting him.
“Where are you?” I asked, and as I did, I reflected back on what had already transpired between us and how the ride was quickly turning into a nightmare for him and me.
I heard him ask just a bit away from the phone, “Where am I?” He was calmly and nicely asking the woman threatening him the question, which seemed odd. He turned his attention back to me and said, “La Entrada,” the street about thirty seconds by car from my house.
“Stay right there. I will be there in about a minute.” I hung up and quickly drove to retrieve my pax, as I knew exactly where he was and what had happened. We have a crazy lady in the neighborhood who has for some thirty years taken it upon herself to protect Madonna Ranch from trespassers. She nabbed and harangued him, just as she has nabbed and harangued others, including me.
I got there, got him, and he appeared irritated. He asked what’s wrong with me. How could I send him on this hike with a nutcase ordering him off the hill and berating him? Oh, and when he asked me if it was okay to walk among the cows, I told him it would be fine. It was not.
He continued his berating tone. “I was sitting on a rock, quietly soaking in the sun, relaxing, and I open my eyes and all around me are eight or nine big, black cows. They were staring at me like they wanted to hurt me. How could you send me up there? What were you thinking?”
He seemed upset, but the actual tension did not match his words. Even so, the ride up to this point was pretty bad, for sure, which bugged me because rider ease is important to me, and ease is not a word I would use to describe our ride. Weirdly, though, in that moment of myriad thoughts floating about in my brain, in pops, “He is going to give me a bad rating.”
We were face to face in that disquieting space. Neither of us spoke. Then, slowly, a sly look appeared on his face. He smiled and said in a mock heavy New York accent,
“Fogeta bout it. I’m from New York. She was no problem. I had her eating out of my hand two minutes before you got here.” His smile broadened, which implied he just paid me back for the earlier “rape me” misunderstanding. I smiled back because, again, the rising tension slipped away quickly. Yes, he still liked me.
“How about you take me to pick up a friend, you take us to our meeting, then you come get us when we’re done, and tomorrow you take us both to the airport?” I agreed, as all was normal again – his questions were clearly statements …
Ya gotta love New Yorkers, even if not all fit the stereotype perfectly. This does not alter the fact they are attitudinally different from the more easy-going folks here on the West Coast, the land of perpetual sunshine. I think that’s it, the difference in a nutshell. The harsh weather and tight spaces make New Yorkers, well, feisty and tough. Okay, maybe it’s a good thing there are no mama cows on the streets of New York.
But, whatever … As someone who once had lived among them, I should have expected a payback. Round one goes to New York.
Tune in and don’t drop out.
Mr. Uber Driver