Even with my strategies for avoiding trips that aren’t paying surge fares, it’s hard to make the Uber gig pay off. And it’s frustrating as hell. As if battling LA traffic and the angry drivers aren’t enough, I’m late to retrieve at least one of my three kids almost every day. In the last month, after paying for gas and the regular detail cleanings, I hadn’t cleared even a thousand dollars, including tips. So last Friday, after dropping the kids off with my ex for the weekend, I called my best friend, Gracie, who I met in law school almost twenty years ago, and told her I’m going to throw in the towel and find my way back into the law business, even though I swore I’d never go back. I explain to Gracie that the driving nets less than a third of what I was expecting, and I’m frickin’ exhausted from traversing the LA basin virtually every day. But then, just as I was asking Gracie if she wanted to meet me for a glass of wine … or two or three, my phone beeped. The red on the screen indicated a price surge, which meant I was likely to get at least double the usual fare. I couldn’t resist, even though I knew it could come back to bite me. A trip to the airport without any compensation for the long drive back home without another rider. “Oh well,” I said to Gracie, “at this surge rate, it should at least cover that bottle of wine we’re going to split later.”
I made my way along Rose Avenue until I spotted a lanky, well-dressed man in his fifties standing on the corner outside one of the many sleek new office spaces peppering “Silicon Beach” in Venice. He was scrolling through his phone but when he spotted my car, he waved and opened the back door. “Cheers,” he said in a polished-sounding British accent, as he slid into my back seat. He explains that he’s headed to a talent agency in Century City for a short meet and greet and photo shoot before heading back to his hotel. And then he asks if I’d be willing to drive him round trip. I hadn’t had that request for a round trip yet but with that dazzling smile of his and the surge rate, I wasn’t turning him down.
“I’m Raffi,” he said, as I eased my car back into the Friday evening rush-hour traffic. He seemed to want to chat and offered that he’s overseeing the launch of a mobile app that allows celebrities and their fans to connect in real time at sports, concerts, and other stadium events. The talent agency spearheading the platform’s publicity has gathered some of the celebrities for a publicity shoot, and he’s obliged to participate.
Once we arrived at the agency in Century City, Raffi asked me to join him inside, posing as his colleague, just to make sure none of it dragged on for too long. Raffi was greeted like royalty and moved with ease among the gaggle of celebrities, agents, and assistants. He introduced me as a valued part of his team, one who’s there to take charge of his schedule and to make sure he stays on track. I watched the shoot carefully. When I saw that they had what they needed from Raffi, I announced that he was needed for another conference, so we had to be on our way.
“Brilliant – right on cue,” he said as he took my arm and led me out of the building. As the valet opened the back door, Raffi politely waved him off and slid into the front seat next to me. He was so easy to talk to. I told him about the year I’d spent studying overseas, and we even joked about the British royalty. Half way through the return trip, he looked directly at me and said, “With all due respect, you seem like much too clever a gal to make a profession out of driving, not to mention the shame of hiding those superb legs of yours under that steering wheel.” He smiled, then added, “I’ve heard about a reality TV show that does stunts like this. Tell me, am I being punked?”
Just hearing the word “punked” spoken in his lofty British accent made me laugh. I assured him that he wasn’t being punked and then told him about my background, career upheaval and the family troubles that led me to the Uber driving. I shared with him that it wasn’t working out the way that I’d hoped.
“I’m putting in far too many hours for far less money than I need, and it’s causing worlds of trouble with my kids’ schedule.” On a rather impulsive whim, I added, “I want you to know that you’ll be my last customer. I’ll be retiring just as soon as I drop you off at Casa Del Mar.”
As we pulled up to the hotel, Raffi invited me to join him inside for a drink. “It’s the least I can do after you ferried me across town through rush-hour traffic and rescued me from that publicity circus.” I agreed, and we spent the next two hours completely engrossed in conversation. It had been years since I’d felt like that. It was after 10 o’clock before I noticed the time. I’d had three martinis and hadn’t eaten anything since lunch, other than the platter of oysters Raffi ordered. We asked about dinner but were told the dining room’s closed. Room service was our only option. “Well then, room service it shall be,” Raffi announced as he took me by the hand.
A bottle of champagne on ice was waiting for us in the suite. Raffi opened it while I took in the lights outlining Santa Monica Bay. With two glasses in hand, Raffi offered a toast: “To your retirement and more exciting opportunities.” The champagne was still wet on my lips when I felt his mouth on mine, and his fingertips lightly brushing the side of my face. He dimmed the lights, kissed my neck, and slowly unzipped my dress. It may have been a decade since I felt like I did at that moment. When I awoke, it was 2 a.m. I was in shock as I looked around the room, but I managed to dress and gather up my things without disturbing Raffi. I looked at him for a moment and wrote my name and number on the stationery next to the bed, thanking him for a marvelous evening.
I arrived home to an empty house, glad, for once, that the kids were spending the whole weekend with their father. I was exhausted and collapsed into bed. Late the next morning, I collected the clothes that I’d left scattered from the doorway to bed. As I fished for my cell phone in my purse, an envelope bearing the Casa Del Mar logo fell out and dropped to the floor. Inside I found a thick wad of cash with a note: “Just a token of appreciation for the most exquisite ride of my life.” I was shocked — there were 12 hundred dollar bills! It was more than I’d made in an entire month of driving. I’d never asked him for money. What did he think that our night was about? Or was he just being generous after he’d heard what I’d been through? And who was he? It occurred to me, as I later told the story to Gracie, that I hadn’t even learned his last name. He’d directed all of our conversation toward my life. Maybe that had been intentional. And I hadn’t even asked. How could I have missed that? Well … maybe on some subconscious level, I hadn’t wanted to know and risk ruining an enthralling encounter. My thoughts took some of the luster off of what had been an incredible night. But, I’m savvy enough to realize that the chances I’ll ever hear from him again are slim to none. I still found myself leaping for my phone every time it rang the rest of the weekend.
Wow. It was at that moment that I realized not only was Uber driving kicking my ass, it could even break my heart if I weren’t careful.
* The names of people and places have been altered to preserve anonymity.