Truth be told, my intentions in helping the homeless woman and her child weren’t completely altruistic: I hoped my good deed might bring me some good luck – specifically, some big Uber tips. So last Saturday when my soon-to-be ex-in-laws called and asked if they could take the kids for a sleep-over, I thought about the good luck I was due and agreed. My oldest isn’t wild about sleepovers with his grandparents anymore, but once I told him he could take his PS1, he capitulated.
There I was heading east as the sun set to the west early Saturday evening, I was tired of the anxiety I felt over the possibility of being “outed” whenever I accepted a ride request north of Wilshire and West of the 405 freeway. So now, I almost always waited until I was east of the 405 before I turned on the Uber app. Once I reached the liveliest areas of Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, the ride requests were ripe.
I did six relatively quick trips without incident though there was the exquisitely handsome twenty-something-year-old from Paris, who works for a company devoted to discovering the next YOUTUBE sensation.
“We find the next rising star and push them into the digital stratosphere, and take a percentage of their earnings in perpetuity,” he explained to me in his lovely Parisian accent.
And, I thought YouTube stars were completely self-made. I just may be learning more at this job than I had at my real job, I thought.
At about nine p.m., I started to feel the fact that I had been at some god-forsaken soccer complex in San Bernardino before seven a.m. that morning. I figured I should quit while I was ahead. So I turned around at the Doheny and Sunset light and headed west. But, I hadn’t logged off yet, and before I could, a ride request came in from Beverly Boulevard. And, low and behold, the surge had jumped to 3.2! I was of two minds: on the one hand, a long trip at a 3.2 surge is a good thing but, on the other hand, when you’re exhausted, even a 3.2 surge makes it hard to wish for a trip to LAX or, god forbid, somewhere as far as Anaheim. I stared at my phone for a few seconds and then, before the request could vanish, I pushed the accept button. There were no kids waiting for me at home, and my best guess was that the rider was leaving one of the posh restaurants on Robertson or Beverly and headed home somewhere on the Westside. Or so I hoped.
The rider, a dapper gentleman pacing outside of a luxurious condominium building, looked at his phone as he settled into the backseat and said, “Oh, I guess I inadvertently requested an Uber X rather than an Uber Black.”
“Yes, I’m only an Uber-X, I’m afraid,” I managed to say sweetly instead of sarcastically.
“That’s fine. In fact, I’m rather partial to Range Rovers,” he said with a kind smile. He wasn’t sure how to input his destination into the app but politely instructed me to cut over to Alpine Drive and then head north to Sunset. “After that, it’s a right turn onto Benedict Canon and then just one more turn a few miles into the Canyon to Tower Road.” Perfect – not too far but enough miles to make the 3.2 mean something.
I resisted the urge to tell him that I’d lived on Tower Road ten years ago, so I knew exactly where we were headed. Instead, I simply said, “Oh, that’s such a beautiful area.”
“Yes, it is a lovely part of LA. At least something survived the divorce unscathed,” he said forlornly.
I didn’t want to pry, so I simply said that I know a little bit about how those things can be destructive for all parties involved. That piqued his curiosity. “So, you are also divorced ?” he asked, sounding reluctant to pry. This guy exuded class.
“Well, I’m not divorced yet. I meant that more from my perspective as an attorney than a potential divorcee.”
Through my rear view mirror, I saw the puzzled look on his face. He looked out the window for a moment and then asked, “If you don’t mind me inquiring, how does someone like you end up driving for Uber-X?”
“It’s a long story. Financial emergency. Just temporary,” I said, realizing how pathetically trite that sounded.
He spent the next five minutes asking me where I’d attended undergraduate and law school, where I’d worked and the type of law I’d practiced. I gave him the information on my education and my practice area in general. However, I need to maintain some anonymity so I didn’t disclose the names of the firms where I’d worked. After all, I have my dignity to think about, and my last firm had made the Business Section of the LA Times. He was clearly impressed with my education and my vague description of the firms where I’d worked as “national firms” seemed to suffice as well.
As I pulled through the electric gates and up his long driveway, he ventured, “Given that you’re a lawyer, if I ask you for advice about something, you must keep everything I tell you absolutely confidential, right? Attorney-client privilege?”
“I guess if you’re thinking about retaining me that would be true,” I said.
“Of course. I know how it works. Consider yourself employed. Here’s a hundred which I realize isn’t much of a retainer, but it is enough to invoke the attorney-client privilege, I believe. And we can work out your compensation when we meet again, if that’s acceptable to you, of course.“
“Yes,” I heard myself say without giving it any real thought.
“Excellent. Let’s have lunch this week. I have a matter on which I’d like the benefit of your advice as soon as possible. And, by the way, I’m Guy.”
Somewhat stunned, I handed him my card with my cell phone number written over my former firm’s phone number.
“I’ll call you,” he promised. That Wednesday, Guy and I met at the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills, where Guy had reserved a private room. Once alone behind closed doors, he practically tripped over his words, as he laid out his dilemma. He’s less than two years out of an ugly divorce from his wife of over twenty years, and, now, she’s trying to reopen the property division. He’s a venture capitalist, and when everything was in front of the court, his ex-wife had zero interest in any of the small companies or start-ups in which he held interests. She only wanted cash. But now, a couple of the tech startups that he’d invested in shortly before they split had hit it big, and his ex-wife’s lawyers have asked the court to reconsider their property settlement agreement. The lawyers accused him of fraud and of hiding the true value of his investments. He and his wife have two grown children, and they didn’t know whom to believe. The guy fears his relationship with his children is on the line.
The irony, he explained to me over our cappuccinos, is that he had told his ex-wife the truth about every one of his investments. Her lawyers and accountants had access to all of his holdings. But there is one thing that he didn’t tell her and if it were to get out right now, would open up a whole new front in the war that she’s just reignited. He’s gay. He’d struggled with it for decades, and he decided a few years ago that he couldn’t go on living the lie anymore. But, now wasn’t the time to drop that bombshell. His ex-wife’s lawyers would use it to claim that he’d lied about everything he ever told her, including his investments. And he wants to share it with his kids on his terms, at the right time and place, and right now isn’t either one. So, for now, it’s all got to stay tightly and securely locked away in the closet. And that’s where I come in, he told me.
Guy has business dinners, charitable events, and other public commitments where he needs someone to accompany him — someone discreet, who understands what’s at stake. He offered to pay me five hundred dollars whenever I accompany him anywhere, even if only for an hour of cocktails. Not a bad deal, especially since I had a strong hunch that Guy frequents places on par with the Montage. Nonetheless, as we sat there alone in the private room, I had my reservations, even suspicions. But none of them seemed to matter, given my dire financial circumstances. So I told Guy that I was glad to help. All I asked is that he give me a few days’ notice so I could make arrangements for my kids. He told me that he hoped two days would be enough notice because the first time he’d need me was that Friday night.
Friday night, my two older kids went to their dad’s and my youngest to my in-laws again. I suspect Mike and my in-laws were wondering if I had some hot romance percolating. And who was I to tamper with their imaginations at this point?
Guy’s voice responded when I buzzed the intercom at the gate at 7:00 p.m. sharp, as instructed in an email he’d sent me that morning. He greeted me in the motor court with a smile of approval as he sized up the old but classic black Dolce & Gabbana dress I’d pulled from the back of my closet. “We’ll take my car,” he said, pointing to a midnight blue Maybach in the garage.
At dinner, Guy and I played off each other with wit and timing that would have convinced anyone that we’d known each other for years. None of the other guests ever suspected that I was hired help. Hired help or not, it paid $500 an evening and, needless to say, Uber can’t compete with that compensation. Suddenly, it struck me that, in fact, my good deed had brought me some good luck. Just how long my luck would last, I couldn’t be sure. With that thought, I threw back my second glass of Cristal.