on uber conversations
In my past life, I spent some time traveling across America as an auditor.
These days, I don’t go on many business trips. I don’t miss most of it, but I do miss one part.
When I would travel on business trips, I’d have peculiar and profound Uber conversations.
I remember a particular Uber conversation starkly. I don’t know how it started, but a poor bastard in Dallas told me a story that made my heart ball up into a fist.
He had killed a man you see?
A man in his car came in front of my Uber driver’s truck and my Uber driver could not swerve away.
He learned that moment when the ambulance came in that the man had died. He had died on the spot.
3 days he learned even more peculiar news, the reason the man inched forward in the middle of the road was that he was having a heart attack before he was fatally killed in the crash.
My Uber driver said: he had no idea how to feel about that. Like he was the final death knoll to an already dying man.
Before he killed the man, the Uber driver was phasing out. He was tired. He had been working long shifts. And he wasn’t sure how much his state of mind is to blame. To be an accidental murderer he told me is a terrible burden.
It took him 10 years to drive again.
And even then the first couple of years with trepidation.
Even now, anytime he put his foot on the gas almost at the same time, he said like clockwork his body would release neuro-chemicals of shame.
I don’t remember his name, barely what he looked like. I vaguely remember I was going somewhere to go get coffee. But I remember his voice with hints of the trauma, his voice still heavy secretly grieving for a man he never knew in life only through death.
I met other interesting people.
Like a Uber driver who was working on a strange broadway show that was about Jesus, music, and the origins of philosophy. It also (I believe) had something to do with the art of being a clown.
An Egyptian student who worked for 3 years making Egyptian food at a restaurant and got mildly well known for his food. But he eventually quit his job and did what he originally wanted: become a student. Just like in the tv shows he used to watch as a kid. He extolled the American dream and told me about his strong desire to be a professor.
I met moms, dads, construction workers, art students, immigrants, and southern gentlemen.
I met people I became best friends with for 20 minutes and then never met again.
I met people who had lived lives I could never imagine, but for some reason with who I still had sexual tension so thick that you could cut it with a knife.
I met people with who I was trapped in a car with conversations that meandered too close to racist tirades for my comfort.
I met people I would never meet in my day-to-day life.
These Uber drives were the last vestige of unplanned thought, of the casual bumping into profundity. The bookstores of people.
These drives and conversations were strange. Very occasionally weird. Once in a while even uncomfortable. But they were also meaningful and deep and beautiful in a way only humans could be.
Now we choose everything – the people we hang out with, the restaurants we eat at carefully decided upon based on yelp reviews, and the books we read after many glowing reviews.
Even Uber drives have lost their human quality.
Uber is now like starbucks. You meet nice, non-polarizing people. You take silent drives while you’re on a phone to some destination. The drivers like all of modern life have become the white noise to our phone addictions.
This is a better business strategy of course. People are unpredictable. Robots are much easier to control.
Besides, even customers have bought into the idea that dealing with mindless sheep and having the same standard process is better than the unplanned joy of chaotic spontaneity.
We may be able to get more of the things we want now.
But what of the things we don't know our soul needs?
It’s not the planned moments that bring us joy or friendship or meaning.
Remember this: it's often the errant, serendipitous, impulsive choice that lights our hearts on fire.