Uberimprovisation – How I became a Uber driver’s navigator.

Uber is a real hot thing in Poland these days. Earlier this week there was a huge protest of Warsaw taxi drivers against unlicensed freelancers taking their jobs. Some of them got as far as spilling some nasty stuff on Uber cars. People say that the company’s income has doubled since then.

I have never tried Uber before as I cancelled my credit card before they even appeared in Poland (the one-click payment on Amazon would surely drive me bankrupt if I didn’t). Besides, I was pretty satisfied with regular taxi services and unlike the one-click payment, I didn’t need them often enough to let them ruin my budget. This time I joined a midnight ride with my friends with a plan to drop them off at their destination and then continue on my way to mine.

We jumped in the car, told the driver my friend’s address and were quite surprised by how he struggled to set up the GPS. Even more surprising was that even though he did it at last, he still managed to get lost on some small local street.
– I’m sorry guys… This is my second day at work. – he said in a bit nervous manner.
– Don’t worry man, you’re not the first one to get lost in here. With time you’ll surely get better.
– If I’m to be honest, I’d rather I didn’t. I never planned to work like this, but after being three weeks unemployed I had to do anything just not to go nuts. By the way, would you mind if I put on some hip-hop?
– We’re OK with pretty much any music I guess.
– Even if it comes with some really bad language?
– Do I look like someone who would get offended?
– One more question then. Can I put it on really loud?

This wasn’t a kind of service I would expect from a professional driver, freelance or not. He had no idea what he was doing, got lost few more times (hey, even I would know what to do there and I’m a terrible driver who doesn’t even own a car!) and turned the volume up so much that we could hardly talk. But we were all in such a good mood that eventually we went fully retard, started dancing around in the car and singing along to the song we all heard for the first time.

– You know, I’ve never been on a party taxi like this. – I told the guy to cheer him up a bit. – It is my first time with Uber and I must say I kinda like it.
– If so, can you please rate me well after that? I know I’m not the best driver but still…
– We will, no worries. But you’ll have to draw something for me, you know? – I thought this would make a perfect story for my rainbow blog. The story turned out to be too long to fit in an image caption and so absurd I couldn’t possibly make this stuff up, even if I tried hard.

***

We soon arrived at my friend’s place and was about to continue the ride. Somehow the driver set in his app that the course was finished and we couldn’t find any way to restart it. He asked for a cigarette break not knowing what to do, I said I ain’t in a rush.

– Should I order another ride at Uber so that you can drive her home? – my friend asked.
– Don’t worry, we’ll figure a way. – I told him and let him go home. – I still have some cash.

The driver agreed to unofficially drop me off at my place, managed to set GPS location at last and two minutes after we started our ride something totally unexpected happened – a request from another client popped in.

– Shit, so what we do now? I can’t just leave you here in the middle of nowhere at night…
– How about going there together and picking the customers up?
– What if they start asking questions? That’s gonna get really weird…
– Don’t worry, we’ll speak our way out of this. I promise.

Five minutes, two ‘No entry’ and one ‘No parking’ signs later we stopped the car on a pavement in front of a new apartment block. A couple got in, pretty surprised how we managed to get that close to the entrance. Then they saw me sitting on the front seat and got even more surprised.

– Hello and don’t worry. – I said trying to sound as normal as possible as it was in such circumstances – I am here by accident, but that’s a long story…
– So I’d love to hear it for sure! – the girl said. – This must be some crazy stuff…
– What happened? – I heard a man’s voice with strong Russian accent. – Is she going to share the ride with us or what?
– Let’s just say I am here to help this gentleman with driving you safely back home. Where would you want to go?

This went smoother than I expected cause they started laughing at once. They told us the name of the place and we couldn’t have been more lucky – out of all the possible Uber customers that night we got the ones heading to a small town outside of Warsaw, half an hour driving at last, even at night.

– Wow, that’s pretty far… Can I jump off by the train station if you’re going there?
– No way! – the girl replied. – You have a story to tell us! Besides, he can drive by your place on the way back.

Meanwhile, our driver was struggling again with GPS and trying hard to hide the fact that he had no clue which turn to take on the next roundabout.

– What? I can’t believe we are turning this way… – she screamed suddenly. – Do you even know how to drive?
– I’m sorry, it’s only my second day in this job. I don’t even like driving if I’m to be honest, but when you get fired and can’t find anything in a month, your perspective starts to change. You have to find a way to make ends meet somehow…
– That’s so ironic – I said. – Only today I told my boss I am leaving.
– So this is the story? – she asked quite amused. – You must have been really brave.
– Yep, you can believe my day was pretty intense…

Somehow the three of us got into talking about luck, risk, love, relationships, friendship, drugs, all different aspects of life. At one point the Russian guy joined the conversation and soon it turned into a fight between the two of them. I tried really hard not to listen to the emotional dramas going on, but recently I can’t help but empathize with all the problems of the world, no matter if I find them absolutely irrational or not. He seemed quite unhappy that they are leaving his place and heading out of town, she turned sarcastic in an “Oh-my-God, you’re such a true Warsaw citizen” kind of way, then they both started bringing out all the reasons they could be possibly unhappy about each other from the last few months at least. I started scanning my mind in search of some way out of this situation, but soon I gave up, my role there was not to be their couple therapist, after all. Shit, what was even my role in all of this mess?

As we were driving out of the city, each turn we took the road got more and more narrow. Eventually we took a little dark road leading straight into the middle of a forest, peaceful, quiet, and surrounded by total darkness. A small deer appeared out of nowhere and crossed the road in front of us.

– Wow, this was so lovely… – I whispered. – This must be a perfect place to rest.
– No fucking way! – she shuttered – You’re kidding or what?
– Why do you think so?
– Just look around, see for yourself and tell me why.
– Because there’s nothing here? Sometimes all I need is just this kind of nothing to wind down and contemplate.
She didn’t seem quite convinced.

Once we arrived at the destination, the driver said this is too much, requested another cigarette break and with some hesitation turned off the Uber app. Picking some other customers up so far away from the city could make us end up even further away in the opposite direction.

– You know, it’s funny – I said on my way back. – This girl seemed pretty concerned about the fact she’s not from Warsaw. I wouldn’t believe but I heard so many taxi drivers complain about people coming here and stealing all of your jobs.
– Were they serious about it?
– You bet! You should have seen their faces when I told them I come from the East. Sometimes I even fake a Russian accent and make them believe that’s how we speak in our town.
– Why would you judge anyone depending on where he comes from?
– No clue… But see, somehow it’s me guiding you how to drive in this part of Warsaw, not the other way around. Pretty ironic, isn’t it?

– Weren’t you scared to go with me and pick the passengers up? It’s the middle of the night and you’re on a car with a guy that you’ve met some 15 minutes before driving out of town with some huge Russian dude who’s not in his best mood. That doesn’t sound too responsible, does it?
– You know, I came to a point in my life when I’m not scared anymore. Stressed? Sure, sometimes. Anxious? A lot. But not scared. I guess once you survive some really deep shit you know you can survive anything. And that’s one of the most comforting feelings you can have… Besides, if you are an Alien like me, you feel at home wherever you happen to go. And somehow those crazy random encounter moments are the ones when you feel the most alive.

This wasn’t the most typical first-time-with-Uber kind of experience, but it was so crazy and unexpected I’d surely give it another try. I guess it’s high time I sort out some new credit card. My Kindle is gonna love me for this as well.

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