The next morning I packed up. Gave the old room a final inspection. So long, crummy motel room. Ordered an Uber for the airport on the motel’s wifi. Then I headed outside.
The sun was coming up over the freeway. Hadn’t left yet, but I was already feeling nostalgic for California. So long, California! You beautiful, sun-baked hag, you.
There was a black car parked next to the motel’s front office. Was the Uber here already? As I walked towards it, I noticed that the car looked weirdly similar to Tony The Driver’s car from yesterday. Can’t be Tony, I thought. How can that be Tony?
The driver waved at me through the windshield. Same upscale eyeglass frames. Same Bluetooth thing hanging from his ear. Fucking Tony.
He opened the door and stepped out. “Your ever-faithful driver, reporting for duty, sir!”
I was stunned. Disturbed, too. I didn’t know what to do. I asked him what he was doing here.
“You told me that you need a ride to the airport this morning, V.B.D.,” he said. “S0, here I am!”
I asked him what happened to the high-powered exec he’d bragged about yesterday. “Oh, that V.B.D.?” he said. “He had a change-of-plans. I was free, so I thought I’d help you out instead.” He made a grab for my suitcase.
I wrestled the suitcase away from him. I held up my phone like it was EXHIBIT A in a trial. Told him that I’d already ordered an Uber. I showed him the app. The car I’d booked was homing in on us like a missile. “See? It’s already almost here,” I said. I shrugged my shoulders helplessly. “There’s nothing we can do about it.”
“Of course there’s something we can do about it,” he said. “We cancel that ride and we book you a new one. Tony is already here!” He snatched the phone out of my hand. Before I could stop him, he pressed a few buttons. RIDE CANCELLED appeared onscreen. “Now, we order a new Uber…” He pressed more buttons.
I’d tried doing this very thing before, in Culver City. Tried to cancel and rebook a trip with an Uber driver whose car I was already riding in. We tried about five times before giving up. I knew that this wouldn’t work, and told that to Tony.
“Of course it’ll work, V.B.D. I’m Tony. I’m your guy. TONY IS STANDING RIGHT NEXT TO YOU.”
The results popped up on the app. As I’d predicted, we got an old brown guy. His bald head was as shiny as a seal’s back.
“No!” Tony said. “That’s not Tony! Cancel!”
Tony tried one more time. “Look,” I said. “I just need to get to the airport, man. I should already be there by now. I don’t have time for this. If we get someone other than you, I’m taking it.”
That’s when a grin stretched across Tony’s dumb face. He turned my phone towards me. My new driver was Tony. “HA, HA! I told you it would work, V.B.D.!” he said. He grabbed my suitcase. Tossed it into the trunk. Slammed it shut. I got into the backseat. Tony hit the gas.
And we were off.
San Carlos is close to SFO—20 minutes, tops. But the ride with Tony? It went on for what felt like hours. He began giving me an elaborate sales pitch for a complicated water filtration system that removes the toxins from tap water. Tony’s eyes looked in the rearview at me more than they looked at the road. He almost got into about six accidents. He was creeping along, sticking to the slowest lane. Cars were angry. They honked at him as they sped by us.
I begged Tony to drive faster.
“The two most powerful warriors are patience and time, V.B.D.,” Tony said, locking eyes with me in the rearview. “Ever heard that before? The great writer Leo Tolstoy once said that. Ha, ha!”
Tony was taking what seemed to be a circuitous route to the airport, which, Tony argued, he had no choice but to take because of some construction project. I sat in the backseat feeling helpless. While Tony droned on about the future of water filtration, how pure water can actually extend a person’s life, I stared at the sun-warped plastic martini glass filled with mints. I wondered why no one has made a horror movie about Uber or Lyft yet. Seems easy enough to make one. Anyone can drive for one of these damn companies now. Strangers were picking up other strangers in strange cars 24 hours a day. Ride-sharing goes fine for most people; but I can’t be the only person to find himself in a surreal (and potentially harmful) situation like this.
Things didn’t escalate with Tony the Driver. When I finally got out of the car curb-side at the airport, Tony hopped out and pulled my suitcase from the trunk. “Five stars!” Tony the Driver said. “Everyone gives old Tony five stars, V.B.D. That’s all I ask. I did a favor for you. Now, you have to do Tony a favor, V.B.D. I’ll be waiting. Five stars!”
He looked at me with an unsettling intensity. There is madness back there, I thought as I looked in his tiny, dull eyes. Definitely madness.
I rushed through security. Barely made my flight. The whole plane ride home, from San Francisco to Toronto, I felt determined to leave negative feedback about Tony on Uber. My seat-mate encouraged me to reconsider. “You don’t want this weird guy to have a vendetta against you,” the woman said. “He sounds straight-up nuts.”
I didn’t leave five stars, as I’d promised Tony The Driver I would do.
And I didn’t leave him a negative comment either, as I’d wanted to do.
In the end, I didn’t leave Tony anything at all.