Uber Last Night – “I Heard the Banjos!”

Today is my Friday. My last day of my Five-Days-A-Week job. But I’ll be driving like crazy tonight and tomorrow night into the wee hours of each morning trying to earn enough to pay the two bills that come due next week before I receive the next support payment.

Last night, in my attempt to make said money, I was Uber driving again. Even though I am now absolutely paranoid that I’m only a few four-star ratings away from being barred from driving, and I have consequently avoided the drunk late night scene for the past couple of weeks, desperate times call for desperate measures, so I’m braving the late night crowd and trying to bribe my way into five star ratings by offering complimentary water. I’m not sure if it’s working yet, as most of my riders haven’t rated me one way or another, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Anyway, last night was a little slow. And it was mostly male riders, for some reason. I picked up a couple of guys and drove them to their respective homes (it was a ride share), picked up another guy who had a flat tire and drove him to the Kangaroo and then to a friend’s house, picked up a couple of guys and drove them to one of their sister’s condos, with a little DUI checkpoint compliments of the Gainesville Police Department on the way there. I’m sure they were both very happy they chose to call Uber.

The next ping was from a HUGE apartment complex – Cabana Beach. The guy had a middle-eastern sounding name. I drove to the complex, went through the security guard, then tried to call him to find out which of the 50 or so buildings was his, after driving past the leasing office/clubhouse. No answer. I drove around trying to see if someone was waiting. Nobody. I called again, this time leaving a message. No answer, no response. I clicked “Arrived.” I had now been in that complex for several minutes. Tried calling again, no answer. Started to drive back toward the clubhouse – FINALLY he calls. I ask which building, but there was definitely a language barrier issue. After a few tries, I discern he is saying 15. I pull up to building fifteen. Nobody there. I try to call again after driving around the building, no answer. I hit cancel for “No show.” I got paid $4, he was charged $5. I don’t like doing that, but I gave this guy WAY longer than most drivers would, because I felt bad knowing that he may have trouble communicating in English.

Side note: I am NOT one of those “Make English the official language” people. I believe EVERYONE should study a foreign language at some point in his or her life and see how difficult it is to be in a situation where you are out of your element, so that you will have compassion for others who are trying. It’s not easy, and I think it’s NICE that places try to provide communication in other languages. Plus, the Spanish settled Florida long before the English were here. Broaden your horizons and quit being so damned xenophobic, folks.

So here is one of my funnier Uber stories, and it really has nothing to do with the really nice girl I drove home last night.

Heading home from Cabana Beach, I was pinged to an address in the 3400s or 3600s on North West 75th Street. It was almost 3:00 a.m.

A few things you should know about Gainesville. 1. “Zero” is the corner of Main Street and University Avenue. Avenues and Roads run East-West, Streets run North-South. The numbers go up as you go away from Main Street and University Avenue. So you know that NW 1st Avenue will be north of University, and one block west of Main Street, and you can figure out the nearest cross road based on the street number. For example, 1701 NW 1st Street will be on the corner of 1st Street and probably 17th Avenue, about a mile and a half north of University.

I bring this up because my GPS directed me to turn right from 23rd Street and go north on NW 75th Street for about a mile and a half. Somehow as I was driving, the road grew longer, and no matter how far I’d come, the distance to that dot on the GPS remained a few blocks away.

It was a dirt road. At 3 am. A very, very narrow dirt road, and an unlevel one at that. At one point I drove over a small log. I had my brights on. There was no way to turn around without driving into trees and into a ditch, as the “road” (we’ll call it that, though the term is debatable) was no more than car width wide. In fact, in many places, I could hear branches grasping at the sides of my mini van while the soft strum of banjos seemed to echo in the night air.

At one point, there was water (about an inch?) streaming down the tracks I was driving through, and I was hoping that A) I wouldn’t get stuck in the mud, B) it wouldn’t somehow become a creek and C) I wouldn’t get shot by some paranoid Republican freaked out by a Honda minivan driving down a road clearly meant only for Ford Explorers and Chevy trucks. Once I had turned down this street, there was no going back. Seriously – because even if I wanted to, without a back-up camera, I’m not THAT good at maneuvering through narrow passageways in reverse in the dark. So I turned on my high beams and hoped for the best.

It took about 10 minutes to get from NW 23rd Avenue to the next paved road, which was 31st or 32nd. Had I KNOWN it intersected there, I would have driven up 83rd Street, hung a right, and driven through civilization to get there. And all the while, in the back of my mind, I was thinking, “I wonder how many drivers cancel on these people because nobody in their right mind would drive down this street!”

I got all the way to the end, where the road seemed to just disappear, but Lo! There was a driveway to the right. I pulled in. The house was actually kind of high end, big, stucco – not the run down trailer with vehicles on cinder blocks that you would expect on such a rustic “street.”

I called the rider. Nope. She wasn’t in that house. The Uber application had pinged her there, but she was really in the very back of the Crossings at Santa Fe. She wanted to follow the GPS ping to walk back to find me, but I urged her not to do that, that I was almost there, and that I would come find her. Seriously – if she had walked into those woods, I’m not sure anyone would have ever found her again.

Going back, saying a silent “Thank You” to the owners of the pretty house with the star on the front for NOT waking up, freaking out, and shooting me, I took the paved road to 83rd Street, and was able to drive to the back of the Crossings without much ado, where I found my rider and took her home.

You know that poem about taking the “Road less traveled” making all the difference? Yeah, that kind of took on a new meaning last night.

Dirt road, black and white photo
It looked something like this, only pitch black, narrower, and with water running down the middle…
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