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Uber Tales #4 : Accidental Relationships, Passive Aggressive, and Supernumerary Angels

The advice I’d give my younger self; a cute family; and the drunks come in threes.

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Uber Tales by Wael Abdelgawad

Tonight: The advice I’d give my younger self; a cute family; and the drunks come in threes.

(These Uber Tales (and Lyft too) are true. I have changed the names, and sometimes I combine stories from different days into a single, more cohesive narrative. However, aside from that, these events are all accurate; word-for-word, just as I experienced them)

Previously: Uber Tales 1 | 2 | 3

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Saturday, October 29, 2022 – Halloween Weekend

Help Comes From Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)

I sometimes write about my struggles with money. Wah, wah, wah, I know. Smallest violinist playing the smallest violin.

A reader commented that he wanted to send me something. I imagined he wanted to send a story he’d written, and to ask for my input. People do that sometimes. So I gave him my email. And he sent me money. One hundred dollars.

To that brother, I am grateful. That was a kind act. May Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) reward you. I’ll buy a new pair of jeans, which I very much need, and an ice cream cone for my daughter.

However, I do NOT want anyone else to send me money. When I write about my troubles, I don’t do it to elicit sympathy. My help comes from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), my appeal is to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). I write about these things because this column is about the life of a rideshare driver, with all its adventure, weirdness, and struggle. Being broke goes with the territory. The only thing I would ever ask someone to do would be to make dua’ for my upcoming marriage inshaAllah, and secondly, buy my books on Amazon and leave good reviews.

If there are any young people out there reading my column, take it as an object lesson in what not to do. Don’t make the mistakes I made, and maybe you won’t be my age, chugging coffee and antacids while you drive drunk strangers around in the tiny hours of the night. Stay in school, get a degree or learn a trade, keep your faith, don’t wander from the deen, don’t associate with lawbreakers and hoodlums. Marry a good woman, be kind to her, and stay married through fire and flood.

The Advice I Would Give Myself

I do not feel sorry for myself. I used to imagine the advice I would give my 10 or 15-year old self if I could travel back in time, and how doing so might undo all the mistakes I’ve made. But no. The mysteries of cause and effect are impenetrable. If I undid my past, I might lose all that I treasure in the present. I might lose my faith, or my writing talent. I might not be an expert martial artist. I might not have this fabulous daughter. And I might not be engaged to this amazing woman, who is too good for me, and who I am set to marry in less than two months, inshaAllah.

So if I could make that cosmic, time-traveling trip, I would only say to myself, “Have no fear. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is with you, and He will always be. No matter what happens, no matter what hole you fall into, He will pull you out. Stride forward with your head up. Walk like a lion, and remember this hadith of Rasulullah:”

Abu al-‘Abbas ‘Abdullah bin ‘Abbas raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) reports:

“One day I was riding (a horse/camel) behind the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, when he said, ‘Young man, I will teach you some words. Be mindful of Allah, and He will take care of you. Be mindful of Him, and you shall find Him at your side. If you ask, ask Allah. If you need help, seek it from Allah. Know that if the whole world were to gather together in order to help you, they would not be able to help you except if Allah had written so. And if the whole world were to gather together in order to harm you, they would not harm you except if Allah had written so. The pens have been lifted, and the pages are dry.’ ” [Related by Tirmidhi]

Magic Act

In the last month the weather has done a magic act. The world closed the curtain on a summer day, then with a flash and a bang pulled the curtain aside to reveal frigid nights and much-needed rain.

Tonight is the last Saturday before Halloween, which falls on a Monday this year. I don’t like working on Halloween weekend. People drink like blue whales, and their costumes make a mess. Glitter, fake blood, nylon hair, bits of rubber or paper mache. But it’s the second busiest night of the year after New Year’s Eve. There’s money to be made, and I can’t afford to miss out.

5:45 pm – It’s already dark. My first pickup is at a ranch north of Fresno. I know the place, it’s a working farm that hosts weddings. The compound is dark, with looming buildings spaced irregularly, and the road is potholed. I pick up a young man in a gray suit, accompanied by a tall woman in a scarlet dress. We barely get under way when the boyfriend says, “Driver, pull over, pull over please. She doesn’t feel well.” I screech to a halt as quickly as I can, but not fast enough. Fortunately, she has enough presence of mind to throw up in her own purse. I pull over and she throws up some more on the side of the freeway as her boyfriend cleans out her purse. Ten minutes later, I have to exit the freeway quickly and stop on the off-ramp so she can throw up again. At least the boyfriend tips me $20.

Accidental Relationships

6:30 pm – I pick up a couple in their mid twenties. The man talks nonstop to his girlfriend, but she merely makes noises of assent in response. He asks me to stop at a gas station so he can buy some cigs. While he’s gone, the woman says, “Accidental relationships are the worst.”

“What’s an accidental relationship?”

“It’s when you meet someone at a time in your life when you just need someone, so you get together, but you’re not compatible.”

We sit in silence as I ponder. Just as the man exits the station and is approaching the car, I tell her, “Life is a never ending series of choices. You make a choice one day and it changes your life. You make a different choice another day and it changes your life again. Or you make no choice at all – and that’s a choice in itself.”

Human Interactions

I remember how nervous I was when I started this job almost five years ago. You get no training, no ride-along advisor. You jump in and figure it out. I thought the challenges would be logistical. I wondered, will I understand how to use the app? Will I be able to find my way to the pickups and drop offs? What will I do if I need to pick someone up on a busy street and there’s nowhere to park?

It turns out all of that is easy, or relatively so. The challenge lies in the human interactions. The people who sit in your car in the dark and are drunk, manic, depressed, hurting, or self-hating. They want to include you in their fun, or to confess, or to be left alone. You do it hour after hour, and at the end you think, I’m done with this, I quit. Time to find a different job. But the next night you wipe the slate clean, and you go out and do it again.

I Can’t Pay You

7:15 pm – I stop at the gas station to refuel. As I’m waiting at the register, there’s a woman in sandals waiting in line before me. She has four kids, the eldest a teenage girl. Her face is lined, and her shoulders slump as if she’s carrying the weight of the world. Yet she speaks to her kids kindly and patiently, and she even helps another customer who can’t figure out how to use the credit card reader.

After I pump my gas I see the woman sitting in her old, dusty SUV. She has already pumped her gas, but sits there with the door open, looking at her phone. I get the feeling she’s trying to figure out where to go, or what to do. Trying to come up with a plan.

I take a squeegee and start to clean her dust-caked windows. She says, “I can’t pay you for that.” I tell her I don’t want anything. She begins to cry. I clean the windows thoroughly, and as I’m walking away the daughter holds out a dollar bill. I smile and shake my head. Sometimes all you can do is a small thing. And sometimes that’s enough.

8 pm – I pick up Yolanda, a broad-faced Latina woman in a fast food uniform, heading home for the night. I have the vent open, letting the frigid night air whisper into the car. I always keep the car this side of chilly. It keeps me alert. I tell Yolanda to let me know if it’s too cold. She replies in a tiny voice: “It’s okay.” Then we ride in silence. Some passengers don’t want to talk. This happens with women more than men. Maybe they have experienced drivers hitting on them, and they want to keep that avenue shut. Maybe they are nervous about being in a car with a strange man at night. I take my cue from the passenger. If I feel they need reassuring conversation, I offer it. If they prefer to sit in silence, I respect that.

Passive Aggressive

8:30 pm – An old man in army clothes, with a long white beard and thick round glasses. He’s making a round trip to the liquor store. He thanks me for picking him up, then immediately starts making strange, passive aggressive comments. He asks how long I’ve been driving, and when I reply, “Tonight? Or in general?” he pauses for a long time, then says, “Whatever. What do you think? Use your brain.”

Then, “What kind of name is that?” he demands.

I tell him Arabic.

“So you’re Muzlim?”

Yes.

He ponders this.

At some point I begin to realize that he’s already very drunk. On the way back from the store he says, “Just get me out of this car as soon as possible.” For some reason he starts complaining about the stock market, and how he’s lost so much money. I tell him to be patient, the markets will turn around. Everything is cyclical. He says, “You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.” Then, adding to the strangeness, he tips me twice! Once in cash, and again on the app.

I’ve experienced this kind of thing before. People try to provoke you, or they behave badly, and when they see that you don’t react, they admire you, or they feel guilty.

Callie, Callie

9 pm – A wonderfully cute little family sits on the curb in front of the supermarket with bags of groceries. The husband is lean and shaggy haired, wearing a watch cap. The wife wears a purple velvet coat and covers her mouth to hide the bite of food she has just taken. The extremely chubby little boy is dressed in green sweats. I don’t know, they’re just cute. We load their groceries and the wife says, “I’m the shortest woman you’ll ever meet.”

“You don’t look that short.”

“That’s because I’m wearing 37 inch platform shoes. I’m actually 4’10”.

The husband comments that the last time he wore a Halloween costume he was the Crow. I tell him that I saw that movie twice, and that it’s so strange what happened to Bruce Lee and his son Brandon.

“It’s a family curse,” the wife says.

“What’s the curse?” the boy says excitedly.

“You’re a martial artist,” the father says to me. “I remember you.” He goes on to tell me that I gave him a ride three years ago. I vaguely remember him. He studied taekwondo, then freestyle karate.

The mom adds that some people think Bruce Lee died of autoerotic asphyxiation.

“What’s a autoarotic affixiation?” the boy wants to know.

When I drop them off there’s a gray striped cat standing in the tall grass in front of their house. The boy calls out to the cat. “Callie! Callie!” The whole family starts chanting, “Callie, Callie,” as if it’s some weird coming-home ritual. As I drive away I try to figure out why I’m so fond of this family. I have a protective feeling toward them. I almost want to go back and visit them.

Not My Father

9:30 pm – A young African American woman is heading home to the town of Fowler. We drive past the Amazon warehouse, which dominates the countryside amid the farms and orchards, like a modern walled-in city. Bright lights surround it, and food trucks line up in front like traveling merchants. You almost expect it to have towers and a crocodile-filled moat.

The woman tells me that she used to work there. Her job was to climb a three-step ladder, take a parcel from a robot that would hand it to her, climb down the ladder, and place the parcel on the appropriate conveyor belt. This operation was supposed to take no more than 47 seconds. She wore a timer that would count down every time, again and again. This was her entire job. Climb up and down the ladder for 10 hours. If she took more than 47 seconds, a supervisor would come to talk to her. One night, coming down the ladder, her knee bent the wrong way. It was a devastating injury. The company paid for her initial medical care, but then stopped paying. She battled with her case manager, but without avail. In the end she was left unable to work, and with no compensation.

11:30 pm – Three girls and two boys, all 21 or 22 years old, all hammered senseless. Two girls can hardly stand. It’s cold outside but the girls are wearing short skirts with halter tops or translucent blouses. No jackets. They’re all going to FAB, a gay bondage disco in the counter cultural Tower district. I suggest that it might be better to go home, and I’d be glad to take them. The Tower isn’t safe at night, and they’re already drunk. One girl says, “He sounds like my father.” Another says, “Not mine. My dad doesn’t give a s*** what I do.”

They insist they want to go to FAB, and I take them.

A Gold Star

12:10 am – Three drunk Latinos at Bobby Salazar’s. The shortest one slumps next to me in the passenger seat. He doesn’t know how to use the Uber app and has entered Bobby Salazar’s as both the pickup and destination address. “Just go down Palm Avenue, guey!” one says. “We gon’ tell you.” I say okay but please try to figure out the app or I won’t get paid. “We got you covered guey!”

A few miles down the road the short guy figures it out. The destination pops up on my screen. “You got it,” I say. “Good job.”

He gets angry. “You tellin’ me good job like I’m a kindergartener, b***h? You gonna give me a gold star?” Seeing the grave look on my face he quickly adds, “I didn’t mean you. I meant my homey in the back.” His homies egg him on. “Good job, boy! Get your gold star.”

One of them keeps calling me “do-rag.” (Referring to my kufi). “Watch out for that car, do-rag! I shoulda knowed when I saw the do-rag this was a bad idea.”

Now I’m getting angry. I’ve been training in martial arts since I was fourteen years old and I hold multiple black belts. I’m perfectly capable of dragging them all out of the car and turning them into hunks of quivering meat, but I keep driving because that’s the job. Sure, I could kick them out, but how does it help these men or the world to have three drunks standing on a strange corner at midnight? They might get hit by a car, or robbed. Anyone who doesn’t want to ferry drunks shouldn’t be working as a rideshare driver at midnight on a Saturday. Besides, this is not just a job for me. If it was only about the money I wouldn’t be able to do it. It’s a service. It’s a way of connecting with my fellow human beings, sharing some truth at times, and committing small kindnesses that, perhaps, change the world for the better, even in the smallest way.

The three guys have me stop at a run-down apartment complex in a cul-de-sac with garbage piled on the street. A tired young redhead comes out and gets in the car. She is to be their designated driver. I take them to the CVS on West, where they parked their car earlier. I’m glad to be rid of them.

Rides, Rides, Rides

Almond trees

Almond orchard

1:00 am – Three drunk white guys this time, at a highbrow northside club called The Standard. Why do they always come in threes? They are well dressed and in their 30’s, and heading to a college bar called Jimbo’s, where they hope to meet college girls. “I’m gonna buy two hundred $2 shots for the house,” one announces. The route takes us along the Minnewawa Avenue farms, which have recently laid down compost. The smell is horrendous (I later learn that the farmers are composting with human waste). One says, “Too much male body odor in here,” and rolls down the window. The stink floods in, becoming much worse. “Uber driver!” one man cries. “Do something about that!” Another says, “Uber driver, we’ll tip you extra if you make the smell go away!” I’m just hoping they don’t throw up in the car, and luckily they do not. They don’t tip me at all.

2:40 am – Rides, rides, rides. I’m an athlete of a different sort, a combustion and coffee-driven marathoner. It’s as dark as a riverbottom out here, and it’s dangerous, and cold. Angels are pouring from the celestial well of night, saving people from being killed by drunk drivers, and saving the drunks from themselves. They spiral to the earth by the millions, praying for those who stand in prayer, calling for blessings on those who contemplate and do good:

“Allah has supernumerary angels who rove about seeking out gatherings in which Allah’s name is being invoked: they sit with them and fold their wings round each other, filling that which is between them and between the lowest heaven.” – Hadith Qudsi

I imagine that the angels soar and dive on their missions, recording the deeds of the holy and the wicked, and instigating peace, if only we listened and understood.

I’m not making sense. At this time of night every passenger looks either like an enemy or a long-lost friend. Time to go home.

* * *

 

Uber Tales appears once a month.

Reader comments and constructive criticism are important to me, so please comment!

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s fiction stories on this website.

Wael Abdelgawad’s novels – including Pieces of a Dream, The Repeaters and Zaid Karim Private Investigator – are available in ebook and print form on his author page at Amazon.com.

Keep supporting MuslimMatters for the sake of Allah

Alhamdulillah, we're at over 850 supporters. Help us get to 900 supporters this month. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Wael Abdelgawad's novels can be purchased at his author page at Amazon.com: Wael is an Egyptian-American living in California. He is the founder of several Islamic websites, including, Zawaj.com, IslamicAnswers.com and IslamicSunrays.com. He teaches martial arts, and loves Islamic books, science fiction, and ice cream. Learn more about him at WaelAbdelgawad.com. For a guide to all of Wael's online stories in chronological order, check out this handy Story Index.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Shoaib

    November 24, 2022 at 12:53 PM

    Mashallah thank you for your reflections. I love these Uber diaries. That last reflection about angels really made me think, and made that Hadith Qudsi feel more real even though I had heard it before. I will think about it the next time I am driving at night.

    • Wael Abdelgawad

      November 26, 2022 at 9:48 PM

      Shoaib, you are welcome! Thank you for commenting.

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