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Uber Tales #5 : Hospitals, Party-Goers And A Gun In My Face

The night before Thanksgiving is a madhouse. Thoughts on broken versus healthy relationships. And the night almost ends with a bang, literally.

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Uber Tales by Wael Abdelgawad

Tonight: The night before Thanksgiving is a madhouse. Thoughts on broken versus healthy relationships. And the night almost ends with a bang, literally.

(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 have experienced them)

Previously: Uber Tales 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

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Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Neuro-Linguistic Programming

Denny's restaurant6 pm – I pick up a tall woman with a small child in front of a Denny’s. It’s cold outside and she is wearing a dirty, knee-length pink coat. The woman, Amanda, looks exhausted, but even with all that she’s still beautiful, with lake-blue eyes and high cheekbones. She asks me to turn the radio to a Christian music station. She says she is studying neuro-linguistic programming, and that she can use it to alter self-destructive behavior patterns that have been ingrained within her as a result of traumatic childhood experiences. She speaks earnestly and rapidly. I get the feeling she has had only the child to talk to for some time, and wants to share as much as she can before the ride ends. Her house is in a poor neighborhood. Two small cats come trotting out to greet her.

I used to be attracted to women like this: intelligent, attractive, and broken. Desperate women. I imagined I would help them, save them, be their knight in denim armor.

No more. I am engaged to a woman who is intelligent, attractive, and not at all broken. In fact she’s one of the healthiest, kindest, and most God-conscious people I’ve ever met. And I’m happy. There’s nothing missing. If I still have an impulse to save her, it’s mitigated by the fact that she’s saving me too. It has taken me a long, long time to learn this lesson, that the best love is between two healthy people who will be more together than they are apart.

I imagine it was like that between the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and Khadijah raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her). A deeply honest, God-conscious, contemplative man. A smart, strong-willed, yet humble and loyal woman. Two people who came together and strengthened each other, creating something beautiful in the process.

That is the example I want to follow. And my wedding is in one month, believe it or not. SubhanAllah.

Hospitals

7 pm – It’s an evening for hospitals. At the emergency room I pick up a heavyset white woman in her sixties. Her mother died two days ago. She hasn’t slept and has been having panic attacks where she can’t stop crying and wailing. She says she and her late husband had nothing in common, but they listened to each other, and paid attention to the other’s interests. He’s gone, and she’s lonely. She’s barely eaten in two days, so I take her through the Taco Bell drive through, then home. I tell her to try to get some sleep.

Later I pick up another middle aged woman, Hispanic this time. She is thin with long black hair, and smells of cigarettes. Her sister has called her to say their mother is in the emergency room. This apparently happens a lot, and the woman does not seem worried. She says when she was young she was engaged. She had a dream that she would die young. She told her fiance and he said he too believed he would die young. She had a terrible car accident at the age of 27 and barely survived. He also had a car accident. He did not survive.

Party Kids

9:00 pm – The night is kicking off like the World Cup. It’s the night before Thanksgiving. All the college kids are home for the holiday. Tomorrow they’ll be stuck at home with their families, stuffing themselves with the American bird, but tonight they’re hitting the town like the foam on a tidal wave. They go singly or in groups to Splash, Strummer’s, Livingstone’s, Goldstein’s Delicatessen and Mortuary, FAB, Bobby Salazar’s, Lucy’s Lounge, the Rainbow Room, the Elbow Room, Slick’s, The Brig, The Standard, Elliot’s, The 5th, Outlaw Saloon, Old Town Saloon, The Alibi, Miss Kitty’s Lounge… I note that all these party goers are -without exception- white.

Sometimes they ask me, “What’s a good bar to go to?” I tell them I don’t know, I’ve never been inside any of them. Sometimes, if I think they’re open to it, I tell them the truth, that the folks going to the bars are excited, but when I pick them up at the end of the night they are regretful, exhausted, bitter, angry, and sometimes ashamed. And that in my opinion, living your week just to party on the weekend is a living death.

No one ever reacts badly to these thoughts. It’s as if they already know it, but don’t know what else to do.

Working Women

Fresno Amazon warehouse at night

I also take people home from work. A young woman closing down an In N’ Out at midnight. A man coming off a shift at the Amazon warehouse at 1 am. A woman at the Gap warehouse. They are all black or Hispanic. Make of that what you will.

By the way, anyone who believes the stereotype of African-American women as “welfare queens” should drive for Uber for a few weeks. Black women are nurses, factory workers, restaurant workers, fruit packers… Some have two jobs. Some have three. This is the face of the American working class.

Can’t Save Anyone

11:00 pm – Five young people exit Sequoia Brewery and cram in. A sixth wants to squeeze in but there’s no room. She curses and storms off. A tall woman named Amelia takes the front passenger seat. They talk about a local rock musician. He’s a minor celebrity but apparently has some unhealthy habits.

“Amelia was dating him,” one of the girls offers. The others are amazed at this.

“It’s true,” Amelia confirms. “I wanted to be his girlfriend but he didn’t want that. I could have helped him. I could have saved him.”

“You can’t save anyone,” I say.

“What?” someone says from the back seat. “What did the driver say?”

I elaborate: “You can’t save anyone who doesn’t want to be saved. You can’t change anyone or help anyone who doesn’t want to be helped. Trust me on this. God can change a man’s heart. You can’t.”

They all fall silent as if I am a guru dispensing truth from the top of a mountain. Amelia puts a hand on her heart. Finally one girl says, “Amelia saved me when I almost O.D.’d that time.”

“Oh yeah,” another agrees. “If I were gonna O.D. I would call Amelia before anyone.”

French Fries

12:00 am – I pick up an 18 year old woman at Wendy’s. She is thin with a curly Afro. She sits in front and chatters non-stop. She works there and has just closed the restaurant. I’m amazed that such a young person has so much responsibility. I tell her she smells like French fries. She says, “Everyone does at the end of a shift. I can tell what restaurant a person works at by how they smell. McDonald’s workers smell the worst. Something in the grease.”

1:00 am – Young African American man comes out of Miss Kitty’s Lounge, tells me he sells luxury vehicles. He quit drinking two years ago and likes to stay home and read. He only went out tonight because his friend invited him. “I never realized before how shallow these people are,” he says. “All they talk about is who’s dating who, who had sex with who, who talked bad about who. Why didn’t I notice this before?”

We talk about travel and I learn his father is Panamanian and his mother Costa Rican, but he’s never been out of the U.S. I tell him I’ve been to Costa Rica and I lived in Panama. He is stunned. We arrive at his destination. He wants to stay in the car and talk but I have to go, I already have another rider waiting.

The Prospect of Death

2:20 am – It’s been a long day. Going on 30 rides. The city is the half-buried skeleton of a giant and I am a beetle scurrying along the bones, following invisible scent trails, seeking scraps of food. It’s ten degrees above freezing. My hands ache from gripping the wheel, and the backs of my eyes are hot.

I cruise into a cul-de-sac in south Fresno, in a rough neighborhood, on my way to pick up someone named Gabriel. Two toughs are hanging out in a threadbare park, sitting on a graffitied metal picnic table in a light drizzle. One steps into the street, blocking my way. I roll down my window, thinking he might be my passenger.

Close up of handgun revolver barrelThe young man’s hand comes out from behind his back and there’s a large handgun in it. He points it at my face from a foot away and demands to know what I’m doing in this neighborhood. What an idiot. Were my illuminated Uber and Lyft signs not enough of a hint?

The prospect of death disappoints me more than it scares me. I have so much I want to get done. Publish my Hassan’s Tale series, publish the Haven Tales series, publish Uber Tales; leave a legacy for my daughter that will serve to guide her when I’m gone. A legacy that will speak to her, saying, “This is who I was. I loved you and this is what I believed.” More than that, I want to leave a financial stake that she can build on. Right now I have very little. So yes, the prospect of death worries me. Yet this young man standing in front of me, as a real and genuine threat and not a concept, does not scare me. Possibly I could seize his gun and cut him down like a corn stalk. I see it in my head. Jam his wrist against the window frame, break his elbow. Adrenaline kicks in and my vision narrows. I see the pores in the gunman’s face, the pipe burn on his lip, the tattoo on his neck, the blackened fingernail. The gun, a cheap revolver, shines blue beneath the street lamp. I can take him. And I want to. This is an old part of me talking, or a part of the old me.

But that’s not what I’m here for. I’m just the driver. And this is real life, not a movie. So I say, “I’m here to pick up Gabriel.” And I point to a house across the street.

The guy nods and tucks away the gun. “Go on then.” So I do. I pick up Gabriel and drive in silence, not even telling him about the man with the gun, and drop him off at the Gallo wine factory where the entire neighborhood stinks of fermentation, and gouts of factory foam litter the ground like sea scum. I’m miles from my own neighborhood, but I’m done. As I drive home on 180 my calves shake, and my arms tremble on the steering wheel. I can see my breath in the car.

* * *

 

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.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Zainab bint Younus

    December 8, 2022 at 3:28 PM

    As always, incredibly powerful and stirring. May Allah grant you the tawfeeq to accomplish all that you intend to before your death, ameen! Also, alf mabrook on the upcoming nuptials!

  2. Umm ismael

    December 8, 2022 at 9:01 PM

    asslam u alaikum akhi
    early felicitations on your nikah MashaAllah. BarakAllahufeekum wa barakaalaikum wa jama bainakuma fee kher ameen
    again a beautiful insight into human psychology that we would never be exposed to other wise.
    may Allah Grant you a long healthy happy emaan filled life with your family ameen

    • Wael Abdelgawad

      December 8, 2022 at 9:14 PM

      Wa alaykum as-salam, thank you for the dua. I appreciate it very much.

  3. Bint A

    December 9, 2022 at 2:34 PM

    Yikes! That last story was scary…and how you subtly let on to the reader how you felt at the end. Powerful. May Allah keep you safe for your family and loved ones.

    Stellar descriptions as always MashaAllah it’s like we’re there experiencing the trips ourselves.

  4. Umm Zaynab

    December 19, 2022 at 8:47 AM

    Excellent post once again, I really enjoy and benefit from these alhamdulillah.

    Congratulations on your upcoming marriage. May Allah place immense barakah in your marriage and make it a source of joy. Ameen.

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