7:47 AM. Urban woman of curious ethnicity, petite but certain, dressed fashionably monotone, asymmetric hair shredded masterfully, being Ubered in a sleek black car up 5th Ave, perhaps heading to an important meeting.
7:47 AM. Me. Petite and less certain, masterfully shredded hair hanging like limp wet noodles, black top covered in cat hair (really shouldn’t have hugged Boo Boo on the way out), frantically checking my phone to see how far my Lyft driver is. I see the pink mustache heading towards me and I know I’ll make my 8 am 1:1.
Each morning, I briefly contemplate walking to work, then I prioritize a longer snuggle with my feline flatmates or 20 additional minutes at work (in startup mode, every minute counts). But what has been a mere means to an end, has fast become one of my favorite times of the day – my daily dose of human connection in the backseat of a Lyft.
I don’t like strangers. I also don’t like small talk. I’m not very good at it. If I was in a usability study for a car service, I’d strongly relate with the persona of the quiet (mildly stressed) passenger who doesn’t want to be spoken to beyond “Hello, are you Mona?” and “Going to 2200 on 4th?” If anything, I wouldn’t even like to be asked those obvious questions that I’ve already answered via the app.
And yet here we are, Jaspir Singh and I, reminiscing about old Indian songs (he’s surprised that I know them, I tell him my father was a fan), driving through Seattle, transported to the Punjab of 1985. He’s been here for 15 years, much like me. Neither of us thinks we’ll go back. We share our enthusiasm for the American dream, we see it being more than just a dream. We see it realize in our own lives. We value our safety. We laugh about how petty crime in India and Pakistan is usually instigated by the cops and how they’re the last people one should involve in civil disputes. We worry about a Trump America. We worry about us in Trump America. We speak about violence against Sikhs after 9/11. My building approaches. He reminds me of my grandfather. He says Khudahafiz as I say Namaste. I begin my day at work.
On the way home, Youssef, the Moroccan bachelor picks me up. He thinks I’m Iranian. We discuss the meaning of Mona. He tells me it’s a common name in Morocco. I tell him that’s what his countrymen told me when I was there. He’s elated that I’ve been to his home town. Mission accomplished :). We discuss the merits and demerits of various tagines. There is no authentic Moroccan food in Seattle. He’s going home in October though. And he will be bringing a wife back so perhaps there will be more tagine and couscous in his life after that. She’s a professional lady though, he tells me. We discuss visas and green cards. He won the green card lottery. His family thinks he’s the luckiest man in the world. He doesn’t feel lucky, his ex-wife cheated on him. But the new lady, she is more mature. He’s sad when I answer his question about children. Gives me advice that I should reconsider. I wish him luck with his lady. It’s time to go and feed my cats.
Jake, the musical nomad picks me up after taking several “2 minutes away”. I’m his last ride of the morning and it’s just 7:30 AM. He targets the early morning airport crowd, then heads back to his basement apartment in Edmunds and writes music. The scene for composers isn’t all that great up here. He moved here from Idaho with his girlfriend, then she broke up with him and two years in, he’s ready to try his luck in the city of angels. The Seattle Freeze is real, we agree, especially for people like him and I, people that don’t like to climb up mountains or go kayaking. Whatever happened to good old conversation? He’s tentative in asking about where I’m from but I can tell he’s curious. That’s so RAD, he tells me when he finds out. Time to open the door and walk into another day.
You work and you work and you work and then you die, my Somali Lyfter tells me as he picks me up from Amperity’s CEO’s house at 11 PM (late pow-wow for the leadership team). I’m tired. I don’t think I’m going to enjoy this conversation, but then he takes a different direction. And once you make your peace with that, life is good. Why else would you and I both be working at this hour, he says as he laughs at the ultimate hack that is life. He’s out driving me around so his mother, his wife and three children in Berbera don’t have to worry about food and rent. I think about my mother, puttering through her morning in Lahore, probably in the kitchen making something garlicy. I long for her food. I’ll go home in 6, 7, 8…8 months. We’re at the front door of my loft. Time to snuggle and sleep.
Friday, Jorge is my companion this morning. His cologne is overwhelming. I wind down the window just a titch, not wanting to offend him but still get some breathable air in. He’s receptive and profusely apologizes. I tell him I’m from the east, we like to bathe in cologne. Tonight, he will reunite with the love of his life after 30 years. They were high school sweethearts. Her father did not approve since he was Mexican. They moved away. Two separate lives, two sets of marriages, two sets of children, two sets of cheating spouses, two broken hearts, one Facebook Friend request, thousands of frenetic messages back and forth, two souls united. He shows me a picture. I tell him she looks like someone who would love Gardenias. He’s shocked. That was her favorite flower. We agree he should get off work early and buy some.
It’s a hard day at work. Most days are. The pressure of delivering value to customers, the need to get shit done, the intensity of going fast and being right often, the fear that any one decision could be near fatal – that’s the stuff our daily grind is made of. I think about Jorge – excited, freaked out, wreaking of cologne. I think about Youseff and his new professional lady wife. I wonder if Jake has any useful connections in L.A. It’s time to go home. I tap tap tap on my Lyft app, watch the same animations notifying me of nearby drivers, route optimization, blah blah blah. My driver pops up on my screen. 2 minutes away. It’s Jaspir Singh.