My life last week, was one long uber ride, which really hammers home one of my new years’ resolutions that I really must learn to drive.
Whilst the stress of low battery as another uber fails to find me outside The Trafford Centre John Lewis entrance cancels again makes the frown I’m starting to develop healthily get on it’s way to a fully fledged wrinkle, I draw my coat around me closer and debate eating the free bag of PopChips I grabbed at a pop up inside.
I decide against it knowing I have sushi (M&S reduced to clear) waiting for me when I eventually make it back to the office. Samuel’s failure to find me results in a £4 charge (cheaper cancellation fee I see in MCR than in LDN!) and I despair! I literally have zero funds and this work related Uber will have to go on next week’s expenses.
Eventually, my uber arrives and I try not to let my irritated state infect my mood and conversation as I clamber in to the Toyota Prius to a smiling, bright driver called Leel Ahmed*
This week, I took no fewer than 8 ubers between Wednesday and Sunday evening spending over £50. They’re cheap, somewhat reliable and a godsend at times, but this week, what stood out for me the most, was the willingness of their captains to share their lives with me, and encourage me to share my life with them. As my app tracked our journey, it would never have predicted the trajectories of our conversations and then, the trip ends and we depart ways, perhaps to never speak again.
Here are a collection of my favourite stories from my Uber chauffeurs this week:
If a London cabby got stuck inside a Sikh man from Manchester, he would be Veejay. With the irritation and the been round the block attitude of a cab driver, Veejay told me how he couldn’t beat uber, after driving a black cab in MCR for over 20 years, and sadly, to pay his bills, he’d have to join them. ‘Dya mind if I avoid Piccadilly darling, I don’t want to bump into the old lot, they’ll hate me!’
Of course I said that was fine, but inwardly I was hoping it wouldn’t add too much to my trip.
Piccadilly sidled off into the grey distance and we looped round countless caffs dodging in and out of the indecisive sunshine as it ducked behind the clouds and back out again.
When two people of Asian descent are together in close proximity, the inevitable back and forth of origin chat ensues: ‘Pakistani? Indian? Sri Lankan, no, darling you’re Moroccan?’ He was born and bred Manc but his father was from Amritsar in India, a place he’d never been.
‘Are you single love?, mine’s complicated too – she’s married you see, but my wife passed away 6 years ago and no one will ever hold a flame to her really.’ We swapped stories; him on how he’d never met his wife before he married her and only seen her once before, smashed on whiskey after going to the Temple. She’d been his best friend and he’d promised he’d take their children to Amritsar one day. ‘Really?! Your parents have been together that long ey? A family trip to Mauritius – you’re lucky my love, enjoy it?’
‘I can’t be doing with India me, it’s never appealed.’ I told him how my trip there has been one of my most memorable of my life, and whilst Dubai was a lot of fun, India still won hands down. The colour, the noise, the food and smells. We drew up to the Trafford centre ‘You know what love, I’m going to go, I’m going to keep my promise to my wife, we’ll still go to Dubai mind, my son will kill me or else, but I swear my wife made sure I picked you up today just so I’d meet you and then I will have never have broken a promise to her, I owe her that at least – she put up with my snoring for ages!’
If I ever go back to India, I’ll make sure I make it back to Amritsar too.
A different day, but back at the big TC, waiting for an uber. I’m thankful it’s not raining and the sun is smiling down on us, maybe it too is glad it’s Friday. ‘Guess where I’m from!’ His face is a jigjsaw of upward slanting eyes, Mediterranean skin, shocks of straight black hair, and deep wrinkles from crinkling in the sun much brighter than the version we have in England. ‘I really can’t guess!’ I insist. A clue: it begins with A, he helps. It turns out to be Afghanistan.
He’s 33 and longs to see the rivers of his home country and the true seasons in the mountains, one day covered with snow, another day so hot, the dust flies up in protest at the heat. He came to Manchester in 2007 as an asylum seeker.
‘My dad, he won’t follow me here’, he says there might be trouble but it is still his home, and he cannot live without his heartbeat frozen in the cold like me here.’ He’s totally alone here he tells me, it’s no life to bring a woman into, it’s not stable, but one day, he wishes to be married. We discuss the modernities of marriage and what I, as a young woman, wish to find in a future husband. ‘He must make me laugh‘, I say, ‘and be willing to take me out for dinner all the time.’ He marvels at my youth and tells me to not to let it pass by, but to probably keep going to the gym since I confess my breakfast donut, if I want to keep my figure anyway. He’s only 33 but he seems much older.
‘I’ve just moved to the north too!’ He smiles at me catching my eye in the mirror. His accent is German but his warmth already has the inflections of the north of England burning through it. He loves how cheap everything is here. ‘£350 including bills!! I paid 2,000 a month in Croydon! Plus that fine I had to pay for driving in the bus lane… London bankrupted me!’ He was still getting used to the driving rules in the UK and had just stopped almost crashing at the roundabouts cos, ‘we drive on the other side ya?’. He’d driven down a bus lane, smug as hell ‘ I couldn’t believe how stupid all these grumpy black cab drivers were, stopped still like toads in the traffic whilst I zoomed pass them in the bus lane.’
He got a ticket, obviously, and his German ignorance, which he tried to use as his excuse to get out of paying it, only increased the fine. ‘In such polite, sarcastic English the council wrote back that I must read the rules when driving in another country and the best part was the offence happened at 6.59pm.’ It’s perfectly legal apparently to drive in a bus lane, or that particular one, anyway, after 7pm.
He claimed Bolton was sunny mostly and it had a bad rep for horrid weather which he said was completely unfounded. ‘I went to cyprus and it rained for 2 days. It didn’t rain a drop in Bolton, I wish I’d stayed!’. That sentence alone got him 5 stars
Concerned Father Figure
He must have sensed my dad was away on holiday, and as such as I was in need of a surrogate. ‘What are you doing coming home so late on a Friday evening?’
‘Work?’ I said, twisting the truth a lot since it was half 4 in the morning
‘At least you’re dressed well for the weather, how these girls wear so little makes me shiver inside my car!’
I draw my shaggy coat in further so he can’t glimpse my crop top underneath
He was practicing being the disapproving father I guess, working all hours for his daughter due in 2 months.
I’m always glad my phone is on the verge of dying whenever I get an Uber. It means i can’t wordlessly scroll through instagram and instead, paint pictures of the lives being shared so freely by the person in front driving, in my imagination.
It mostly makes for much more interesting pictures than the generic foodies shots, travel brag, bikini bod pics my feed is mostly saturated with, and the memes will always be there when I plug my phone in to charge.
*names have been changed.