Yesterday I had plans to meet a friend for drinks at a German joint called Der Biergarten in downtown Atlanta. Not wanting to deal with downtown parking or driving after a few steinfuls, I booked an Uber to pick me up from my house in Cabbagetown. Immediately after hitting “Request UberX” the driver calls me.
“Hi! This is Jared, your Uber driver. How are you?”
“I’m good, and you?”
“I’m great. So how are you?”
Pause. “I’m fine,” I say hesitantly, having not the slightest clue what is happening.
“I wanted to ask if it’s OK if I have a friend riding with me.” No explanation as to why.
“Yeah that’s fine,” I reply. My first thought was that he’s simply giving his friend a ride somewhere and is doing double duty. My other thought was that it’s probably just two dudes riding around like we used to do when we were in high school and the only things to do were drive around, or hang out in the Walmart parking lot or in the woods. I found out immediately that it was the latter.
The car pulls up with bass bumping and there’s a guy in a backwards hat in the passenger seat, and a delightful bundle of twinkles in the driver seat. The car reeks of weed.
“Hi, I’m Jared and this is Ryan,” the driver says. “How’s your day going?”
“It’s going pretty well, how about yours?”
“Good, thanks. OK, first question. Would you like the windows down or up with the A/C on?”
“Down is fine; it’s nice outside.”
“Second question. What kind of music would you like?” (A Tribe Called Quest is playing).
“This is perfect,” I answer.
“OK, great. I do love my classic hip hop.”
“Yeah, me too.”
I notice immediately that there is a large plastic Cheez Balls container half-full with change in the center console with a card taped to it that says “Tips Please.” There is also a sign hanging from the rear view that says “OK to Tip” with an arrow pointing down. Jared asks me what I’m up to and I tell him that I’ve just quit my corporate job to freelance. “Good for you,” he says dramatically. “I want to quit my job. I need to talk to my boss. I work at Cici’s Pizza seven days a week for $7 an hour. I do not want to be there seven days a week for that. Maybe for $10 or $12 an hour I would.”
We make our way north on Boulevard. As we near Freedom Parkway, Ryan, who has until now been relatively quiet, turns around and asks if I mind if he smokes a cigarette. He has the telltale lizard eyes of a stoner.
“No that’s fine,” I say.
“Would you like a cigarette?” he offers, trying to mirror Jared’s level of customer service, which I find adorable, albeit a bit misguided.
“Do you smoke weed?” he asks.
“I do. And I could actually smell it the minute I got into the car.” I always like to bust out Uber drivers for this. Usually their response is, “It was the people before you that were smoking.” Right.
“Aw man, I can’t believe that! We sprayed this blunt spray and everything!” he said, pulling out a small purple spray bottle from the center console. The Cheez Balls container was beginning to make sense. “Would you like to smoke some?”
At this point I should explain that I rarely smoke pot. Most of the time it just makes me paranoid, which is annoying. On rare occasions I take part, though. I sat there for a minute trying to decide and as we descended upon the Connector on-ramp I thought, fuck it.
“OK, yeah let me have some of that.”
“Awesome,” Ryan says, clearly ready to smoke more. He hands me half of a blunt. I haven’t smoked a blunt since the days of my first hood rat Atlanta roommate.
“Do you have a lighter?”
“Oh here, I’ll light it for you,” he says. He lights it and hands it back to me. Jared rolls all the windows down and I take a long hit, the blunt getting hot on my fingers as I puff. I take another hit, hold it in and as I blow it out, the inevitable coughing fit starts. Not bad for Uber weed.
I hand the blunt back to Ryan and he offers it to Jared, who fusses at him, “I am trying to be professional here!” However, a moment later he says, “This is why I need to pick up more people in the city. They are cooler. Everyone else is just tired, coming home from work.”
Jared talks about needing to go curb surfing for a mattress and furniture. He has just moved here a few months ago from Milwaukee and his apartment is empty. “That’s nasty, dude!” Ryan exclaims. “You can’t get furniture off the side of the road. Just ask around and see if any friends are getting rid of stuff.”
“I wouldn’t use a mattress from the curb, but something like a desk would probably be fine,” I say, trying to smooth the matter.
“I don’t know,” Jared says, “You could just Lysol the fuck out of it.” That’s when it really sank in that Jared was broke as a promise and needed those tips.
As we pulled up to the combination Waffle House/Biergarten building, I said “Well I just so happen to have a five spot in my wallet and it’s all yours.” I stuffed it into the Cheez Balls container. “Put it toward the furniture fund.”
“Thank you so much!” Jared squealed.
Just then, Ryan yelled out, “Wow, you got a Waffle House right below you?”
“Yup,” I said, getting out of the car. He hangs his 18-year-old baby face out the window and longingly says, “Are you going to get a patty melt?”
“Hash browns,” I said. “Smothered and covered, baby.”