I spent the summer in something like a bewildered pondering. In between classes to teach and classes to take, boxes full of our possessions spread out vertically across America, from Midwest to Southeast, I wasn’t sure what to do with myself, with my time. Wasn’t sure how to wait out the summer, or if waiting it out was even an option. Or an acceptable use of my time.
The mail came. A package. I opened it up and extracted a large, fuzzy pink mustache pillow with ties on the back to attach it to the front grille of my car. Or maybe it was a pair of fuzzy peach pig ears to fasten over the side-view mirrors, the identifying symbol of a car-sharing app. A smaller bag from the box contained a tiny device to attach my phone to the air vent on the dashboard. I decided to do as directed, so I detail-cleaned my car, attached the mustache (or was it the pig ears?), turned on the phone app and began to drive friendly total strangers from one end of the sticky, melting city to the other. At all hours of the day and night.
We talked. We listened to the radio, to my CD mixes. They told me their names, rated my driving and the relative cleanliness of my car. They stepped into my storybooth on wheels, and when they had finished talking, having been transported from bars to restaurants, hotels to airports and apartments to juice bars, they stepped back out. They left behind candy wrappers, bracelets, paper coffee cups and stories. I returned the bracelets and threw away the garbage, but the stories, well…some of those I am sharing with you:
Sunday morning, 8 a.m., just south of downtown, I drove into an apartment complex and put on the flashers at the designated spot. My passenger appeared and leaned over, opening the passenger-side door, as Ryders are encouraged to do. “Oh, maan,” he groaned and lifted one flip-flop into the front next to me, the rest of him tumbling in after. He was wearing shorts and a baggy Madras shirt, a handsome thirtyish face coated with dark stubble. He winked a swollen eye and said, “I can’t believe what I just did,” As I drove him to a near-empty parking lot in the Gulch to retrieve his car from the night before, my passenger talked to me like I was his trusted auntie, confessing that he did not even know exactly where he’d spent the night with the woman he’d gone home with or exactly where I’d gone to pick him up on my first Ryde of the morning. Repentant, that’s what he was. Never doing that again, Ryding home with a stranger and having to face her the next morning. And Father’s Day, too. And a Sunday.
I sent him off with a breath mint and reassuring words and answered my next summons just barely within the allotted fifteen seconds before it bounced to some other lucky Ryde driver. This next Ryde was a man leaving one of the newer Gulch high-rise condos, also headed to his car left the previous night by the Woodlands Indian vegetarian restaurant alongside I-440. “Glad to see everyone Ryding instead of driving home dangerously!” I joked, and this man, round and rumpled and smiling, said, “Well, I’ve gotta get home fast and shower and shave. Gotta do Father’s Day stuff today. Kid wants to do brunch and church, that’s what he requested, so I’ve gotta pick him up from his mom’s in an hour.” The requested very precise and out of sync with his language. I offered him a mint or a coffee-shot candy and he took the mint.
This turned out to be the theme of the morning. Six nonresident fathers in a row, from one side of town to another, needed morning-after Rydes to their cars so they could make it back home to shower, shave and go to brunch with their children. Three fathers were alone, three with women with whom they shared the familiarity of a current romance. I thought of my own children asleep, wondering if they would see my note and call their out-of-state father when they woke up.
I didn’t think long because the beeping green button was offering me now only seven more seconds to claim my chance at the next Ryde. The GPS sent me in circles around Lifeway Christian and my passenger wasn’t picking up the phone. Then a text came in. “Holiday Inn on Broadway and 10th.” I pulled in and a couple came over. “Sorry I couldn’t answer, “ the man said amicably in the voice of one who has never heard spoken language. “I’m completely deaf! Can’t hear a thing! Can you take us to Pancake Pantry?” We arrived at their destination to the usual round-the-block line. I ended the Ryde, the man asking a question I couldn’t understand but thought I knew. “Can you lip-read?” I asked, and he nodded. “It’s always like this, the line for The Pantry, but it moves fast.” He smiled, touched my shoulder and hopped out with his partner, who squeezed my hand while the green button flashed only six more seconds to grab the next request.
Coming home to Nashville often feels like I’ve come to a new destination city. One of the many things about our growing homeplace that I wouldn’t have known had I not begun driving for Ryde, the side mirrors of my oldish Camry adorned with the identifying fluffy peach pig ears, is that it’s become a bachelor and bachelorette party hotspot.
This week, in the middle of a brief burst of rain, my passenger acceptance ticker flashed Ryde green. I caught it in the first two seconds and was summoned to a high-rise condo in the Gulch. A stream of gals in pink matching t-shirts came through the front doors into the valet area, the soon-to be-married bachelorette sporting a plastic tiara. The giant sign she wore listed many instructions for this final night of single-gal status, including the following:
- Dance with an aging cowboy on a tabletop at a downtown club
- Sing karaoke, change the words to something that maks your mama blush; and
- Find a husband for one of the single girls; kiss him first to see if he’s any good.
I gave four members of this peppy group, gathered from all around the nation, a Ryde to Rippy’s where the bride would presumably commence these prenuptial tasks.
There were three bachelorette groups and one bachelor party group that night. One of these was a swarm of gals in various black embroidered tops and giant sombreros. Four hopped into the pig-eared Camry and included me in their ebullient talkfest as we headed onto Hillsboro from Golf Club Lane and down to the Village. Two other Ryde cars caravanned behind me, the entire party jumping out laughing in front of Cabana and tumbling in the front door, oversized sombreros banging into each other and impeding their entry.
It wasn’t until the arrival of the bachelor party guys, who got into the Camry and asked to be taken to their own little shindig on Demonbreun, that I became aware that the Cabana sombrero ladies had left behind an essential party favor in a sparkly pink box with a vintage design, about the length of a, well, pencil. This was not a night for discretion, and the bachelor party men blurted, “Hey, look, someone left some of those penis sipping straws! You must’ve had a bachelorette party in here before us!”
I bid the bachelors adieu and felt a pang of sadness for the sombrero ladies, all dressed up in their sombreros with no straws to sip. So I did the only right thing. I turned off driver mode on my app and went all the way back up Broadway to the Village, turned left onto Belcourt and pulled up to the Cabana valet, my kindred spirit of evening work shifts. “I drive for Ryde,” I explained, as if the fluffy peach pig ears were not already a dead giveaway. “Some passenger ladies left a, uh, “special” party favor in my car and I need to run in and return it.” “Oh,” he said, ignoring my attempt at discretion, “You mean they left some penis straws? Go right on in, I’ll watch your car.” So I went in carrying the telltale pink box, trying to appear as unembarrassed as the valet and found the gals. As I pulled aside the net partition, one of my Ryders recognized me and jumped up in excited gratitude, her giant sombrero knocking into the one next to her. Suddenly, the group of partiers was upon me, erupting into cheers and thanking and hugging me in drunk-tight embraces until I managed to escape, the evening’s penis-straw deliveryheroine riding off in a silver Camry to rescue more of our fine city’s passengers in distress.