It was at a Starbucks on Melrose Ave, in West Hollywood, that I met Abraham. He’d moved from Jordan to Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1990; and then out to Los Angeles only five years ago. Since then he’s been working nights at a gas station from 10 p.m. until 6 the next morning.
This week he is taking off from work. Not from the gas station, but from his other job as an Uber Driver.
“I need a break,” he says to me, waving his hands in the air in exasperation. “Too much driving.”
He was sitting by himself with a coffee, taking in the night at the cafe when he spotted me. He noticed my bluetooth headset and wondered what the hell it was, thinking it was some sort of hair accessory, as it was hanging around my neck, somewhat stylishly I guess.
Anyways our conversation took off from there. He asked me where I was from, and I asked him back, and then he went into the stories of his career as a driver. He went down the list of clientele, and what I could expect from each kind of passenger.
“Men are easy,” he said. “They give me the address. I put it in the GPS and no problem! Women, they say ‘I’ll tell you where go, and when to turn.’”
He rolls his eyes and raises his hands in the air as if asking ‘Why me, oh Lord?’
“That really bothers me. Just give me the address!”
He mentions too that old people are always a risk. Apparently, unless you drive at the pace of a golf cart, you’re likely to be accused of driving too crazy, which will lead to them giving you a bad review.
“It’s not fair,” he says as he laughs out loud and gestures again with his hands in the air to the Lord.
Good reviews are something Abraham works hard to earn. Better reviews mean a bonus in payment. So he makes sure to have anything from water bottles to packets of gum to offer passengers during the drive.
One of these passengers, and it might have been early in his career but I can’t be sure now, for I didn’t confirm when it was, had him drive from West Hollywood to Altadena and then back to West Hollywood. The whole trip, which started at 1 p.m., lasted about six hours with traffic, and had him waiting outside an office building in Altadena while she attended her meeting. While he was parked, he kept the phone on and charged, though the car was turned off; thinking that he would accurately keep track of the drive since the phone clocks the drive time and thus, the driver’s fee.
Or so he thought. He told one of his friends, another driver, that he made $86.00 from the drive.
“He looked at me and said ‘You turned your car off? Are you and idiot? You should have kept the car running. The fee is based off mileage not time.’” He plants his palm over his eyes as if still not believing he made the mistake. “So now I always tell new drivers, ‘Keep the car running.’”
I told him that I was interested in signing up and he enthusiastically told me what I would need to do.
“Find out if you car is new enough. I think it is.”
My car is a 2004. I don’t think it is. But he was insistent. He tells me to find out and that when I do, to let him know and he will invite me to join. Perhaps we can even meet at the coffee shop, he says, and then he would drive me to the office in Westwood and accompany me to find out the details. If I join and start working then we each receive a $500 bonus from Uber. Apparently it works that way.
I tell him that I will, and that I will have to visit him during one of the nights at the gas station; otherwise maybe I’ll see him around at the Starbucks again. He says he’s been coming around for a coffee here more often and that he even recognizes me, which doesn’t surprise me since I am a something of a regular.
He notices the book on my table, a biography of Ernest Hemingway.
“He was a good man,” he says with great sincerity almost as though he knew him. “He killed himself in Key West.”
“No it was Idaho.”
“Yes. But he lived in Key West.”
He finds this hard to believe, but eventually he believes me. As I mention Key West and Cuba and Miami, he reflects on South Florida and the Caribbean and he smiles warmly as if remembering a time he spent in paradise.
“The sunsets there are beautiful,” he says.
“Best in the world,” I say. “Most beautiful I’ve seen anyway.”
As we say our goodbyes and talk of plans to meet up again, he shakes my hand for maybe the fourth or fifth time. Then he brings me in for a warm embrace and kisses my cheek.
I think of how throughout much of the conversation, during the moments he was smiling and seemed most happy, how his eyes would slightly tear up. I don’t think he’s used to people listening so intently to his stories. On the other hand, maybe he just has sensitive eyes.