They are there just about anywhere, anytime. Whatever the reason, many of us spend a good amount of time traveling with strangers that live in our city using rideshare apps—people with dreams, families and goals of their own. Here’s a glimpse into just how incredible the people we travel with can be, culled from my own rideshare experiences in Seattle, Washington.
Morning commutes are long and full of traffic, but the weather is nice and Oscar is playing some downtempo Colombian beats. We start talking about music and his driving job. “I like it on the weekends and very early in the morning,” he reveals. “This is my part-time. I do house remodeling.” He tells me I’m his last passenger of the morning, “because people get kinda grumpy in rush hour.” He moved to Seattle 20 years ago from Colombia with his ex-wife, a teacher, but not before traveling the world and working as a chef on a cruise ship. “That was when I was in my twenties. I went to cooking classes and somebody hired me for five years. I used to travel a lot. I traveled for five years all around the United States. I think traveling is the best gift you can give to yourself. I’ve visited 27 countries.”
Reminiscing about his travels, Oscar notes that he still visits home often: “I go to Columbia every year for two months, and I travel from there. All my family is there. Since I got divorced, pretty much I have nobody here.” His tone changes a bit, but not for long. When I ask why, he lights up again: “I like it a lot.”
Before I know it, we’re at my stop. I ask if I can tell his story, to which he happily agrees. He seems intrigued by my job title, and excitedly shares his love for poetry, explaining how thick his book of poetry would be if he were to write it. Who knows, maybe Oscar will be your new favorite poet someday. I left with a smile, inspired and hoping to have encouraged this sweet stranger to share something he’s always wanted to do with the world.
Music holds a special place in my heart, so breaking the ice with that topic is always easy. The driver—we’ll call him Samir—seemed uninterested in my inquiry (which happened to be the soundtrack for the TV show Big Little Lies), but I’m happy I continued to chat with him during my trip. I asked him if he liked driving Uber. “I had to drive Uber,” he told me flatly. “There is a difference between doing it for the sake of love or [having] to do it.”
He moved here six years ago from Libya. I asked him what brought him here, which won me a chuckle and a smile. “Another long story,” he began. “I worked for the U.S. State Department. I worked for the American Embassy in Libya as a bodyguard for almost 11 years. The locals [did not like] the fact of us working with ‘the enemy’”—he used air quotes as he spoke—“so before I moved here in 2005, I got kidnapped by a militia there. The situation there is not stable. I got kidnapped because of my former position. I ended up with two bullets in both legs, a broken jaw and a severe concussion. I lost my memory for almost two days and spent six days in a coma. That was another decision that I had to do, not out of sake of…” He trailed off, then continued. “That is why I ended up moving here. It was not safe for me to stay there.”
I asked him if he liked it here in Seattle. “It took me awhile to adapt,” he admits. “It’s kind of a big jump. Especially if you’re not prepared for it. I just had to get my things together and leave in like three months. It’s hard. I’m still having culture shock. Trying to adapt.” The ride was too short. I wish I would have had a chance to tell him what an incredibly brave person I think he is, but I wished him the best and thanked him for the ride. On my way out of the car, he smiled and wished me well.
If you live on the West Coast, chances are you’re in the cannabis industry or know someone who is, and sure enough, my driver was both. “I do Uber and Lyft and am part of a licensed marijuana grow and processing company,” Kevin told me. He had a friend who used to work with him in the bar industry who wanted to make his personal grow a legal one, and asked Kevin if he wanted to be a partner. “It’s worked out really well, and we’re expanding right now,” he detailed. We’re adding 7,200 more square feet, so we’re doubling. We’re looking at about 120 pounds [of flower] a month.” At the end of my trip, Kevin gave me a short wave and told me he’d be reaching out to DOPE Magazinefor a feature at some point in the future.
Whether you’re traveling to Berlin, India, Japan, or just to work, one of the joys of travel is the people you meet along the way. Their experiences are their own, their stories lessons to be taught, their insight unique. Next time you’re using a rideshare app, try looking up from your phone and at the people around you. You may be pleasantly surprised at who you’ll meet.