I opened the car door and sat down, feeling my body sink into the plush leathery seat. The tension from my shoulders and feet melted as the pine needle aroma from a refreshener graced my nostrils. I closed my eyes and squinted, trying to alleviate the irritation from my contacts. Taking in a deep breath, I glanced at my watch: 0100. Great, I thought to myself, another late night.
“What’s your name man? Are you Anant?,” asked the Uber driver.
“Yeah man, that’s me. How’s your night going?,” I ask.
“Good man. How about you? How’s your night?,” replied the Uber driver, smiling as he glanced in his rear-view mirror.
This was my favorite moment of every Uber ride: when the driver gave enough social ground to establish the “open door policy.”
While not every Uber or Lyft experience engenders such subtle courtesy or chemistry, the fact of the matter remains that the driver’s rating, and ultimately job, depend on me having a positive experience; hence a minimum amount of pleasantry must exist.
This distinction from taxis facilitates a mutual trust the second I enter into an Uber or Lyft. I’m not being paid by Uber or Lyft but I have never established a comfortable “open door policy” with any taxi driver, ever. Whether it’s the business model of Uber and Lyft verus the taxi cartel is an article for another time, but clearly a unique dynamic exists with the “average” Uber or Lyft driver and the “average” rider especially in the context of age similarities, local familiarity, and good commands of the English language.
More pertinently, I would never see this driver again and that facet of anonymity would protect my uttered thoughts or statements in this car, akin to a sounding board. On this night, after drinking with my medical school classmates and with the snow sifting down gently on a quiet dimly lit street, I really needed to talk.
I closed the door.
“Well man, honestly this is kind of weird, but here we go. Can I talk to you about something?” I asked.
“Sure man,” replied my driver as he started driving though the snow covered streets of Washington DC.
I started from the beginning when I met Sara (not her real name). I met her the day I took the first round of my boards (Step 1) for medical school. My sense of vulnerability after taking Step 1, and after a year of traveling to various medical rotations around the country without any romantic relationships, I fell for her instantaneously. I would’ve fallen for anyone honestly, but if it’s one thing I’ve learned in medical school is that loneliness takes people who usually have a high level of functioning and allows them to make terrible executive decisions.
Regardless, Sara was gorgeous, but more pertinently she had a grace and charm that gave me butterflies. Thankfully we hit it off and even when I was sent to army officer school we had clear communication and romantic interest. When I came back from officer school we still dated and had so much fun, but things started to fall apart when I asked her to be my girl-friend. I pushed too quickly and she didn’t want to make a commitment. I grew into confusion:
How could things go from great to terrible?
I took the second round of my boards (Step 2CK) not scoring well because as Tom Cruise’s mentor Dicky Fox in the movie Jerry Maguire wisely remarked, “If this is empty (pointing to his heart) then this doesn’t matter (pointing to his head).”
Through-out my cross-country residency interview rotations, communication oscillated up and down, with ambiguity and frustration imbibed with embers of romantic interest. Between phone calls here and there, I was puzzled with thoughts of, “did she ‘like’ everyone of my Facebook photos because she likes me or does she have a Parkinsonian tremor around her computer.” My gut told me that something didn’t feel right, but my heart was leading the charge on this one.
This see-saw went on for a whole year, but came to fruition in December. I started to feel a gulp in my throat as I described how Sara told me that her mother had developed cancer. Based upon the location of the mass that Sara told me, I had an idea of what kind of malignancy it could be, but I didn’t say anything because I knew it wouldn’t be good. When Sara’s mother went to surgery, the biopsy identified the type of mass that I had predicted; however, I didn’t want to come across as a “know it all” and I kept my thoughts to myself. To that end, I felt motivated to do the right thing and drive Sara over two hours total roundtrip from her home to the hospital so she could see her mom over the holidays as she didn’t have a car. As someone in the medical field, I knew I could help answer questions, and just be there for her family. During these many rides Sara and I spoke so honestly about the past, ski trips we could do for the future, and always kissed at the end. I described how this last element was occurring while I was on a particularly emotionally tolling ICU rotation, my family situation falling apart, my anxiety over whether I would match into residency along with this tension with Sara.
One week after her mom had been discharged from the hospital I walked into a party that Sara had invited me to where she told me that her boyfriend was downstairs. Her face was red and I could tell that she was upset, and I was angry. There was never any mention of a boyfriend during our conversations but it resolved my gut instinct that “something wasn’t right.” Where was this guy when Sara’s mother was undergoing cancer surgery? She told me she was thankful for everything I had done for her and her family and I told her that she was breaking my heart. There were so many questions, but I never spoke to her ever again.
“Oh God,” my Uber driver remarked, the first time saying anything though-out the entire ride.
I didn’t realize it but I started crying right there in the Uber. One of my classmates from medical school, who I had completely forgotten was also in the Uber, was hugging me….how embarrassing.
After dropping off my classmate, my Uber driver gave me consolidation as I wiped my tears.
“You know it takes a real man to cry dude,” he said seeming to be speaking from experience based upon his rising tone of voice. “You can never trust anyone who can be so manipulative….who can betray you like that.” I could sense the anger from the driver as if he knew exactly how I felt. As I opened the door to get out he said one last thing, “Listen Anant, this is so important, you have to hear this before you go……” I turned my head to the driver and looked him in the eyes.
“Trust me man, you’re going to be just fine,” the driver stated.
I stepped out of the car into the snow and shut the door.
Quiet winter winds blew cold air onto my face, erasing the residue from my tears. I took another deep breath and watched the condensation in the air.
The driver turned around in my street and I opened the door to my apartment. We would never see each other again, but I left with a simple yet cathartic experience, reaffirming something I already knew:
I was going to be just fine.
Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy of the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.