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Los Angeles is a city of roads: noisy highways that stretch into the distance—long avenues that tangle up in knots—meandering streets that wind around mountains—dusty boulevards that sink into valleys. Roads connect and divide and define this endlessly sprawling metropolis.
Such a pedestrian-unfriendly town demands cars of its residents, but I am rarely one to follow the status quo. When I relocated to this palm tree-speckled paradise in June to intern at a television network, I made a distinctly modern, ultimately frugal decision: to commute via ride-sharing apps rather than renting a car.
I thus spent the past couple months engaged in a strange social experiment. Two or three or four times a day, I slid into a stranger’s car. I greeted a person whom I would have never met otherwise, and we cruised toward my office or my house or some other destination of choice. Then I offered a curt goodbye and exited the little universe we shared. Our time together, at once so intimate and yet so strange, came to an end; the app never, on any of my dozens and dozens of trips, gave me a repeat driver.
I met a whole cast of characters on my daily rides. There was the middle-aged guy who spelled out to me why a young woman might want to avoid riding alone in an older man’s Uber. I had not felt uncomfortable in his car up until that point; I sure did afterward.
There was the man who offered aphorism after aphorism about the goodness of humanity as we sped along the 10 to Santa Monica. In one particularly unexpected outburst, he passionately exclaimed, “People, man! People!”
There was the driver who, after noticing my destination in Burbank, asked me if I was a celebrity. I wish I had said yes.
There was the lady who draped her dashboard in handwritten felt signs that carried messages of female empowerment. She was one of the rare female Uber drivers I met this summer, and one of the even rarer drivers who spoke honestly about the challenges of driving for Uber as a woman.
There was the gentleman who, upon learning my name, shuffled through a messy stack of CDs, pulled out a shiny red one, and played a folksy love song about a woman named Emily. I was flattered, I suppose.
There were the many other folks with whom I drove in utter silence for thirty, forty, fifty minutes of clogged freeways and sunshiny vistas. Sometimes the radio filled the void—every driver from Laguna Beach to Glendale seemed fond of Kent Jones’ “Don’t Mind”—but other times the wind, crashing through windows, served as the drives’ only soundtracks.
We live in an insular world. Technology takes our attention away from the people in front of us; our own standoffishness and cliquishness make us wary of connecting with strangers. Ride-sharing apps force us, just through brief conversations, to consider the existence of people outside our regular orbits. I give that experience five stars.
Emily B. Zauzmer '18, an associate editor of Fifteen Minutes, is a Folklore & Mythology concentrator living in Lowell House.
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