The Retired Uber Driver
Matt planned to visit his father, Ricky, Saturday to help him clean the garage and house. Spring was maturing into summer. Matt needed to finish the chore before his family got swept up in summer ball. He and his wife would stay busy volunteering at practice, attending games, working the email list, and taking the boys to the batting cages. Matt flicked the blinker of his Toyota 4Runner and merged into traffic, his mind contemplated ways to convince his dad to declutter this year.
His mom and dad divorced when he was in grade school. Ever since the split Matt looked after his dad. Ricky loved to keep stuff that tied him to the past. Over the years his garage filled up with stacks of labeled boxes. Matt imagined his dad had always been old. Whenever they gifted Ricky stylish clothes for Christmas, the slim fit slacks and bright golf shirts never looked right on him. Despite Ricky’s independent status, Matt worried about his dad aging and not being able to keep the house up. There was also the issue of the limo.
Ricky purchased a 1985 Lincoln Town Car Stretch a couple of years after Matt was born. He pulled into the drive way that night, his eyes shimmering with happiness. He boasted to everyone about the luxury of the stretch limousine with its bright white exterior and tan calf leather seats. The car dealer arranged a special price because this Lincoln was a one of a kind with its brown fabric topper. What Ricky valued as uniqueness others perceived as a drawback.
Matt’s mom never even asked what the special price was. She was already planning on leaving before Ricky bought the limo. She assured Ricky he would never make a living driving the limo. To rub salt into the wound from her insult she asked for the sale’s man number because he was one with all their cash.
Ricky never cared what his ex-wife or any of their other friends thought. He drove the limo for years, chauffeuring wedding parties and funeral attendants. He accepted tips with modesty and only turned down a job if he was double booked for the evening. He kept a pressed tuxedo and a few jewel toned cummerbunds to wear when he drove people around.
Matt felt a resentment for the limo too. As a child he blamed the limo for his mom leaving. Years of weekends spent alone while his dad worked only intensified his feelings. When Ricky offered to drive Matt and his date to their senior prom, Matt brushed Ricky off without even a thank you for the offer. He regretted his attitude later, but Matt never regretted his decision to ride in his girlfriend’s borrowed minivan instead.
As an adult, Matt saw the limo as a long-term problem. He needed to convince his dad to sell the white Lincoln before it fell into disrepair. Without a lot of maintenance and detail work the town car could quickly lose its value. Ricky might not agree to selling though. Matt would need to ease into the conversation in order to sway his dad’s opinion. As he thought about finding a buyer for the limo, a snazzy black Cadillac zoomed past him and changed lanes. Matt noticed an Uber sticker in the window and six silhouetted passengers filling the car. The Cadillac made a quick signal and slid into the exit lane for the airport.
People loved Uber. Anyone could offer their car for hire these days. Matt’s eyes widened. What if Ricky became an Uber driver? He needed extra income since he retired and chauffeuring people around was a familiar job to him. He met the requirements to work for Uber, plus he had a new Toyota Camry that comfortably fit four. Matt could snag a cheap pay as you go phone for his dad and set him up on the Uber app.
Thoughts of selling the limo faded in Matt’s mind. He focused on the idea of Ricky becoming an Uber driver. Matt would bring up the conversation with his dad Saturday while they cleaned the garage area. If Ricky was in a good mood, they might even make it to the phone store together. Knocking out tasks energized Matt and he felt better about the upcoming weekend. The neighborhood street lined with illuminated houses passed by outside his window. He would eat a great dinner with his wife and kids and relax knowing Saturday was all planned for.
On Saturday morning, the smell of coffee wafted up the stairs from the automatic drip. Matt pulled on an old t-shirt and some tattered jeans. He and his wife, Lisa, had discussed the whole family going to grandpa’s on Saturday but decided against it. Saturday needed to be a successful, unemotional day and the boys always triggered nostalgia in Ricky. Today was going to be about clearing out junk, getting his dad a smart phone, and starting the conversation about Uber.
Matt poured a thermos of coffee and smushed a banana into his mouth. The 4Runner cruised out of the neighborhood to get to the freeway that went into East LA where his dad still lived in Monterey Park. Returning there always brought back a flood of memories, like riding bikes aimlessly on the hot, black asphalt and playing ball in the park till after dark. Sometimes it seemed like the neighborhood was forever in 1989.
As the front of the house came into view, Ricky was pulling bins to the center of the garage floor. Yard tools lined the side of the little house. The limo rested under a canvas drape in the extra parking spot poured for it years ago. Matt hoped to start the day with more important things, but a little edging could give them time to warm up to the touchier topics.
“How’d the Dodgers do last night?” Matt started at the place he and his father could always meet and have peace.
“They played like children. I hope they get it handed to them in practice this week. Did you bring me the boys’ game schedule? I need to plan out my summer.” Ricky feigned busyness ever since he retired.
“Sure did. Lisa printed it for your fridge. She always brings more than enough food for the whole fan section so just show up when you can.” Matt knew his dad was defensive about his wide-open schedule.
The two men worked on the yard for an hour helping the grass to shed the winter dead. The unruly strands were trimmed back from the sidewalk. The yard started to look fresh again. Ricky enjoyed yard work with his son. He was glad for this Saturday, just the two of them. Even though they fought most of Matt’s senior year, Ricky missed the days when they lived together.
On the other side of the yard, Matt could feel his phone itching him in his pocket. If he was at home mowing, the music would be blaring in his headphones. The boys would be scrambling in and out of the house asking him a million questions. Lisa would have gone on three errands by now; returning after each one to pick up something she forgot. Matt loved his busy life. Days spent with his dad slowed things down to an annoying pace.
“Matt, can I get you a beer?” Ricky looked awkward standing in the slip-on shoes Lisa bought him for Father’s Day. Ricky wore Converse every Saturday of Matt’s childhood. Matt cringed a little inside. They were always trying to change Ricky and make him look like the other grandpas.
“Dad, its 10:30 in the morning. I think I’ll save my beer until after lunch.” Ricky looked dejected.
“Don’t want your neighbors to start thinking things about me.” The joke worked to lighten the mood. There were more than a handful of morning drunks on the block.
“You know I’ve been thinking about helping you get started on a small business venture of your own. A part time job, so you can get a little extra income.” Matt glanced over towards his father to gauge his reaction to the statement.
“It would be nice to have a little extra money. The Social Security check isn’t worth writing home about. What’d you have in mind?”
“Well remember when you used to drive? There is this new business called Uber. You use your own car and pick people up for rides. Uber pays you directly each week. The rides might be shuttling people to the airport, people coming from bars, college students who don’t have cars.” Matt listed all the positive details of Uber hoping to sell the pitch.
Ricky scrunched up his face and cast his chin down towards the ruffled up grass. His brain was trying to take it in. The expression crossing his forehead was almost audible. What kinds of people get into someone’s car and pay for a ride?
“Sure, the idea is weird, but it works. People prefer Uber. They like feeling casual with their driver. You have experience, your car is nice, and you have insurance. There are no startup costs to you. Lisa and I already talked about buying you a smart phone so we can reach you easier.”
“A smart phone? Matt, I don’t need one of those. I handle things just fine without it.” Ricky looked pale and old in the moment, despite his healthy physique for a man in his late sixties.
“The phone thing will be easy. I promise. The boys will be all about helping too. All the grandpas have smart phones!” Matt was trying to resurrect the flow of the conversation before his dad shut down.
“Can we at least go test one out this afternoon?” Matt watched the changing expressions flicker across his dad’s face.
“I might go look at the phone. The Uber thing though, I’m still not sure how people are going to get my number every time they want to get in my car for a ride.” Ricky muttered to himself as he went back to raking the grass.
The men moved from yard to garage to basement until the place was revived. A pile of donation items was loaded into the 4Runner and the delivery pizza steamed from the aluminum kitchen table. Ricky cracked open two Miller Lights. They devoured the all meat pizza. The tension from the day’s earlier conversation dissipated. Twenty minutes later, they were slouching in their chairs taking slow gulps of their beers.
“Lisa never lets me eat stuff like this anymore. It tastes so good. I’ll have to sneak some Tums later when she isn’t looking.” They chuckled about trying to hide things from Lisa, she always caught on to their antics.
“She is a good mother. I hope you know I like her.” Ricky never talked to Matt about his feelings. He thought about his son a lot since he quit going to the warehouse for work each day. There were some things he wanted to say but did not know how.
“She is the best. I wouldn’t have her any other way.” The calm of the afternoon rested on them.
“Still up for the phone store? Want to try out some new tech?” Matt noticed the droopiness on Ricky’s face. He wondered if his dad started napping in the afternoons. “We did a lot today, so I understand if you want to wait.”
“No, no. I can go. It’d be good for me to learn how to use one of those things. Maybe you can even show me Facebook. The guys have one for the poker schedule. Paul always has to call and tell me which night.”
“Isn’t it always Thursday?” Matt tried to hide the teasing expression on his face.
“Well not always. Not after Christmas.” Ricky retorted.
“I can show you Facebook. Let’s go, I think you will like a cell phone.”
At the cell store the clerk paired Ricky up with a user friendly, larger iconed smart phone. They navigated the various apps and set up a new Facebook account. Everyone was laughing while Ricky attempted his first selfie. As the shopping trip drug on, Matt kept checking his phone for the time. It had been a long day with his father. He wanted to get home, but he was not ready to call it a day. After seeing the limo in the yard earlier that morning, the conversation about finding a buyer was back on his to do list. They needed pictures for advertising the town car and Matt was determined to finish the task.
“I need to talk to you about something.” Matt started the conversation while keeping his eyes forward on the road. “You need to sell the limo. I can help you find a great buyer. I’ll snag a few pictures on my phone before I leave. Then I can advertise it on a few auction sites this week.”
“No.” Ricky was firm in his decision.
“The engine is still running. You have kept the interior pristine.” Matt’s thoughts were interrupted by Ricky’s opposition.
“I am not selling the Lincoln.” The intense, determined Ricky who raised Matt was there in the car. Matt sensed their old selves coming out to fight. After everything they had accomplished Matt was now determined to finish the discussion about the limo. The wheels in his mind spun trying to think of a way forward.
A shimmer of an idea came into view for Matt. His memory whipped back to the quiet drive home a few nights ago. The black Cadillac Uber that cut him off on the freeway. Cadillacs and Lincolns were luxury cars. People rented them all the time.
“I don’t want to talk about it.” Ricky tightened his lips and crossed his arms in defiance.
“What if you started driving the Lincoln again? What if instead of putting the Camry on Uber, you offered rides in the limo? People would get such a kick out of riding in it. I could make you a decade specific playlist for the music and you could offer vintage style rides on the town.” Matt surprised himself with the suggestion.
Ricky’s objection derailed, he blinked in confusion.
When they arrived back home, Matt turned hard into the driveway. He snagged his own phone from the console and began opening page after page on the Uber website of limo drivers and specialty car rentals. A baby blue 1960 Shelby Cobra was for hire in the area. He turned the phone around so his dad could see. Ricky craned his head back to look at the profile page.
“A guy with a Shelby just drives people around?” Ricky looked astonished.
“This is what I have been trying to tell you. The younger generations want to feel a connection to the past. They hear old songs about driving the Golden Coast or see pictures of people with big hair piling out of limos and they want to experience that. Lisa suggested we ask you to take us and our friends to our high school reunion in the Lincoln a few years back but I said no way!”
Ricky stared at him, then turned and faced forward. Matt watched the posture of his father.
“Try it. Meet a few fun people, get out there, and do your chauffeur routine. If you hate it then we can take the profile down.”
Ricky did not move.
Matt felt guilt, for hurting his dad’s feelings, stinging his insides like the acid from the pizza. He clamped his lips together but the words spilled out anyways.
“I shouldn’t have brought it up. I just don’t want you to lose money on that car.”
“You did not have to do all this for me. I’ll be okay. I have some savings. I know the boys are missing you, so head on home and tell Lisa hey for me.” Ricky cracked the door open and put one foot down on the pavement. He turned back before getting all the way out.
“Don’t worry so much about me. Thanks for the phone.”
Ricky walked up to the front door holding the cell phone bag at his side. He put the one key he always carried into the front door, opened it, and slipped into the dark house.
On the drive home, a feeling of regret hung in the car. Lisa was not going to let Matt off easy for not getting Ricky dinner. Asking about food would be the first question she fired at him in the long interrogation Matt could expect at home.
Friday, the following week, Lisa called Ricky for their usual check in chat. Matt did not ask Lisa what Ricky said. For once, she did not offer the information. He sulked because he would see his father at the upcoming baseball tournament and Ricky would act like the entire limo talk had never happened. Matt would oblige him and not bring it up.
Saturday morning and the California sun was early in beating down heat rays on the crowd. Lisa packed an enormous cooler for the day and was making her rounds, mingling with the other baseball moms. Ricky walked up to Matt perched on a third row, bleacher seat.
“The boys already out there warming up their shoulders?” Ricky had not rubbed all the sunscreen into his ears and neck, he was freckled with white paste. Matt tried to focus on his dad’s eyes instead of the sunscreen.
“Yep, jumped out of the car before I even put it in park. They missed their friends. We should be getting the field assignment soon.” Matt scanned the crowd for Lisa, hoping to wave her over to greet Ricky. She would help with the sunscreen and then neither of the guys would be embarrassed.
“Lisa around somewhere?” Matt nodded and Ricky kept talking. “I have news for you both. Spent Thursday with the guys. I told them about the Cobra that drives people around. You wouldn’t believe, Paul takes Uber rides when he gets his blood drawn. Says its automatic payment and even has a tipping thing for your credit card. Well, I learned a little bit about my smart phone and started rethinking what you told me,” Matt was looking straight into his dad’s eyes now. He could not believe the words bubbling out of Ricky’s mouth.
“The neighbor girl helped me take good pictures because I couldn’t work the camera on this dumb thing. Kept taking sideways pictures of my face. And we put the snapshots up on the Uber thing and I booked my first ride for tonight. A young woman needs me for the high school dance.”
Matt tried to connect the statements together but his mind was reeling with the news. “That is great. Wow. How many are you taking? Just the girl and her date?”
“I have a whole group of them. Fourteen it said.” The pride over a job well done was stamped on his statement.
“You advertised the limo?” Matt choked out.
“Well, I can’t fit a group of fourteen kids in the Camry. What are you not understanding?” Ricky puffed up, annoyed his son was asking stupid questions.
“You are Ubering, the Lincoln? You made an account, to give rides, in the white Lincoln?” His words slowed to the pace of his comprehension.
“Yes, son. The website is full of Camrys. My white stretch is one of a kind. You had a really good idea. And the luxury rides make more money.” Ricky sounded like his old self again, assured in his decisions and beliefs.
“Do you need me to come along?” Matt did not know what else to say, so he offered his help.
“Nope. I managed this far. The ride is the easy part. The dance is at your old school, Mark Keppel. I drove you to and from school enough times to drive that route with my eyes closed.” Ricky was beaming with his re-found independence. He plopped down on the bleacher beside Matt and they watched the baseball warm ups without another word.
Spring ball turned into countless, hot hours practicing through the summer. Matt and Lisa lived the rigorous routine with the boys. It was not until one day at the office, a coworker offered to bing the Uber driver to shuttle them to a favorite lunch spot downtown, that he thought about his dad’s new venture. While they waited for the car, Matt created an alert on his phone to call his dad after work.
Later that day in LA traffic, Matt dialed using the car’s Bluetooth. The ring went three times. He hung up and called again. Ricky answered the phone on the second ring sounding out of breath.
“I wasn’t expecting you to call. I was outside going through my mail and ran inside when I heard the ring.”
“The point of a cell phone is to keep it with you in your pocket.” Matt hoped his voice sounded lighthearted.
“Sorry, sometimes I forget. I haven’t carried around a cell phone most of my life.” Matt sensed the defensiveness and back pedaled.
“Hey, I’m sorry I haven’t called in a while. Lisa has been keeping me updated. We have been busy with baseball training and work. Promise I didn’t forget about you.” Matt groveled hoping to ease the tension from his earlier comment.
“I understand. Been pretty busy myself. How about you and Lisa and the kids come over for dinner this weekend? I’m buying. Been making lots of money with the Uber people. I really like doing all the rides on Saturday nights.” His dad sounded happy, like driving the town car had made him feel when he first bought it.
A little bit of prodding caused Ricky to tell his son everything. He talked about the kids going to school dances in ‘80s era clothing. The adults doing bar crawls and karaoke nights. He even drove a bachelor’s party when all the guys dressed like Austin Powers.
“I get called for all sorts of jobs. People have fun in my limo. The other day this kid rented the limo for a movie he was making. Small guy with a lot of hair. They paid me a nice sum to slow drive the Lincoln through the movie scene. Only in Hollywood, right?”
“That is pretty cool.” Ricky half listened as the traffic ahead began to bottleneck.
“It was hilarious, Matt, at one point the kid even runs over to me and goes, ‘Hey man, I’m going to shout out, “Julio, get the stretch!” Does that offend you at all? I don’t want to be rude.’ I almost laughed at the guy. Told him it was his movie he could do whatever he wanted. Nice enough kid. Glad I could help. The crazy part was they gave me a large tip at the end and asked me to sign a contract not to talk about being in the movie on social media. Funny guy, name Brad Mars or something.”
“Dad, I am really happy for you. Just promise me to be careful okay?” The news of his dad’s success surprised Matt. He ended the phone call before anything else new came to light.
For once in his life he was thankful for the line of traffic stretched before him. He needed time to think about what his dad said. The idea of the Lincoln being a popular internet rental was not surprising. The Stretch was vintage and clean. But his dad using Uber, managing his new business through a smart phone, getting clients, and loving it at the same time was a lot to take in. Matt respected his dad, but he underestimated his father’s abilities. He could not figure out why he was not relieved by this great news.
Sunday night, Lisa and Ricky prepared a feast for the whole family. Ricky insisted on buying everyone’s favorite Chinese takeout dish. Lisa out did herself with a three-layered chocolate cake. The boys bounced around the house wrestling each other on the couch. After dinner, they settled down to play on their phones with their heads tucked close to the screens. The adults joked in the kitchen about the passengers that called for rides that week. Matt, listened to all the stories, still conflicted about his dad being a successful Uber driver.
From the couch a song blared out of one set of speakers. The boys laughed together, each holding an edge of the phone in their hands. The oldest snickered and commented how funny the guys in the video looked. His brother laughed at him, bouncing once in his seat.
“What are you two watching?” Lisa grinned towards them.
The boys jumped up from the couch and ran over to the kitchen. Elbows leaning on the table top, they adjusted the phone so everyone could see the screen. All five heads craned to see the small video. The boys laughed at the dance moves and dated costumes. The adults joined in, unable to resist the contagious giggling.
“That is grandpa’s limo there. How did you guys find this video? I thought that guy was just messing around making that movie.” Ricky studied the screen for his limo to reappear so he could point it out to the boys.
Matt and Lisa snapped to attention. They nudged the boys out of the way. Lisa steadied the phone to get a closer look.
“Are you sure? This was the movie you helped with?” Lisa rewound the clip to get a better view of the white stretch on the screen.
“Ya, remember I told you the other day about that guy? Brad Mars? He sang this song while I crawled the limo for the camera. He was a pretty good dancer.” Ricky’s gaze returned to the screen but all the other eyes in the kitchen were staring at him.
“It’s Bruno. This man’s name is Bruno Mars, and he is like the biggest star in the music world.” Matt informed his unaware father. Lisa and the boys threw their heads back laughing. Matt decided his dad was going to be okay. He had found a special niche meeting people who loved his limo. And it was a job he could do what he loved most. Matt would support his dad being happy and driving around a 1985 Lincoln Town Car Stretch for whatever customer he chose for as long as he could.