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 Tonight: Two drug dealers try to use me as a personal driver; a hunter shows off his dog; and thoughts on treating all people with mercy.

(These Uber Tales (and Lyft too) are true. I have changed the names, and sometimes I combine stories from different days into a single, more cohesive narrative. However, aside from that, these events are all accurate; word-for-word, just as I have experienced them)

Previously: Uber Tales 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

Friday, January 13, 2023

Conquer The World

I got married on December 26th, 2002, alhamdulillah. It was a nerve-wracking experience (the Egyptian imam was an hour late), but also thrilling and fascinating, and one of the best moments of my life.

For a month I was in Bogota, the teeming capital city of Colombia, where the sun rises at 6 and sets at 6 all year long, and where the weather is always perfect. I had finally acclimated to the altitude, I was with my new wife, Yajaira – who is a tender and gorgeous woman – and I felt like I could conquer the world.

For many years I thought I’d never marry again, because I would never find the right person. I still find it hard to believe that this young, beautiful, intelligent woman married me, subhanAllah. She could have thrown a dart out of a taxi window and hit someone better than me. But alhamdulillah for everything.

Now I’m back in California, where winter has arrived with a vengeance. “Atmospheric rivers” are pouring into California from the Pacific, easing a year-long drought. The rain is a gray curtain, and the nights are thick and frigid.

It’s a strange thing to be newly married, and to leave your wife behind. But it will take time to complete the paperwork and await the visa to bring her here. I know Yajaira is with me in heart and spirit, yet I feel lonely in a way that I did not before. I want to stay in bed and pull the covers over my head. But this is a working world, and the rain-slicked streets are humming my name.

Making Assumptions

Bismillah. May Allah

subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)
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make this work a source of barakah for me and my new family, and for my passengers as well.

7 pm – An olive-skinned young man with a frizzy ponytail gets in back and I greet him with a, “Hi, how are you?”

No answer. Okay, no problem. We’re deep in his apartment complex, which is sprawling and confusing. “Hey buddy,” I say. “What’s the best way out of here?” No answer. Hmm. Maybe he’s having a bad night, or maybe he doesn’t like something about me. My face, or my Muslim kufi.

I find my own way out. As we near the destination address I point to an apartment building. “Is that where you’re going?” He points to the building and makes a grunting noise and I realize he is deaf. When I drop him off he smiles and gives me a thumbs up.

I remind myself not to make assumptions. We tend to think that people’s behavior is about us, when in reality it almost never is, especially when it’s a stranger. If a passenger is angry, bitter, hostile or cold, it’s not about me. That person doesn’t even know me. It’s about whatever hurt, disappointment, or sadness is going on inside that person’s heart. I am not put on this earth to add to that person’s pain. “And we have not sent you but as a mercy to the worlds.” [Quran 21 (Surah Al-Anbiya):107). Such was the mission of the Messenger of Allah

ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)
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, and such is the mission of the believers. Difficult situations are precisely where rahmah is called for. Anyone can be merciful to a kind person. To be merciful to someone who is hostile; that is the challenge and the task.

These are important truths, but truths we forget quickly.

“We’re Party Animals”

8:10 pm – I collect two thuggish looking types at a Circle K on McKinley. The heavyset forty-ish guy in the leather coat sits in back, while the 20-ish dude with a backward baseball cap sits in front. I head to their destination on the south side. The older one says they’ve been Ubering all day. Along the way, the younger one’s phone beeps. “We’re going to a different place,” he says.

“Whatcha got?” the older one asks. “What’s kickin’?”

“Goin’ to my boy Matt’s place.”

“You trust him?”

“Yeah, I know him from high school.”

The older one nods. “All I needed to know.”

Just before I drop them off they get another text message. “Gotta add a stop,” the older one says.

I eye them suspiciously. “Are you guys drug dealers?”

The older one laughs. “Nah, we’re party animals.”

I’m pretty sure they are drug dealers. I tell them no, I’m done, and I end the ride.

Kid In The Rain

9:05 pm – Down on Butler Avenue, a rough area. It’s raining steadily. When I stop at the pickup address and put on my blinkers, a cop car cruises by slowly, studying me. Eventually a young man named Pablo shows up and gets in the backseat. He’s thin, wet, and hugging himself. He asks what the destination address is. I tell him Blackstone and Shields. “I’m really going to Ashlan and Maple,” he mumbles.

That’s quite a bit further. I begin heading that way, but I ask him to go into the app and modify the destination. “I can’t,” he says. “My girlfriend booked the ride, not me. You can leave me anywhere, I’ll figure something out, or I’ll walk.” He pulls his hoodie over his head and curls up in the back seat, huddled against the door. He seems emotionally and physically exhausted. Traumatized, even. I sigh. Maybe I’m being scammed, maybe not, but I’m not leaving this poor kid in the rain miles from home. I take him to Ashlan and Maple.

Hunter

10:00 pm – Two farm boy college students heading home from Jimbo’s bar. One, Chuck, sits beside me and immediately asks how I feel about hunting. I tell him I have no problem with people legally hunting for food, but there’s no moral justification for trophy hunting, especially threatened animals like elephants and rhinos. “Well,” he says, “hunting benefits the African tribes.” This is BS but I say nothing, and Chuck goes on to talk at length about duck and deer hunting, which he does with his father. He keeps showing me pictures of his very fat hunting dog, something called a flat-coated retriever. “Very strong looking,” I offer. Chuck beams. “Yeah, he’s a good boy.” He asks if any food places are open. I take him to a 24 hour falafel shop, where he buys me a sandwich as well. I stash it for tomorrow’s lunch.

10:40 pm – A lanky, bearded man wearing an Afghani hat tells me that his aloe plant predicts the seasons. When it puts up a spike, that’s the first day of fall. The spike flowers, and when the flowers die that’s the start of winter.

The rain has stopped. I park the car in an empty lot and exercise vigorously, running through various martial arts combinations. I lost a lot of weight in Bogota, and I also adapted to the high altitude. Now that I’m back in California I find that I don’t get out of breath, even when I work out hard. I feel light on my feet, young and dangerous. My breath steams in the winter air. I stretch a little, then get back to work.

Coffee And Eggs

11:15 pm – A female passenger requests a quick stop at 7-11 and asks if I want anything. She buys me a $3.95 Starbucks frappuccino.

Next I pick up a talkative, chubby Latino guy at a southside gay bar. His ride is two stops, the first at McDonald’s. We cruise through the drive-through where he orders a huge meal for himself and an egg-and-cheese McMuffin for me. It’s hot and delicious.

12:00 am – A heavyset young woman and her homeless looking companion stand outside the downtown McDonald’s. She works there but can’t afford an apartment or a car. They live in a cheap motel. Normally she walks home, but tonight it’s raining. Earlier this evening I heard the president on the radio bragging about low unemployment. This too is the face of the American workforce.

1:15 am – I pick up a young Chinese man at a 24-hour Asian grocery. He loads the groceries in the trunk and sits in the front passenger seat. As I put the car in gear I ask how he’s doing. “Just go,” he says. We drive in silence all the way. Why sit in front if you don’t want to talk? He retrieves the groceries and gives me a nod before walking away. I don’t take it personally. Mercy is the mission. Everyone is fighting their own private battle.

“Can’t Find My Blunt”

1:40 am – A heavyset, turbaned woman waits outside an apartment complex as a man searches the ground nearby. “Can’t find my blunt,” he complains. “Help me look for my blunt.” (Referring to his marijuana cigarette). The woman approaches my window. “He’s my ex-husband. I want him out of here. Take him to the homeless men’s shelter on Dakota.” She walks away. The man stuffs his bag in the backseat then mutters, “Hold on, I need to find my cigar.” He goes back to searching the ground. I sigh in disgust. The app is charging for wait time, but wait time pay is miniscule, only 7.5 cents per minute. I’m trying to think of a way to escape this situation. The man comes back to the car. “I gotta get my phone,” he says.

“Hurry,” I reply. He runs off.

Two minutes later the woman calls. “Take him to the men’s center,” she insists. “Nowhere else.”

I tell her okay, but if he’s not here in one minute I’m leaving his bag on the sidewalk and driving away. She shouts: “He’s going to leave your bag and drive away!” The man runs out, practically sprinting. He gets in the car, breathing hard. I drive off. As we approach the men’s center he asks me to drop him at a liquor store half a mile away. I’m neither his parent nor his prison guard. I take him where he wants to go.

“I’m Italian”

2:10 am – A hundred year old house on a dark street on the southside. A small, raven haired woman with porcelain skin gets in the car. My radio is set to 92.1 Amor, a Spanish-language music station.

“Do you speak Spanish?” she asks.

“Pretty much,” I tell her. “Do you?”

“No,” she replies, sounding offended. “I’m Italian.”

I sigh, and hit the button on my app to stop new ride requests. As a rideshare driver you must have the physical energy to drive, the mental alertness to adapt to changing situations, and the emotional resilience to deal with the human attitudes and dramas that come with the job. I’m out of all three. Sure, you have to have mercy in this world; but you also have to know when to give yourself a break.

***

Uber Tales appears once a month.

Reader comments and constructive criticism are important to me, so please comment!

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s fiction stories on this website.

Wael Abdelgawad’s novels – including Pieces of a Dream, The Repeaters and Zaid Karim Private Investigator – are available in ebook and print form on his author page at Amazon.com.

The post Uber Tales #7 – Drug Dealers, Hunters And Having Mercy appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

Source: Muslim Matters