Here is something I’ve been turning over in my mind for awhile: working-class Latinos are the only people who have ever tipped me as an Uber driver. Tipping is not expected. Nor hinted at, by me. It rarely happens, but when it does…its never white people.
How do I know the tippers are working-class? Because I drove them home. The more modest the neighborhood, the likelier the tip. In a city as diverse as Los Angeles is seems odd the blessings of gratitude should be so unevenly distributed among its peoples, but there it is. You save someone an hour on the bus to Huntington Park, or $50 on a cab, or worse, a potential DUI, they put a couple singles in your hand and thank you for delivering them safely. It’s a learned behavior.
These are my happiest rides, and it’s not the money.
Latinas are chatty. They sit up front, they want to know all about you. If she’s going to Pacoima, she will find out you live in Van Nuys and this is your last ride of the night, and she knows implicitly there will be no 30 minute dead-head return home.
“How serendipitous for you.”
You speak of your shared joy of multi-syallbic words. She tells you her brown family never played Scrabble when she growing up, they played Sorry!, but she understood, even as a kid, it was a first-generational thing. When her son is old enough, she’s going to make him play Words With Friends as a condition of having a phone. She’s also going to be open with him about sex, in all the ways her parents weren’t, when he’s old enough to ask.
Or she’ll tell you she was born in Nicaragua and lived her whole life in Cudahy and her favorite musician is Toby Keith. “I should have been born white trash,” she laughs, as you weave like a tank through street fireworks in Boyle Heights on Fourth of July. ‘”I don’t care if all my friends think I’m a redneck. Every country song has a story.”
Or she’ll talk about her commute, or her worst customer of the week, or the worst date she ever had, or why she came back to the church.
Polite, always polite, even when intoxicated. Like their parents beat it into them.
We’re living out Uber as the ride-share it was meant to be and not the discount limo in Prius form it has become. In a city of a dozen dialects, shift work is the common tongue. They’re just getting off theirs, I’m in the middle of mine. In recognition, there is empathy.
As California inches ever closer to becoming Downton Abbey on the Pacific, there will be a growing class of people with no knowledge of work, as it has been historically understood. Or have any need to work at all. Or living on the dole. Then there will always be a much larger population which does nothing but grind out a paycheck. Then there is a billionaire in San Francisco who tells the customers not to tip the driver, the tip is already included.
Proving truth can be more ironic than fiction, the billionaire grew up in the Valley.
I don’t know how this is all going to play out, or how much longer the center will hold. Recently Finder.com created a profile of the “average Californian”, drawn from statistical databases. Turns out she’s Latina, lives in Koreatown, works in retail, and commutes 28 miles a day. That should give us all a little hope.
The woman in the picture hasn’t been one of my riders, but she does take Uber from time to time. I work with her during the day. She also lives in K-town. Adding another layer of historical irony, she was born in the wake of Prop. 187. Now she assists the grasping women of Brentwood in obtaining cage-free, nitrate-free, non-GMO gourmet food items.
I asked her if she would appear on a reality show if it meant she could quit her day job.
Not even if it meant never having to punch a clock again? Ever?
“Nope, it’s just not appealing.”
Her mama raised her right.