It’s his first time driving, and their first time riding. All ridesharing virgins. What could go wrong? A fast-moving and quickly heartening excerpt from Jonathan Tipton Meyers’ upcoming blog, We Are Traffic.
“Open up your Lyft app and tap the steering wheel in the top right. It’s pink when you’re in driver mode.”
It’s pink. It’s pink and I’m in fucking “Driver Mode” and nothing’s happening. I’ve been driving for 15 minutes, going west on Santa Monica from Hollywood. At the red light on La Brea I check the app again. I got my pink mustache. I uploaded my driver’s license and insurance. I passed my driving test with Lonnie, my mentor at Tommy’s Burgers on Bronson, where he took my photo with the Photoshop ivy background.
Oh my god, it’s true. Ridesharing is oversaturated.
Too many drivers and not enough rides. It’s too late to transition into advertising at 50. I’m collapsing into financial ruin. My girlfriend left the sinking ship, and even with two roommates I can’t keep this mortgage going. I’m like Woody Allen, but with actual problems. I’m going to lose my hou —
“When you receive a request, you’ll see a notification. Tap anywhere on the screen to accept the request before the 15-second timer expires.”
I stare at the countdown hypnotized: “Beep, beep, beep.” The traffic light turns green and I tap furiously until it says, “Accept!” The guy behind me honks. I follow the GPS like it’s my first time on Santa Monica Boulevard.
“After accepting the request, navigate to the passenger’s pickup location. If you know the address, drive directly to the passenger. If not, tap the arrow next to the address to start navigation.”
OK, turn on Sweetzer.
“When you arrive at the passenger’s pickup location, tap to arrive.”
It’s only 7:30 p.m. and I can’t see a thing. Lush, parking ticket-funded Sycamore trees block all available light from lighting sconces. The more exclusive the neighborhood, the less visible at night. West Hollywood is only moderately exclusive, so I can still make out shapes. Ummm, is that them? Two men, Andy (30s) and Simon (20s), T-shirts and beautiful hair, wave at me like I’m the helicopter that discovered their desert-island message. They’re so anxious, they roll their wheel-scraping carry-ons up to the car before I can stop.
“Yes!” He and Simon sigh at each other in relief.
“This is our first Lyft. We’re virgins!” I pop the trunk and we fumble over who’s supposed to put the bags in. I’m a weird chauffeur-buddy.
“As soon as you start the ride, drive your passenger to their destination. Passengers can either enter their destination in the app ahead of time, or you can enter it for them.”
They didn’t enter a destination, but I know where we’re going.
“LAX please.” The airport. On my first trip. At night. OK. They get in. Simon starts.
“It’s so weird. Like, we ordered you and you showed up and we just get in your car. We were totally afraid you weren’t going to show up.” I wasn’t sure, either. Now, I have two strangers in my car. In. My. Car. Where my friends have spilled things and lip-synched to Kendrick Lamar. Where I’ve given and received head — which reminds me:
“There’s water back there, if you need some.” They find bottles behind the seat and their eyes light up like Christmas.
“We’re good, thanks.”
“I’m having one,” says Simon.
“OK, then, me, too!” Andy says. “I feel like I’m taking his water.”
“It’s for us.” Simon unscrews the cap and droplets spill from the cheap bottle.
“Can we drink this in your car?”
“Absolutely!” I say, like Dev Patel in “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” They drink simultaneously. They’ve never enjoyed water so much.
“There’s an iPhone charger, too.” Simon gifts it to Andy, who plugs in his phone and smiles.
“This is such a great idea, people trading services, being good to each other. It’s kind of amazing this idea of good will.” Andy says. They’re smiling. I’m smiling. I’m so happy, that I’ve lost track of the route and GPS re-routes me. I worry they’re upset, but they’re too busy drinking water.
” So are you visiting or do you live here?”
“I live in New Jersey, where we met. Andy lives here now. He’s from Pennsylvania. We fly back and forth.
“My mom’s from Altoona,” I say.
“Ohhhh, Andy’s from Philly. That’s nearby. ”
“No.” Andy says. “ That’s the other side of Pennsylvania.” Andy’s right. It’s like 3 hours away.
“Be quiet.” Simon smirks and leans into the front seat. “We’ve been doing the long distance thing for about 6 months since Andy moved here. He missed me, but he wouldn’t ask me to move. He was sneaky this time and planned our visits next to each other so that he could seduce me into moving and then we’d both fly back and pack my stuff. He didn’t think I’d just say yes if he asked me.” Andy looks at him, incredulous. Simon kisses him. Andy holds his stare, still unsure.
“You gotta have a little faith in people.”
I smile. “That’s the last line from my favorite movie, ‘Manhattan’” I say. My heart cracks a little as we move up over the oil fields on La Cienega, churning in the darkness. Mariel Hemingway’s line to Woody Allen in the doorway might just be the best thing a woman’s ever said to a man. Surreal derricks in the middle of L.A. bring me back to earth.
“What do you guys do, Andy?”
“I’m a corporate stylist and Simon’s an actor and a singer. And you?”
“Me? Good question. I’m a writer. I was a writer. I wrote a play. It went well. I came out here from New York and got sidetracked with a bunch of things and now I’m finding my way back.” Simon smiles sheepishly at Andy, takes the charger for himself and touches my shoulder.
“You sidetracked yourself.” I don’t know what to do with that.
“Simon, how do you like West Hollywood?”
“I love it. It’s beautiful. Lonelier than I expected. Probably because everyone looks so happy on the outside, but you feel something underneath. People warned me. Back home, we wear our emotions on our face more. ” He looks at Andy. “And no one talks to each other very much out here … but they love texting!”
“I’m sure it’s the same in Jersey,” Andy says. Simon leans in.
“No you have it down pat, here. West Hollywood is like a Broadway show. There’s the promise of something magical, but most of the time you overpay to watch people pretending to be someone else.”
“Broadway actors are amazing, Simon.”
“They have beautiful voices, sweetheart. I just rarely believe what they’re singing.”
“The things we try to hide are most obvious to the people around us.” I say.
“You sound like a writer, Jonathan,” says Simon, resting his head on Andy’s shoulder. Thank you for the comp—
I’m not looking at the road.
“You really know the shortcuts, Jonathan. How long have you been doing this?” asks Andy.
“You guys are my first ride.”
Simon gives me a sly look. “You’re good at pretending too, aren’t you, J?”
It doesn’t feel like it.
Andy chimes in: “We’re all virgins!”
“When you arrive at the passenger’s destination and they exit the vehicle, tap to drop off. You’re asked to confirm — tap ‘Cancel’ to stay in the ride or ‘Confirm’ if you’re actually ending the ride.
LAX is intimidating at night. Driving in what feels like an endless loop, past a sea of lights. It’s funny, because it’s actually the easiest airport. It’s just a circle. But that’s unsettling because we need to feel that we’re moving forward or there’s no progress, maybe. I drop them at the gate, pop the trunk and hand them their bags. They hug me.
“Your voice is beautiful,” Simon whispers in my ear. “And I believe what you’re singing.” He takes Andy’s hand as they walk away.
I sit in my car for a moment until Airport Police tap my window. I hit “Confirm” and I pull away.
You gotta have a little faith, Jonathan.
“After the ride is complete, rate your passenger from 1 to 5 stars. If you rate your passenger 3 stars or below, you will not be matched with them again.”
Jonathan Tipton Meyers is an actor, screenwriter and filmmaker living in Los Angeles. He’s currently working on two television projects and his LGBT romantic comedy short, “Homeschool Reunion,” is currently making the festival rounds. #virgins is an excerpt from his forthcoming We Are Traffic, a rideshare blog documenting our awkward search for connection in L.A.