The Toyota Sienna Uber lumbered to a stop just south of Wrigley Field as the Cubs put the finishing touches on the Pittsburgh Pirates. I hailed the ride following a Father's Day outing with my wife and two daughters. I entered the front seat as the girls piled into the rear. While I have long praised the merits of Uber to my children, my wife has responded tepidly, steadfast in her belief that, in the transportation sector, anything less than door to door limo service is a recipe for a police blotter entry -- with her name in the "victim" field.
'It's perfectly safe," I say every time I opt for the ride sharing service over a taxi. "Plus, I find Uber drivers to be way more conversational than taxi drivers."
Reddy, our driver, had just turned south toward our Lincoln Park destination when I heard the soothing sounds of a stringed ensemble. "How nice," I thought. "Reddy is a classical music buff."
Soon I realized, due to the music's repetitive nature, that it was not a radio station or CD, but Reddy's ringtone. After the fourth measure, he answered it.
"Where are you? And why aren't you home?" demanded a female voice.
"I am driving," Reddy replied. "Let me drop off this customer and then I will be home."
"Why are you whining?" asked the Voice, rising in intensity and now worthy of capitalization.
I thought Reddy should have been asking that question.
"Please stop calling," Reddy replied. "I will be home shortly."
The conversation was, in my opinion, taking on a humorous tone. I chose to convey my feelings with a chuckle.
"You want to tell me who in that car thinks this is so funny?" the Voice demanded, aiming her wrath at me.
Not wanting to make Reddy's domestic situation worse, I chose silence even though my mouth wanted to say: "I'm a customer. We typically sit near UBER DRIVERS! Read the manual."
I could hear my children stifling giggles in the back seat. My wife, I assumed, was dialing 911.
Reddy hung up the phone. Ten seconds later, the symphony again flooded the vehicle. He ignored it but the sounds returned a second, and then a third time.
On the fourth call, he answered.
"Please stop calling," Reddy pleaded.
"Get. Home. Now," the Voice shrieked, although she was competing with a second female voice, this one saying, "In 500 feet make a left."
Reddy hung up and was silent for approximately seven seconds before his phone erupted again.
"Please don't answer that," I said. "Just drop us off and you can talk all you want."
I looked over at Reddy, who was gripping the steering wheel as if he had just taken the lead on the final lap of the Daytona 500. His eyes, registering fury, suddenly softened and he spoke to me for the first time.
"Are you married, sir?"
"Uh, yes," I replied. "That's my wife in the back seat."
"How long have you been married?"
"Twenty-three years," I said. "And you?"
"Hmmm, 2003, I think."
"How's it going?" I asked, eliciting a slight laugh from him.
The phone rang again. Against my wishes, he answered it but did not let the Voice speak.
"I am almost done," he said. "Then you can yell at me."
He hung up again.
"Reddy," I asked, "do you really want to go home at this moment? Wouldn't you rather just drive around picking up fares for the next, I don't know, eight hours? Isn't that one of the luxuries of being an Uber driver? The ability to set your own schedule?"
Our destination approached. "Good luck," I said, before exiting the vehicle and promising to give him a five star rating. In light of his situation, that seemed a paltry token of appreciation. An order of protection would have been more appropriate.
As we walked to our vehicle for the ride back to the suburbs, I eventually broke the uncomfortable silence.
"What did I tell you, girls? You can't get that kind of conversation in a cab."
"Next time we valet park," my wife replied.