The other night, I got into an Uber in Marietta, Georgia, and settled in for a ride back to my hotel in Atlanta. I thanked the driver for picking me up, and he adjusted his rear view mirror and said in the kind of low, reverent voice reserved for television serial killers, “Thank you for calling me, and for allowing me this blessing for my family.”
The way he said it, he might have meant dinner on the table, or me as dinner on the table. Who knew?
Then he said, “I’m going to give you a really nice ride. I’m going to play you some good music, and we’ll have the windows down for the night air, and you’re going to just relax and enjoy.”
A couple of years ago, I bought the book The Gift of Fear, but I never finished reading it because it caused me so much anxiety. I was afraid of the book, so I took the book’s advice and avoided it. I was a little afraid of the Uber driver, but I figured if he did anything worse than turn Anita Baker on full blast with the windows down, I could throw myself out of the car. After all, I was in the back seat, and the doors weren’t safety locked.
I started texting my mother. I told her the nice part–about the soft Georgia night, and that I was enjoying it from the backseat of an Uber. You know. Just in case.
The man tried to talk to me a little more, but Anita and the 40 MPH wind drowned out his voice, so I told him I couldn’t hear him, and he turned the radio up louder, so I couldn’t hear him better.
I have a hard time deciding when I am, and am not afraid. I accuse myself of hyperbole and histrionics. Mainly, because I’ve had some bad shit go down, and I have a hard time believing worse might befall me. Also because I have an over-active imagination, and I always assume that I’m just assuming the worst.
In the back of that Uber, I started thinking about that time an elementary school bus driver decided he wanted to keep me.
Today, I called my mother and asked her to tell me what had happened–again. I wanted to tell her what I remembered, and have her fill in the gaps.
What I remembered was the driver not even pausing at my stop, and saying to me, “It’s okay. I’ll take you back last.”
When last came, and he didn’t take me back, I asked when he was taking me home. I remember how he was watching me in his rear view mirror, telling me that it was okay, that my mother had said it was fine, and that I should stay on the bus. He wouldn’t say when I would get to go home, only that everything was fine, and I was going to be okay.
It seemed wrong, and it made me nervous, but he’d been my bus driver for a long time, and if my mom had said it was okay…
But, then he headed onto the highway, and I knew she would never be okay with that. I knew something bad was happening. I remember that I kept talking to him, and telling him he needed to take me home. He kept saying it was fine, and watching me.
My mother first realized something was wrong when the staff at People’s Drugstore at Ward’s Corner, in Norfolk, VA, called and told her that the bus had gone by without dropping me off. I always got out of the bus on the People’s Drugstore side, and they would keep an eye on me (me unaware) as I crossed the intersection to the Dominion National Bank side, where my mother worked. They watched for me, part of the village helping raise an oblivious 3rd grader, and made sure I was okay.
When they called her, my mother started making phone calls to my school. They confirmed I had gotten on the bus. I just hadn’t gotten off. My mother offered (that’s understatement!) to call the police to help track down the bus, if they couldn’t find it, and the school dispatched a search party.
Police were called, as were the bus driver’s parents–a local minister and his wife–and somewhere between the two, he was convinced to turn back home.
I don’t remember where we were, and I have only a very vague recollection of him talking to people on the CB radio. I honestly don’t remember how I got home, only that I was afraid I was in trouble for not making the man take me to my bus stop, and for letting him drive off with me–like I had a choice.
I remember being afraid of him getting into trouble, and I remember feeling responsible when he lost his job. And I remember how stridently, and seriously my mother talked to me about what to do if anything like that ever happened again. We set a password, so I would always know if she was truly the one who had said it was okay for me to deviate from the plan.
My mother talked to the man. Then, my father went to his house and did his own talking.
That was the end of that bus driver.
It hit me as the Uber driver turned out onto the highway, “You could be taking me anywhere.”
Fortunately, he just took me back to my hotel. When I thanked him for the ride, he told me again what a blessing it was to his family. I was glad he hadn’t eaten me.
Then, I worried that I wasn’t afraid enough. I had made light of my own anxiety.
I don’t do that with my child. I listen to those fears when it comes to him. I know I’ve looked like a complete jerk to more than a few people, but I’d rather have people hate me, than have something happen to that boy. I’d rather people think I’m a lunatic.
For me? I need to learn to listen to myself and say, “I’ll pay the $5, thanks. I’ll be waiting for another car.”