Saturday, August 8, 2020

Still Life with Robin: How Was Your Ride?

by Peggy Robin


The following question was posted on the Listserv on Tuesday:


"Has anyone taken an Uber or Lyft recently? If so, how was it? Did you feel safe?"


I was thinking of answering this question on-list, but as soon as I started to compose an email about my Uber trip, I got bogged down. The problem was not anything to do with Uber. My driver was fine, the ride was smooth, and all coronavirus safety precautions were strictly observed. The problem was that the whole day was a series of snafus. Nothing irremediable was just one of those days everything seems out of whack, and I realized that if I told the whole story, it would be a long, rambling, shaggy dog story.....and  it wouldn't be a good answer to the poster's question. But it would be just the sort of thing I'd put in my Still Life with Robin column. So here it is:


I took an Uber today .....for the first time in over a year. it was perfectly comfortable and I felt quite safe. The driver wore a mask, There was a sign hanging in the car saying that passengers are required to wear masks, sit in the back seat, and there were a couple of other rules, too. It said the cars are sanitized regularly. But I can't say I had a good trip home. That's because I never intended to take an Uber home in the first place. I have a nice little car, and I was meaning to drive it to Potomac and back, for an appointment that could not be handled remotely. It was supposed to be a quick, simple errand.

My car -- a 13-year-old Hyundai Accent - is admittedly plain and it's got its share of dings. But it's always been serviceable....that is, until a few weeks ago, when I had my first real trouble from it. But let me start with the drive out to Potomac. That went fine. I signed some documents that had to be witnessed, and then got back in my car to drive back to my home in Cleveland Park.


I got as far as Bethesda - Wisconsin and Bradley to be exact - when my car's engine started sputtering. and the "check engine" light came on. 


Something similar had happened  while driving about three weeks earlier, and the car actually had stalled and couldn't be restarted -- and had to be towed to the Hyundai place in Rockville. This time, it wasn't stalling (yet!), so I was able to turn it around and head north up Wisconsin/Rockville Pike, back to the same Hyundair place that had fixed it a few weeks before. 


They took the car in and said they would check it out tomorrow and let me know.


The car repair place was just two blocks from the White Flint Metro. I thought I would have a smooth Metro ride to Cleveland Park. When I entered the station, the sign said the next train would come in 13 minutes. While I waited, every few minutes there were very loud but completely garbled, incomprehensible announcements over the PA. I didn't worry about it, and boarded the train when it came. 


It went exactly one stop - to Grosvenor. Then, everyone --that is, a total of 10  people on an 8-car train-- was told to get out. That's when I saw the sign in the station that I had overlooked before: It announced the red line is closed between Grosvenor and Friendship Heights for the next TWO WEEKS. Those unintelligible announcements were telling us that there would be a free shuttle bus to take us to Friendship Heights, where we could resume travel by Metrorail.


So I followed the line of ten passengers over to the waiting area for the shuttle bus. Only a limited number of people would be allowed on the bus, so that we could maintain social distance from each other. There were already passengers on the waiting bus as we boarded, and it was not clear to me if all the newly arrived  passengers would be allowed to board. I was at the end of the line, but thankfully, the person in charge of counting heads let us all on. To stay as far away from the other passengers as possible, I picked a seat in the last row of the bus.


So the bus took off for Friendship Heights. Since I'm in the back of the bus, I know I will be the last one off the bus when it arrives at the station. I could not have anticipated how long it would take to get off this particular bus. Apparently, at the front of the bus, there was a woman with one of those wheeled, wire, fold-up shopping carts. She should have been the first to get off the bus, but she was having some sort of trouble with her cart. I couldn't see what was going on -- and at first I couldn't hear what she was saying, but for whatever reason, she was not getting off the bus. Maybe she was having trouble with her shopping cart. I don't know if anyone up front offered to help her; perhaps the problem was that in the midst of a pandemic, no one wanted to help her by handling her cart. Or maybe someone did offer to help but she did not want a stranger touching her cart. All I could hear is some talk about her cart. Then voices were raised, and a man yelled at her to get off the bus, or move aside and let other people pass. Then she yelled back that he should stop telling her what to do, and be polite. Then some other man yelled back at her - definitely not polite. That made her even madder, and she said she wasn't going anywhere. Then I thought to myself, "Great, it looks like no one will be getting off this bus anytime soon."


The shouting went back and forth for a while....maybe five minutes. Probably less, though it seemed to go on and on. Ultimately, I don't know how or why the problem was resolved, but the woman and her shopping cart finally got off the bus, and then the rest of us followed, mercifully released.


Now here I am at the entrance to the Friendship Heights Metro. It's Tuesday afternoon, and as I'm about to go back down the escalator to get back on the Red Line to Cleveland Park, when I suddenly remember something important: Earlier this morning, Hurricane Isaias had torn through town. As a precaution in case of flooding, the Cleveland Park metro had been shut down for the day. I had posted the Metro announcement on the listserv myself, the night before. So I thought 'd better check the Metro website to see if the station was still closed. Sure enough, it was. And so was Van Ness. And Tenleytown. I thought about getting out at Woodley Park and walking back up Connecticut Avenue to Cleveland Park. But that's a long uphill slog on a hot, muggy day. I had just been trapped in the aisle of a shuttle bus for some undetermined period of time, listening to a woman screaming at people who were screaming at her for not getting off the bus. At that point I just wanted to get home the fastest way.

And that would be Uber.


So I pulled out my phone and hit that magic Uber app. And nothing happened. I hit it again, and saw that it was fading away. Hmm....Apparently, if you don't use Uber for a certain period of time, it disappears. It's use it or lose it. And I'd lost it, and would need to reinstall it. But that didn't happen quickly. So I stood on the street corner, waiting, waiting. And at last the app came back. Once I hit that black-bordered "U" it wasn't more than three minutes till I had a car.  


Here's where things start to look up. A clean, well air-conditioned car appears, driven by Johan, who is friendly but efficient. He chooses a good route to get me to my house -- and I'm there about seven minutes later. I tip him in cash because I can't remember how to tip through the app on my phone, leaving the cash on the console, in case he wants to avoid touching anything that has come straight from a customer's hands. 

End of ride, end of story. It's nine and a half miles from the Rockville Hyundai place to my house. Google Maps says it takes 21 minutes to drive it, under normal conditions.That trip took me over an hour - under not-so-normal conditions.  


You can bet I'm taking Uber, rather than Metro/Shuttlebus/Metro, when I need to go back!
Still Life with Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.


  1. Great story! Thanks for sharing

  2. This is SO what can happen on some days, and an excellent description of what can happen when an engine goes, when public transportation fails, when people act like that, when the Cleveland Park station is closed, and when summer weather is treacherous.

    I have had those types of sagas getting home from point a to point b. And in 2012, when I got on 495 at the River Road exit and drove over to Burke, where I ran an errand and then had to call AAA because my car would not start, two kind man came and said they thought it was the battery, so I bought one, and drove all the way back to the River Road exit, and drove off only two see steam coming out from the front above the hood and the check engine light bearing, and me having just enough time to pull into the parking lot of the Little Falls library, where I called AAA again and they came and took the car to the dealer, and there was no Uber or Lyft so I scrambled to find a bus, and then the dealer called and I asked how much it would be to repair the car and he said it was not reparable because the cost would exceed the Blue Book value, and I had no idea what to do, and was at first stunned at the idea of being suddenly without a car.

    That was eight years ago. I did not have the money for a new car, and after about a month, I was used to taking bus and Metro everywhere. When I got a new job over in Virginia, they said, "oh, you're green" when I said I didn't have a car. I felt a little proud to answer yes. I (mostly) happily took bus and Metro everywhere for these last eight years, and simply adapted to conditions by assigning myself projects for that long commute and the many stops, especially when all the repair work was happening in 2014 and 2015.

    This year found me researching cars again because I am high risk and do not plan on taking public transportation. I learned the cost is prohibitive so my plan for now is to wait until 2021, work remotely and then move closer to work if I need to rather than settle with the car thing.

    I GET your story! And I suspect you're going to get many emails other than mine!

    Good thing you saved that story for the listserv! It perfectly describes real life in Washington!

  3. Peggy, my heart goes out to you. And in this heat! Ay-yi-yi. I've had nightmares that were less appalling. Just one little question --- did you by any chance happen to read your horoscope for that day? It almost seems as if some planet was lined up wrong for you! All the best, may you never have another day like that.