We were ten minutes out from the airport on Highway 40 when the notification chimed on my phone that Jim had cancelled my ride. I thought it must be a mistake, a glitch in the algorithm, since Jim was quietly and intently driving us down the highway. He couldn’t have cancelled our ride; I’d just watched him tuck a pinch of Skoal into his lower lip. People still do that?
“Uh oh Jim. It says you cancelled our ride.” Jim doesn’t react for a solid moment, then he lifts his phone out of its dashboard cradle and studies it. We’re on a highway, and it’s raining. Watch the road, Jim.
“Where am I taking you?” he asks. I tell him the address, and before he can point out the discrepancy I can see that that is not the destination on his screen.
Nothing is true. My whole life is a lie.
“Is your name Jim?”
Jim, Jim, Jim. I have called him “Jim” at least three times since we got in the car. I phoned him from rideshare pickup zone 2 because I wasn’t seeing the white Toyota Camry my screen was displaying. He’d practically shouted into the phone: “We’re not allowed to pickup in zone 2. You have to walk down to zone 1. I’m right behind the Chevy Suburban.” Sure enough, Suburban with a Camry right behind it. I climbed in the back and confirmed the driver’s name, as I always do.
“Jim?” Here my memory fails. Did he say “Yes” to that first address? It’s not clear, but he certainly did not say “No.” He just started driving.
So now we’re a half dozen miles from the airport in the wrong car with the wrong driver speeding towards the wrong destination. I’m trying to make sense and make a plan. There is no plan; I press for sense.
“But I called you from the Lyft app. We spoke on the phone.”
“I’m not Lyft. I’m Uber.”
“But then what about the person you were supposed to pick up?”
“Um . . . they cancelled.” It’s the pause after “Um,” the pause of someone who, charitably understood, is utterly lost, but who could also be plotting heinous deceit. Clearly it’s the latter.
Tell my wife and daughter I love them. When they find my hacked apart body, its pieces scattered, half-buried, across an Indiana cornfield, tell them I have no regrets. I lived life to the fullest.
Seconds that feel like hours pass in silence. In those seconds I watch my fellow passenger’s body, rigid and quiet in the front passenger seat. I don’t know him, don’t know what he might be capable of. We only met this morning. Is his right hand sliding down between the seat and the door in search of a weapon? Is our shared commute to an afternoon meeting about to morph into a fight for our lives?
The man I have been calling Jim breaks the silence by instructing his phone to navigate to our actual destination. He says he will just drive us there and that we don’t need to pay him. My fellow passenger sheepishly admits he has no cash, and I add that neither do I. More silence. I open the navigation on my phone to make sure it matches the route showing on Fake Jim’s screen.
We pull together some cash at our destination and pay him, and he urgently drives off. I trudge back inside through the drizzle and wonder if he wasn’t also playing out a murder scenario in his head as he drove, convincing himself with each passing mile marker that he was his passengers’ next victim.
I was still wondering about that when I landed back in Chicago and made my way outside to get a ride back to my apartment.
I took a taxi.