THE ROADSIDE – You may be wondering why I am sitting here, stopped along a busy street, with a patrol car parked behind me, its lights flashing like the Las Vegas Strip. It’s because I didn’t want to be sitting here, stopped along a busy street, with a patrol car parked behind me with its lights flashing like the Las Vegas Strip.
Lucy, this needs some ‘splaining, and virtually every word is true. I had been reading about a new transportation system whereby a customer calls a company that sends a car around and takes you where you want to go. No, not a taxi. It’s called Goober, and you don’t simply pick up a phone and call the company. That is so 2010. You iPad or email or use semaphores from your rooftop. Two if by land. Then you follow the car on your Smartphone screen as it comes to fetch you. Before it arrives, you are sent the car’s license plate number, a picture of the vehicle, the driver’s picture, name, age and DNA. You pay by credit card, tip included.
That’s a nice system for people who go to a party, have a few drinks and don’t want to drive home. My wife says we should try Goober. Why? I’m a perfectly good driver. “Because when we go to a party, you have a few drinks and I don’t want you to drive home.” So we try it. We make our pitch via Smartphone or whatever, give addresses of here and our destination, and wait on the curbside for the car. As we are waiting, we can see on, the screen, one of many Goobers in our neighborhood heading our way. It goes down a street, down the wrong street, turns around, comes back, then a driver calls us for instructions. I notice the call is from a different area code. “My makeup is running,” says my wife, sweat streaming down her face.
Our first trip begins with, “We want to take the Greeze-ee Tag Tollroad route. It lets us slip across town quicker.” Blank looks. I repeat. The driver finally replies, “No tag. First day.” In subsequent trips we find that no Goober driver has a Greeze-ee Tag, so we take a much longer route, or we are madly digging through our pockets for quarters. Before our next trip we attempt to call Goober to specifically ask for driver and car with a tag, but the company has no phone number, apparently no employees except the drivers and no way to correspond.
Undaunted, we try Goober again. “Take a left, no, your other left. Go right.” I give block by block directions because the GPS doesn’t work. Also, it’s First Day. After a party, we signal Goober. A car immediately appears on the screen – going the wrong way. Our Smartphone rings. “Where you?” My wife’s makeup is running. Then there is the matter of money. Upon arriving home one night we check the bill: $22 going over, $5 coming back. What? The driver hasn’t left yet, so we quickly give him a $20. The next time, same thing. Twenty-two going, five coming home, only this time the driver has already left. By semaphore to the head office, we point out the pricing mistake and receive this reply: “Since you didn’t take this trip, your fare has been refunded.” No. you don’t understand. We took the trip, OK? We want to pay for it and…never mind.
As you can see, there are still a few bugs to work out with Goober. But at least it’s safe. The drivers have been carefully selected, background checked, drug busts counted, everything to make the passengers feel comfy. “Goober Driver Charged with Rape!” the newspaper shouts. It seems a driver took advantage of a drunken female passenger. A later check of his background by the city revealed a 14-year federal prison sentence for drugs, multi other crimes and charges, and not carrying enough quarters.
The City of Houston and other Texas cities have discovered that their own background checks of approved Goober drivers working on the streets have turned up enough perpetrators with crimes to fill the Walls at Huntsville. Goober hired a screening company that only checks Social Security numbers rather than fingerprints. A new city report found, for example, a driver, who had been cleared, underwent a City of Houston fingerprint background check which found that she had 24 alias names, 5 listed birth dates, 10 listed Social Security numbers, and an active warrant for her arrest. “Hi, I’m your driver, Durst. Robert Durst.” Yet there is a bill before the Texas Legislature that would create a state-wide screening test which would – get this – loosen the cities’ screening, including criminal background checks.
On the flip side, Goober drivers can rate their passengers. So if you throw up in the back seat, yell obscenities at other drivers or your own, or don’t pack enough quarters, you may stand out on the curb for an hour waiting for a Goober pickup. That reminds me. We are standing on the curb again, waiting and waiting while we see the little blip on the Smartphone showing our driver is wandering all over the neighborhood, hopelessly lost. Finally, up comes our golden carriage. It’s a pickup truck — one of those with four doors. How can we pull into the Million Dollar Ballet Gala at the ballroom of the Hyatt Regis-Philbin in a Ford Red Neck Yuppie Killer? Already late, we have no choice, so I push aside the feed bags and off we go.
This brings us to our sitting here in a pickup pulled over on a local road, while all my neighbors are slowly passing by, gawking all the way. Up walks the cop. “We had a report of a stranger cruising through the neighborhood, with this license plate number.” It was our driver, guilty of driving while Nigerian. My makeup is beginning to run.
Ashby is driven at email@example.com