Last night I returned from Amsterdam. Four days of traversing the Holland countryside had me drained, plus my connecting flight was delayed by five hours, two hours of which we were in the air before we returned to the ground. (Yes, we went up into sky before the pilot announced they found a "small technical issue" so we had to return to the Keflavik airport, and then we waited three hours to re-board. Nice to see you again, Iceland.)
The point is, I was exhausted. I walked out of customs with Uber up on my phone. I left my car 7.5 miles away at my friend's parents' Maryland home. Estimated fare was $11-$15, which I thought was a bit high, but I'm used to splitting fare three ways and only going three miles to a downtown bar in Richmond. Whatever. I requested.
A man walked up to me and asked where I needed to go. I totally forgot cab drivers hang around airport like flies at a trashcan.
Me: "I'm just waiting for an Uber."
Man: "No, no, cancel it. I'll drive you."
Yes, I gave in that easily. No questions asked. I just wanted to be on my friend's futon, which was an hour's drive away once I got to my car. I crawled into a black, nondescript SUV.
The driver had me input the address. He was using Waze. I watched him begin to follow the instructions - and then turn left when the app directed him to go right. Um.
He asked where I was coming from.
Me: "The Netherlands. I was in Amsterdam and then a few other cities."
Driver: "Oh, you were in Europe?! How did you like it?"
I try to answer him, but I'm suddenly distracted that the app is rerouting, and is he driving up the fare? Wait, where is the fare? There is not a visible meter in this car. There is not a visible anything to make this a cab. I could be in my friend's car. I could be in anyone's car. OMG, what have I done.
I slowly describe my trip while texting my friend, "I got in a cab, but I'm not sure I'm in a cab."
I begin to add it's a black SUV and I probably got in around 9:49 pm in case they have to look at security footage.
Driver: "Europe is so different. It's a different way of life. I love it."
My anxiety recedes as he resumes following the Waze directions. Maybe he isn't kidnapping me. And why would he kidnap me? I walked out of an airport, not showered in 23 hours and only carrying a backpack. Do I look like good ransom? And if this is a mugging, he's about to learn about I have no money.
(And it is a mugging, spoiler. But not the type you're thinking.)
Me: "Where's your favorite city in Europe?"
I don't understand at all what word he said, his accent is thick, but I'm like, "Oh?"
He goes on: "Germany is the best. **** used to be the capital before they moved it to Berlin. Cologne is great, too."
Me: "I'm thinking Germany for my next trip actually."
We're a mile from my destination. I figure the fare will be higher than Uber because it is a cab, but that's like $20, right? I hope he takes card. I don't have much cash. Maybe he wants my spare euros?
Driver: "Have you been to Dubai? I watched a documentary yesterday on how they made it - AMAZING."
Me: "No, I haven't, but I'm going to Qatar in October."
They're sort of similar. Two rich Middle Eastern countries, right?
The driver does not think so because he brushes past my comment: "Dubai used to be a sea, do you know? And now it's a desert, do you know about that. It's a desert, it's sand! And they built it. So much money! And I saw this yesterday, how they got the dirt and concrete and built city in desert. Because it used to be a sea, do you know?"
Me: "Money will get you anything."
Driver: "And it looks like a palm tree, do you know! You know, a palm tree" - and he stops the damned car here! I repeat, he stops the car. "It's a palm tree."
Me internally: What is a palm tree?
We are stopped in the middle of a suburban street, and the driver is drawing a palm tree in the air. "The city is a palm because the king liked palm trees so much. And they build houses, houses that look like these" - he indicates the suburbs around us - "and it used to be a sea, but now it's a desert."
The dashboard clock ticks to 10:04 pm. My car is within sight, a block and a half away. Is this driving up my fare? Forget that; just let me go.
Me: "Oh. Cool. A palm tree, that's so cool."
Driver: "I know, man. The king, he just wanted it, do you know? You can watch it all on YouTube!"
Me: "I'll have to check that out."
He resumes driving. He passes my car.
Me: "That's the house. You can stop here."
Driver: "I can turn around."
Me: "No, it's right behind us. It's not worth it."
Driver: "Okay. It will be forty-five dollars."
I choke: "...Forty-five? Forty-five dollars?"
Me: "I'm not giving you $45."
I did not mean to say it so bluntly, but EFF THAT. I knew this ride would be more than Uber, but not 2.5 times the rate! We went seven miles. It was a fifteen-minute ride. I was in America again. I trusted this man (after I thought he was ransoming me).
Driver: "I started timer when we left, it took sixteen minutes, and you're paying with card."
It would have taken three minutes less if you followed Waze directions and didn't stop to describe a damn palm tree in Dubai!
Me: "I'm not paying $45. What if I pay in cash?"
Driver: "I'll make it $40."
Me: "What about $30? You told me to cancel Uber, and Uber said $11-$15."
Driver: "I'll make it $35. But then there's tip."
I count dollars out of my backpack and realize I might not even have $30, but I'm not letting him charge my card because then he could up the price, and also he could drive away right now with me still in car. Or I imagine if I just exited the car, would he chase me? Would he run after me down a suburban lane screaming that I didn't pay my fare? Would I be embarrassed if my friend's parents saw that?
Phew, I found another $5. I give him $35. No tip. Because screw this. I should've stuck with that Uber.
And I am about to exit the vehicle when he pulls up on his phone a video - a YouTube video of Dubai's construction. "Look, man," he says and points at phone, "here's the video. Dubai used to be a sea, do you know, and then the desert..."
He trails off. An ad is playing before the video begins. The dashboard clock reads 10:06 pm. I have been on planes for the last thirteen hours. I still have to drive an hour to crash on a futon. I am mentally in a time zone six hours ahead. That means it's 4:06 am. And this man just tried to ask me for $45 and now holds $35 of my money.
Me: "I will watch it later."
I get out of the car. I am halfway to my friend's house when I hear him behind me: "This is just $35?"
I turn. "Yeah."
And OMG, he's out of the car - on the streets. What is he doing? He's opening the trunk...
"Your bags!" he says.
"I only have this bag." I indicate my backpack.
Me: "Have a good night."
Anyway, always stick to Uber.