When I got the request from “Richie,” this is what came up:
But here’s the thing — when I actually saw him, he was not an older white gentleman in a helmet. He didn’t look like someone who would choose this photo for his alter ego either. “Richie” was a slim young black teenager, handsome with dark lashes and almond eyes, dressed in a low key burgundy thin parka. His friend was another hip young handsome black teenager with fashionably clunky black nerd glasses and a baseball hat. I picked them up in front of the Trader Joe’s in Culver City and they told me they wanted to go to Hollywood. The ride there was pleasant. I asked where we were going and Richie said he was dropping off headshots to get some background work. He told me he wanted to be an actor, that he almost got the role of a young Eddie Murphy in Dr. Doolittle but he was too shy to pursue it at the time. He also told me he wanted to be a rapper and we discussed the merits of Drake and Jay Z (gotta admit — not really a fan). It turned out he also lived about an hour outside of LA, he’d had to move there recently but he still came up to LA since he had lots of friends and family in the area.
I took him to the destination on Hollywood Blvd and was about to end the ride when he turned to me and said, “I’m just going to drop this off and then I’ll be back.” Oh wait — this was a round trip back to Culver City? He didn’t tell me when he got into the car? He left his friend in the backseat and dashed out.
We sat there in silence for a few minutes when suddenly, my brain started sparking. I had been reading a lot about drivers being stiffed by passengers on the Facebook lounge. I hadn’t read the details thoroughly but some of it was just people manually changing the donation to $0 and some of it had to do with invalid credit cards. One driver had posted a photo of a young black teenager rocking a baseball hat while doing a selfie at his computer, and said beware, this PAX had got a ride about an hour outside of the LA area and not paid via some scam. I skimmed over the post, saw that the PAX was cute and fairly anonymous, no real distinguishing features. Just another hip black kid at his laptop.
Wait — why didn’t Richie post a real pic of himself? Why was Richie stating he was new to Lyft when he had obviously ridden before? He didn’t ask the usual questions — how much is this going to cost, how do I pay for this? And a round trip from Culver City to Hollywood ain’t cheap. Why did he seem so cavalier about the price and the length of the ride? I remembered that post on Facebook — the driver said the kid lived about an hour outside of LA. Oh shit — was I about to get stiffed???
Panicked, I took a screen grab of the Lyft ride and emailed support. But I couldn’t wait for a response. I made an excuse to the friend still sitting in the backseat about needing to make a phone call and stepped out of the car to call Lyft. When I finally got support on the phone, my mind was already made up. I wasn’t going to drive back to Culver City with these suspicions on my mind. Support was supportive, they told me to just end the ride and they’d investigate.
I made an excuse to the friend about a bogus family emergency so he got out of the car. Just as I was about to drive away, Richie came back downstairs and knocked on the window. I blabbed the same bullshit to him, smiling all the while. He asked me if I could get him another Lyft but I said no, there’d be plenty of cars out there that he could request himself, and I drove away not sure if I’d done the right thing. Had I lumped him in with a faceless mass of dangerous black youth? Had I jumped to conclusions because of his skin color? Was I really sure I had done the right thing? When I was in my late teens and just moved to NYC, I hung with a bunch of black kids in bands, the Fishbone freaks. I was always the one to hail the cabs cause lord knows if they tried, we’d be standing on the corner all night. I used to rail against racism with them, cursing the Man and the stereotypes that doomed them to ride the subways at wee hours, that made deli owners follow them around the store with stony glares. Now was I one of those cab drivers whizzing on by?
The next day, as soon as I woke, I checked my email to see my Lyft earnings. Did I really get stiffed? Shit — the full amount was on there. I fucked up. I had made assumptions that they didn’t have money, that they were poor because they were black. I wanted to write Richie an apology, to find him and make amends. I couldn’t believe I of all people, after my other incidents of making judgements based on race, would do this. Hadn’t I learned my lesson?
But later that day, Lyft finally emailed me back saying they had “dealt” with their passenger on their end and I would be fully compensated for the ride. Huh — did Lyft pay me and not Richie? I emailed back asking for more information, had Richie been trying to scam a ride or was I just being paranoid? Their reply was that they couldn’t give me information about passengers or their intentions, but I was NOT being paranoid.
So what’s the end of this tale? On one hand, I’m glad that I’m not crazy. Once my Spidey senses started tingling, I trusted myself enough to follow through with what I felt and that bodes well for me and my instincts. But on the other hand, I’m sad that I was right. That from one glance at a fuzzy photo, I could ID this person based on skin color alone. I couldn’t see his eyes, I couldn’t see his hair, I really couldn’t see much of him. All I saw was black.