As a person who constantly imagines all the different scenarios in which I could die a grisly death, I, naturally, have some misgivings about Uber, Lyft, Fasten, etc. The premise of paying random strangers to taxi you around just never sat well with me. And for good reason.
Two weeks ago, my friend and I found ourselves in Austin with an afternoon to spare. It was raining on and off—I’ve found that the probability of rain correlates more closely with whether or not I have something important planned than it does with meteorological forecasts—but we valiantly plowed on with sightseeing. Who said that we couldn’t go exploring in the rain?
Anyway, after walking to the Graffiti Park and trying to climb mudslides in white shoes, we decided to use Fasten, a cheaper version of Uber, to get to our next destination.
“I don’t think he’s coming,” I said, after we’d stood at the intersection for nearly ten minutes, waiting for our driver. According to the Fasten app, he had stopped three streets away from our location. He’d also stopped taking our calls.
My friend frowned. “The app thinks our ride’s already over. It’s charging me.” She cancelled the ride and called another. “The next guy’s going to come in a Volvo.” I nodded, pretending I would be able to recognize one when the time came.
Again, no one showed up. “Just like my sixth birthday party,” I thought about saying, which I guess would’ve been sad if I even remembered being six. Or if I’d actually had a sixth birthday party. Which is probably why I didn’t say it.
My friend, who is, in general, a more useful person than I am, was calling yet another ride when a white car pulled up to us. The window rolled down, and a blond head, belonging to a guy in his mid-twenties, poked out. “Are you two waiting for a Fasten?”
“Yes!” My friend shouted, relieved, and we piled into the backseat, trying not to trek mud onto the carpet.
He (we’ll call him Kevin) began reversing out of the intersection and into the parking lot of a gas station. We told him we were headed for the Cathedral of Junk (sculptures made out of recycled material) and began to converse lightly.
We were promptly interrupted by an angry-looking Latino man who had suddenly appeared one foot from the passenger window. His dark eyebrows furrowed deeply, and he yelled something we couldn’t hear.
“I’m just gonna turn,” our driver mouthed at him, before we shot out of the lot, unsettled and confused. Once we were about a minute away, Kevin turned back to us. “He scared me,” he confided, and we chorused agreement.
“I wonder what he wanted,” I said. It was one of those moments, the ones that seem inexplicably important, the ones you somehow know will come back to haunt you later. But at the moment, if I even noticed this feeling, I dismissed it and tuned back into the conversation about the flight of Uber and Lyft from Austin and what that meant for users.
“From what I understand,” Kevin was telling my friend as he declined a call to stay on the app, “taxi drivers complained about Uber stealing their business. But, well, that’s capitalism.” I noted that he had a slight Southern drawl.
His phone began buzzing again, and he again declined. “The city required Uber to do background checks, and they refused, so now they’re—why does the app keep calling me?” This time, he picked up.
“Hello?” He greeted politely, before listening to words we couldn’t make out. “Oh, no,” he said. “Oh my God, I’m so sorry. This is my fault. I’m sorry. I didn’t check when I picked them up.”
My friend, next to me, exhaled in horror. We’d gotten in the wrong car. This ride was for the guy in the gas station parking lot. He’d been angry—rightfully so—because we’d hijacked his ride. “Oh, no,” I said, realization dawning on me. “Is there another Fasten driver waiting for us at the intersection? I can’t keep track of how many people we’ve led on.”
“No, I cancelled that one,” my friend replied. “We didn’t check for license plates—I just assumed if he was right there, and we were right there—”
“Didn’t you talk to our driver on the phone? Did their voices just sound the same?”
“I mean, I started noticing an accent…”
“Oh, no,” I moaned, remembering something. “This isn’t a Volvo, is it?” It’d happened: I’d finally gotten exposed.
Kevin ended up dropping us off at the Cathedral of Junk anyway. We paid him his full fare despite his apologies and he left, excited to tell his friends all about our collective stupidity.
“Why’re we in a neighborhood?” My friend asked, having pictured the site of a famous attraction. The junk towers were nowhere in sight.
“Do you think it might be in someone’s backyard?”
After asking a particularly disgruntled neighbor, I turned out to be right. The Cathedral of Junk, after a quick Google search we should’ve conducted in the very beginning, was in a backyard and could be seen by appointment only.
It began to rain again. Figuring we had nothing else to lose, I stared into the security camera and rang the doorbell. No one answered, of course, as it was a Sunday afternoon and anyone who couldn’t understand the “BY APPOINTMENT ONLY” sign outside their locked yard clearly wouldn’t be someone you’d want in your private property anyway.
So, hanging our heads in shame, we called a Fasten back to our hotel. “Do you want to take pictures?” Our new driver asked, after we’d relayed the situation to her and pointed out small bits of the sculptures peeking out from above the trees.
“Can’t imagine why not,” I said.
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