Handr (pronounced hander) charged way more than UberBLACK, but you could not compare the levels of service. “If you just need to get someplace,” my lawyer told me, “call a cab. If you want to rule the streets, treat yourself to a Handr.” Some days, after an unexpected win or a demoralizing loss, he hired Handr just to ride around the city. With the rates he charged, he could afford to. Someone like me, who had to pay those rates, I had been rolling my pennies, saving up for tonight.
My driver matched the pic I’d been sent: shaved head, early thirties, unsmiling. He was even wearing the same white shirt. But he had not yet introduced himself by name, nor had Handr included one with his pic. That, it turned out, was one of the terms and conditions I had agreed to without reading. If I wanted to talk to my driver, I was to call him “Driver,” and he would call me “Sir.” I had to admit, I liked that arrangement. Lately, I hadn’t been on the receiving end of very much respect.
The car, a black Ford Explorer, reminded me of the one I used to drive. I always liked big cars, but these days I needed one. In the past two years, my weight had ballooned up and over the two hundred mark. According to my doctor, I was courting a heart attack. Tonight, I was taking that heart attack out on a date, a fancy dinner followed by many, many cocktails.
Before climbing into the Explorer, I checked the license plate. “You can’t be too careful,” I said.
The driver, who was holding my door, took no offense. Like me, he had read that story last week, the one about the college girl getting attacked. “But that wasn’t one of our drivers,” he reminded me. Then, with more than a touch of company pride, he added, “And it never will be.”
Handr’s screening process included evaluations by two psychiatrists, one male, one female. Between them, they could identify all the potential rapists as well as the potential killers. No one advanced into Handr’s training program without unanimous approval.
“By training program …” I wanted to be clear on this. “Do you mean driving school?”
“Driving plus,” he replied.
Thinking about my doctor’s comment the other day and the size of the steak I would be devouring tonight, I had to ask if “driving plus” included CPR.
It did, but now the driver needed to ask, “Do you have something dangerous planned?”
“My first drink in two years. I will be ending a very dry spell with a very dry martini.”
If the driver appreciated my wit, it did not bring a smile to his face.
“What’s your drink of choice?” I asked.
His answer did not surprise me. “Scotch.”
One Scotch, even top shelf, wouldn’t break me, and it would have been nice, I thought, to share my homecoming drink with another person.
Honestly, I had not expected him to say yes. No one else had today, but I couldn’t argue with his excuse. “I’m sorry, Sir, but I don’t drink when I’m driving.”
“I used to,” I said. “Two years ago, I was picked up for drunk driving, drunk driving plus. I hit a guy. Some idiot on a bicycle.”
My driver hated bicycles. He hated bikes, the people who rode them, and all the street space the city had been turning over to them. He said, “You should have called us.”
I definitely should have. And back then, I could have. Back then, I could have afforded Handrs every night of the week. But now that I needed those rides, I couldn’t afford them. I had not only lost my driver’s license but job as well.
“They took your license?” My driver couldn’t imagine losing his own. “That would be like losing my legs.”
While I wouldn’t have gone that far, I did miss driving. I also missed drinking. And while I never would have admitted this out loud, not even to my lawyer, I missed drunk driving. But two years ago, I would have agreed to anything to stay out of jail. So I put up with the subway, mandatory AA meetings, DUI charm school, and weekly drug tests.
“They take more than urine samples. Did you know that?” I asked.
My driver knew all about weekly drug tests.
“Sometimes, they pull your hair out by the roots to test it. Look at me. I don’t have a lot to lose.” I tugged at a thinning patch of gray over my right ear. “But you …