Dear Sophia:

Happy New Year! I think 2019 was a truly terrible year and am very glad to see the back end of it. Of course, I went Uber driving – New Year’s Eve is the Olympics of rideshare-driving. “But don’t you miss all the parties?” friends said “No” I’d reply. “New Year’s Eve never lives up to expectations. I don’t get kissed, laid, a new job or magically drop 30 lbs.”

But the sweet cash? I’ll take it every time. Last night started well, a little slower than last year, but still, good. It wore on, one rider after another, and another and frankly my only tether to reality was the GPS on the app. Snippets of increasingly shrill conversation as people got more and more ‘relaxed’.

Then we approached midnight – business slowed to a halt and I pulled off to the side and turned the app off. Waited for the inevitable fireworks, the drunken roar of the city. Waited until 12.02 am, when the surge was 2.6x. I got a call and went to find my rider.

As I’m trying to figure out where I’m going I enter an alleyway I’ve never been in. Fifteen years in NZ, and never in this alley. As I start my way down I noticed braziers with fire in them, men in wife-beaters hanging around, smoking. Asians, pakeha, whatever. A drug deal going down. Guy eating noodles. Laundry hung up on makeshift lines. I drove slowly, hoping that my rider was here. It felt like 50 years ago and a different country. It was surreal.

I marvelled “What is this place?”

Unfortunately, the place was not where my rider was. I reluctantly moved along, resolving to find time to explore it at another time. I was so delighted to find somewhere new!

Anyway, I go around and back up Auckland’s famous Queen street, still trying to figure out where my rider is. It’s summer and my windows are down. I can smell the heaving mass of drunken humanity. People are shouting, the odd police siren going off, flashes of blue. The sensory overload is tweaking my introverted soul.

A guy looks into my passenger side window and says “How much to Kingsland?” I said “I don’t know mate, I’m not a taxi”
His jaw is tight, and the glint in his eyes tells me he is one of those drunks that gets very angry and aggessive.
“You are an Uber though, aren’t you?”

“Yeah” I said “I’m on my way to pick someone up”
“Well how much is it?”
“Mate, I have no fucking clue use the app”
And started to roll up the window.

He leaned down and said into the window as it was rolling up “You don’t have to be like that” he said scowling nastily, and then delivered his most cutting put down “And you’re fat too” I just looked over, paused the window and said “I guess this means we’re not gonna fuck then huh?”

He did look very startled.

Today I tried to find my strange alley full of characters and sweat. Gone. Like 2019, just gone. I cleaned out the car and found a card nestled in the rear seat.

It said “Jesus loves you” with a number to call.