Riding in Cars with Americans

I commute to work from Venice into the heart of Hollywood, usually four days a week, to attend to my day gig. Luckily, my employer offers me the magical reprieve of working from home Fridays from the comfort of our little Zen Den, barefoot and braless, just as I prefer life to be.

I have yet to obtain my California driver’s license (oopsie) or a car in which to use said license (double oopsie), so I rely on ride sharing to get to and from work (blogger’s note: I have a driver’s license, just not one for the country in which I currently reside…gimme a break, I’m working on it). Basically, I’ve become incredibly familiar with the various features – base model and otherwise – of the Toyota Prius.

I spend 1.5 – 2 hours per day, 4 days a week, traveling with total strangers, not unlike a train or bus, but slightly closer quarters. Sometimes this is a real fuck job, you guys. Like, if a driver has mild to moderate road rage or their car straight up stanks or they love love love EDM music. For all the time I participate in this shared economy mode of transport, though, most of my rides are just fine. What’s made this style of commuting particularly interesting is the stories I hear from my drivers.

Like the overweight man with barely there bits of slicked back hair who graciously allowed me to bring my 7 lb. dog along for the ride. Our conversation started out light – as any ride share to rider repartee usually does – until we started talking about rescue dogs (which ours happens to be) and how he was on the brink of suicide after losing everything when he failed to maintain the family business bequeathed to him by his parents. An Italian deli that had funded his family for more than two generations. He had adopted a rescue a few months prior and his desire to care for the dog saved him.

Like the cool, rocker chick with tats covering every inch of her forearms who has an adult child but looks way too young for that to be possible. She notices my accent and proudly I tell her where I’m from. Vancouver, BC – mecca of the modern world, if you can handle the winter rain and cost of living. She then reminisces about touring with her band in Canada and recording at Vancouver’s infamous Mushroom Studios, only to have her band’s van stolen while they were in the studio, with songwriting journals and equipment in the back. I wonder if the fucking thug ever read her lyrics or just tossed them away after pawning the gear?

Speaking of Canada, not once but twice now I’ve been picked up by a fellow who resides in Orange County but is originally from Calgary. The only ride share driver to ever pick me up in a pick-up truck. The first time was a trip – pun intended! – as I noticed he was listening to a Canadian hockey match-up streaming from an app on his phone and immediately we bonded. The second time I sat in the front seat (something I never, ever do). Maybe Canadians inadvertently attract one another when residing in foreign lands? I’d like to think so.

The wee little fella who resembled McLovin who picked me up one night from the Directors Guild of America. I have no idea how his wee little footsies managed to reach the pedals, however, he did point out that Justin Bieber was in the car next to us as we waited for the light to switch to green on Sunset Boulevard (blogger’s note: Superbad was written by Seth Rogen, from Vancouver, BC – we’re literally everywhere, LA).

In my many shared journeys I’ve come across some lovely Mexican folks, our resilient North American counterparts, who I have nothing but love and empathy for in this fucked up era of you know who (I’ll never allow his name to grace the pages of this blog). After several drivers cancelled on me trying to make my way up the busy PCH from the Getty Villa, Carlos came through and kind of saved my ass. His English was still a work in progress, but he was keen to listen to my music. We plugged in one of my road trip playlists – the likes of Tom Petty, Led Zepp, Queens and Foos – and Carlos knew all the words to most of the songs. It was a slow grind up the coast that afternoon, but Carlos and I sang along at the top of our lungs and for the first time, maybe ever, traffic didn’t bother me at all.

I had never met anyone from Syria before until Shadi, a handsome young acting student from Damascus, came into view in the rear view mirror. A premiere was unfolding on Hollywood Boulevard so we got to talking about movies and a screenplay he’s working on. Shadi mentioned he always wanted to travel to Canada but had to wait to obtain US citizenship, given his asylum status. I earnestly asked him about Syria and if he still had family there, or if they had all joined him in the US. Everyone but his sister. His family has been struggling for 2 years to get her into Lebanon safely to fly to the US. He then told me the most chilling story of his escape. How his father paid a driver a handsome sum of money to drive Shadi to the Turkish border, a route also known as the Road of Death. Signs line the desert road taunting and terrorizing travelers with messages like “Smile, a sniper is watching.” When Shadi made it to the border he encountered hundreds of families who had sold everything to make the trip only to be denied entry and left stranded, with nothing but the clothing on their backs. Elderly folks, children – it didn’t matter. Shadi remembers a Muslim family being denied entry in front of him and he making it through after the border guard confirmed he was Christian.

As we turned the corner towards our home, I told Shadi he should write a screenplay about his story. He told me he was working on another script about women refugees that he felt was more important to tell.

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