My Uber driver deserves endless five-star ratings

Ruben’s route unexpectedly brought me peace and joy

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Ari Herman is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily.

Riley Walsh | Cavalier Daily

I am an anxious traveler. What if, on my way to the airport, my car crashes? What if I get patted down at security, and security finds a weapon that was planted on me? What if I forget to take my electronics out of my bag before sending my backpack down the belt? What if I’m in the window seat, and I have to go the bathroom — do I wake up the snoring woman next to me? What if the plane starts to crash, everyone screams and cries, and I’m the chosen one called to save all the passengers from crashing into Humpback Rock? I’m sweating just thinking about it all. 

Trying to push these feelings aside, I prepared to fly home to Atlanta for break earlier this month. Before I said goodbye to my roommates and left my apartment, I told them I felt a little nauseous, but I guessed I was just excited to go home. I ran through my normal check of belongings — my stuffed animal elephant named Medium Fuddle Wuddle, a surplus of Tums for my stomach and nerves, a small bottle of hand sanitizer because flu season was haunting me and a downloaded episode of The Office on my computer, among other travel necessities. I called my Uber and silently prayed for a driver who would mutually sit in silence with me — I hate small talk.

Ruben was not a silent driver, but he was definitely the driver I needed.

I threw my bag into the trunk and slid into the backseat. The drive from my apartment to the Charlottesville Albemarle Airport was about 25 minutes — Ruben filled 23 of those minutes pointing out historical landmarks, speaking admirably of his 6-foot-1, 13-year-old daughter and singing along to “Let’s Groove” and other ‘80s bops. The other two minutes consisted of Ruben laughing at his own jokes, and, hey, I respected his confidence. 

The usual route from Grounds to the airport is straight down Route 29 — a road full of stoplights and annoying traffic. Ruben had other plans, though. I told him my flight is at 4 p.m., and since it was 2 p.m., he decided to take me the scenic route — he called it the “leisure route.” Now normally, this would have freaked me out — just take me to my destination the way Google Maps says. The leisure route sounded nice, though, given I’d felt anything but relaxed since midterm season.

Ruben was a different kind of Uber driver. He had a casual confidence and an old, trustworthy smile. He’s lived in Charlottesville for 14 years now, and he knows the best views, cut-thrus and winding roads. I sat in the back looking out the window at blue skies and the Blue Ridge Mountains and listened to Ruben’s discovery story of the calming and efficient backroad.

We turned onto Airport Road, and I realized our 25 minute drive felt like five — a drive in which I would normally count down the minutes until I can be on my own again. “Mr. Excitement!” he exclaimed at the sight of the unassuming Charlottesville airport. I laughed and thanked Ruben for the drive and entertainment. He handed me his card and reminded me to relax and enjoy my time. Considering I would probably never see Ruben again, I took this to mean “enjoy my life.” 

After heading into “Mr. Excitement,” I made it through security and to my gate in 5 minutes and 52 seconds — yes, I timed it. A record speed for me. Greeted with smiles and warm eyes, I sat at my gate. I realized those anxious feelings, usually boiling by this point in my travels, were  nonexistent. I tucked away my Tums and awaited my flight home to Atlanta, where life inevitably speeds up as compared to Charlottesville. 

As I reflect on my simple car ride with Ruben, I recognize that enjoying life is not a complex task. At school, it is often easy to take life too seriously — easy to skim past the little joys. Sometimes, happiness reveals itself through inconspicuous people and places, and it does not require any outrageous outings or plans. Life is a culmination of little moments — an exploration of a back road in Charlottesville, a free bag of bread ends from Take It Away, the beauty of the Rotunda at sunset and a “You got this!” from a friend on the way to class. 

It seems life’s most impactful moments happen unexpectedly. I’ve found that, when I need a pick-me-up, life is there, smiling at me with acceptance. This does not mean that life is always sunshine and rainbows. 

It is how I respond to this open embrace that determines the outcome. 

I am not perfect. I do not always choose to hug life back. Each day, though, I remind myself to take life page by page, as Ruben does, rather than anticipating the whole story. It can be scary and overwhelming, but when I focus on the people and events in the present moment, I can still be content despite life’s inevitable curveballs. 

Ruben, if you’re out there, thank you for reminding me the importance of taking the scenic route, the beauty of a genuine laugh — even if the joke isn’t that funny — and showing me that it takes zero effort to sit and enjoy life. 

Ari Herman is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com. 

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