It was the second week of my new life in London when I had my very first Uber experience.
Having moved from a tiny seaside village in Scotland, I was spending every day wide-eyed, over-stimulated and hyper alert. In a bindle over my shoulder, I carried dozens of stereotypes of the city and its people. I feared them all.
I was moving from one friend’s sofa to another whilst I waited for my flat arrangements to be finalised when I found myself a lone female passenger with a male driver.
As I took my seat in the car, all 101 Uber Horror Stories That Will Give You Even More Reason To Rethink Using Them were doing frantic laps in my head. I put on my best attempt at nonchalance and a detached silence filled the car.
After a few minutes, my driver Manuel* started to make small talk. “That’s a lot of luggage”, “oh you’ve just moved here!” , “what job are you going to be taking up?”
Our conversation then drifted to his native Brazil. I spoke of my love for Latin America, having spent the first half of my childhood there, and how much I was enjoying being able to reconnect with the community in London. We enthused raucously about the vibrancy and colour of the continent, which we seemed to miss in equal measure. Defences down, I made a quip: “All this talking about Latin American food has left me hungry!”.
A loaded silence descended on the cab. As my head swam with pre-emption at what was coming next, Manuel shattered the silence in spectacular style; “do you want to get some dinner? There’s a great Brazilian place just round the corner” . Before I could catch myself, I said, “Yes.”
I’m not gonna lie; in that moment, I came straight back to the surface with a cold, sharp shock and panic kicked in. I loaded Maps on my phone, put my keys between my knuckles, and watched the pulsating blue dot furiously; ready to launch myself out the car door if we started to move in any direction other than towards the red pin marking the restaurant he mentioned. My face burned with shame at my own stupidity.
As the red pin got closer and closer, my nausea slowly subsided. And with the sharp tug of the handbrake, we reached our destination.
The meal which proceeded was perhaps one of the best of my life. Aside from the food (rump steak – picanha – with beans – feijoada -, rice, salad and and cassava flour; for the foodies amongst you), Manuel and I conversed our way round and round the horrible things that happen to women and the complete break down in trust that they produce between our genders. We trumpeted the idea that interaction between a man and woman needn’t be loaded with fear, distrust and violence, and revelled in the fact that we were living, breathing proof of this.
Bellies full and the world put to rights, Manuel drove me to my original destination, helped me haul my luggage onto the pavement and bid me goodnight. Not an attempt to ask for my number or make any kind of move. He drove off grinning and I entered my next, temporary home high on life.
Reflecting on this story now, it’s difficult to put my finger on exactly what I got out of it, aside from a fantastic anecdote.
In no way would I advocate that all women follow strange men to random places. I am confident in the fact that none of my initial wariness towards this man was unreasonable. This experience certainly doesn’t mean that I won’t feel uncomfortable next time I’m a lone female passenger. Nor does it nullify the dozens of times I have been sexually harassed. And by no means do I believe that Manuel should be revered for acting in a non-threatening way towards a woman.
However, what this experience did give me is a beautiful little memory which I get to carry with me every day; an experience which I might have missed out on if I’d imposed my preconceived notions about men onto Manuel.
Every time I am made to feel belittled, dirty or uncomfortable by a man, I pull this memory from my bank and I am reminded that another world is possible. A world to which we should all aspire; where genuine, equal interaction between a man and a woman, undefined by the systemic and on-going objectification of, and discrimination and violence against, us is possible.
*named changed for privacy