Uber Day 5 – Dominatrix Makes The World Safer for Democracy

View over Submarine Base from National Cemetery

A ride request chimed and blinked on my iPad. I saved the C Minor Symphony and left to pick up “Jason”, at the address of the submarine base near the end of Pt. Loma, about a mile from my home. In 5 minutes, I arrived  at the guard’s booth where the Marine sentry on duty told me, “Ubers can’t come on base; only taxis are allowed”. He told me to park in a small lot by the gate and wait for the rider. The sailor’s barracks buildings are a half mile from the gate, so I asked the guard if he knew where I can ask for a permit to drive in. “Uber’s aren’t allowed on base.”

“I got that. I want to ask for a pass to come on base.”

“Oh.” He pointed to a small building with a sign on which the words,  “Pass Office” was printed in block letters.

Because the barracks is a long walk for sailors and drivers have to wait ten minutes or longer for a ride that usually nets no more than $2.00 after deducting expenses, the following morning I decided to go to the Pass Office and ask for a permit to drive into the base.

Pass Office (Foreground, “W”, a civilian employee and Uber rider).

Inside the little grey building, I saw three relatively young African American women engaged in animated chatting behind a plywood counter. It occurred to me they are the only women of African American descent I’d encountered in Pt. Loma in more than two weeks, aside from the Ethiopian security by the door of San Diego County Credit Union at Talbot and Rosecrans.

“Can I help you?”

“Good morning! I’d like to be cleared to pick up and drop off riders.

“I’m sorry, sir, what do you want?”

I gathered no one had ever asked for a permit. “I’m an Uber driver. I want to drive into the base, when I receive a ride request or when I’m dropping off people who live or work here.”

“You can’t. People who work for Uber aren’t allowed. on base.”

“Uber drivers don’t work for Uber; we’re independent contractors. I know that taxis can enter the base. I’ve seen them.”

“Taxis? Oh, yes. Taxis can come in, but not Uber.”

“That means there must be some kind of approval criteria?”

“Criteria?”

“An approval process.” (I’d been a yeoman in the Coast Guard Reserve and I know that in the military there’s a process, procedure and criteria for everything imaginable and much that isn’t imaginable.) One of the other youngish (African American) women nudged her colleague gently aside as she searched around under the plywood counter and came up with a three ring book with a black cover. She then read that I needed to be a licensed business. Check. I’m licensed. Insured Vehicle. Check. Driver’s License. Check.

I leaned against the WWII era plywood.  “I live a few blocks down the street. I’m a neighbor. I want to drive into the base to pick up riders–sailors, people who work here. It’s my business.”

“Do you have a business license? ”

“No, I’m not a business. I have business here. I don’t work for Uber. I work for the riders whose requests I accept. I’m a rideshare driver. We don’t need to have a TCP.”

“TCP? What’s TCP? I don’t know what TCP is. Have you ever heard of TCP?”

“No, I don’t know what TCP is.”

“Transportation Charter Permit. You get it from the PUC–Public Utilities Commission and rideshare drivers don’t need one.  They cost a thousand dollars. I’d need a bigger reason than a rides from a few sailors to put out a thousand dollars, right?”

“Suit yourself,” she said, “that’s what it says here”.

Leaving them to continue the conversation I’d interrupted  I walked to my car, deciding then and there to give up on getting a permit to come on the base. A couple days later, I again received a ride request from the sub base. As I drove through the orange barricades approaching the gate,  I saw a man and a woman dressed in combat blue fatigues talking to the Marine sentry, who wore green fatigues. The sentry disappeared as I neared the gate. Expecting to be asked to wait in the adjacent parking lot as I had before, I smiled up at the grim face of an athletic-looking black woman about 38 years old.

“Uber. I’m here to pick up Jason. Shall I park over there and wait?”

Her black hair was tucked tight into her officer’s cap, which she wore at a slight rake. Opaque aviator sunglasses hid her eyes; she seemed poised like a UFO fighter in her corner–and she had a big black gun holstered on her hip. She spoke with the hint of a snarl, “I’ll take your driver’s license!”

“Why do you want my driver’s license?  (If she’d been an Uber rider, I’d have told her to get another car.

“Give me your driver’s license.”

“Wait a second. You’ll TAKE my driver’s license?”

“Give me your license, sir!”

Her partner, standing silently beside her, a little out of frame said, “get out of the car…”

“What?”

“I’ll take care of this,” she said to him, “keep your eye on them” She pointed at the line of cars forming behind my car. There’s a lot of traffic in and out of the sub base and only this one lane entrance and one lane exit for trucks, cars, whatever.

“Miss, if you want to call the police, please, do so. I’ve done nothing wrong.” This is a free country in which military personnel can’t violate the person, property or rights of civilians. You may defend yourself if you believe there’s a threat. “Can you identify yourself as a police officer?  You know I can’t legally drive this car without a license in my possession and at this point, I’d like to leave.”

“Keep your license!”

“I’ll do a u-turn and I’m out of here. Tell Jason.”

“What? Who?”

“Jason, the sailor or marine who supposedly requested a ride.” I started to pull away to turn and leave.

“Stop!”

“What?”

She pointed to the parking lot, where I’d waited last time.

“Pull your car over there.”

“Into the parking lot now? Ok.”

“Over there!” she re-iterated, as if I wasn’t already moving. With her hand on her weapon, she walked alongside my car as I drove slowly into the parking lot, where I expected to wait for Jason an earn a $3 fare. Why is it that Marines tip and sailors don’t? Maybe my luck.

“Stop right there!” (in the driveway of the lot).I turned off the motor and started to open the door to stretch–I try to get out and stretch whenever I can. Otherwise, I’m sitting for hours.

“Get back in the car!”

“What?”

“Give me your driver’s license.”

Since I was now on the base, where she has legal jurisdiction, I   handed her my license. “Why are you doing this? I’m an Uber driver. I live in this community. What’s your name?”

“You don’t need to know that.” I inferred from this that her actions are sanctioned by superiors, maybe triggered by my visit to the Pass Office. The possibility of deliberate harassment was there, but to what end?  To protect the exclusive franchise of a cab company or to protect America from Americans.

“I can call the police and have you arrested!”

“Yes, you can. I’m an Uber driver trying to make a living serving people who live or work here. I live in this neighborhood and I’ve done nothing wrong and you can have me arrested. Ironic.”

“Get off this base! Immediately,  Get out of here! Move! Now!”

(I’m rereading Rick Altman’s book on narrative theory. In Altman’s view, every narrative depends on the reader’s/viewer’s perception of characters and actions, a view over which a narrator has no control. These characters perceived contrasting narratives. The officer’s actions, though correlated with my actions, were neither consistent with seeing me as a threat but instead, with a perception of an older white man’s disrespect of her as a class, a black woman officer. In all likelihood, our species won’t survive armies of women.)

 

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