Paco and Annabelle

The godforsaken sun had the audacity to rise again over the city of Los Angeles. As daylight rudely interrupted my slumber through the dusty curtains in my Koreatown walkup, I groaned, accepting the inevitability of another day of madness on the roads of this sprawling jungle. Sometimes, I wonder if I’m the worst driver in their Los Angeles stable. In my own head, I’m known affectionately – or maybe not so much – as the “worst Uber driver in LA.” A self-imagined title I wear with a mix of pride and self-deprecating humor. I accept my sub-five-star ratings with a badge of honor.

While trying to swallow a gulp of stale coffee, my phone, with its battle-worn cracked screen, pinged to life with a ride request. It was from a Miss Annabelle, holed up in the grandeur of the Biltmore Hotel downtown. With a grunt, I picked up the device and accepted her beck and call, mentally equating the task with my bi-annual teeth cleanings.

Now, the beginning of our journey wasn’t especially notable. I hadn’t bothered to wash my car in ages, or at least a couple of weeks, and as I saw the stunning woman, ooh la la, and her equally pristine pooch emerge from the Biltmore, I felt a pang of… something. She took one look at my hoopty with a clothes hanger antenna, and her face fell. With visible reluctance, she slipped into the car, clutching Paco, the well-groomed chihuahua – that was the mutt’s name – as if she could shield him from the filth with pure determination.

With an unnecessary whine of the half-battery-powered hybrid Prius powerplant, I was off, the car taking on a life of its own, lurching over the city’s battered pothole-strewn roads. To drown out Paco’s yapping, I cranked up the radio. Some aggressive punk-rock sound erupted from the speakers, which seemed to offend Annabelle’s delicate sensibilities. She hollered her disdain over the din.

“Excuse me, sir? Can we perhaps have a different station?” Her voice was a mix of desperation and irritation.

With a grunt of concession, I switched to the Banda Radio playlist on Spotify. Paco yipped in agreement.

I glanced at Annabelle via the rearview mirror, her eyes trained out the window, taking in the spectacle of the Walt Disney Concert Hall as we zoomed past. Ignoring her contemplative expression, I kept up my pothole-dodging daredevil antics on the road. The Hollywood Walk of Fame was a blur, Chateau Marmont barely registered in the periphery, and I could’ve sworn a paparazzo snapped a picture of my half-battery-powered hybrid hoopty, thinking someone of significance must be inside.

The trip down Sunset was a cacophony of honks, taco trucks, and Paco’s alarmed yipping, but soon enough, the calming blue vista of the Pacific sprawled before us. We landed at the Santa Monica Pier, where Annabelle all but fled my vehicle, clutching Paco as if he were a lifeline. She seemed to vanish into the vastness of the beach, and I was left with an odd sensation of emptiness.

Heading back into the chaotic embrace of LA, I pondered as I continued my day’s self-imposed slavery. Maybe, just maybe, I could pivot and transform into the best Uber driver this city has seen. But then, where’s the fun in that? Lighting a cigarette, I pumped up my punk-rock playlist and gleefully merged back into the traffic headed up the 10 freeway, belting out the lyrics to my favorite song, “Punk Rock Girl,” by The Dead Milkmen. For better or worse, LA’s worst Uber driver was back on the prowl.

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