For those new to the world of Uber, it’s a transport company that allows anyone who successfully passes an application process, background check, and inspection to use their own vehicle to transport members of the public, resulting in a cheaper, and “more-personable” taxi experience that has taken the transport world by storm. Praised by passengers and its drivers, and reviled by those fearful of the change it is instilling, Uber is here to stay.
How it works for drivers is this: when I am ready to drive, I turn on my Uber application and “go online.” I then drive to an area of Charleston, and if a passenger is close enough to me, Uber notifies me to meet them and take them to their requested destination.
When a driver is “pinged” by a passenger, they have the ability to view the pickup location, and the passenger’s rating from previous trips. Drivers have no idea who they are picking up and where their final destination will be. When I receive a pickup notice, numerous questions come to mind as I am driving to my passenger: What do they look like? If they have a gender-neutral name who do I ask for? Will the passenger be only the person who called for me, or will they have a group of 6 college guys who refused to pay for a larger vehicle? I believe Uber drops the ball here by enforcing drivers to have a clear frontal picture, while passengers need not provide much information.
These questions and more were running through my mind when I drove to the Hampton Inn in Mount Pleasant early on a Friday evening a month ago. Hotel passengers for me tend to fall into one of the following categories: a wonderful couple seeking a romantic night on the town, members of a party traveling to their destinations, or not-quite-yet grownup students coming to party their non-existent problems away.
Having called my passenger to inform her that I was arriving shortly while confirming her location, I quickly deduced that she fell into the last category. Having been young once, I immediately thought nothing more of it except to find her. That is, until I picked her up...
I always wondered while playing dress-up as a child if it were possible for women to look like Barbie dolls when they grew up. At last, I discovered the likely-painful process to achieve that standard was possible.
My passenger, with two friends in tow, approached my car, with bleach-blonde hair obviously made thick by extensions. Her A-line dress, an intentionally two-sizes too small creation with an open chest that left nothing to imagination or chance, was a wrinkled, satin hot pink disaster, while her baby pink nails, pink clutch, and pink shoes completed the horrendous look in a way that can only be described as “so wrong it’s right.” When she came to window and confirmed her name to begin the trip, she pushed her two victims in the back seat, sat down in a huff, and informed me, “We are going to Palace Hotel. Tonight, I am having Shep.”
Ah, Palace Hotel. A quaint little dive bar in the Eastside of Charleston that serves fantastic hot dogs, provides an enchanting atmosphere, and obviously attracts the most idiotic women on the planet. I don’t blame them for liking Palace; if you want a superb hotdog and beer, there’s no better location in Charleston than Palace. Yet, until the owners decided to create a meal called The Shep (not a bad idea folks), women such as Barbie are referring to the one and only Mr. Shep Rose, owner and frequenter of Palace Hotel, who just so happens to currently star on a little reality TV show called Southern Charm, along with his other high-rolling friends.
The cast of Southern Charm (Shep Rose, far left)
I admit I’m jaded. Having grown up on the outskirts of Charleston’s “high society” due to my father’s political career, I no longer have any interest in keeping up with it. It’s just too much for me to take in without laughing. So when I learned that the mighty fine Holy City would play host to Bravo reality TV with those in the top .000001% of society participating, my eyes rolled so many times that I could honestly have been mistaken for a long-lost extra from Rosemary’s Baby.
However, after two seasons and ample amounts of footage vindicating the cast’s assertions that they were indeed human, and not evil, I like many natives appreciate the show for the positive attention it brings to Charleston. And it actually does just that, most of the time. I harbor no ill will towards the show or its cast, but giving a tour while being mistaken for Kathryn Dennis and therefore being told that I don’t have a ring on my finger because I’m "not keeping myself up" is downright depressing.
“Hurry up and drive so we don’t miss him!” Barbie hisses at me as her two friends groan in the back, with her red-haired friend in a low-cut, sequined purple dress sitting behind me telling her to shut the hell up. It’s clear as soon as we turn onto highway 17 from the hotel that this idea has been floating among them for a lengthy amount of time, and Barbie’s co-conspirators are ready to get off the crazy train.
As soon as the four of us drive onto the Ravenel Bridge, Barbie turns into Mary Poppins, with her tiny pink clutch magically revealing item after item of makeup, jewelry, and beauty products that will make her most Shep-approvable. I watch in fascination as perfume and jewelry are put on, and pride and shame are taken off. Barbie then sprays herself, and with great intent my car, with a spritz that resembles sweat and pink, and in the process sprays the face of her now-pissed off brunette friend with a dress on that lacks underwear underneath (a fact which she was not intending on hiding, leaving me unashamed to write it).
I hope Barbie loves hot dogs.
“If you do that shit one more time, it's over!” screams the now fully awake brunette, but Barbie is oblivious to anyone else but herself. She is a woman with a mission, a modern-day Rembrandt; no one will get in her way! “This is our college break,” she announces to the other girls, “and we will enjoy it as I please.”
As we prepare to exit onto Morrison Drive, her routine shifts to what seems to be the most important part of her plan’s success: her cleavage. It now becomes obvious that Barbie does know other colors besides pink, as a black lacy bra becomes more evident due to her routine motions of pushing it, and her decolletage, out as much as society will allow her to walk down the streets with. With everything but her dignity in place, Barbie pushes her passenger mirror back in place and asks me how much longer to Palace Hotel.
“About one mile,” I tell her, and the reality of it sets in with her. The Eastside of Charleston is a vibrant area, one that is rising in prominence. Yet it is still what one would call a “work-in-progress” area, and definitely not the place for a young woman with exposed cleavage to be frequenting at night. In addition, the red-haired friend adjusts her dress and says “close to him now!” which could only mean the “prize” of Shep. I must meet this man, who makes unknown women wet with delight at the thought of being within a mile of him, I think to myself, just to see what the big freakin’ deal is. Sure he’s tall, handsome, and rich, but until he cooks the gourmet hot dogs served at Palace with the confidence and sexiness of his cooks, I refuse to be impressed.
We turn onto Columbus Street and shit hits the fan when the GPS announces we’re half a mile from Palace Hotel. “STOP THE CAR!” screams Barbie as we screech to a halt at the Mall Playground. She turns around to her crew, her trusty co-pilots, the ones who are sacrificing their freedom and money to make this night happen for all of them, with a solemn look.
“We doing this?” she asks.
“Girl, shut the hell up and let’s go,” one replies.
Barbie is not convinced; something is not right to her. My belief as her driver and temporary Jiminy Cricket was that it is the reality settling in of how ridiculous she is acting to attract a man who doesn’t know she exists and likely won’t care about her an hour later. Does she really think this is an idea unique to her? (Is it ladies? I don’t know.) But no, she wants to scope out the area before getting dropped off. Her friends' curses and groans are to no avail, and we creep gingerly on Hanover Street until we reach it. The screams of pure ecstasy after my explanation that the bar is indeed where the cigarette sign is still haunts me to this day, mainly because I am certain I will remain partially deaf due to them for a long time.
We go around the block one more time, once more for the cheap seats in the back and the peanut gallery. Barbie notices the Hanover Corner store as we turn around once more onto Columbus St., then Aiken St., and finally Hampden Ct. before turning again to Hanover.
As this story illustrates, I am a very patient and tolerant person, but everyone has their limits, and mine had been reached.
When we passe the Palace a second time, Barbie grabs my arm in a fit of nerves. I immediately drive up to the Hanover Corner store, get out to open their doors, and wish them luck in whatever they want to do that night (which was only one obvious thing). I then drive swiftly down Hanover, never more relieved to see a person exit my life.
This sad tale has so many points that could be discussed, such as why would a woman go through all of this for a complete stranger and what does this say about our society. The only question I want answered though is What happened to Barbie?! I will always be curious as my anger caused me to drive the hell away fast without paying attention. When I did return a few minutes later neither her nor her partners in crime were seen. My guess is that they realized the error of their ways, called another Uber, and waited in the store. However the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Whatever the outcome, I do feel a little guilty about the situation. Perhaps I should have given her a lecture on women empowerment, or called Palace to let them know that Shep’s future wife was coming (or maybe they’re used to this?). Maybe I should call Uber and apologize for not being a driver and a mother to Barbie? In any case, please forgive me Palace Hotel. Your hot dogs are too damn good for me to lose over Uber passengers.