Driving Uber at the RNC, You Learn a Lot About Pants
Here in Cleveland, on the second day of the Republican National Convention, there is a single, defining truth to the Republican conventioneers when they take to the streets for an amble in the midday sunlight:
They wear too much khaki.
Yesterday, I carried 23 souls on 11 trips, in eight hours of active driving for Uber. And, because I like to keep track of my own emergent truths while I drive, I know that I drove around 11 pairs of khaki pants, one pair of khaki shorts, one khaki skirt, and at least one khaki shoulder bag. Delegates, lobbyists, party planners, GOP strategists—men and women who seem eager to represent to the world with their pants that they’re not exactly working, and that any day, any moment, can be any Saturday afternoon anywhere. Even when that anywhere is Cleveland, a city I’ve come to know mostly by prowling the fringes of downtown waiting for the dulcet tone of a ride request on my phone.
Dozens of times during my two days of driving, I’ve bumped up against downtown—eerily empty in one block, jammed tight with conventioneers on the next, littered with fancy-pants roadblocks, and ruled by a widespread ban on street parking—before inevitably turning back because one can only wave to the same traffic cop so many times while driving in unintentional urban circles. Pulling a U-turn, changing lanes, pulling over for a drop off—all of it happens under the watchful gaze a softball team worth of cops equipped with body cams and clipboards. In the streets surrounding the secure zone (which requires Secret Service screening to enter), every normal traffic gesture is a panic.
Demonstrations have started to grow more serious. The Uber driver, always on the move, rarely settles in for a long look. I circle Public Square now and then to take a peek between the shoulders of the cops who encircle the block, and I see what I can see. I saw an old white man, in a blank green baseball hat, shouting at two college kids who were looking for signatures on a petition. He was cranked up. “Is that what you want? Is that the way you think we should run this country?” I saw one civilian with a rifle, himself being carried by a black guy on a bicycle. I saw many, many pairs of khakis.
But mostly, I tried to fix my attention on the road and my passengers. There’s the Chinese math student from Case Western Reserve University, in a white T-shirt and cut-off khakis, who can’t vote but likes Trump. “I believe Trump gives, maybe he gives hugs to other countries, like when he meets people of another country,” he says. “Clinton is very cruel to other countries. Bad for China. Bad for me.” There are the two Republican party consultants, their khaki slacks held up by utterly new and unstressed belts. They’re all in for Trump (duh), and we talked about golf and the waterfalls Trump favors in his course design. “He’s very sensitive about that critique,” one of them told me. “He doesn’t like them being called waterfalls. He’ll say that. Don’t. He wants them called ‘water sculptures.’” The other consultant wanted me to get clear on a few things: “There are 17 functions of government. That’s in the Constitution,” he informed me. “Everything else, so much of what people think government should do, is unconstitutional.” (I promised to reread the constitution. Article 10, section eight. Or article eight, section one. I didn’t write it down before they jumped out into the city for cocktails.) There was a stringer for The New York Times, who hunched into her email and did not talk. A writer for Gawker. It didn’t come up, but they didn’t strike me as Trump voters.
That night I took a marketing consultant and her friend on a long trip to a town called Independence, 25 miles south of the city. She had her certainties. “It can’t be Hillary,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean I have to vote for Trump.”
She claimed she was still considering her options.
“Well, your hands are tied,” said her friend.
The consultant balled. “That’s my point. My hands aren’t tied at all. Maybe I won’t vote.”
“That’s not what you want to do,” her friend informed her.
On this, they agreed.
At the end of each shift, I receive a daily summary of my fares, and there’s a map of every trip in there too. But maps do me no good in trying to put the day back together. I remember the people, but in retrospect, their destinations always elude me. I’m their transporter. I can always tell you who they were. But I can never remember where they wanted to go.
$72 bucks + $81 in tips
Trump: 13 votes
Clinton: 6 votes
Undecided: 1+ ?
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