Fake Lincolns and More Adventures of an RNC Uber Driver
There are three guys dressed like Lincoln gazing in my direction as I circle the Public Square. Cleveland. The third Lincoln from the left is really giving me the business with his eyes. That’s what they do when they’re looking for you, for their Uber. They try to lock eyes. Cool, I think. Maybe that’s my guy. Maybe I get to drive Abraham Lincoln.
I edge to the curb, roll down my window, and call out. “Are you Ken?” I say in the direction of the third Lincoln from the left. “Are you waiting for an Uber?”
All three Lincolns turn their gaze to me like bearded owls. And there are two much shorter Lincolns behind them. Lil’ Lincolns. “We haven’t started yet,” one Lincoln says. “We’ve got work to do.”
I check my phone again. Kim. Kim, not Ken. “Sorry,” I say. “Sorry.”
I don’t know what the Lincolns are there to do, what they want to assert by slapping on those lipless fake beards. From my seat behind the wheel, it feels something like a none-of-my-business thing. I’m just an Uber driver.
It’s hard to register the tenor of the demonstrations at the Republican National Convention from the front seat of a moving sedan. From where I sit, things rise, unfold, get loud, crowds seethe, faces press in, chants start, drums, invectives are thrown, megaphones, rock and roll, weird hats, someone, something, gets publicly excoriated.
And then people will need rides.
Late night, suit crumpled, tie askew, one guy speaks from my backseat. “It’s not what I signed up for,” he says of Trump, whose candidacy was cast in stone mere hours before and only a few hundred yards from the corner where I picked him up. “But people voted for him. More votes than anyone in history. So I gotta get in line.”
Are you voting for him?
“Probably not,” he says.
He laughs. “No, never,” he says. This is the refrain in Cleveland. “I’m a Republican okay? A real Republican. That’s why I’m here. That’s why I’ll be here in four years. Until then, I’ll suffer this guy.”
So why not vote for him?
“For me it’s the immigration thing,” he says, “And that friggin’ wall. I mean, my wife is Mexican. There’s too much to explain about the guy.” We stare at the yellow-white thread of streetlights along Cedar Road. Late at night, Cleveland is a small city again.
The College Kids
I taught college for 28 years, and college kids know things. They know that writing is hard. So who better to judge whether Melania Trump plagiarized the First Lady than the generation that has learned to live in the cold shadow of Internet temptation presented by the availability of easy clip-and-paste solutions to writing problems? I asked all the college kids that rode with me. They were uniform. Same answer, in slight variants, with no hesitation, no matter who they are voting for.
Yeah, that’s plagiarism.
Well, it’s plagiarism.
Right. That is plagiarism.
It’s stolen. That’s plagiarism.
Only one recent college grad, now a fundraiser for the Heritage Foundation, suggested a different possibility. This, on a ride from a notable museum to a Politico function by the water: “I think it’s a distraction,” he said. “I think they wanted to take the eyes of the nation off the floor fight yesterday. That was a real fight. And no one covered it today because everyone was obsessed with this plagiarism mess.”
His friends objected. “You think they did it on purpose?” one said.
“I think it’s arguable it wasn’t plagiarized,” he went on. But they hooted him down, urged him to be real.
“Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, I know. She didn’t do it on purpose though. I’m just saying maybe somebody did.”
End of day, I had a long fare, an hour and 16 minutes, 11 miles entirely within the downtown area, working to get around a city clapped shut by roadblocks, with a wonderfully loud-mouthed, utterly clearheaded woman from the East Coast. She identified her role in the convention as a catalyst. She connects people. She moves money. She makes things happen.
The Calayst has been to six conventions, she said. “This is a shitshow,” she explained. “The worst run convention ever. And this is not the party I joined. Trump and his people are not people I know. Or want to know. I didn’t come here to meet them, or familiarize myself with them. I came here because this is my party and I have to believe it will survive these morons. The moron.”
So, let me guess: Anybody but Hillary, right? You’ll sit this one out?
“I’m voting for Hillary,” she said clearly. “Because that is the only real protest vote for a real Republican. That’s how much it matters to me that he doesn’t win, and that it registers with the party for the future.”
People who aren’t in Cleveland most often ask me one of two questions about me being an Uber driver at the RNC.
1) Does it feel dangerous?
2) Are the Republicans playing Pokemon GO?
It does not feel particularly dangerous. The most common sight in downtown Cleveland this week was a groups of seven cops, waving a group of nine cops through a cross walk, as they watch 13 cops on road bikes sizzle through the intersection. It feels snug with protection in the same way Times Square feels snug with protection. Wow. So many cops. So many dark possibilities. Something could happen here. It really could. Something bad. Oh look! Shaved ice!
I eventually found Kim—the Uber fare who was standing around the square from the many Lincolns. It turned out she’s a talk radio host from Boston. I asked her, as we left the city, ramp-climbing one of the interstates, “Does it feel dangerous here to you?”
When she didn’t respond right away, I stupidly filled in the quiet. “I mean it’s doesn’t to me. It feels absurdly safe. It must really look different on television.”
She ignored me. Wisely. “I was at the Boston Marathon bombing,” she said. “And this feels something like that. People moving around. Sunny day, great day. I was getting out of the truck when we heard the first explosion. And we knew it was going to be bad.”
And after a minute she said, “Everything changed. Since then, I don’t know.”
I nodded my assent. What could I add? “I mean,” she continued. “I don’t know danger anymore.”
My tires thrummed that interstate.
As for the second question from the outside world, here’s a final dispatch from your transporter, the Uber captain of Euclid Street.
According to a young GOP pollster, who caught a ride to The Intercontinental Hotel from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: “The harbor was over-run with Charizards this entire week. And there are about five really good gyms down there. And tons of water Pokemon for the taking!”
Oh, Cleveland! Oh, humanity.
Trump: 14 votes
Clinton: 8 votes