When travelling around Sydney with Uber I can end up in any part of the city, with any kind of person. This fascinated me to begin with. As with every new adventure in life, Uber was such an exciting thing to do at first. I can still remember my very first trip – where I picked the rider up, where we went, what we discussed, the slight butterflies in the stomach sensation as I pressed ‘online’ for the first time. This was gonna be fun! And fun it was. (My very first trip as an Uber driver will be another story to be told……coming soon!)

As with my first trip ever, the people I meet can be very interesting. Interesting, or weird, or rude, or smelly, or funny, or sometimes annoying. But there are some people I meet who for some reason stick in my memory and pop-up now and then in my brain as if to say “heyyy! remember me? I’m back…for no apparent reason!”. For some of those people I just think of how glad I am that I’ll probably never see them again. That they (hopefully) will never get to blow their disgusting burp breath in the direction of my sensitive nostrils ever again! That I’ll (hopefully) never have to endure their mind-numbing chit chat ever again!

But sometimes I do think of some passengers in a different way. I get a feeling of concern that everything worked out OK for them after our brief glipmse of each others’ lives. One such person was a young European girl I met on an ordinary Thursday evening at Bondi Junction. Her name escapes me now but I do remember that she was Swedish, so I’ll call her Elsa.

The pick-up location for Elsa was one I’d been to before. Something about the previous young lady I’d collected from that house made me think this place was a brothel, and for some reason, I felt uncomfortable waiting for Elsa to emerge from the house and approach my car. She got in the back seat on the passenger side and said “hello”. She seemed nervous, a bit tense, and this heightened my suspisions of the building she’d come from.

Hoping to put Elsa at ease I politely confirmed the destination (Kings Cross) she had entered into the app, and decided that that would be enough conversation for now. After a couple of minutes silence, Elsa decided to confide in the random stranger driving her Uber. “I’m feeling quite nervous”, she said quietly. I gave her a glance in the rear-view mirror to acknowledge the fact that I’d heard her, but decided to let her talk if that’s what she wanted to do. “I’m actually going to a strip club right now for a job trial”, she continued, while I was reflecting on how my uncomfortable feeling while waiting for Elsa had somehow been a sign of what was to come. “It’s for a waitress position but they’re not going to pay me, they said I’ll make good money in tips alone”, said Elsa in a naive yet hopeful way. This was when I couldn’t hold my silence any longer. “Hmmm, I don’t think that’s allowed in Australia”, I said, knowing full well that it’s not. And yeah right!, I thought to myself, you’ll probably make diddly squat as a waitress so the boss will suggest you flash some dude for an easy $50, and so on, and so on. We’ve all seen at least one movie with this story line.

So we started chatting about her story, where she’s from and where she’s going. She was a backpacker looking to make some cash to fund the next stage of her journey. Having originally come to Australia on the same visa as Elsa, I knew how difficult it can be to find work. I also knew from experience just how many employers in Sydney are willing to take advantage of these ‘backpackers’. Work for tips. Are you kidding me!? How many Aussies do that?

I offered Elsa some friendly advice and shared some of my own experiences, all the time mindful not to sound judgmental or make her feel uncomfortable. The chat was very light-hearted and friendly. We soon arrived at Kings Cross and Elsa’s feelings of nervousness were almost tangible. “We’re here!”, I said, hoping to sound enthusiastic. Elsa took a moment, cautiously looking at the strip club across the street and, no doubt, trying to make sense of all the thoughts which must have been racing around her mind. She took a deep breath, held it in her lungs, then slowly exhaled. She opened the car door with purpose and then paused for a brief moment. “Thank you”, she said in a thoughtful and meaningful way, while making eye contact in the mirror. As I drove away, I saw Elsa pause outside the club.

What happened next? That I’ll never know for sure.

PING! The next trip request arrives.