Barbara, the Uber driver, picked me up today after a harried morning of working from home while trying to achieve the impossible: doing a long weekend’s worth of chores and errands in six hours flat. Barbara drives a black Nissan Rogue that’s probably nearing its tenth year of service. She sits under the 100-degree sun, waiting for me outside my apartment. Once she sees me, she laboriously exits the driver’s seat to open the rear hatch for me.
She’s middle-aged, white, heavy set but not morbidly obese. She calls me by my first name in a friendly, even familiar, tone. It becomes clear rather quickly that she’s a talker, and I don’t mind. It’s July 4th weekend, and I’m trying to make a flight out of Dallas Love Field, which requires a rather extensive drive down from my apartment in Plano. We might as well make a new friend as we paddle upstream together.
Barbara just retired on June 2, 2023. Less than a month into her retirement, she’s driving for Uber – though it’s never made clear if it was something she was doing before she retired. After 45 years with JP Morgan Chase, she still needs to pull in her income. Despite decades of service in the mega-banks customer service division, her funds are tight. Her retirement was marked by a Zoom party with her fellow customer service reps – a fact that she seems to be still chewing over. The team had gone remote during the pandemic, and she had just narrowly missed a return to the office by retiring.
One of the first things I learned about Barbara is that she’s a people person. The second is that she is a conservative. This surprises me and reminds me that beneath all our bluster, people can still be kind regardless of their political affiliation – some even despite it. Later, I’d have asked her why she said “conservative” instead of Republican.
Barbara is from the Dallas area, having lived at Richardson’s Cityline development for some time and then in Wylie in a townhome. When she lived at Cityline a decade ago, she and her roommate paid $2,300 monthly for an 800-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bath condo. She and her friend, Katherine, have just retired and want to live together again and look back at their time at Cityline fondly. They recently contacted the manager and discovered that renting the same space now costs $3,600 per month – something the two retirees cannot afford.
Barbara and Katherine are instead moving to Rio Rancho, New Mexico – a far cry from the hustle and bustle of Richardson’s Cityline. They’ve found a two-bedroom, two-bath condo/cottage where they’ll split the $1,600 monthly rent. Her family isn’t happy she’s moving that far away, but she can’t afford to stay in the metroplex as a single senior woman on a fixed social security income. Oddly enough, she’s okay with moving to what she calls a “blue state” with a “crook for a governor.”
Despite all the red/blue talk, Barbara knows she shouldn’t talk politics while driving for Uber. I laugh and give her the green light to continue. She isn’t offending anyone, and I worry that without the conversation, her spirit might wither on the turnpike.
She’s done her homework on New Mexico, regaling me with stories of the governor’s somewhat entertaining missteps and political fiascos that in more densely populated states would have her ousted from office. But, in New Mexico, the populace isn’t motivated to vote. They’re hardly encouraged to leave the house, according to Barbara. She tells me about the state’s “physicians tax,” which has led to the state having the worst healthcare ratings in the country.
Barbara’s friend, Katherine, has had COVID-19 five times. Somehow Barbara finds this fact amusing and asks if I received the vaccine without hesitation. Once I’ve confirmed that I’ve not had just the vaccine but every booster possible, she nods and counts off the two, maybe three, she had. She mentions not getting the fourth or fifth but offers no reasoning for going half the distance. It hangs in the air as if she’s admitting her polarity has been stuck between her friend’s ill fortune and her belief system. But, Barbara explains, she doesn’t want to keep talking about politics.
Barbara talks freely about her dissatisfaction with American politics yet seems to lack any inherent bitterness about working her entire life for a company that, in her twilight years, has left her ridesharing and gig working to be able to move to a more affordable area. She is vocal about her disdain for Jamie Dimon; we share a common distaste.
There are few lulls in our conversation as we bob and weave in and out of traffic, traversing the city’s many micro-neighborhoods, somehow always avoiding standstills despite the heat, the timing, and the world at large. I would realize later that the ride was strikingly silent – devoid of car horns, screeching brakes, and outside noise.
Barbara has much to say about the world but less than expected. Her demeanor, finely honed from all those years on the customer service line, is pleasant, convivial, and ultimately disarming.
I tell stories about my time in Alpine and Fort Davis, Texas. We share an affinity for that part of the state but can’t imagine living there for the slow pace of it all. I can’t help but wonder if she’s considered the pace of Rio Rancho – or whether she feels she can bare the assessment.
Barbara is in her twilight years, and the company, the state, and the country she loves and knows are leaving her behind. To survive, she will spend the remainder of her life in rural New Mexico, where the nearest major hospital will be an hour away.
She pulls into the drive, finally dropping me at my destination. Wishing me a safe trip and good times with my mother, she pulls away from the curb, somewhat lurching into traffic passing by at a quick clip.
We’ve failed my new friend, Barbara. I can’t help but feel angry for her.