Storey Clayton’s piece in the most recent issue of NDQ, “Jorgia Wants a Chapter,” is one of my favorite recent essays. It is part of his Driving for U: Behind the Wheel of a New Orleans Uber series, and this piece, like the others in this series, is absolutely worth your time even during the hectic holidays!
Remember that NDQ relies on our outstanding contributors, editors, and subscribers to thrive. Please consider submitting to NDQ, subscribing, or downloading our previous volume. For some content from NDQ 86.1/2, click here, and for content from our most recent issue, 86.3/4, click here.
Jorgia Wants a Chapter
It’s been a long night, a Friday, late summer, and I pull my Uber up to the twin New Orleans bars of doom on Lyons Street where it crosses Tchoupitoulas. F&M’s and Grit’s share the west side of the block between Tchoupitoulas (chop-a-too-liss) and Annunciation, turning the stretch into a teeming collegiate block party every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. There are nights when I can fill two straight hours just taking people from the twin campuses of Tulane and Loyola to these bars or back later in the night. During a magical hour sometime around 1:00 or 2:00 a.m., I can often get paid each way, depositing those heading out and those heading home. The bars close around 4:00 or 5:00 a.m., and they only seem to be open (or at least thriving) during peak party nights, but they can be a lifesaver on a slower Thursday when school is in session. When school’s out, they turn over to a clientele of locals home from their own colleges, and the crowd gets slightly older.
They’re bars of doom, though, because the throng of people emerging therefrom are not the best riders. The tipping rate is atrociously low, primarily the product of the riders’ youthfulness. They are the sloppiest drunks, the biggest threats to throw up, to put their feet up on the seats, or to pile six passengers into the car. They have a tendency to be ungrateful and unappreciative, though there are exceptions. (This is a frequent critique of younger Millennials that I generally find to be untrue for those not leaving F&M’s or Grit’s.) And, perhaps worst of all, it’s one of the biggest havens of attempted ride-jacking. This is not, as you may fear, literally carjacking an Uber, but deliberately taking someone else’s Uber so you can get home faster and not wait for the person you’ve called (or, worse, not have to call an Uber at all).
Once you’ve driven even a couple of weeks for Uber, ride-jacking is pretty easy to spot. Most attempted ride-jackers have a bit of a sheepish look about them, or else that brave overconfidence of those trying to cut a conversation short and get down to business. When I ask their name, they almost always cagily respond with “Uber, right?” in stark contrast to those who’ve actually requested me, who either give their name or my name as the app dictates. A handful of bold and especially drunk ride-jackers have even jumped in the car right away and tried to argue with me when I say I have to wait for my actual rider. “C’mon, you’re an Uber, what difference does it make to you who you take home?” Only one stayed in the car so long that I had to point out the police car on the corner and suggest that I would have a conversation with those cops if the ride-jacker stayed any longer.
So I’m here on a Friday night, bracing for whoever is going to emerge from Grit’s, which tends to be slightly less crowded but no less sloppy, fending off would-be ride-jackers. One, then another, fairly transparent for being guys when I am waiting for Jorgia, who I presume is female (though you never know—people use each other’s accounts and call rides for far-flung friends all the time). I contemplate the name, Jorgia, being unfamiliar with it as a possible variant of Jorge, presuming instead that it’s an innovative name for the state. I wonder if I should presume on the pronunciation or only confirm with the destination address when a waify but haggard looking young woman in a slinky dress emerges from the bar door. Instinctively, I cover the phone with my right hand as I roll down the window to inquire her name. She answers correctly and hops in the back.
“Storey? That’s a cool name.”
“I bet there’s a story behind that.”
“It’s a long story.”
She laughs, more than this joke I’ve been making for decades really deserves.
“No, actually, it’s a very short story. It’s a county in Nevada where my parents were living when I was born.”
“And they figured it would work for a boy or a girl, so I would’ve had the same name either way.”
“Awesome. I, too, have a geographical name.”
“I was wondering. It’s for the state?”
“Yup. But spelled nothing like it, as you can see, which is a pain in the ass. But it’s fun to have a different name. As I’m sure you know.”
“Yeah, I like it. Every year after grade school, it got easier.”
She sighs heavily, in a way that signals she wants to talk about the cause of the sigh.
“Long night?” I ask.
“Oh my God. You would not believe it. I’m getting too old for this shit. For that place. For the guys around here.”
“Home for the summer?” I speculate.
“Home for good. Just graduated. I’m taking real estate classes. Taking the test in two weeks.”
“Oh cool. Good luck!”
“Thanks. And I guess it’s cool.”
“Are you excited about real estate?”
“I’m excited about having a job. And yeah, it should be good. I mean, it’s different every day, right? It’s interesting. There’s a lot to figure out and you get to work with people a lot.”
“It is cool. I mean, think what you get to do. Someone comes in with a problem, they want a house, somewhere to live for God’s sake. That they’ll spend all this time, grow up, raise a family, have a dog, send their kids to school and prom and college. And you get to make that dream come true. You get to match them up with their whole future. It’s kind of amazing.”
“I mean, what’s more important in life than someone’s home? Where they live, who they live near. What they’ll come back to every single day of their life. What they’ll miss when they’re gone.”
“And are you glad to be back home?”
“Well, kind of. I mean, I’m living with my parents now, which is, you know…”
“Right, that. But also a pain. I mean, I have my own room, and it’s kind of separate, but it’s still hard to bring guys back. It’s so weird to get used to after the freedom of college. You know? Like nothing in high school prepares you for the freedom you have in college and then nothing in college prepares you for giving it up and moving back home. And then there’s all the memories.”
“Yeah. I feel that way whenever I go home.”
“Right? And then I go to the same bars I went to in high school and see the same shitty guys and they’re doing the same things. And I still want the same people who are bad for me and they notice me more now, which is nice, but it still never works out. Like I thought I might get with this guy tonight but then he just turned and ended up making out with this other girl in the corner. But then he still invited me back at the end of the night. And I’m like ‘really, dude?’ Really? And then I hate myself for almost thinking about it. But like, if that’s who he wants, then that’s who he wants and he’s never going to like me for the right reasons.”
“Yeah. That stinks. But you’re probably better off. Sometimes you’ve got to be patient.”
“Yeah, that’s for sure. But I wonder if I’m going to find anyone in this town who isn’t tangled up in something connected to me. Who I didn’t go to grade school with or high school or who wasn’t at my prom or something. You know? I guess that’s why you’re not in Nevada anymore?”
“Well. I never really lived in Nevada. Kind of grew up all over…Oregon, California, DC, New Mexico.”
“Wow, that really is all over. Anywhere else?”
“Well, I went to school in Massachusetts, then was back in California after school and then went out to New Jersey. And now here.”
“Holy shit. World traveler.”
“I’ve seen a bit. Mostly in the States though. I’ve been to forty-eight states, but very few other countries.”
“Yeah, I’ve been lucky.”
“And you do Uber full-time? Or something else?”
“No, just this professionally for now. I was working in non-profits for a while, but I got fed up with my boss and the hours and quit a few months ago.”
“Good for you. There’s nothing worse than a bad boss.”
“So what’s your big dream?”
“Really? Are you working on anything now?”
“Yeah, actually.” There’s a moment of truth here. I often talk in the next moment about what I’ve worked on in the past: novels and short stories. But I have started working on a book about driving for Uber and I know that’s what I’m going to spend the next few months writing. Normally I would brush this off, not discuss it head-on, for fear of making the rider too self-conscious. But there’s a bit of a rapport I’m building with this rider and it prompts me to tell her the whole truth.
“What are you working on?”
“A book about this, actually.”
“About driving Uber in New Orleans in the middle of the night and picking up random drunk girls who tell you their story?”
“Oh my God, that’s the coolest. Can I be in it?”
“I think I’m worth a chapter at least. Don’t you? The washed-up college graduate living with her parents, trying to make it in a town full of personal ghosts. I think it would be great.”
“I can see it, yeah.”
“It’s like the perfect Millennial storyline. And then I can buy your book and show everyone that I met the famous author and tell my kids, look, your mom did something, she was in this book!”
I chuckle at the image, mostly just hoping that the book sees the light of day so I can have the same interaction with my future kids.
“Like I’m going to have kids, anyway,” she laments. “Not gonna make it going to Grit’s every Friday, getting too wasted, and making bad decisions. Right? Who am I going to meet that way?”
“Dunno. There might be better places.”
“Exactly. This is what I’m saying.” She sighs again, even more heavily than the first time. We are off the highway now, having traversed much of Uptown and I-10 and now meandering northward in Metairie, the largest and ritziest suburb of New Orleans. Her destination is near the lake, so we still have some time together. “I’m not even that much of a drinker. I know better than to drink this much. It’s been, well, since college that I got really shit-faced like this. Graduation week, I guess. And even senior year, mostly, I didn’t do this. It isn’t really who I am.”
“Then why do you do it?”
“I won’t for a while. Not for a long while, having to study. I just got so cooped up in the house with my parents and all the real estate studying and I got sick of it. Like I wanted to scream and no one would hear me if I did. You know? So I had to get out of there and I went to Grit’s because a friend was going, but she ditched me, like, right away for some guy and then it was time for bad decisions. But no more for a while. Not till I pass this test.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
“It’s so cool that you’re writing a book. Can I really be in it?”
“I don’t see why not. This has been a good conversation.”
“It has, hasn’t it? It’s been really nice to talk to a real human being. And not in a bar.”
“Do you have a lot of good conversations in your Uber?” We have pulled up to her house, but she makes no move toward leaving the car. I figure we’ll continue the conversation till she says otherwise.
“I do, actually. Not all of them, of course. But usually, once or twice a night, there’s something meaningful.”
“And when do you write? During the day?”
“Yeah. I sleep in the mornings, get up, do some chores, try to write. Then my girlfriend gets home and we—”
“You have a girlfriend?”
“Oh Storey! Oh no! Oh well, we never would have made it!”
I laugh awkwardly, replaying the conversation in my head. I wasn’t aware she thought we’d been flirting.
She laughs too, more at herself it seems. “Oh gosh, that’s too bad. Do you love her?”
“Oh, really too bad. Oh well.” She pauses, glances at her house, then at me in the rearview mirror. “So, how long have you been together?”
“Almost five years.”
“Five years! Jesus. You do love her, huh? How come you haven’t proposed yet?”
“Strongly considering it.”
“But I was married before and she cheated on me and left me basically overnight, so I’m really scared.”
“You. Wait, what? You’ve been with this girl for five years and you were married before? How old are you?”
“No way. You do not look thirty-six.”
“You’re drunk. And it’s dark.”
“No, I’m serious, I can’t believe you’re that old.”
“I can show you my driver’s license.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“You should. I got all kinds of things wrong on this ride.”
“No, no, my fault, I’m the drunk one. So you’re going to continue to live your life in fear or what?”
“I’m trying not to. Trying really hard. But it does a lot to your confidence to have someone tell you they love you every day, that it’s forever every day, and then to just walk out on you like that. She tried to divorce me over the phone. From Africa. She was on an exchange program for her grad school and met someone and said she wouldn’t cheat on me when I tried to come out there early, and then she cheated on me and asked for a divorce the next day.”
“Yeah. And then I flew out there anyway and tried to save it but she pushed me away and then went on vacation with the guy. It was really awful.”
“How did you live with that?”
“I almost didn’t, to be honest. But then I met my current girlfriend and it’s been a long, slow recovery. But she’s amazing. The worst part is when I hurt her because I’m still angry at my ex-wife.”
“Hurt her how?”
“I mean, I don’t hit her or anything. But just anger. Verbal anger, you know. It’s so hard to see myself lashing out at her because I’m afraid she’s going to do the same thing my ex did and it’s not her fault. And at the same time, it’s like the anger is the only thing that would make her do the same thing but I’m powerless to stop it.”
“Yeah, that’s really hard.”
“It is. Sorry to dump all this on you. You can go in if you want.”
“No, no, I talked to you about my shit. And this is better for the book, right?”
“It is. Look, you’re never going to feel completely okay. You’re never going to lose that fear. But you still have to try.”
“I am trying.”
“I mean, take that leap. Right? You have to take the leap of faith that it’s all going to work out because what else can you do? Give up? Let those genes of looking that young at thirty-six go to waste? Nah. C’mon, you have to make an effort.”
“That’s what I’ve been thinking. I’ve been working on it.”
“Well stop working and just leap, man. Just do it. She deserves it. You deserve it.”
She leans forward further, puts her hand on my shoulder, grips it briefly, and then lets her hand rest there. “I’m going inside. I’m going to go in and brush my teeth and think about my life. Then in the morning, I’m going to get up and think about real estate for the next two weeks.”
“You have a wonderful night. This has been great.”
“Thanks for listening to everything.”
“My pleasure. Good luck. You’re going to do fine. I hope you have interesting conversations the rest of the night.”
She opens the door. “And don’t forget to put me in your book! I’ll be looking for it. Need something to tell the kids, remember?”
Four months later, I propose to my girlfriend. She says yes.
Storey Clayton is an MFA candidate at West Virginia University. In the past year, his nonfiction has appeared or been accepted in over a dozen literary journals,
including Mud Season Review, Typehouse Literary Magazine, Barely South Review, and Bookends Review. You can learn more about Storey at bluepyramid.org.