Driving through a city in chaos

This is just one, very limited perspective of the L.A. protests from a Lyft driver.

Everyone’s story deserves to be told. I want to share a few simple stories of people I met today. But let’s not forget whose story this really is: George Floyd‘s, Aubrey Ahmad, Breonna Taylor‘s, and the people and communities who are daily terrorized by a broken criminal justice system created by and allowed by those in power who turn a blind eye to the struggles of people they don’t identify with.

There are a lot of rideshare drivers who are currently (understandably) collecting unemployment instead of driving right now because of COVID-19 and risk to their health here in L.A. And there are a lot of rideshare drivers who are either rejecting pickups in certain protest “hotspots” or simply not driving at all because they don’t want to be out on the chaotic streets.

To make matters worse, Lyft is shutting down it’s app during curfew hours along with the Metro suspending services, so anyone who couldn’t get a last minute ride before curfew started gets stranded. Anyone who needs to get to or home from a job deemed “essential” during curfew hours needs a car or a friend with a car, otherwise they are out of luck.

Today, I gave rides to people through the Lyft app from noon to 6 p.m. Then my app got blocked because the Los Angeles County curfew went into effect.

These are just a few of the people I met and the things I saw today:

The Guard Rolls In

When I started my day, I was immediately shocked into reality by a caravan of tan trucks carrying National Guard troops rolling down the 101 towards downtown L.A. Throughout the day I saw hundreds of troops, sometimes in tight formation around full downtown city blocks, sometimes guarding street access to Hollywood Blvd. with armored humvees and trucks.

Narrow Escape From Pershing Square

I picked up a woman who lives across the street from Pershing Square in the heart of Downtown L.A. This is the epicenter of any protest movement that starts in L.A. and she told me she has seen all manner of horrors outside her window in the last 48 hours: Live rounds being fired, people being run over by cars, cars being set on fire… She just wanted to get out of downtown L.A. to stay with a friend away from the center of the protests.

Five drivers canceled on her before I pulled up to get her. As we were leaving, we drove past dozens of national guard troops in desert battle gear carrying rifles. And then we drove directly into the path of an oncoming crowd of hundreds of protesters. Organizers on bikes and skateboards were swarming intersections and directing traffic away from their path. As we turned off the main street, we passed within just a few yards of the front of the protest that stretched on beyond my line of sight.

Trapped on the Freeway Going to Venice

I picked up two young men in Hollywood who needed to get to Venice Beach. One was a rapper and the other was a cinematographer. They flew out here on Thursday from Boston to shoot a music video at the iconic location. I asked them why they chose this weekend to come to L.A. and shoot and they just said they got here before the protests started and couldn’t afford to cancel their flights or leave and come back another time. They just wanted to try and get all their shots and get out of here without running into any more trouble.

As we were eastbound on the 10 heading towards Santa Monica, a few miles away a group of looters broke off from a peaceful protest and started systematically burglarizing shops on the 3rd Street Promenade. Suddenly, a highway patrol car flew by me with his sirens blaring and I noticed traffic starting to build just ahead. I tried to get off the freeway, but the trooper positioned his cruiser to block the exit.

The freeway instantly became choked with cars who started creating extra lanes on the shoulder. Dozens of highway patrol cars came upon us, forcing people off the shoulder and blocking each exit into Santa Monica. We were originally just 12 minutes away from their destination, but driving the 10 all the way to the coast, we were forced to exit onto the Pacific Coast Highway, drive that north a couple miles and then double back to the 10. We made it there 45 minutes later without too much more trouble.

Just Get Me Home

Then, I picked up a woman in Venice who needed to get home to Hollywood and couldn’t get any rideshare drivers to pick her up. Before I showed up, she was worried that she would be stuck in Venice and would have nowhere to go. As we left her neighborhood I saw hundreds of protesters marching down the sidewalk at Venice Beach. I couldn’t help but wonder how the artists I dropped off earlier were fairing with their shoot.

We were able to get away from the crowds and I realized that the best way to get her home would be to make a big loop around and away from all the protest hotspots by going north of the Hollywood Hills then doubling back towards Hollywood, but this would add 13 miles to our journey. I asked her if this route was okay with her.

“I don’t care how you do it, just get me home,” she said.

She seemed pretty stressed out, so I asked her what kind of music she liked. We rocked out to some gospel music all the way home.

Chasing Their Dreams

I drove two girls from Beverly Hills to North Hollywood, sisters, both barely 20, who moved to L.A. from Indiana to “chase [their] dreams.” They were currently out of work because their employers were shut-down during the pandemic. They were picking up random odd jobs through anyone they knew to make ends meet and keep it together.

They said they were super scared to be out and about, but they didn’t have a choice – they were broke, behind on bills, and had to work every chance they could find a job to do. I had picked them up from walking some rich guy’s dogs. I hope he paid them well.

Almost Stranded

After I dropped the sisters off, I received a desperate call from my next rider, an elderly woman who had just found out the county moved curfew up from 8 p.m. to 6 p.m. She was just leaving work, desperate to get home, but couldn’t find an available driver. She begged me to not cancel on her. She had been in my que for 15 minutes already and was worried I wouldn’t make it to her on time. I picked her up at 5:58 p.m. – just two minutes before the Lyft app shut down ride requests – and was able to get her home without any problems.

Then I went home and called it a day.

Tomorrow, and the Next Day

I’m going out again tomorrow. I have to. There aren’t enough people providing rides and there are too many people without any real good choices – for one reason or another they have to get where they are going because they have a job to do and they need to go do it and get home.

And I have a job to do too. I need to earn a living. And I have to do what I’m good at: safely driving people where they need to go using my intimate knowledge of the city streets (after giving nearly 11,000 Lyft rides) to avoid potential dangers, and calmly assuring people that they are going to be okay while I listen to them get all their thoughts, worries, anger, & concerns off their chest.

I know I will be okay. I am protected. I’m where I’m supposed to be, doing what I’m supposed to be doing. Whatever comes my way will come my way, and whatever won’t, won’t. I can handle it because I’ve spent my whole life preparing me for today. And today prepared me for tomorrow, and then I’ll be prepared for the day after that. If you pray, please pray for me (if you don’t please send me positive vibes), that wherever I go and whatever situation I encounter – that I can continue to serve others as a peacemaker like I have been called and prepared to be.

Let’s Get Real

But let’s keep it real here for a moment. I’m a clean cut, well-educated, white male. No threat to my safety, no danger that I drive into, and no fear that I summon on the streets of Los Angeles can ever come close to being comparable with the domestic terrorism and injustices that communities of color, indigenous Americans, and marginalized “others” deal with every day at the hands of the powers that are supposed to serve and protect them.

What I’ve written here, this is just a story. This is just what I saw through my eyes today. But this isn’t about my story.

This is about Ahmaud Arbery, Aiyana Jones, Alton Sterling, Amadou Diallo, Anthony Hill, Atatiana Jefferson, Breonna Taylor, Botham Jean, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Clifford Glover, Corey Jones, Cynthia Hurd, Rev. Daniel L. Simmons, Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Emmett Till, Eric Garner, Ethel Lee Lance, Freddie Gray, George Floyd, John Crawford III, Jonathan Ferrell, Jordan Davis, Jordan Edwards, Keith Lamont Scott, Mike Brown, Myra Thompson, Oscar Grant, Philando Castile, Samuel Dubose, Sandra Bland, Sean Bell, Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Stephon Clark, Susie Jackson, Tamir Rice, Terence Crutcher, Trayvon Martin, Tywanza Sanders, Walter Scott and the thousands of other individuals who have unnecessarily lost their lives. Because some people seem to think their lives don’t matter.

Read their names. Read their stories. You read my story. Now, do the right thing and read theirs. Don’t look away because it makes you uncomfortable. Don’t ignore them because you think you already have it figured out. You have power. You can do something. Now that you know, what are you going to do? There is plenty to be done.

UPDATE (6/4): Sadly, David McAtee has joined the list of people whose stories you need to know.

One Last Thing

Every one of the individual riders I picked up whose story I told above belongs to some kind of marginalized or oppressed group who are constantly “othered” and ignored. I didn’t mention those identifying details because I wanted you to know them for their simple, human experiences first, so that you could relate to them on that level without seeing them through the filter of their outward identity – which to you may be an “other” – and then miss your connection to them. Now you know.

Image credit: JP Designs Art
Featured photo by @goEastLos
Background photo by Axel Koester, contributing photographer for the Los Angeles Daily News