It occurred to me when visiting Asheville N.C. last spring, that Uber drivers are often the first and the last people we talk to in a new city. And while I would chat with a variety of people — waiters, bartenders, and artists, the lengthiest conversations my boyfriend and I had during our three-day road trip were with the three Uber drivers who took us to and from our destinations each night.

As I found, Uber drivers are often the best guides when visiting a new city. The good ones, the ones who seem to enjoy their job, tend to solicit free advice and offer a calculated rundown of places to visit, eat and revel in nightly activities.

UBER DRIVER NO. 1 — MOST TALKATIVE GUY IN ASHVILLE

Yes, we managed to meet the guy with the loudest mouth, and the heaviest breathing for that matter on our first nightly pilgrimage to the city center.

He was a middle-aged gentleman who spoke loudly, taking deep gasping breaths every paragraph or two. We were headed to the Grove Arcade near the Citizen Times office, and that prompted a conversation about the industry and profession of journalism. Turned out the guy, like Ty and I, was a “quasi-journalist” who had dabbled in the field after spending $180,000 and three years some odd years in J-school. Not the best investment, he figured. But if his writing was anything like his conversation, it was at least good for a laugh. The guy dribbled his words like a basketball player outmaneuvering his opponent.

“Hey. How’s it going. Where we going today? Just kidding, I have the address if my phone, silly. The thing about electronic gizmos these days is they can track you anywhere you go. Now, I don’t need anybody following me, you understand? Course you do, you both seem like sensible young people. *GASP* Now it wasn’t like that when I was a young person. I wasn’t the most sensible joe on the block. Took me three year of college to figure out what I wanted to study, and by then my student loans were already to the roof! So, I decided to study journalism. Go figure. No one wants to pay a guy to share his thought anymore.”*GASP*

Our driver was so enthralled in his own one-way banter he seemed to have forgotten it was his navigation we were paying for. He would have missed our drop-off spot if Ty hadn’t reminded him we’d arrived. When in safe distance, the two of us burst out laughing. I don’t think the paid tour busses would have done a better job at humoring us.

It turned out to be a positive precursor for the evening. We enjoyed delicious drinks and an escape room at the Condundrum, a speak easy with live music,  green fairies**, mysteries and games afoot in the back.

UBER DRIVER No. 2 — THE LOCAL RUNDOWN:

Now I’ve never taken public transport in New York, but I can’t imagine taxies being as helpful as these guys were. Our next Uber driver told us why he did and did not like the city. He had immigrated from Jamaica and enjoyed the opportunity the U.S. provided. He was a hardworking guy, working two jobs and driving to Atlanta every two to three months to visit his kid. When we told him we were from Atlanta, he heartily told us why he preferred our city to Asheville. “I just wish Asheville was bigger,” he said.

Did I mention this was our second visit to Asheville in the past year? Well, it was, and Ty and I had enjoyed the city so much, its food, escape rooms and live music, that we were toying with the idea of moving there. Our second Uber driver during the trip had some helpful insights on the matter.

 We had asked if he knew of any areas with affordable housing along with the activities we had grown to enjoy in Asheville. “Yeah man,” he responded. “I can think of a place like that. Haywood Rd. It’s the long road, not the one in actual downtown, it’s close, though, and it has everything — great bars and restaurants, live music, but if you drive down one of the smaller roads, you find all these houses and apartments. So that would be my answer.”  Not sure if we’ll ever take the leap and move, but we were grateful for the guy’s genuine response. 

He left us with one other piece of helpful advise. When looking for authentic Jamaican food, DO NOT. Visit Ashville. 

“Here, if you Google Jamaican food, you’re only going to find one place. Nine Mile. This place is owned by a guy who lived in Jamaica, and so he loves it or something and decided to name his place Nine Mile after the place in Jamaican called Nine Mile because it is literally nine miles long. Anyway, this guy really loves Jamaica or something because he named the whole menu with Jamaican names, but its more like Italian food with a few Jamaican spices. Like I got linguini with some coconut curry and a salted salmon on the side. Now the curry is pretty on point because if there’s one thing we do in Jamaica, it’s that we eat a lot of curry and we eat a lot of coconut. But we don’t eat no linguine and no salmon. I don’t know why that was on my plate so asked, and he said it was some kind of fusion shit. (Personally I’d be open to trying it. Fusion cuisine always does it for me.) I just wanted some good Jamaican food. So when I want some good Jamaican food, I stop by Atlanta after visiting my kid. Hits the spot every-time.” 

It was an honest perspective coming from a guy who was just trying to make a living. I’d give him 10 out of 10 stars for great being a conversationalist. As a navigator? Probably seven out of ten.

UBER DRIVER NO. THREE:  THE DOWN LOW ON Where TO GET TURNT!

The last Uber Driver of the trip was a lady driver who provided us a rather interesting insight to the city. I had asked her where people went if they just wanted to dance in the city. 

“Well, it’s Asheville so you could probably just dance anywhere.”

No. I didn’t feel like it would  have been appropriate to dance the way I dance unless there was a room full of people dancing. Even in the drum circles, I thought the crowd was too tame for my rather aggressive choreography which features kicking and punching gestures. 

“Well there’s always BOOTY Tuesday at Ole Shakey’s Getaway if you wanna get down and out of yourself. And there’s this new Mexican restaurant, La Polanca, that recently opened and they throw parties there, too. She then asked if I liked trap.

I could dig it.

“Well, there’s not as many options for the straight people. Usually straight people will go to the gay clubs and straight guys will even go there to pick up straight girls. But those are some fun places.”

We told her we would have to check those out on our next trip. It was our last night, so she told us to drive home safe and come back on a Tuesday. We told her we would. Of all our drivers, I think she was my favorite. She threw out so many names and places; I can’t remember them all, and she really did want to be helpful, like it was her job to help random tourists have a good time.

***

So, there you go, maybe there is an art to being a navigator. Charm, at least, seems to come in no short supply to most Uber drivers I’ve met. And the next time I need to talk to someone, a stranger who won’t judge me for spilling my guts about life and the usual, maybe I’ll catch an Uber. It’s got to be cheaper than seeing a shrink, and less regrettable than going to a hairdresser just to talk and getting a haircut you never needed. And there’s something cathartic about watching the scenery go by like slides in an old silent film. 

**Sorry, but this won’t help you. The speakeasy’s password changes daily.

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