Lutzka Zivny drives for Lyft, an app-based ride-sharing service in San Francisco. She’s been collecting the inspiring, funny, touching, and sometimes bizarre conversations that occur in her minivan since she started driving for Lyft last year. Here is the second installment of her occasional series. The first can be found here.
Two young women are in my car, and one of them (I assume) is South Asian and on the phone speaking in another language.
The conversation is very emotional, and a few English words sneak in: "Wedding”; “What do you expect?”; “No no no no”; “Banquet”; “Money”; and “Cancer." Ending with “Mom, MOM, I’ve got to go.”
After she hangs up, both her friend and I stare at her expectantly.
Thankfully, she is quite forthcoming.
It appears that the daughter of her mother's best friend was planning to elope with her boyfriend of many years. The (passenger's) mother found out and now she is agonizing over whether she should tell the mother of the bride. The passenger's mother is in favor of the wedding but knows that the bride's mother wouldn't be.
My other passenger perks up her ears at the daytime-TV qualities of the situation and begins to ask questions. The passenger with the mama drama plunges into lengthy explanation. Every answer to any question is preceded by the words, "You don't understand Asians," which I will simply abbreviate to Y.D.U.A..
"Y.D.U.A., everyone in the family knows. Except for the mother of the bride."
"Why doesn't the bride's mother know?"
"Y.D.U.A., they all kept it away from her, even the father of the bride, who knows about the wedding."
"The dad knows? So the wedding has the approval of the dad?"
"Y.D.U.A., no one cares what the dad thinks, this is mother's responsibility!"
"So how come she doesn't know?"
"OMG, exactly, Y.D.U.A., that is exactly why, everyone knew she wouldn't approve of the wedding – she doesn't like the fiancé."
"So, who's got cancer?"
"The bride had it, and the fiancé took great care of her, including cooking, which – if you understood Asians, you’d know – is pretty special."
The deeper into the story we go, the more complicated it gets, though a general consensus is reached that the passenger's mother is between a rock and a very hard place.
"Your mother," my other passenger finally concludes, "needs to get a job. She is too wrapped up in this."
The indignation of the passenger with the mother situation is at a breaking point: "Y.D.U.A., she has a job, she’s a math professor. She really isn't all that good with social stuff, but she has two PhDs. That is why, by the way, Y.D.U.A., I am such a disappointment to the family."
"But you have a degree from Stanford!"
"OMG, Y.D.U.A., it's an UNDERGRADUATE degree. Undergraduate. I am an embarrassment. But screw that, I am not going back to school. I like my job."
At this point, to my great regret, we have reached our destination, in spite of my driving so slowly the MUNI buses pass us by. Seems like I will never have the chance to reach better understanding of the apparently totally homogenous and unknowable Asian population of four or so billion.
I’m waiting in front of a Victorian in the Mission for a passenger who, according to the Lyft app passenger profile, will be a young woman by the name of Madison. A young woman fitting the profile picture shows up and hops in the passenger seat. I greet her by first name and inquire about our destination.
But I’m wrong. Apparently, this is not Madison, it is Tennyson. Madison will be right down. “Look, there she is.”
An identical-looking young woman gets in the back.
I try to get a handle on the situation: "So, I assume you guys are sisters?"
Madison and Tennyson giggle: "Not related at all! We just look alike; come from the same town; went to the same high school; were born the same year; have somewhat similar first names; and are best friends. Doesn't that happen all the time?"
Spies Like Us
Three merry passengers are engaging in somewhat mysterious conversation, already in progress when I pick them up.
"…and this happens every time."
"I don't think it happens every time; if it did, obviously we would not be sitting here with you!"
"How about that thing last month, that was scary."
"No, I just think you are much too self-conscious, you just need to relax. It is not the white elephant unless you make it to be."
"But, when she comes to San Francisco to meet me for the first time..."
"You just cannot let her know. Deny everything at any cost."
"But what if she actually likes me. I have to think of my parents."
"Over my dead body is she going to like you,” says the one woman in the group while, in an obviously practiced move, getting her companion’s head in a headlock.
They all break into laughter, including the third passenger who has so far not participated in the conversation, but who now steps in.
"Nothing is inconceivable – be ready. Think about the future."
As they are getting out, I cannot control my curiosity any longer. I lean out of the open door, ignoring the belligerent taxi driver leaning on the horn behind me.
"Are you in a cult? Is it an arranged marriage situation? Ivory smuggling ring?"
"Great guesses," they yell back, laughing as they saunter off into the night…
Lutzka Zivny is an artist and graphic designer who lives in San Francisco.