My 2nd First Step is a blog by LaRue Cook, a former senior editor for ESPN The Magazine. His posts chronicle his new life as a driver for Uber and lyft.

Me, Five Women, and Billy Joel

Me, Five Women, and Billy Joel

Around midnight on a Thursday, I roll up, window down, outside a boutique hotel in downtown Knoxville to find five women (four brunettes and a blonde), not a dress below high-thigh, not a cheek that hasn’t been expertly rouged, lips so evenly stained cherry that I can envision each set having been closely examined in the mirror before the night began, each set puckered and slightly popped.

“Wait, this isn’t an Uber XL,” the blonde huffs.

“Come on,” the youngest of the group (by my estimation) says, “we’re skinny bitches.”

I will later learn that this night started with a wine tasting at a fancy chain steak house, a wine tasting that poured on for three hours, and then poured further into night-capper cocktails at a speakeasy in the lower bowels of the boutique hotel. And I will later learn that these five women range in age from thirty to fifty, and that they met at yoga, “real hot” yoga, the lowest allowable temperature being eighty-five degrees. And I will later learn, although quickly, that each woman is going to a separate address, and that I will drop them off one by one, as each one reminds me to be sure and put on my blinker and to slow down for this turn and that turn and to ask me, again and again, if I know where I’m going.

But first: “Oh. My. Goodness,” the youngest chirps. “Our Uber driver is Cute. As. A. Button.” She turns to the back seat: “Did you know he was as cute as a button?” She says this as she is giving me directions to the first stop, instead of simply putting the address into the Uber app, playing a game as we go, reciting the route to me, turn by turn, as though she is the woman on the GPS, mimicking her robotic accent and poorly enunciated street names. Drake is on ever so faintly in the background.

“Can you put on something less, um, current?” a woman pipes up from the back.

“Requests?” I ask.

“Some ’90s music, maybe ’80s,” one woman says.

“Elton John,” another says.

“Billy Joel,” the third says.

The other two agree, Billy Joel, and the youngest grins a big grin at me. And so I search for Billy Joel on my phone, and I cue up “Piano Man” and the singing ensues and the “louder please” ensues and the youngest, who will be dropped off first, slightly squeezes my arm, feigning sympathy, as she karaokes right along with them.

On it goes: “Uptown Girl” to “Vienna” to “She’s Always a Woman.” Then, “Only the Good Die Young,” and the eldest, who is now up front with me, wags her finger like a metronome—even though she is not keeping time to any beat that I can hear—and punctuates this invisible beat occasionally with air pistols, while the brunette in the back says, more than once, “I’d rather laugh with the sinners, than cry with the saints—I love that fucking line, I fucking love that line.”

In each driveway, we linger, and they kiss on the cheeks, and they faux hug across the seat, and they ask if we can just sit for a moment and breathe in Billy Joel. The eldest is the last to go, and she and I wend our way to her home, my headlights illuminating the gated neighborhoods as we pass, while Tony and Billy croon “New York State of Mind.” She tells me kids are expensive and commitment is overrated. She tells me I should come to the “real hot” yoga studio and meet them at their best. After one hour and sixteen minutes and forty-two miles, she tells me that this is the most fun car ride she’s ever had.

“God bless Billy Joel,” she says, climbing out. “God bless Billy Joel and us five drunk bitches,” she says and waves that metronome finger. She punches a button on her keychain and one of the three garage doors lifts. I smile and she smiles before disappearing underneath the rising door.

I check the fare as I back out. “God bless Billy Joel,” I say into the empty car. Then, for kicks, I blast “We Didn't Start the Fire,” all the way home.

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