Late to the party when it comes to Uber, Lyft and Via Apps, I always take yellow taxis unless a friend orders a car. My very first Uber experience was so horrifying that I’ve never ordered another one. To make a long story short, my Uber driver took me to Brooklyn instead of Manhattan. Misinterpreting the Manhattan address I gave as a Brooklyn address led to a two hour ride of pure hell, where my daughter, her friend, and I traveled through faraway and unrecognizable neighborhoods, wondering if we were being kidnapped. The Uber driver wanted to drop us off in the middle of nowhere, but I insisted on being taken home.
A year later my daughter on the autism spectrum is traveling home late at night from her theater rehearsals in Brooklyn. To keep Samantha safe, her life skills coach helped her download apps for Uber, Lyft and Via. So far she has used Uber and Lyft successfully on several occasions. More recently, one of her friends suggested she try Via—a shared ride that was only $5, and much cheaper than Uber or Lyft. When Samantha mentioned the idea to me, I applauded her efforts at thrift and staying within her budget.
As my readers know, one of my New Year’s resolutions is to let go of the details and stop micromanaging my daughter’s life. What could be bad about Samantha using Via with a friend and both of them saving money? Nothing except that for people with autism, sometimes there are unexpected dangers lurking in the overlooked details. In the case of Via, I didn’t realize Samantha and her friend would be sharing the ride with a stranger. Nor did I know that it was customary for Via drivers to drop off passengers up to 2 blocks away from their desired destination.
After a relaxing Saturday night dinner with my husband, the last thing I expected was a panicked phone call from Samantha just before midnight, informing me that she and her friend had been kicked out of her Via ride and left on the Upper West Side instead of being dropped on East 73rd Street.
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” she explained. “I told the driver to take me to 73rd Street and he wanted to leave me on 74th Street, which I told him was NOT my address. I kept telling him I lived on 73rd Street, but he wouldn’t listen to me. Then this crazy person told me to ‘shut my mouth’ and you know how I hate that—”
Oh, I know, boy do I know. “So you got into an argument and—” I stated the obvious, as her friend grabbed the phone:
“Mrs. Elisofon, it really wasn’t her fault,” he insisted, gallantly defending my daughter. “I tried to stand up for her but the driver threw us out of the car.”
“I’m sure that happened AFTER Samantha started yelling and cursing.” Calmly, I explained that the purpose of taking a car service home was to arrive safely. Wouldn’t it be better to get out a block away rather than on the other side of Central Park? Sometimes it boils down to making a simple decision. Is it better to argue with a stranger (who might be crazy and hurt you) because you think you’re right, or agree to walk one block for the convenience of the driver and other passengers? These are fairly straightforward ABA choices which Samantha understands after years childhood therapy. Given that Samantha is a rigid rule-follower, this particular problem will probably never come up again. Now she knows the etiquette for Via. A shared ride that’s cheaper means you might have to “compromise” and walk an extra block or two. Otherwise, all hell breaks loose and you might end up who-knows-where. A simple lesson learned, right?
I certainly hope so. But I can’t help worrying about similar situations where Samantha might decide that it’s important to use her “self-advocacy skills” and feel the need to prove she’s right. As a child with speech delays and autism, she worked many long years to gain the communication skills and the confidence to defend herself from bullies. But what about learning to walk away or refusing to engage at all? Samantha would say that learning to make these essential decisions is “a work in progress.”
But will her progress be fast enough? She needs to learn enough about implicit and explicit etiquette to keep her safe in the world when I’m no longer around to explain the rules.