Why You Should Always Lock Your Car Doors in San Francisco

by Matthew J.X. Malady

People drop things on the Internet and run all the time. So we have to ask. In this edition, writer Roberto Baldwin tells us more about living in a state of Uber confusion — which is to say, California.

Pulled over to text wife. Someone got in my car thinking it was an uber. Le sigh

— Roberto Baldwin (@strngwys) January 3, 2015

Roberto! So what happened here?

At some point every car in San Francisco will be an Uber and every citizen, a driver, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when a random stranger walked up to my car, opened the passenger door, and started to take a seat. Actually, it’s really my fault. I pulled over to respond to a text from my wife a few yards from the famous-for-charging-too-much-for-toast coffee shop, The Mill. If you’re a car near The Mill, you’re probably picking up or dropping off a very important startup founder or VC.

Still it was a bit surprising when a gentleman who was on the phone started to get into my car. Before he actually took a seat, he peered into the vehicle and I asked, “Can I help you?” His response, “Oh shit!” He then quickly closed the door and ran off. I mean ran in the literal sense. He actually ran away from the car.

As he ran off (actually running) he mumbled something to the mysterious person on the other end of his phone call. Maybe he told the person he almost got into a private passenger vehicle thinking it was his Uber. I like to think he told the person that he was almost kidnapped and it was only his quick thinking and sprinting that saved him from a life of basement bondage.

The weirdest part is that I drive a Fiat — the small one with only two doors. Not exactly a car made for driving random strangers around (or kidnapping them), and yet this has happened before.

Wait, this has happened to you in the past? Does it always go down in the exact same way? And have you thought about running some sort of prearranged bit the next time this occurs?

Not only has it happened before, but other people are telling me that this happens pretty often in San Francisco. The last time it happened to me it was about 10 p.m. at night and I was South of Market. I had just gotten into my car and started it up. I was selecting music on my iPhone when a guy walked up, opened the door and began to sit in the passenger seat. I just looked at him iPhone in hand, The Smiths blaring out of the speakers, thinking it was someone I knew hopping in the car to say hi. Nope, just some random dude who decided that getting into a stranger’s car in the middle of the night without first making sure it was his ride was a smart idea. He quickly realized his mistake, apologized, and got out of the car.

I’ve decided that next time this happens I’ll just drive off with the person and start asking if they have the money for the “stuff.” As they stutter that they’re not sure what I’m talking about and that they must have gotten into the wrong car, I’ll tell them: “Yeah, I bet Dave told you to say that. You know what? You can tell Dave he’s not getting his pets back until he pays what’s due. In fact, I want you to put that fancy-ass phone to your ear right now, call Dave, and tell him I said that.” At that point I’m pretty sure they’ll just jump out of the vehicle. Or, they’ll call Dave and tell him what I said.

Another option is to treat it like a car-jacking and scream at the individual that I have a wife and kids and that they can have my car, just please don’t hurt me.

Lesson learned (if any)?

I suppose I should start locking my car doors while I drive. People will still try to get in the car, but a locked door will hopefully snap them out of their trance and allow them to see that this Fiat isn’t their ride to the Battery or startup party or wherever the hell they’re going.

Just one more thing.

The next iteration of this is someone knocking at my front door because they think I’m in their Airbnb. There’ll be confusion and phones will be double checked because “I’m sure this is the address.” Eventually they’ll leave. Well, hopefully.

This is just a symptom of everyone in San Francisco walking around in a smartphone-induced haze. Sure it happens in other places, but this is the birthplace of the technology that begs for our attention. And because we can never be unconnected or bored, we gleefully give it over. So instead of paying attention to what’s going on around us, we jump into the car of a random stranger because an app said that’s where our ride would be located.

I’m just as bad as everyone else, with my face buried in Twitter as I walk past the bar I was supposed to meet friends at for the third time. How long until someone actually drives off with a confused Uber customer? I’m sure it’s happening right now. But at least they’re not being charged surge pricing or a safety fee.

Photo by Joakim Formo

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