Ridesharing as performance art

Lyft_Pink_Mustache
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Great art transports you from where you are to somewhere you’ve never been before. It changes your point of view.

I stood out on the corner beside my apartment, and I waited for my experience to arrive. I had heard from friends what to expect, but everyone told me that the feeling was so variable by individual that it was difficult to predict. When my time arrived, I was reminded that there is but a single step between the ridiculous and the sublime.

The first piece, titled “Lyft” by Haman, appeared without fanfare under a light drizzle. A mixed media piece, the container was a green Fiat affixed with a textured and stylized pink mustache in front. I let myself in. Haman did not make eye contact but interacted mostly with the controls of a mounted GPS system and the wheel of the Fiat.

As we traveled from Oakland to Berkeley, the sun began to peek out of the clouds. Haman seemed to warm with this change and asked me about my work and my family. We chatted and found common ground in the cost of real estate. The tenor of the piece became both more intimate and more political as we reached our destination. In a gesture of enigmatic solidarity, the artist fist-bumped me on my way out. I was left to consider what I had seen in a place I had never been before. My point of view had literally changed.

The second piece arrived later that afternoon. Titled “Sidecar,” the artist, Myrtle, wore a paper party hat and called me “dude.” I was invited to observe from either the front or back seat. I chose the immediacy of the front, and Myrtle commended me warmly for wanting to be in the thick of the action.

Myrtle’s presentation was far more involved than Haman’s “Lyft” had been. She played an audiobook by Malcolm Gladwell on the car stereo but spoke over it the entire ride.

“If you were a two-dimensional object, what would it be?”

I said a plane, thinking back to middle-school geometry and desperately trying to think of something that was truly two-dimensional.

“I’d be a white blank page,” she said, disregarding the formal Euclidean definitions of our universe.

“And a swelling rage,” I sang, moved to spontaneity by her nonsense. We sang that Mumford and Sons song, wailing like drunks while Gladwell muttered the incantations of the modern economy.

When our time together had come to an end, Myrtle told me that God was a crocodile and bid me farewell. She shouted as she pulled away that payment had already been processed by my phone and that Gladwell was wrong because there was no point in tipping.

The sun was setting, and I was still a little tipsy with whimsy. I met friends for dinner, and we talked about our experiences with performance art. Many loved it, but others equated it with oddities like menstrual blood painting or, worse, mimes. When we were saying our goodbyes, I tapped my phone once more. I was ready for the final show.

When “Uber” arrived, the artist did not introduce himself to me. He arrived dressed in black, with a black car. My phone announced him as Miles. He hopped out and walked briskly around his Lincoln to open the door for me to get into the back seat.

“Ma’am,” he greeted me.

I gave him the address to take me home.

“Oakland, eh?”

“Yes, on the west side.”

“Interesting.”

By then, the city was dark, and I felt as if I had joined some secret cabal. Miles was silent, and so the miles passed silently. We slipped across the bridge without a word between us. Through the tinted windows, I watched the lights on the water, the white span of the new Bay Bridge. The ride was exceedingly comfortable but oddly disconnected from the real world. I felt guilty ignoring another person in the car and playing with my phablet, but it seemed the correct thing to do.

When we arrived, I slid my leggings across the leather and stepped out while Miles held the door once again.

“I’ll watch you go through the door, ma’am. This isn’t a nice neighborhood.”

“No, but it is mine. Have a good evening, Miles.”

He nodded to me and waited anyway. I did not see him pull away from the curb.

I have circled the three rings of the rideshare performance art circus. I have met the artists who offer to transport you by means of their art. I have called their cars, paid through their apps and received their traditional goodbyes. But as my friends warned me, each experience with this type of performance art is different, varying with the artist, the vehicle and the time of day.

I can say I have been truly transported. Of course, your mileage may vary.

Contact Meg Elison at [email protected].