By Jarrett Bellini | @JarrettBellini
Apparently This Matters: The Column
He had a full rotisserie chicken perfectly balanced on the center console.
This was my Uber driver.
Naturally, the car smelled like an explosion of freshly-seasoned deli meat. And, I admit, under normal circumstances, I'd find that vision mildly arousing.
But this wasn't a normal circumstance. Which is to say I hadn't yet lathered myself in cheese board oil.
We all have our morning rituals.
Alas, l'odeur de poulet is apparently what you get these days when you pay five bucks to travel downtown in a stranger's Toyota Corolla. And not a particularly nice one, as evident by the mysterious round stain on the back seat.
Might've been pizza grease. Might've been a medium-sized passenger with no pants covered in cheese board oil.
(Perhaps I'd ridden in this car before.)
But we put up with such things when we travel cheaply, especially with UberX. Mystery stains. Rotisserie chickens. Pretty much anything, just so long as the driver safely minds the road.
Which brings me to the point of all this: How does one safely mind the road when you're picking at a rotisserie chicken?
Now, to be fair, I didn't actually see this guy engage with the chicken at any point during my ride. But he was definitely thinking about it.
So, just to be safe, I put on my seat belt.
Which, really, should be a no-brainer regardless of whether or not your driver is also trafficking meat over a federal highway.
Wearing a seat belt is just common sense. It's what you do when you ride in a car.
But it's also not.
In reality, most people don't use seat belts in the back of hired transportation. In fact, according to the 2014 Taxicab Factbook (provided by the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission), only 38% of passengers reported wearing them.
Apparently, if you climb into a taxi or black car you are somehow no longer bound to Newton's first law: An object in motion stays in motion.
Instead, you trust in one of the lesser-revered laws of physics: Meh. What's the worst that could happen?
It's a weird false sense of security, perhaps emboldened by the fact that you're being driven by a so-called professional, as opposed to Toonces the Driving Cat.
Part of it might also be that hired cars tend to feel like public transportation - similar to trains or buses - where, generally, the rides are short and seat belts are swapped out for hanging nylon straps covered with small chunks of Bubonic plague.
But a car is nothing like a bus or a train. It's a car.
So, it's concerning that we tend not to wear seat belts in them just because we're paying for the ride.
And, these days, that ride is probably with Uber.
In fact, it was recently reported that, in New York City, there are now more Uber cars than yellow taxis. Which is pretty amazing.
In Atlanta, where I live, I'm guessing it's roughy the same. Everyone I know seems to use Uber.
And why not? It's cheap. It's easy. And it doesn't require dealing with cab companies, whose technology seems to be stuck in 1989.
But I'm also keenly aware of the potential safety risks of "ride sharing." Risks I willingly accept.
Uber just makes it easier for me to enjoy beer.
It's an absolute fact that I now go out more frequently than I used to. Thus, I'm spending more and more money in local bars and restaurants when, otherwise, I'd probably be at home eating Lean Pockets, watching baseball, and picking my nose.
Which, not for nothing, isn't such a bad night.
But if you're going to leave the house and have some adult beverages, Uber just seems better than other alternative forms of transportation, the worst of which is actually getting behind the wheel.
There are some studies that even suggest DUIs have gone down in cities where Uber (and Lyft) is an option.
Of course, just because you've hired a sober driver doesn't mean you're not still in a car. And that all around you are other cars. Other cars, presumably being driven by people with between eight and eleven fully functioning brain cells.
So, the one thing you must do next time you ride Uber - or any hired transportation - is buckle your damn seat belt.
And maybe bring a fork.