Sicario bingo: ride share edition
Every ride is an opportunity to hear someone's life story. This one didn't disappoint
At first glance, the ride share pickup area at the Las Vegas airport looks chaotic. But like so many things in Las Vegas, first impressions can be deceiving.
“Wait behind the cement barrier,” says the man in charge of the ride share pickup area. “When your driver is here, they’ll text you the row and space number. It’s just like bingo, folks!”
The analogy is perfect, not just because the lot is organized into lettered rows and numbered spaces, but because bingo is a game of chance, and that’s exactly why most of the people in this ride share area have come to Las Vegas.
“Did you come Vegas to gamble, or party?” my Lyft driver asks.
“Neither. I came to visit my mom.”
The Lyft driver checks the map on his phone, realizes we’re headed away from the strip, toward the mountains north of Las Vegas.
“She moved here from Los Angeles,” I explain.
“Me too! I used to live in Los Angeles.”
“I think half of Las Vegas used to live in Los Angeles.”
The Lyft driver laughs.
“I think that’s true,” he says. “There is opportunity here.”
Then, without prompting, the Lyft driver proceeds to tell me his life story, although for some reason the man’s personal narrative is non-linear, like a Quentin Tarantino movie.
The Lyft driver begins his story in Los Angeles, where life is good, but expensive.
“I worked at a bank,” he says. “Lots of money, but not lots of money for me. That’s OK though. I love Los Angeles. The weather is perfect, and there is a big Colombian community, so even though I don’t have family in LA, I have a kind of family. I am Colombian.”
“What brought you to Vegas?”
“A woman. Actually, she brought me to Indiana.”
“You know this place?”
“So, you know Indiana is very cold. My woman is from Indiana. She tells me it’s nice. And it is nice. And cheap. And there’s lots of room. But it’s cold.”
“Yeah, they get a lot of snow there.”
“I am allergic to snow. But I don’t know this until we get there. And when it snows, I end up in the hospital.”
“Really? Frostbite? Hypothermia?”
“I don’t know what is, but the snow is not good for my blood. The snow is like poison for me. So, I tell my woman, we have to move. Because if I stay in Indiana, I will die, and I’m always trying not to die.”
“That’s a good life goal.”
“Yes! Don’t die is the goal. So, we agree to move. But we have a child. I forgot to tell you that I am a father now at this point in the story.”
“Yes! A blessing. But children are expensive. Los Angeles is expensive. And then there is COVID, and I worry that there are no jobs in Los Angeles, so I come to Las Vegas to earn money. There are always jobs here in Las Vegas, because no matter how bad the world gets, people always party and gamble.”
“That’s true,” I say. “Sin is recession-proof.”
“Exactly! So, the plan is make money so my woman and my child can come be with me. But I don’t like Las Vegas.”
“No? Why’s that?”
“The… how do you call them? The people who take advantage of others. The con.”
“Last week, someone hacked into my account and stole all my money,” the Lyft driver says.
“I don’t know. I’m not a hacker. Are you a hacker?”
“Oh, I thought maybe you did something with computers because you wear glasses.”
“I write on a computer.”
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“Well, you should write about this because this hacker, somehow he gets my number. I think maybe he was a passenger. Anyway, he calls me and pretends to be from Lyft and he talks good. Very smooth. I believe him. Stupid. Very stupid, I know. He sends a link to my phone and I click on it. Again, very stupid. But he was so convincing.”
“And that’s how he got into your Lyft account?”
“Yes, and he changes my payment information so Lyft pays him instead of me.”
“Did you call Lyft?”
“Yes, and they are working on it. But meanwhile, I’ve got another grifter in my apartment building.”
“This man in my building is a fortune teller, so I hire him because I want to know my future. I ask him if I will see my woman and my child soon.”
“What did he say?”
“He says he doesn’t know the answer to that question. Instead, he gives me Keno numbers to play at the casino. You know Keno? It’s like bingo.”
“I’m familiar with the concept.”
“So I say, I don’t want those numbers because I don’t gamble. But he says, too bad. Then he takes my money. And when I complain, he calls the police on me.”
“On you? What?! Why?”
“Yes, he calls the police, and he says I am bad man. But I am good man. Not perfect man, but I try to be good man, honest man.”
“What did the police do?”
“Nothing. They tell me all fortune tellers are crooks. So, I ask them to get my money back, but the police say they can’t get my money back because it’s not illegal to be a fortune teller, even though this fortune teller is a liar, and all fortune tellers are crooks, they say. How can it be legal to be a crook? In America, it should be illegal to be a crook.”
There are a million things I’d like to say to my Lyft driver in response to his question. But does he need to hear my civics lecture about how quotidian corruption undermines the rule of law, and how over time, that corruption rots our democratic institutions? Or, does he just need a sympathetic ear?
“That’s rough, man. I’m really sorry all that bad stuff happened to you.”
“That’s why I don’t like Vegas,” the Lyft driver says. “It reminds me of Colombia.”
“I heard Colombia is beautiful,” I say. “I’d love to visit one day.”
“My friend, Colombia is very beautiful, but you must stay away.”
“The criminals. They are everywhere. Do you know Pablo Escobar?”
“He was a narco. You know this word?”
“The drug dealers who run the country.”
“Yes! Pablo Escobar is dead, but the narcos still control Colombia.”
“Yes, in Colombia politics is Left and Right. The Left is for the people. The Right is for the rich, and the richest of the rich are the narcos. Everyone knows this. Everyone accepts this. The Left wants to do things for the people, but the Right doesn’t let them take power because even if they win the election, the narcos kill them.”
“So, there’s no rule of law?”
“Exactly. No rule of law. There will be an election in Colombia soon and the man from the Left is very brave. The narcos keep trying to kill him, but they keep missing him.”
“Maybe this time the Left will win.”
“My friend, even if they win, they lose because the narcos only have to kill you once.”
“Those are bad odds.”
“Yes, you understand. That is why I left Colombia. All my friends from childhood are dead.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“It’s OK. They made a choice, and I made a choice.”
“What was the choice?”
“I chose university. I studied economics. I worked in a bank, then came to America, and worked in another bank. Then Indiana, but I couldn’t get a bank job there. I drove a snow plow, and got sick. Now Las Vegas. I drive a Lyft.”
“What did your friends choose?”
“They chose to be sicarios. You know this word?”
“Assassins for the narcos, right?”
“Right, exactly. My best friend becomes a sicario when we are fifteen. The narcos hire kids as sicarios because if a kid commits murder, they are released when they are eighteen.”
“And your best friend murdered people?”
“Yes, he murder many people. And all the time, he’s telling me I’m stupid for going to school because he is going to be rich.”
“But he went to jail?”
“No, he became rich. He had a mansion. Lots of cash. Lots of women. He lived the life. But that life is a trap. He was murdered.”
“Wow. I’m so sorry.”
“Yes, it’s very sad. This happened to all of my friends. It’s like in the movies. You know the movies about the cartels?”
“Blow. Once Upon a Time in Mexico. And Savages. That one was good, but the book was amazing. And then there’s a movie called Sicario.”
“They make a movie about my friends?”
“They made a film about sicarios, but I don’t know if it was about your friends specifically.”
“I will have to see this movie, but maybe I shouldn’t.”
“Too much anxiety. I have anxiety from… from life, I think.”
“That’s where I got my anxiety too. Although, my life is pretty boring, compared to yours.”
“My friend, boring is good. Boring is a long life with the people you love. I want a boring life. Everyone should have a boring life. It’s a blessing.”
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