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29 July 2016

The unique intimacy of Uber Pool: how I form fleeting, intense relationships with strangers

There’s something fascinating about being in such a close setting with people you will never meet again. It feels like fate should happen.

By Eleanor Margolis

A lesbian couple is fighting over me. I mean, not over me, but over me. Physically. As in, we’re in the back of a Toyota Prius, snaking through Haggerston at 3am and I’m in the middle seat, as stiff and misplaced as a wardrobe, trying to mind my own business.

“Jesus, stop interrogating her,” says the half of the couple with long, curly hair.

I’m “her”. The couple is in its twenties and drunk. The short-haired half of it has been asking me questions (a tipsy combination of profound, asinine and nothing in between) since it clambered into the same Uber as me, ten minutes ago. Both car doors had opened and I slid into the middle. Now I’m the Berlin Wall in a row between a couple I have never met and will probably never meet again.

This is my first experience of Uber Pool, where you share your ride with at least one stranger in order to cut the cost and ruin the environment very slightly less. Most people share transport with strangers every day. But being pressed into the moist armpit of Some Guy on the Northern Line is somehow much less strange than sharing the semi-domestic space that is a car with someone with whom you’re not on first-name terms.

“Sorry, is this weird?” Long Hair asks me.

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“No,” I say, even though it is.

“Well it is now you’ve said it is,” says Short Hair.

The degree of weirdness present in this Uber is deliberated with Parliamentary gusto until the Uber stops outside some flats and the couple disappears into the night like a chased cat. The driver shoots a glance into the rear-view mirror.

“Well was that weird?” the glance seems to say.

I shrug. The driver laughs, slightly.

The Lesbian Argument Berlin Wall Fiasco fails to put me off Uber Pool completely. There’s something quite fascinating about being in such an intimate setting with strangers. It feels like fate should happen – like I’m going to meet an eccentric and generous billionaire, or at least a distant relative of the Chuckle Brothers. Isn’t this sort of thing supposed to breed stories?

I will something exciting to happen when I – clearly the Don Quixote of the London transport system – order an Uber Pool for a date and me. Another couple (this time hetero) gets into the car in Brixton. The woman – a Swede in her twenties – gets in the back. The guy – an Australian nondescript man blur somewhere between 20 and 40 – gets in the front.

I talk about Stockholm with the Swede. She thinks it’s an ugly city full of dicks. I disagree. This is my date’s first Uber Pool experience. I wonder if the heteros know we’re on a date. Furthermore, I wonder if I should make it obvious for the sake of dyke visibility. I sit in an Uber mentally chewing on dyke visibility until the Australian starts talking about his balls.

In all fairness, this isn’t a complete non sequitur. I love to talk about poisonous things. Especially with Australians, seeing as they’re from a country practically besieged by livid and toxic fauna.

For clarity’s sake, no, the Australian doesn’t have venomous testicles (give me a second). When the Stockholm conversation fizzles out, I start on the spider chat. This evolves into: “A jellyfish once stung me on the balls.” Which is, I put it to you, the single most Australian thing anyone has ever said.

We all wince. The driver, the only other man present, probably winces the most.

“Your balls?” I say, because genital talk with strangers is apparently something I relish.

“My balls,” he says.

I make an executive decision not to tell him about the time a wasp stung me on the butt. Although that feels ungenerous of me.

On that note, the car stops and my second Uber Pool couple evaporate off into a noisy bar.

“Why do I know about that guy’s balls?” I ask my date.

She doesn’t know. I wonder if she’s as enchanted by Uber Pool as I am. I doubt it.

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