Review by Alexa Josaphouitch
LaRue Cook’s Man in the (Rearview) Mirror: That Time I Left Corporate America, Became an Uber Driver, and Lived to Write About It (Woodhall Press, 2019) reminds us that the shared experiences we have can leave a lasting impact. This book of essays can be summarized by the title alone. Cook was working for ESPN The Magazine when he turned 30, decided to quit, move back to his hometown, and begin driving for Uber full time.
The essays span the experience of what you’d expect from an Uber driver: the drunk passengers, teenage moviegoers, and travelers returning home from the airport or bus station. Cook also spends time reflecting on the loss of his father when he was 15, why he has been unable to settle down or be a good partner, what it means to be successful at 30, traveling across the U.S. and abroad, and the definition of home when you’re feeling lost. A portion of the book is devoted to considering his privilege in being able to quit his job to do this and the interactions he has with African American and disabled passengers.
Cook’s strong suit is his ability to tie together the passengers with a revelation or message, even if it is formulaic. However, it felt as if his writing stops short of the epiphany the experience seems to inspire. In one essay about a single mother and her son living with her brother, Cook helps the pair unload their groceries when the brother emerges somewhat angry about the situation. After the son shyly tells Cook it’s fine for him to leave, Cook ends the essay by writing, “I stared in the rearview mirror, and wondered what I will always wonder: Why them and not me?” Although the literal answer is clear, Cook underscores the ability to expose the interaction with his passengers and use their stories for his benefit.
The second half of the book is more focused, and his reflections become poignant as he transitions from Uber driver to professor and student in a Ph.D. writing program. The most emotional reveal is in the last few pages of the book. It’s presented as something Cook spent the last year quietly dealing with but perhaps it’s what he was truly running away from.
As a frequent Uber-rider, this book reminds me of the drivers who I met for a small amount of time, described to my friends upon arrival, and almost never saw again. Over the last seven years’ worth of Uber trips in a crowded city, there has only been one driver who I met twice. Driving in his small town is not only a different experience for Cook but it reinforces the notion that we’re all connected in a small way during the moments of an Uber trip. There’s no way to know what our journey from one place to another means for the one driving.