Shalisha Morgan was running a little late.
Her car was still in the shop Thursday morning, she had an appointment with a client coming up fast and her preferred method of getting to her small business — hopping in an Uber — was no longer an option.
Not after the nightmarish experience she had the night before when a surly Uber driver stopped his car in the middle of a quiet road and ordered her out into the cold, dark night. “Not at a gas station. No lights, no sidewalk, not anywhere safe,” she said.
While it was happening, a random passerby — a total stranger who gave her the willies — tried to entice Morgan into his car. With the Uber driver’s encouragement. And before it was all over, police were summoned.
Not the way anybody wants to end a long workday.
So why on earth would Morgan consider another Uber ride?
Few options, none good
Morgan most definitely does not fit anyone’s image of an IT guy. She’s female (duh), petite, outgoing and well-dressed. No mustard- stained sweats for her.
She runs her computer- and electronics-repair business, Geek in Heels, from a booth in the middle of Hanes Mall. Not locked away forgotten in a back office only to be summoned when the Internet crashes.
Suffice it to say, Morgan is squared away.
But with her car in the shop for a couple days, she needed to get to and from work. So like tens of millions of tech-savvy Americans, she fired up the Uber app on her phone at 9 p.m. Wednesday.
“It was a long day,” she said. “I just wanted to get home to my kids.”
Here’s an abbreviated account of what transpired over the next 30 minutes:
The night was cold, as they tend to be in February, and she settled into the backseat of her driver’s car at the north end of the mall. She exchanged greetings with him, as per custom, and loaded a heavy bag filled with computer gear into the seat with her.
She turned on a Podcast and tried to decompress. “It was a nice, quiet ride,” she said. “I was grateful for that.”
Along the way to her condo on the north side of the city, Morgan offered navigational help. Suggestions on where to turn, that sort of thing. Nothing odd or out of bounds about that.
She would know the best way to her own home, right?
After one suggestion — veer right at a V-shaped intersection at Bethabara Road and Pinewood Drive — she said the driver came to an abrupt stop across a travel lane and ordered her out.
“It was cold out. I was wearing heels and I didn’t have a coat. I had all that work stuff,” she said.
A small woman was ordered out of a car in the middle of unlit road while carrying hundreds of dollars’ worth of client laptops and cell phones. She didn’t feel safe. Would you?
Not knowing what else to do, she refused to get out. An argument broke out. Her phone battery was dying, and she grew increasingly nervous and stressed. She started to cry.
“I didn’t know if he was going to physically pull me out of the car or what,” she said. “He was yelling and calling me an idiot.”
At one point, she said, a passerby — a man driving an SUV — stopped and said, “Get in. I’ll give you a ride.”
“The Uber driver was yelling, telling me to get in and go,” Morgan said.
It’s possible the man was simply a Good Samaritan. It’s possible, too, that something more nefarious was afoot.
Would you advise your daughter to get in that SUV?
Not be bothered
Morgan managed to make a couple calls — and a video of her encounter — with the help of an Apple watch and a dying cellphone.
She talked to a girlfriend, her dad in another state and a dispatcher with the Winston-Salem Police Department.
By the time an officer arrived, the man in the SUV had left. The cop spoke first to the Uber driver, who, Morgan said, reported that she refused to leave his car.
The officer decided that no crime had taken place — less paperwork that way — and offered Morgan a ride. Less than ideal, but probably the best solution for a bad situation.
When she got home, Morgan became upset when her kids started crying after she explained what had happened.
But once she composed herself, Morgan grew angry. She reported the incident to Uber.
And for her trouble? The ride-share giant offered her a $5 cash voucher good toward her next ride.
Unsatisfied with the standard double talk — “We’re sorry; we’ll investigate” — she persisted Thursday morning. Uber finally agreed to refund her $13 fare.
Carly DeBeikes, a spokeswoman for the company, said late Thursday that Uber was aware of Morgan’s complaint and reiterated that it was investigating.
Curiously, she refused to speak on the record. She did send an email listing Uber’s “community standards,” and called attention to passages about rider responsibilities and the fact that drivers can refuse service.
The implication, of course, is that Morgan somehow was at fault — for offering directions to her own house. Not a single attributed word about abruptly dumping a passenger on a cold, dark night on an unlighted street or scaring the bejabbers out of her.
In the grand scheme of Uber’s well-publicized difficulties with passenger safety and relations with its own employees, Morgan’s run-in was a one-off incident involving a single passenger in little old Winston-Salem.
No one was hurt or killed, so what does Uber care? Far worse things have happened to Uber passengers.
“All I wanted to do was make sure I got home OK,” Morgan said. “For him to flip out on me the way he did, for me to be a woman and him talking the way he did, as aggressively as he did, and feeling entitled to be that aggressive … it was upsetting.”