The opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the opinions of OnMilwaukee.com, its advertisers or editorial staff.
Being an Uber driver in Milwaukee is a one-of-a-kind experience that lets Dave Begel meet some of the most interesting people, residents and visitors to the city. Everybody has a story, and Tales of the Road will highlight some of those stories. The stories have been edited into quotes from riders. Some names have been omitted or changed to preserve the privacy of his passengers.
They looked just like any other happy couple coming out of the first Friday night of Summerfest when I picked them up at the Uber staging area.
He was older – 40s – wearing a multicolored striped sleeveless tank top and jeans and a buzz cut on his fleshy head. She was younger – 20s – wearing a short white summer dress, brown cowboy boots and one of those straw hats so many young, female country fans wear.
Once they got in the back seat, however, it was easy to tell that this was not a happy moment in their lives.
He sat against the door on the right side while she huddled against the door on the left. My Uber app said they were going to Potawatomi Hotel & Casino.
"Going for some gambling?" I asked, trying to break some of this tension.
"You got it," he said in a gruff voice. "Gonna kill the blackjack table."
"I don’t want to go," she said. "I want to stay at Summerfest."
Suddenly, without any warning, he turned into something other than your basic festival visitor.
"We spent the whole damn day there," he shouted at her. "I told you we’re leaving, and we’re leaving. Get it?"
"We can go to the casino anytime," she replied, hesitant and quiet.
"Listen to me you f*cking b*tch," and he set off on a profanity-filled tirade unlike anything I’d ever heard a man use toward a woman, full of threatening language and references to the sex acts he told her he would make her perform if she kept complaining about going to the casino.
I made the right turn from 6th Street onto Canal when it happened.
Watching in the rearview mirror, I saw his hand reach back and snap forward, hitting the woman in the face. I know the difference between the sound of a slap and the sound of a fist, and this was a fist. She squeaked, and her hand went to her cheek.
I pulled over to the right side of the road and stopped. I turned around in my seat, wanting to diffuse this situation.
"Hey man, we don’t want that kind of thing. Not that kind of thing, not in my car."
And suddenly, he turned on me.
"Just turn around you co*cksucker," he said, holding the woman with one hand and leaning his second, in a fist, on the back of my seat. "Just drop us at the casino."
I turned around, unsure what to do, and drove slowly toward the casino.
"I’m not going in," she whispered. "I don’t want to go."
Another outburst came about what he was going to do to her at the valet stand "right in front of everybody." No more hits, but he had moved all the way over to her side and had her pinned against the door.
We pulled into the drop-off area at the casino, and he got out. Snarling at me, at the world.
"If you want to go home, I’ll take you home for free," I said to the woman.
"Okay. Or ... I don’t know," she said. "I don’t know."
She wasn’t crying. But her voice was shaking.
"F*ck you," he shouted at me. "This b*tch ain't going nowhere."
He reached his hand into the car and grabbed the neck of the blue jean jacket she wore over her dress. One big yank, and she was dragged out of the car.
As he gripped her arm and walked toward the door, he turned around and fixed me with what he thought was a frightening glare. He gave me the finger, turned back and walked into the casino.
He held her tight by the arm. Her head was down, and the cowboy hat seemed to droop. But she walked with him. She wasn't fighting.
I felt terrible and uncertain about how I should have handled this whole thing. I had my heavy wooden cane and could probably have won a fight with the guy if it had come to that. I didn’t want to have a tug of war with the woman in the middle.
Calling the police could have taken too long and possibly caused more violence in the meantime. I checked with Uber officials and found out they don’t have any policies to cover something like this, except for a general one not to get involved.
But Angela Mancuso, executive director of the local Women's Center, said that calling 911 was the best thing I could have done.
"It's the old, 'see something, say something'," she said. "You can get physically involved, but calling would have been the right thing to do. It's a tricky situation."
In the end, I just drove away. A week later, I still feel pretty crappy about that.
What would you have done?
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.
This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as OnMilwaukee.com keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.
Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.