In 2020, Aleah Fajardo and Eugenio Borgeson live together in Oakland. (Courtesy of Aleah Fajardo and Eugenio Borgeson)
Junior year of college, Aleah Fajardo was doing a lot — like, a lot, a lot: enrolled in a full course load, working for San Francisco State University’s newspaper and doing a photojournalism internship with the San Francisco Examiner. But bills still had to get paid.
“I didn't have time for a regular job. I was like, I have a car, I'm in like one of the prime cities that people take Lyft so, I should just do that to help sustain myself through that semester or however long my internship was," she said.
On one particular Saturday night, Aleah had a choice to make.
“I was like, damn, I can go out tonight and spend money that I do not have, or I can be an adult and save some money and make some money," she said.
She got in her car and turned on the Lyft app.
Meanwhile, a group of friends in a San Francisco apartment were celebrating their friend’s birthday with Netflix, video games and booze.
“There was like a turning point in the night because about half of us were getting tired because we'd been drinking since 2 o'clock. And then the other half of us were like, 'Man, what are we going to do next?' ” said Eugenio Borgeson. “And my friend Adam, whose birthday [it was]. I don't know what lit his fire, but he just got up and was like, ‘No, let's go to a dancing bar!’ And we were like, 'OK, OK!' ”
Since there were 14 people that had to get transported to the club, three different Lyfts were in order.
Luckily for Eugenio, the birthday guy was looking out for him as the only single friend in the crew.
“He was looking at the phone all up to his face. He's like, ‘Oh, my God. Eugenio! This Lyft driver is super cute.’ He's like, ‘You’re riding in this car, Eugenio, you’re riding in this car.' ”
When the driver rolled up, Eugenio’s friends made him sit shotgun so he could strike up a conversation with the cute driver.
And that cute driver just so happened to be Aleah.
“What up, y'all? Happy Saturday. I'm glad I'm getting you to your party!” she said.
Eugenio proceeded to ask her about how her day was going. Once they got past the small talk, the conversation started flowing.
“His students were working on a documentary, and so I was just asking him about how’d [they] get these interviews," she said. "I was really invested in that conversation.”
The interest was mutual.
“Aleah seemed to care about a lot of things I cared about. And so we really were like connecting over that," Eugenio said. "We were just exchanging stories about how digital media is like a really powerful weapon for youth.”
But the conversation couldn’t go on for long. Eugenio and his crew had a club to dance in, and Aleah had to make more money picking up passengers.
“When we rolled up to the spot, my mind was going like a million miles a minute. My friends were making me feel nervous, they were pushing me and everything, saying, 'Ask her for a number.' In my head I was saying, 'No, no,' " Eugenio said. "She probably has tons of guys ask her for a number. I do not want to be lumped into that. I want to be different.”
As Eugenio lingered, Aleah could sense the dreaded question: Can I have your number?
“I have had people when they would get off the car, they'd be like, 'Hey, can I get your number,' and umm, it was cool," Aleah said. "But it also made me feel weird, because we just had a normal conversation and they kind of made our conversations sexualized in a way.”
Whenever that would happen, she’d give her number out, but wouldn't actually text those guys back.
“I didn't feel like their intentions were where I wanted them to be," she said. "But Eugenio didn't really make me feel that way. We were just kind of like having a great conversation and really like vibing with each other.”
After a couple of long, awkward seconds of lingering until his friends got out, Eugenio ditched the script and asked Aleah if he could give her his number. He wanted to continue their conversation over coffee or lunch sometime.
“Why don't I offer her my number and have the ball be on her court, so she doesn't feel pressure to give me hers," he said. "If she wasn't feeling it, then it's like, all right, no harm, no foul, [she] doesn't have to call me.”
Aleah was genuinely caught off guard by him offering his number, and she was into it.
“As she started to [drive away], I was thinking in my head, did I make the right decision?”
That evening when Aleah got home, she told her roommates about the cute guy she drove and their stimulating conversation. But she wasn’t sure if she should text him.
“Monday rolls around and I'm at work and I was like, 'Oh, my God, she's not going to text me. I made the wrong decision. Why didn't I ask her for her number?' ” Eugenio said.
Aleah was stressing, too — should she text him or not?
“When I finally get home from classes, I go to my roommate like, ‘Yo, tell me the truth. Should I text him?’ And she said, ‘Aleah, you have not shut up about him from the moment you got home on Saturday. Just text him, stop bugging me about it and text him.’ ”
So she did.
“When she did finally text me, it was such a huge relief,” Eugenio said. “I was just so scared she wasn't going to at all. And I was just going to hate myself for it forever.”
That ride was nearly four years ago.
Today, Eugenio and Aleah live together in Oakland where they both teach at public high schools and continue to use art to empower their students.