CINCINNATI -- She came out of the office building just as people do in the movies after they've been fired -- toting a cardboard box stuffed with her possessions.
And the thing is, Matt Stainbrook knew what had happened. When he arrived for the pickup, some superior came out and told him, "OK, we're terminating her right now."
So she slid into the backseat of his 2004 Buick Rendezvous -- the pictures, mugs and doodads spilling out of the box -- and he panicked.
"I'm going to play it off like I don't know she just got fired," Stainbrook says. "That's my good idea. My bad idea is, I don't know what to say. So I fumble and I say, 'Hey, how's your day going?' Yeah. She goes, 'Good' ... and it was silence for the whole ride."
There is "Taxicab Confessions," there is "Cash Cab," and then there is Stainbrook's gig, the true reality show that happens when an inexperienced, 22-year-old basketball player turns his car into an Uber taxi.
It is well-intentioned, entertaining and awkward, and sometimes all three at the same time.
Kind of like the driver himself. The fifth-year senior center is ... "quirky is the right word -- very, very quirky," says his coach at Xavier, Chris Mack. "Weird. You know, I think Matt's originally maybe from Portland, Oregon, where they always talk about the theme being 'Keep Portland Weird.'"
But beneath it all -- the curly hair, the retro Rec Specs, the kneepads and the vast set of interests that range from the Cleveland Browns to cooking -- is a good soul.
Stainbrook's daily downshift, from mastering the pick-and-roll as the Musketeers' second-leading scorer, to rolling down the highways and through the side streets of Cincinnati as an Uber driver, wasn't made to up his quirky quotient.
He did it to help his younger brother.
Tim Stainbrook walked onto the Xavier team a year ago, carrying with him the school's $40,000-plus tuition bill. Matt, meanwhile, earned his undergrad degree in May, but the onetime Western Michigan transfer still had a year of eligibility left, and decided he'd pursue his MBA.
His graduate-school bill comes to about $14,000. The finance grad quickly did the math and realized that if his brother was on scholarship for his sophomore season, the family could save $26,000. So Matt went first to Mario Mercurio, his director of basketball operations, and then to his compliance director to see if they could make the switch and give his full scholarship to Tim.
Short of a little paperwork -- and an OK asked for and quickly granted from Mack -- it was simple.
"My brother works his tail off, and I know the struggles of working hard," Matt says. "In high school, I wasn't anybody. I wasn't highly recruited. So I know what it is to go through that grind."
Student loans will cover the bulk of Matt's education, but there's still the matter of his apartment, utilities, food and daily living. Getting a normal job with any sort of predictable schedule is downright impossible for an athlete who has to juggle practice, games and travel.
Matt started to think where he is most comfortable -- outside the box.
Having used Uber himself, he did a little research. He met the requirements -- he was the right age, had a license, proper insurance and a car (though it just barely made the 10-year-old cutoff). If he got through a background check, he'd be in.
"I remember he was waiting by the mailbox for days," Tim says. "He was so excited for [the paperwork] to come and start making money."
The way it works is simple. Matt has an app on his phone, and when he activates it, he's available to pick up passengers. When a call comes in, Uber pings the nearest driver. If that's Matt, he and his sweet-riding, gold Rendezvous are off.
The flexibility is perfect. There are no set hours; he essentially turns on the app whenever he wants to work. If a call comes in and he's not interested, he ignores it. In 15 seconds, Uber will contact the next-nearest driver. Everything is done electronically -- passengers link a credit card -- so there's no need for him to bring cash, and he's paid weekly via direct deposit.
He merely has to pay for his gas and keep his car clean -- he even has two water bottles tucked into the backseat console cup holders, not that anyone ever drinks them -- and he's off.
Since he started in September, Matt has chauffeured students in the wee hours leaving bars, and older couples heading out to a quiet dinner. Some know who he is -- "The best comment I ever got was, 'Good driver, better hook shot'" -- and some do and pretend they don't, surreptitiously trying to take pictures from the backseat; some have no idea; and some ask because he's 6-foot-10 and 270 pounds.
Matt is more than happy to chat. He is naturally inquisitive -- in one evening driving around town, Matt discussed how to doctor quinoa to make it taste good, whether college athletes ought to be paid, what the restaurant he hopes to run someday will serve and whether the Browns should start Johnny Manziel (yes, he argued) -- and is honestly interested in what people have to say.
When a couple recently took a ride from their apartment to a holiday party, Matt started with the usual -- where they were from, what they do for a living, whether they've used Uber much. Once they realized who he was, the man asked what position he played at Xavier.
Matt explained that he is a center, offering up his height and weight, which caused the man to remark that he thought Matt's knees were up pretty close to the steering wheel.
"I've been asked to step outside the car to show that I'm really 6-10," Matt said.
Rather than a cab ride, it seemed more as if he was an old buddy giving some friends a lift.
"I feel people out," Matt says. "I'll ask a couple of questions, and I can usually get the vibe of ... I can read people and if they're not really wanting to talk or they really want to have a conversation."
Except, of course, that one time, when he opened his mouth to talk to the recently fired woman, and instead inserted the entirety of his size 17 sneakers.
"She lived about 30 minutes away, too," he says. "So it was a long ride."