"Hello, your jitney has arrived," Laura A. Warman says by phone from the driver's seat of her 2007 Honda Fit, parked outside Downtown's Omni William Penn Hotel. It's 10:30 on a Wednesday night, and the local artist awaits her next passenger. He needs to stop in Bloomfield before heading to Shadyside, but this ride isn't entirely about the destination.
While Warman silently drives, her collaborator, James Mueller, sits with the passenger in the back seat to create "an experience." Mueller reads some poems, leads some word-association exercises and asks some conversation-sparking questions. In between, he challenges the amenable passenger to games of rock, paper, scissors. Afterward, Mueller says that his goal was to engage the rider in "an unusual but genuine way."
The jitney idea formed when Warman's car was broken. When the car was finally fixed, she "just wanted to drive people everywhere." Most of her friends lack cars, and don't feel safe walking. "It's important for women to feel safe going to the bar at night," Warman says. However, since she started the jitney service in May, two-thirds of her passengers have been men. She's not sure why.
Warman initially averaged two rides a week. But word spread, and now she does four or five. She advertises with posts on Craigslist, Facebook and local online forum Never Tell Me the Odds. Warman doesn't charge for the jitney service, but accepts donations that she splits with her collaborators.
Inside Warman's cerulean cab, a soft navy fabric decorates the back seat, where two gossip magazines lie, both with Kim Kardashian on the cover. A platinum blonde weave is fastened festively to the back of the front seats.
A few days after the William Penn fare, Warman invited musician Ken Kaminski along while she took a fare to Shadyside. Kaminski sat in front, holding guitar pedals with control knobs. At his feet rested a boom box. The sound installation filled the car with feedback, giving way to warm, crinkly static. It sounded like Kaminski was tuning an old radio. He held a contact mic that picked up vibrations in solid objects, moving it from the seat to the door and the dashboard. Wordlessly, Warman extended what might have been a 10-minute trip to 30 minutes to give Kaminski time to finish the show. She did laps around the Edward Manning Bigelow monument on Schenley Drive, and even took a few cobblestone roads to transform the sound.
Warman, a Portland-area native, studied at George Washington University, in Washington, D.C., before moving to Pittsburgh in 2011. She lives in Highland Park, works full time at Whole Foods and juggles projects including a subscription-based newsletter. Every month, she fills 4-by-6-inch postcards with poems and illustrations, then mails them to 100 people. The idea is to share her work outside of the Internet. "I wanted to force myself into people's houses," she says.
Much of Warman's work involves creating new spaces in which to form human connections. Jokingly, she compares her projects to the "Holy Trinity": "the newsletter, the jitney service and myself as Jesus."