Uber Chronicles #21

18 May

I have spent all of today–and that’s not much of an exaggeration–cleaning my car. Cleaning my car ranks very low on my list of favorite things to do, and I feel as though I have cleaned the exterior of my car, vacuumed the interior and wiped down my car’s surfaces more in the last 45 days of Ubering than I do in a typical six-month period. Who am I kidding? In the last year!

But today is different. I’ve borrowed a friend’s steam cleaner and I’m determined to clean all the fabric surfaces: seats, rugs … the roof, visors, the whole thing. This takes me almost all day. I’m also vacuuming my car with my beloved Kirby vacuum cleaner and getting into all kinds of crevices and rarely visited areas of my car. I’m so focused on the steam cleaning and vacuuming that I don’t even get a good window clean or an exterior car clean in. Today is about the fabric and time-grimed surfaces.

I’ve noticed that I often comment on the smells I experience with my passengers. I know my car has a smell too. It’s the five-years-and-counting smell of one person, her food, her personal care, her hobbies and her energy and biome all in one car. I can’t achieve perfect but I do my best to steam clean any cloth surface I can find. Now my car smells like Bissell SpotClean products, and I don’t know if this is an improvement.

I’m going to Uber tonight. It’s about 8:30 pm on a Friday night. I look at the map and see that the Annapolis, Md., area is surging. It almost always surges. I’m going there tonight. I feel an instinctual pull.

Beep! A call comes in, my first of the night; it’s 5 minutes away. I wonder if I’ll get pulled to Baltimore, D.C., some distant suburb, or if I’ll stay in my home-zone area. One never knows.

Curry and rice

I drive to my rider’s home. I’ve been in this neighborhood before. I can think of two people I’ve Ubered in this community, and I’m wondering if my passenger will be one of them. It is. It’s the mid-30s-ish Indian guy I picked up outside of Giant grocery store a month or so back; his wife is also with him. Reusable grocery bags in hand, they are headed to, of all places, Giant. I ask him if he told his wife about the local calendar I’d shared with him. She chimes in, yes, they like it and they’ve been checking it out for things to do. I tell the guy that we took my father to the local Indian restaurant that he likes best, and I tell him that my father really enjoyed it. I intentionally neglect to say that my father asks to go this same restaurant for most every celebration; instead, I make it sound more as though he recommended the place. Small white lies are ok, I think, if they make the other person happier and cause no harm.

It’s about 8:30 p.m. and I ask if they have already eaten or if they’ll be cooking dinner tonight. They’re cooking. What? Curry. They laugh. We eat a lot of curry, his wife tells me. And rice. They laugh again. Chicken and curry and rice. Fish and curry and rice. Enjoy your meal! And so I leave them.

Key experience: This is my second repeat passenger. It’s nice, in a super simple sweet way.

I start heading toward Annapolis and the promised land of night-long surge pricing, especially on a Friday night. Temperatures were in the 70s earlier in the day and in the 80s the day before: an absolute record-breaker for the last couple of weeks of winter. I imagine people will be out and hopping with spring-is-near (here?) excitement. I have no exact destination. The bar scene area of Annapolis will do. I google some places, set my maps and talking directions, and I’m off. Mercy! It’s 38 minutes away. Am I crazy to drive 38 minutes just to get surge pricing? What if my first ride takes me out of Annapolis? I waffle back and forth with feelings of this-is-what-felt-right battered by thoughts of are-you-nuts?

A call comes in. The rider is 15 minutes away. In the wrong direction. I’m going to Annapolis. I ignore it. I decide to cut on a smaller road that looks like a more direct road to Annapolis. It’s a shorter route but a store- and stoplight-infused route. I don’t think I’m saving any time. I continue to wonder if I’m crazy to drive in search of a ride … followed by a reminder that it’s ok to have a feeling about something and to go with it. I’m but a few miles from the surge zone when a call comes in. I take it.

To the moon and back

My rider is white, pole thin, 21 and male. He’s off to a university in Washington, D.C., to pick up his girlfriend. So much for my Annapolis surge-pricing night. I wish he’d been in the surge zone when I picked him up, but this is not the case. He asks if he can FaceTime his girlfriend in the car. I say, yes. He tells me other Uber drivers don’t like it. I think he’s a regular Uber user. He’s not; I’m his second-ever Uber ride.

I marvel at this world that I never lived in at his age. I marvel at a seemingly casual 37-mile “taxi ride” that a 21-year-old would take to visit his girlfriend. I marvel at the costs associated with this ride, the expanded world available to him and his peers, the cultural changes. My mind is blown even more when he tells me he is just going to pick her up and turn back around to bring her to his home. Would I be willing to do the round-trip ride? Yes, I would.

He asks if I have a power cord for his iPhone 6. He is my 90th ride–90th!–and he is the first person to ask me if I have a power cord. I’d been so swayed by Uber driver stories about how helpful and nice it is to have power cords that before going out for my first ride, I’d spent a ridiculous $65 or so on better USB chargers with two USB ports, a variety of charging cords and an aux cable, two actually. And here I am now, 90 rides into Uber, and I get my first request for a power cord. I offer it gladly.

He tells me he had a car accident earlier today. His first ever. Is he ok? Is his car ok? Yes. Is that why you’re Ubering tonight? No, he was drinking earlier. Why doesn’t his girlfriend come over directly on her own? She’s afraid to Uber by herself. You’re such a gentleman, I tell him. He hopes I’ll tell her the same. They met at a party a few months ago, three actually. I tell him their relationship is going into the “imperfect phase” of the four-to-six months period when so-called flaws start to be more visible, and to expect such awareness and revelations and not to be worried.

We talk of astrology, mediums and psychics and I explain the differences of these services and skills to him. They’re all one big pile of slightly scary things to him. He has moved back in the area with his family and is now working as a broker he tells me. I tell him he’s working for a brokerage firm and that he’s not a broker. Yeah. Right. He’s going to sell residential real estate with his dad. He visited Los Angeles once and wants to live there. The weather is perfect.

He asks if he can play music. Again, 90 rides in and he’s the first person to play music. I offered it to a foursome on my first night out, but they decided not to play their music. He likes Kanye West and saw him in concert. He likes music that I don’t love, and he plays it rather loudly. He gives me a tour of his music collection. I tell him I like The Weekend, so he plays Can’t Feel My Face, and we sing to that; him more than me. We continue talking. Our ride is about 55 minutes, one-way; we have a lot of time to talk.

He tells me he was kicked out of college for marijuana possession, and my ire at stale, harmful, uninformed drug policies around prohibition rises. We talk about this for a bit. I turn off the music for a second to underscore my position: Though I’m an infrequent user, I’m thoroughly in support of the repeal of prohibition, especially, though by no means exclusively, on cannabis. It’s the right thing to do. He asks if he could smoke a blunt in my car … if he had one; we’re in D.C. I say, yes, knowing he doesn’t have one. I’m not quite sure why I said that. Perhaps in the moment of bonding. He says I’m the coolest Uber driver he has ever had. I take this as a sweet compliment, even though this is only his second ride ever.

We pick up his girlfriend. She’s in shorts, as are many people, especially what appear to be the frat boys, milling around the dorms. It may have been in the 70s earlier; it’s in the 40s now, and it is still winter, regardless of the daytime temperatures. She’s studying media and graphic design. I’d like to warn her that vast swaths of those jobs are heading oversees to design houses and agencies in India, Pakistan, Bulgaria and Sri Lanka … to name a few. But I don’t say that. Instead I say, that’s nice and how interesting and you must love it.

They flirt with each other and we all banter around a bit. Dogs, snowboarding, Colorado, music, Uber.  She asks about my weirdest Uber experience, and I offer up the story of the college-aged Filipino boy who intimated that he thought I was casing his house for future thieving, refusing to let me drop him off at his house because he liked to keep his exact address vague with Uber drivers. I tell her about the gal who has worked for eight years in the same pharmacy-fulfillment center; how her life and opportunities seem rather limited. I tell her that each experience is unique and that it’s all quite interesting. The guy asks if he is my best passenger ever, and I tell him he’s a 5-star passenger, for sure. I ask her what her Uber experiences have been like, as I already know she takes Uber with groups of girlfriends. Mostly foreign, mostly men, mostly men whom she can’t understand what they are saying. She’s hardly ever had a female driver.

He asks me if I’ve ever done acid. Yes. He’s blown away. I remind him that I have a lot more years in my life than he has in his. He’s never done molly, ecstasy or acid, though he did do mushrooms once. We talk about this. His girlfriend is quiet. I talk about the spiritual expansion, the opportunity for personal development, the gifts that these drugs can bring and that they are much more than simply party drugs.

He asks if we can stop at McDonald’s on the way back, and we go through the drive-through. He offers to buy me a drink, for which I thank him, but decline. I take them to his home, 1:46:56 minutes later, 73.75 miles later, and $100.66 from his pocket later.

It’s after midnight now, and I have a training meeting in the morning. I turn off my Uber app and drive 30+ minutes home. I’m done for the night.

Key experience: I didn’t get what I thought I’d get by heading in the direction that pulled me (a bar-crawling, surge-pricing night of activity in Annapolis), but I’m grateful for the experience and earned as much or more as I probably would have anyway. And the whole ride was quite peaceful and easy.

 

Uber Chronicles #20

7 May

A busy, social day today. A morning date hike. A late lunch with my brother, his lovely girlfriend (her first time meeting the family) and my mother. Then right off to an 82nd birthday dinner at an upscale Indian restaurant with my dad, my brother, his girlfriend and me. Then I’m off to Uber. The night is young. My home zone is surging on the Uber app.

Two Bahrainis

I pick up two young men from the nearby mall, sodas in hand: the last vestiges of a fast-food meal I assume they recently ate. I ask their names. They get in. I have my music on, it’s a Saturday night, and I’m feeling a bit festive. I’m listening to the same music CD I’ve been playing in my car for the last few weeks. Lee Mayjahs??. House music. He is one of my favorite DJs. I ask my passengers what kind of music they listen to. One says everything; the other says AKON.

They’re both 18, both from Bahrain, both medium height with a slender build, both studying at a community college and both recently arrived within the year. One is studying film (the one that likes “all music”), the other is studying mechanical engineering. The latter one will be transferring to Arkansas to complete his studies and lower his cost of living. He tells me his apartment costs will go from $1,400 to $400 per month. They’re both happy to be here in the U.S., to be learning and practicing their English, to be studying. Bahrain is small, an island country smaller than Baltimore City, they tell me, but with a population of about 1 million people. The engineer will go back to be with his family afterward and to raise a family; the film student probably will not go back.

The film student wants to know why I asked their names. I wonder if he thinks I was profiling him because of their ethnicity, so I quickly and thoroughly explain that as Uber passengers they should always confirm the driver’s name, and that drivers need to do the same with passengers. It protects both parties and ensures that the right people are in the right cars, heading to the right destinations and paying for the right fares.

They tell me there are many jobs for English-speaking people in Bahrain. What kind? Everything! Many people speak English there. They tell me about the uprising a few years back, how the government is not nice to its people. The film student’s best friend and uncle are in jail as political dissidents. I don’t imagine they are treated well. I ask what kind of films he wants to make. Dramas. Dramas with a political message?, I ask. Yes.

I take them home to their apartment.

Key experience: I wonder how I might seem to others if I was walking around each day knowing my best friend and uncle were in jail, and I remind myself that I never know anyone’s situation and that more gentleness and consideration on my part are a good choice.

King crab legs and a liquor stop

My next pick-up is nearby. They are politely waiting outside the restaurant on the corner. Or maybe they’re just catching a smoke before their ride home. It’s a mid-30s couple I pick up, Black, nice-looking, on the lower-end of the middle-income world by their looks and vibe. Out on a date. Probably married or long-time coupled. They’ve come from eating seafood and crabs and have brought king crab legs home to eat tomorrow. They want to know if I can stop at a liquor store on the way home. Sure, do you think you can be quick?

While the gal is making her liquor store purchase, the guy and I talk, and our conversation moves to Van Gogh (a face on his T-shirt looks kind of like Van Gogh). I tell him about the Van Gogh film being produced all by individually created oil paintings. It’s worth a google, I tell him. We then head down a cute street with old homes built mostly in the ’20s. I remark about how cute the houses are; they acknowledge this. I discover soon enough that they don’t live in the cute part of the neighborhood but rather in a community nearby with small, old, not-cute row houses and narrow streets.

Key experience: There is a pleasantness about this couple’s energy: nothing extravagantly energizing, simply pleasant. I like it.

I can’t hear the trucks

My next passenger is 2 minutes away. Except she’s not.The roads are narrow and one way, and the Uber/GPS set up has me driving down alleys (small, tight, dark alleys with broken bricks in the road). I’m driving in a loop, lost.The GPS seems to be missing one piece of data to direct me to my passenger. They call. They can see on the app that I’m lost. They start giving me verbal directions. There’s two of them on the phone, a speaker phone I presume. Both talking. I tell them where I am. Keep going, they say. I tell them the next street I see. Keep going, they repeat. I do this five times then they tell me I’m going in the wrong direction and that I’ve been going in the wrong direction and need to turn around. I feel a long-familiar rising judgmental tone in my voice that wants to communicate clearly to them that they are not intelligent, that they are beneath me, that they are striking my ire.

And with each word spoken where that judgement and frustration tries to creep in, I can feel myself finding a calm voice, a neutral voice, a soothing voice, too. It’s an internal battle, and I don’t want the voice of judgement (the fear … the fear that rises so easily when I feel lost, confused, powerless) to win.

I arrive. Two attractive, well-groomed though not over-the-top women come out. One gets in. She has a car seat for her three-year-old and a bag of what I assume are clean clothes. I smell  scented laundry detergent and dryer sheets, neither of which are favorite scents of mine. My passenger is in her early 20s, Black, very nice-looking in a healthy, clean, tended kind of way. She looks like she does her best to take care of herself but not too much. It’s an interesting mix. She looks fairly intelligent though a life of Baltimore urban lower socio-economic living has taken a toll on her speech. I’m taking her home after she’s been visiting her sister. I ask if she sees her sister much. Yes. I tell her my sister lives in California and that I don’t see her often. She tells me that she can’t imagine not being with her sisters; that her sisters are her best friends.

Her destination is fairly close to the home of some Baltimore friends with whom I regularly camp at festivals, and it’s a little before 10:00 pm on a Saturday night. Not too late for a social visit. I pick up my phone and text my first ever message while Ubering and reach out to see if my friends are up for company, really soon. As in probably 10 minutes.

I ask my passenger if I can turn on some music. Sure. I’m curious to see how her son will respond to this deep house music. He does respond soon enough. Turn off the music, he says. She shushes him and says it’s not polite to tell people what to do. I tell him he can ask me to turn off the music. Does he not like the music? His answer: I can’t hear the trucks. I turn the music off. He’s sound asleep shortly after. I take them home.

Key experience: It’s not her fault she was located on a small street to which GPS has a hard time getting me. My responsibility is to provide a service the best I can, and that includes keeping my attitude and personal internal challenges in check.

The friend I texted 10 minutes earlier hasn’t answered yet, so I text some other nearby friends; the whole group of us camp together at festivals. They’re up for a visit, and soon enough, the others arrive and join us. We socialize a bit and catch up. Parents with Alzheimers. Parents with diabetes and amputated toes. Parents who are taking care of their parents. Fun stuff too. It’s a lovely night.

Personally, I’m content. I’ve finally done it. I’ve managed to blend Uber and my own impromptu socializing. It’s way past midnight. I head home and do not turn my Uber app on as I drive home. 

 

Uber Chronicles #19

5 May

Last night, I had my first legit request from a friend to do an Uber gig. Her car was not on the road for some reason or another, so her wheels weren’t accessible. Her mom was flying in to the BWI airport, and she didn’t want to put her in a cab. She called me to see if I could pick her up. Yes! Happy to. Then, as things worked out, she got one of her daughter’s friends, someone who lived closer to her, to pick her mom up;  but I thought that was pretty neat. A nice opportunity to help a friend out and make some cash. The gig would have been worth the trip, plus I care deeply about this woman and I like her mom.

Two timing

I met this afternoon with a Lyft mentor, the person who was checking me and my car out for a possible Lyft gig. We meet at a McDonald’s parking lot in Silver Spring, Md., about 30 minutes south of where I live. While I was going to sign up for Lyft under a friend’s referral code (earning each of us a $350 signing bonus), Lyft is now offering $600 to new drivers who qualify for the bonus. So I told my friend that I loved him dearly, but I need a new bike, and my bike is probably going to be in the $500-$700 range. He told me he understood and to go for it.

I’ll be two-timing on Uber if I get accepted.

The Uber driver application is forms, apps, inspections and admin. The Lyft process is more personal. My first-ever ride-share experience was with Lyft about three years ago when I was in SF and needed to get to the airport with too many bags to comfortably navigate on the MUNI. A taxi seemed intimidating, and potentially a rip-off. I’d seen these cars driving around with large, furry, pink mustaches covering their grills: they were Lyft drivers, I was told. My SF hosts explained how it worked, and I was intrigued, so I used their service. My driver was lovely. She was friendly, interesting and helpful.

My Lyft mentor was also friendly, interesting and helpful. About 33, Ethiopian heritage but clearly born in the US, or living here since he was really young; he was recently laid off from an IT job. He recognized me as an Uber driver by the first question I asked, and so we talked about the differences between Uber and Lyft. To him, Lyft drivers were nicer. And Lyft, per him, pays drivers more. Plus Lyft encourages tipping, and high-volume drivers can earn their commissions back.

He tells me he is starting a bumper-sticker business. I ask if I can share what I’m up to also, and I give him a Nerium brochure and CD. We’ll see how this goes with Lyft. I’m curious to do Lyft and compare the two services, companies and riders. I’m also pretty psyched to get a $600 new-driver bonus.

Key experience: It’s interesting to observe how people-/driver-focused Lyft is.

After my mentor meeting, I start to head home and turn on my Uber app. Beep. That near-panic-sheer-excitement-thrill-crack-addict Beep! Makes me want to just say Yes, I’ll take it! Me, Mine, Mine, Mine, Mine. I accept the ride, wondering if I made the right decision. It’s 2:13 p.m. and I’m on the D.C.-Maryland border. This ride could take me into D.C., which could have me hitting D.C. rush-hour traffic. 

It does. 

A memorial

I pick her up. She’s white, my age-ish, blond, dressed professionally. I’m white, blond, her age-ish and, today, I’m dressed professionally, wearing a jacket and skirt, just as she is. It’s her first Uber ride. I’m chatty. I feel I should be almost collegial with her. I blather on about a lot of blather-y small-talk things. She does too. She’s a patent attorney and she’s been at an FDA conference. I’m taking her now to a friend’s memorial service, held deep in D.C. at a hospital. I’ll tell her I’m sorry to hear of her friend’s passing. She thanks me for that. She used to live in the area. In Georgetown, in a small and expensive apartment, then to Chevy Chase (a nearby and nice suburb of D.C.) then to Sterling, Va., a ways-away suburb in Virginia. Sterling, Va., was the only place she and her husband could afford when purchasing a home in the area, she says. She hated the commute. She’s in Boston now, likes the low humidity, misses the beautiful springs in D.C. She asks about the magnet on my car. I tell her about my anti-aging products and give her my card.

Key experience: I can be chatty and engaging, but I also don’t have to be. At least not for the whole ride.

Emergency

My next rider is at the same hospital and is coming out of the emergency room. Two women get in my car: one in the back seat with a brace of some sort on one knee and crutches, and the other upfront with me. They’re both Black, female, professional, well-dressed, nice-looking. The one in the back seat is younger, maybe 30, a little more glamorous. The one in the front is a little more staid, maybe mid-40s. I ask what happened. The injured one tells me she pushed the toilet flusher with one foot and twisted her other knee. I almost blurt out that knee problems represent pride and ego, stubbornness and inflexibility, per Louise Hay’s work in You Can Heal Your Life, but I don’t.

My thought-to-blurt system seems to be slowing down when I’m Ubering. Well, most of the time. Instead I say that early spring (we’re now in the first week of March), per my memory of Chinese medicine, is an important time to care for one’s joints, ligaments and tendons, and that drinking and consuming sour and vinegar-y foods apparently helps with this: these foods help with the suppleness and flexibility of the body. So I recall. Something to consider.

We’re driving through Georgetown where the houses are small, historic, well-maintained and charming; the retail is boutique (except for the chains that moved in a decade or so ago); and this neighborhood is, to a home, upscale. The gal in the back talks of wanting to live here, how she likes the homes. They both lived in St. Louis prior to D.C. I tell them I’m going to a convention in St. Louis next month and ask for suggestions of where to stay afterward. I’d like to AirBnB for a couple/few days and feel around the city. They say the best thing to do in St. Louis is drive four hours to Chicago, but they do recommend two neighborhoods.

It’s a Friday. Rush hour is starting. People are doing crazy things in and with their cars. We all notice this. No near misses or hits for us. We’re simply observing others’ choices. Being in the flow.

I take them back to their office. They both work in management at the US Postal Service. The older woman, who turns out to be the new and beloved boss of the younger gal, goes into the building to get the injured gal’s laptop and some notes. We wait awhile. Ten minutes at least. She brings out the laptop, some snacks and a get-well card from her colleagues then heads back in to work. I take the other gal home. Yes, I’m going even deeper in … to Virginia. Rush hour is starting. I take her to her home in an apartment complex, which is a seven year-old building that she considers old. Old? Yes, she tells me she likes her houses old but her apartments new. I like this distinction and think it’s a good one to remember. I help her get out and get her crutches to her.

Key experience: I could have gotten fussy about sitting in the car for 10 minutes, but, really, so what. The gal had had a shock. She needed to get home safely. She’d already had enough stress for the day. No need for me to add any more.

Saved

I can’t bear the idea of driving in D.C. traffic during rush hour, by choice. If I got trips on smaller residential roads and backroads that wouldn’t be so bad. My two trips today have already had me in lovely places, down roads and in neighborhoods that I rarely see in D.C., but I don’t know where a rider is going until after I accept the call. What if I get caught on the Capital Beltway at rush hour? My earnings per mile are where the cash is, but per minute? It’s only 10 cents per minute, minus Uber’s 25 percent, minus my gas and other expenses, minus the taxable income. In other words, it’s about 2 to 3 cents per minute, the way I see it. Thankfully, Ubering is about much more, to me, than the money, but I can’t see myself willingly stepping into D.C. rush hour traffic. I Yelp my way to the nearest Noodles & Company, as I have a coupon for a free meal. It’s a mile away. I settle in, prepare for a scheduled call and eat my so-so meal.

I know my parking meter is running low and I don’t feel like strolling about in this new fairly new, chain-restaurant-heavy shopping plaza, so I head back to my car. It’s 5 pm and still too early to get on the road without encountering massive rush-hour traffic. Plus I want to go to a dance in the D.C. area in two hours, so I want to stay in this general area. I get into my car, check messages and emails, and decide to take a short nap. I put my gloves on as it’s getting cold, and I’m only wearing a blazer (does anyone call them blazers anymore?), vs a winter coat. I turn on my car’s heated seat, extend the car seat back, nap for 30 or so minutes and drain my car battery.

A week ago I was at a potluck dinner with 20 or so people when one young woman came bounding in talking about how she had just called an Uber driver to give her car a jump. I have visions of doing the same. The problem is that I’m head in to a parking space with a car parked on either side of me. The timing of what I’d need–for one car to leave, for an Uber to arrive at the perfect time, and for the rider to not only have jumper cables but to be willing to do this for me–well, it’s starting to feel like a fantasy and not a likelihood. My cell phone battery is at 40 percent, which means it could drop to zero in less than an hour.

I call for roadside assistance. My service rep on the phone is slow. Slow of hearing, slow of talking, slow of everything. Maybe his telephone equipment is bad. Maybe his hearing is bad. Maybe I talk too darn fast for his Texan ways. Maybe he is low intelligence. I don’t know. I know that I’m feeling a minor bit of panic to get this resolved before my cell phone battery dies, and he is taking forever to get the information he needs from me. I’m by the Rite Aid, I tell him. Is that W-r-i-g-h-t, ma’am? No, it’s R-i-t-e-a-i-d. OK, ma’am. And so on. I know none of this is his fault and he doesn’t know my concern about my cel phone battery. I do my best to be patient.

Fifty-seven dollars. It’s going to cost me $57 to get my car jumped. As the only reason I’m down in this area is because I accepted one Uber passenger and then another, I consider my income for the day. The straight-up Uber fare charged to my two passengers is $58, but then that’s minus the $.145 per ride, then minus Uber’s 25 percent, then minus my costs and minus the taxes I have to pay on this independent-contractor income. I feel about 47 seconds worth of self-pity. Thoughts of Why Me, Why did this happen, Why can’t my life be smoother?

But it’s hard to feel pitiful. I used to be able to feel pitiful when I was younger, when I had less experience in life and when my hormones raged more. It was much easier to feel pitiful, angry, depressed, raging at God, all that kind of stuff. I’m not saying I never feel those things now, only that they’re simply harder emotions to conjure now. My life–while it’s got a whole lot of areas that could use improvement–is for the most part, a pretty happy life, and while I can imagine many things that would make my life more convenient, luxurious or secure, for the most party, I’m in pretty good stead. No, I can’t find self-pity.

Though I do wonder. I always wonder. Why this? What’s the lesson? I mean, beyond the lesson about not turning on the seat heater and running the battery dry. What’s the lesson? How can I flip this? How can I take this situation and turn it around? I can’t see it. I don’t understand. I don’t see anything in my earlier day or thoughts that would have this situation come to be.

I wait the hour and ten minutes I need to wait for my service guy to come. He calls. I hear intelligence, care and capacity in his voice. I’m uplifted. I feel hope. I feel my savior will come. He finds me. He has a Toyota Camry and a charging box. I’m set in a matter of minutes. He’s about 30, half-Dominican, half-El Salvadorian. He’s studying cyber security. Has he read Ted Koppel’s Light Out, I ask. No. I’ll write the title down for you, you’ll appreciate it, I tell him. I decide to share my Nerium brochure with him. Why not? He tells me he has been looking for something just like this. We talk about leveraged income. He tells me he has four cars and that he has guys working for him. He works with apartment complexes and offers, through the property managers, a $5/month service that provides jumps, tire changes or $5 worth of gas delivered to anyone who pays his monthly fee and who is within 5 miles of their apartment when they have the need.

How can I not love this guy? He’s entrepreneurial, he’s smart, and he’s kind and caring. I feel simply meeting him has been my upliftment.

I head to my dance, 5 Rhythms, one of my favorite forms of therapy. Afterward, I zip over to Glen Echo Park for the last of a contra dance. I do not Uber on my way home.

Key experience: It’s ok. Things are ok. Life happens. Stuff happens.

 

 

Uber Chronicles #18

10 Apr

Earlier in the day, I met up with a long-unemployed journalist, someone a few years my senior, someone who was actually employed, full-time with benefits for many years, as an actual professional writer. Our paths have crossed here and there. He recently read my Uber Chronicles and wanted to know my thoughts about driving for Uber. The short version of this long conversation was this: For the money alone, it’s a tough road to hoe. I like to do things for multiple reasons and motivations, and for that, Uber works for me. It gets me out of the house, it helps me feel unstuck, I find it interesting, I discover new parts of the region where I live,  I can share–when it feels right–my anti-aging products and business, I can share the local calendar I created, and I can possibly get Uber-driver referral credit.

Add to all of this the unplanned and unexpected joy of writing about my experiences, talking with people who’ve read my Uber Chronicles and hearing their perspectives on the stories and experiences and, well, yeah, it’s been worth it to me. But for the money alone from the Uber fares, gah! Hardly worth it. In my opinion.

That evening, as I was heading home from a late-evening tea meet-up with a friend, I turn on my Uber app and wait for a ride to come in. Nothing. I arrive home. Put my purse down. Putz around the house for a few minutes. Realize my Uber app is on and I should either turn it off or tend to it. A call comes in, 8 minutes away. I take it.

Screwed

I pick up my passenger. He is standing in front of Target and appears to be getting off of work, but I don’t sense Target on him. Probably because he’s not wearing the tell-tale red shirt under his jacket. He acknowledges me. He’s not sure. Should he get in the front seat or back seat? He hesitates. Whatever you’re most comfortable with, I tell him. He opts for the front seat. He’s a large man, 6 feet tall, white, bearded, round. Big. He’s carrying a Swiss Army rollie bag and his attempts to put his bulky bag on his big-man lap are making for cramped conditions. I’m thinking he’d be more comfortable in the back seat but he settles in.

He’s polite, a bit reserved. He works at Staples, which is located right next to Target. I assume he’s in tech sales. He has That Look. He tells me that he has to input the Target address next to Staples because when he puts the Staples address in the Uber app, GPS sends the drivers to the back loading area. I say kudos to him for problem-solving, and I grumble a bit about the number of times that the GPS/Uber interface has placed me physically near a passenger pickup but far away from the person in terms of actual accessibility.

He came from St. Louis, having worked for four years at a major mobile carrier company, and he was transferred here for a new job. But upon arriving here to work, he was told his job was on hold and that there was no position for him. He’s still working with his lawyer to recoup the $7,000 he spent moving here. He’s wearing a wedding band. He tells me that he doesn’t let others’ decisions impact him and that he’s moving forward with his life.

I’m headed to St. Louis for a convention in early April and I ask him for suggestions of neighborhoods where I can stay afterward and AirBnB it to get to know the city a bit better. He tells me Soulard, Forest Park and something else I don’t recall at the moment. His ride home costs him $11.30.

Key experience: He’s so calm. That may belie other unexpressed emotions; I don’t know. Bu he’s so calm. He feels different, like from a different culture. Maybe it’s the Midwestern in him.

I look at my Uber app. It’s a first! Columbia, Md. is surging. Rates are 1.7x higher. I’m thrilled. I wait for a call to come in. Seconds later, the red map (the surge) changes to yellow (to almost-surging). A non-surge ride comes in. I take it.

I don’t want to have to reinvent myself

Nearby, I pick up my next passenger at a Starbucks. As she approaches my car, we smile at each other in acknowledgement, and I see, through my lens, a healthy, vibrant intelligent young woman. She’s about 5′ 5″, with a slim yet muscular build. She’s Black, 19 or 20 years old, pretty without being dolled up. When I verify her name, I discover she’s not my rider. Oh, my aunt gave me an Uber so I can visit her, she tells me.

She’s getting off from work at Starbucks, her first job ever; she’s 8 months in. She’s a barista and she likes it. Sometimes she does cashiering. I tell her she’s working for a great company and she gushes about the benefits, 401k plans, college-tuition support and more. She earns minimum wage or close to it, and, I learn, all the tips are tallied up and divided by employees’ seniority with the company and, of course, by their hours worked. For 18 hours of work, she might get about $10 in tips.

She’s studying at college, and she’s in her second semester. First, she was going to study neuroscience because she likes science a lot and was thinking about med school, but she’s concerned that she’ll get bored down the road. What she really wants to do is study dance; she’s pretty good at it, she tells me. Maybe she can mix dance and science. Maybe there is a career. She doesn’t know what career she wants. She doesn’t want to have to reinvent herself later.

Oh, the things I want to say to her. We have 17 minutes, door to door, together. I tell her how I wrote résumés years back, over 1,000 of them. I tell her how some people’s lives and career paths are straight and narrow, defined and on course. How other people’s lives, jobs and careers meander, take sharp lefts and U-turns and are full of unexpected twists. I tell her about generations, about how my generation, GenXers, were more like hard-scrabble, street urchins as kids, and how we were risk-takers in our youth. How her generation is more pressured to succeed, to be on the right path, to know what career to pursue, to not take so many risks. I tell her she probably looks at me, at 52, and thinks she doesn’t want to be an Uber driver when she is my age. I tell her I am reinventing myself.

I tell her how when I was a kid, having a tutor or going to summer school meant you were a bad kid, either slow academically or so poorly behaved that you couldn’t pass your class and needed extra help. She can barely believe me when I tell her this and she looks at me full of incredulity. I explain how her generation experiences tutoring and extra courses as desired help for a brighter future. And I tell her that it’s important to understand her generation and the environment she is in, all while understanding she may not be like them.

I tell her that no matter what she studies–dance, science or something altogether different–that some of the most important skills she can learn are to think well, to write and communicate well and to manage her time well. That companies can always train her in specifics of a job or how their company does something but that beyond the few jobs where you must have specific education to enter them, most companies would rather have a good thinker and a good communicator than someone with a high GPA who is not a good thinker.

I tell her, gently, about network marketing and how she has time now. Five hours a week. How, if she wants, she can build a business, so that when it’s time–time to reinvent herself … because this time will most likely come in her life–that she can develop a business and income stream to head off to Tanazania for a month or to Hawaii for dance classes, or to have the funds to start her own studio.

I reiterate that regardless of what she studies, as long as she understands that she needs to place equal importance on learning how to be a good thinker and writer, and one who has good time management, that she’ll be golden. I tell her that anyone can tell, simply by looking at her, that she is intelligent, that she has a sound morale compass and that she is kind. She soaks this in. I feel enlivened.

Her aunt paid $17.81 to have her dropped off at her home.

Key experience: I feel as though I’m talking to my younger self when I talk with this young gal.

I’m heading home, about 20 minutes until I get there. I’m zooming down I-95 when that crack-addict beep sound goes off. I look at the address, clueless as to where this rider is. 12 minutes away. I cross my fingers and hope that the Uber app doesn’t simply calculate distance to my rider but can actually tell in which direction I’m headed on I-95. It would sure be a hassle to have to reverse directions on an interstate such as I-95 to get to her.

Like a predictable addict, I take the call. I hope my rider is headed toward my home zone area and not farther away from my home and bed.

Hot dogs and ice cream

I drive down an industrial part of Route 1. I see an utterly strange sight, a shape and movement my brain can’t comprehend. I see a human-sized shape that looks like a Michelin tire man in grey. Is it a mysterious new super hero, Concrete Boy? Or someone sporting a gray Hazmat suit? It’s 57 degrees and even a light jacket can feel warm this evening. This person is half in the road, on his knees, trying to get back up in this bizarre outfit. I cross my fingers that we’ll come back down this road so I can get another look. (This doesn’t happen.)

I turn down an industrial road off of this industrial part of Route 1. And I keep driving. There are no soft lights emanating from homes and residences. The road is long. It’s dark. I start to feel a little excited in a “oooh, what’s next” way. It’s not quite creepy what I’m feeling, but I am certainly curious about where I’m going. I pull into a large industrial area with many trucks and bright lights. Here, I text my rider. She calls and tells me that the Uber/GPS system often has drivers go to this other building where I first arrived. She’s over a mile away by road, yet only one building away by distance. She directs me, turn by turn, to where she is standing.

She gets in my car, in the back seat. She’s white, maybe early 30s, broad-back, overweight by a good 50 or so pounds and her hair is pulled back in pony tail under her baseball cap. She’s wearing no make-up, and I imagine she would probably still look fairly plain even if she were dressed up and made up.

We head toward her home, I miss a turn in these dark back roads of the industrial complex and she says she doesn’t want to go to jail. I’m thinking I’ve made some egregious mistake and I’m going to get in trouble. She laughs and says the prison is straight ahead. I like her sense of humor. (I note to myself that I felt the prison in some sort of way; I felt something different driving down here road; something sort of exciting in an “I shouldn’t be here” sort of sense.

We take the back roads to her place but come across four fire engines, a line of traffic cones and a gal in a uniform making sure we turn around. What do you think happened, I ask. Someone going fast around the sharp curve in the road, she answers matter-of-factly. She seems to know this area well, and I’m inclined to believe her.

She works at a mega pharmaceutical fulfillment shop that fills about 30,000 prescriptions a day for nursing homes in the area. Orders come in every day as new patients arrive in the facilities. They work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, even Christmas, even in the blizzard. She’s been there 8 years and now works in a chicken-wire caged area with the OxyContin. She likes it much better working with the OxyContin because more can go wrong, and she has to be on her feet and more attentive. Many of her coworkers don’t like working with the OxyContin because the environment is more stressful with the rigorous controls for counting inventory every day, the many cameras on them at all times and the extra layers of supervision.

She explains the picking, the labeling, the packing, the quality controls, the pharmacists’ roles. She tells me she doesn’t work with any customers and that she’s happy about that. Four years with Starbucks and she has had enough customer interaction for the rest of her life. I tell her my prior ride worked at Starbucks and that it’s her first job. Starbucks was her first job too.

She asks if I can stop by 7-11, and I oblige her. She’s incredibly sweet and she’s been so forthcoming in explaining what she does and answering my questions. She never got upset with me when I went to the wrong place, and I’m happy to do a little something for her. She asks me if I want anything when she goes in. No thanks, I’m good. That’s kind of you to ask. She comes back with, in her words, a stash. Two bags. Hot dogs and ice cream. Ben & Jerry’s Banana Split. She reads the key ingredients to me: banana and strawberry ice creams, walnuts, fudge chunks and a fudge swirl. She tells me she plays online games and that one night, on her headset, she told one of her gamer friends that the best thing about being an adult is that she can eat ice cream any time she wants.

I tell her that my favorite snack food to eat is popcorn. Chomp-chomp-chomp. I love it. She tells me a friend of hers used to often give her bags of microwave popcorn but that she didn’t have a microwave so she never knew what to do with it. Then, one time, when she was really low on everything (by this I assume she means food), she wanted to eat the popcorn but didn’t know how. A friend explained to her how to take the microwave popcorn and pop it in a pot. It worked.

We’re close to her home now. Does she usually Uber to work? No, a pharmacist usually drops her off. That woman is underpaid and undervalued, she tells me. Her schedule shifted by an hour this week so she has to take Uber. Her ride home was $18.44.

Key experience: While we are all equal in the eyes of God, and while with incredible will and determination, some of us find our ways to greater accomplishment, I sense this woman’s life will probably hover in what some may call lower levels of accomplishment. I pass no judgement. I observe. Nay, I witness.

I’m navigating out of her parking lot. Uber tells me I have a rider request, a message I get sometimes, but unless I get the beep of an incoming call, I don’t know what to do. I’ve yet to figure out how to navigate to this elusive rider-request screen. I drive 21 minutes home with my app open but truthfully hoping no calls come in. None do. 

 

 

 

Uber Chronicles #17

4 Apr

It has been a long day. A 7-mile hike in (on? at?) Sugarloaf Mountain in 35-degree windy weather. An hour drive each way. Nearly 6 hours of straight talking with the handful of companions on the hike (exciting and fun, but exhausting). The choice to have a glass of wine at a nearby winery afterward (zonk!). Home. Insta-nap. Right around the corner: a lecture in Baltimore for which I’ve registered starts at 8 pm. Psychedelics and Death. I’m thinking it’s about using psychedelics to help people with end-of-life transitions; it’s not. I scuffle in a little after 9. Meet up with friends there.

Afterward, lose plans develop to go out to dinner but we discover the destination restaurant is closed for a power outage. (That could be a real excuse or it could be a euphemism for “we’re not sure if we’re staying open or closing at this time.” Doesn’t matter. It’s closed tonight. Now the conversation becomes about calories. Hunger levels are rising. Peking Delight in a skanky part of Baltimore. They’re closing soon. The place smells of infrequently cleaned grease traps. I’m not that hungry anyway. I think I’ll go Uber. See you later.

Like, um, yeah

Minutes away is my ride, but I miss where they are standing and have to circle around the block to find them again. My rider calls. Tells me where she is. I apologize, tell her I’m around the corner. I see her and tell her I’m here. Blinkers on. She meanders around on the sidewalk, talking with friends, seemingly oblivious to the conversation she had with me 20 seconds earlier. I watch her. She continues to look oblivious, as do her three other friends. I’m in the only car stopped in front of them, and I’m certainly in the only car with the blinkers on. I text her: I’m here. She walks toward me with a dull look on her face. Looks at me, then turns back to her group of friends and talks for awhile.

IMG_0014I start the ride on the Uber app. This is some sort of passive-aggressive stuff, I presume, and maybe she is mad that I took longer to get to her (4 minutes vs 2), but I’m already bored with her. She comes and gets in the car. Tells me her friend is involved in a really serious conversation and we have to wait for her. Thankfully, it’s but a minute or two. Her friend gets in.

I’m taking them to a nearby bar. They’ve come from some other event that is part bar, part art. Both of my passengers are white, early 20s, thin, short and bland. Both are dressed with short skirts and tights and ballet flats; I presume neither are wearing a stitch of wool and both are probably feeling cold with tonight’s high-20s temps. My car is not warm, and I feel no interest in cranking up the heat or offering them my coat or an extra cashmere sweater I have to help them warm up.

Girl #2 starts going on about like, she shouldn’t feel threatened, like, why does he even talk to that girl, like, um, like she doesn’t know why he even likes that other girl. Or some iteration of some story that sounded something like that. It was very hard to want to grasp the actual story. She then calls a guy and in super-girlish tones tells him she needs a favor: can he help her move on March 1st. Well, March 1st and 2nd. She needs to move, like, a mattress, and like a table, and like her dresser.

I drop them off at a bar where others with whom they seem quite compatible are clumped in small groups outside on the sidewalk.

Key experience: I am invisible (perhaps bland) to them. They are bland to me.

I’m thinking maybe I should just go home. I’m not really feeling this. I’d love for a rider to be heading south, closer to my home. I cross my fingers and blink some magic in the hope that a future iteration of Uber will allow drivers to enter their driving direction preference and for Uber’s algorithms to match riders’ general direction with the drivers’ desired direction. For now and tonight at least, that darn Uber app beeps, and I tap to accept the ride in a flash, having no idea at all where I’ll go next.

Three’s a crowd

My next ride is a trio that I pick up outside a Baltimore icon bar-restaurant. I’ve botched the directions getting to them as well, missing my turn and having to do all sorts of extra steps and turns to get back on track. On my front car seat is my stuff. They’re all three young adults, white, early 20s, two gals and a guy; they don’t all squish into the back seat and the guy sits up front. The front seat is a bit messy and not ready for a passenger. On it I have my purse, a bag of halos (orange citrus) from the hike earlier today, a cashmere sweater a friend returned to me at the lecture earlier tonight and my winter jacket. The guy, my front-seater, is accommodating and helps get all my gear settled.

They’re tipsy, not drunk: a lovely difference. They talk mostly among themselves. I pop in every once in a while but there is no major bonding. One gal is studying law in the city. Maybe her dad will come visit for the Orioles’ opening game. He came last summer and they went to an O’s game and a Nat’s game. She made him ride the D.C. Metro and he didn’t get it or understand the system. It was like herding cats getting him to use the Metro, she says. I wonder if she knows what this expression means. I drop the guy off at his home then take the gals to their home.

Key experience: I’m quite aware of generational theory, generational differences, recent changes in city demographics and the overall youth-ification of American cities. And, equally, I’m struck by how privileged so many Millennial youth are to have their parents put them up in city apartments in nice parts of town while sending them to college. Maybe my law-school student passenger has school loans, probably some.

But how pitiful am I supposed to feel for someone, such as her, when she (or her parents) invariably complain about the high cost of college and the heavy weight of school loans? How pitiful am I supposed to feel for someone who also lived in a notable and highly desired part of a happening city during her school years? For someone who Ubered about town and went out frequently for dinner and drinks with her friends? I could go on. Maybe it’s jealousy. I understand that with each new generation rising into young adulthood, all the roles shift and that there is a different era with different expectations and cultural assumptions for what is right to do, right to have, right to be. I understand this.

I’m aware of how different my own life, my own expenditures, my own sense of what I could do, purchase and have was at that same age. And, frankly, I’m a little over hearing college students and their parents complain about the cost of college. Figure it out. Go to school in state. Live at home with your parents for a couple of years if you have to. Learn to cook and make a few speciality drinks; have friends over for a meal, or for cocktails. But don’t complain about your student loans and the cost of college when your lifestyle choices were extravagant for your age. Really, don’t. The (primarily) Millennial propensity for “livin’ the life” while “complaining ’bout the costs (and lack of opportunity)” is getting old to me. I believe this lifestyle inconsistency is one reason why other generations see Millennials as entitled … all the while as they resolutely refute such a label.

Emergency

My next ride is very close by. (It is a Friday night around midnight, and I am in Baltimore. Ride requests, they are aplenty.) She hops in with a more of what feels like a taxi vibe. She’s in a rush. She’s got to get to a bar. There’s an emergency. What kind of emergency? The staff are too drunk to do their work. These kids, she says. She says she’s young herself (she looks to be about 32) but she’s not that young! She’s white, blond, medium build. She’s one of the managers at the bar.

She asks me how I’m doing? In what regard, I ask. (My life, tonight, Uber?) With Uber? How is it with all the drunk people? I tell her I like driving at night; there are fewer cars on the road. I haven’t had too many drunks. She tells me she feels for the late-night Uber drivers dealing with all the drunk passengers.

I drop her off at her bar and see what she means. We’re in Federal Hill, the epicenter of Baltimore’s drunk scene for young, (mostly) white, mostly privileged residents and others. It’s a mad house. People are out all over the place and are very much clustered in front of her bar. I drop her off a half block away because we’re stuck in traffic and her feet will get her to her destination as quickly as I can in my car, if not quicker. She wishes me a good night and I do the same.

Key experience:I have little reason to be in Federal Hill on a Friday night (which is an odd thing to say as I was just there last Friday for some live music … but off on a smaller street). My eyes are opened to the frat/drunk/bar scene here, and it’s not something I’d call lovely. Glad to be far beyond this world in terms of personal leanings, age and interest.

Outta here

My next Uber ride comes in a split second later; it’s a minute away, but I’m already moving forward in my car and I’m now beyond where she is located. I pull over as soon as I see an opening, check where I am, where my rider is and what GPS recommends. I’m looking at a block of thick traffic and drunk pedestrians to get back to her. I text her, tell her where I am and ask if she can come to me. She can and does.

In the meantime, I’m parked behind a Baltimore City Police car. I have been vaguely noticing that cars near me have been trying to get past me to turn down a narrow old street, but I’ve been more focused on my rider and connecting with her. Two cops come up to my passenger window and tell me I have to move. I’m someone’s Uber driver and I’m picking them up, I tell them. They don’t care. You still can’t block the road for people. I realize then that I have become That Person:That Person who parks their car, even temporarily, with no/very little awareness of their impact on traffic or others’ ability to navigate. My passenger shows up right then and one of the cops says, gruffly, that she better get in quickly before they give me a ticket.

We’re outta there. I take her to Canton. (Golly, didn’t I just come from there.) It’s a ride. Through the tunnel (and $4 toll — she says she has cash to cover my toll if I don’t have it; I’m good, I tell her). We pass through the rough, potholed, patched roads of the back streets of Canton. We pass two really large ships, side by side, as I take her home. I marvel at how Ubering takes me places I may not otherwise see.

She tells me she had me as an Uber driver before; I don’t remember her. My text to her is from the same number of another text back in November. I tell her it’s Uber’s number, not mine, that she is seeing, and that I wasn’t driving in November. It’s a quiet ride. She’s on her phone, texting, whatever. As we get close to her home and she usurps the GPS directions in the last few blocks, I remember being on this street before with these strange GPS directions down alleyways rather than roads. I turn to her, yes, I do remember you. You were the birthday girl. No, she didn’t have a birthday recently. She still doesn’t look familiar, but she’s white, thin, young and blond with straight hair, and pretty in a youth+fashion-by-the-numbers way; she’s not remarkable to me, nor memorable.  We say goodbye. She walks to her house, which is not the house where I picked up her neighbor another evening, and I realize that she’s not the gal I thought she was and, no, I really haven’t ever driven her before.

It’s almost 12:30, and I’m still 30 minutes from home if I go straight home, no more rides. I’d love for a ride to take me into the city or south and closer to home, or to cover my toll out of the city, but I also realize I could easily get a rider heading north, so I turn off my app and head home.

I think about the $4 toll ahead of me, a toll covered by my passenger on her trip home but not covered by me on my ride home. I’ve paid this toll 100+ times. I have my EZPass. It’s no big deal, right? $4 here, $20 there. Small bits. This is nothing. But I’m Ubering now. I’m thinking through a different lens regarding my time in the car, and the value.

Key experience: The only reason I’m here, in Canton, heading south on I-95 and to my home is that I Ubered my way here; I was not out visiting a personal friend for which this toll cost would be part of my night out. I do some quick calculations in my head (and later, at home, with a calculator) and realize that this entire trip has been a wash. Or worse.

The rider paid $15.67 to get home. Four dollars is directly reimbursed to me from Uber to cover the toll charge, which leaves a $11.67 fare. Uber takes a $1.45 per ride fee, flat out. That puts the fare at $10.22. Uber takes 25 percent of the fare, which leaves me with $7.67 of pre-tax income. I’m typically in a 28 percent tax bracket which means my after tax-income on this ride is $5.52. Subtract then my $4 toll to get back home, and I’m at a fare of $1.52. Of course there is the cost of gas, maintenance, insurance, vehicle purchase and so on, for which the U.S. government has set as 54 cents per mile (down from 57.5 cents in 2015). The ride to take her home was 7.5 miles, which when multiplied by 54 cents a mile is $4.05; and subtracting $4.05 from $1.52 … well, that has me in the hole.

Time to go home.

 

Uber Chronicles #14, again

4 Apr

(I got my numbering off and wrote two Uber Chronicles #14, but didn’t realize it until I was down the road in my numbering; hence, Uber Chronicles #14, again.)

I’m off early this morning to a monthly Nerium training meeting. I slept hardly at all last night. In truth, I took a wee bit of molly offered to me by a friend when we were out watching Papa Grows Funk at the 8×10, a nicer-than-it-used-to-be bar and small music venue in Baltimore. I’d forgotten that molly can have a bit of speed in it. I don’t need or care for amphetamines. I didn’t have a lot of dreams last night, though I did have a lot of thoughts. But I like and value these training meetings, so off I head to Rockville, Md., about 40 minutes from my home.

It’s predicted to be a remarkably warm day and in the low 60s after being in the 20s the day prior. And it is. After the training and a late lunch with my colleagues, I head back to my car, figuring I’ll Uber my way home if any rides come in. I don’t know what it is: maybe because it’s warmer or sunnier, but suddenly my car looks rather filthy. I feel that the berth of forgiveness and understanding that I and all the other Uber drivers have been given regarding our dirty, salt-slathered cars has passed now that most of the snow has melted and heavy rains have washed away much of the salt, but not the grime.

Sigh. I’m going to need to clean my car a bit. If nothing else, my windows. This may not be a big deal to other people, but I’ve long listed cleaning my car as one of my least favorite things to do. I’ll scrub a toilet bowl, do dishes, vacuum like a mad woman and sort and organize my stuff, but cleaning a car always seems like exercise in futility. The minute it’s clean, it gets dirty again. Sigh. I knew that when I started Ubering that I’d have to up my game in the clean-car department. Sigh. Sigh. Sigh.

I head out of Rockville, turn my Uber app on, drive 40 minutes home. Not a ride comes in.

I’m also noticing that I’ve been going to the gas station more frequently than ever in my life. Or perhaps as frequently as when in my youthful ignorance, I thought I had to have a job in Washington, D.C., in order to have a real job, and I was at the gas station a couple of times a week during those years. I’ve never paid much attention to micro gas price changes. I notice macro changes, trends up and down, but now I find myself noticing $1.83/gal, $1.95 and even $1.59 on someone’s Facebook post. I head to my regular-stop gas station that I’ve been frequenting by habit for a good decade or more and discover this is the most expensive gas I’ve purchased in weeks. As my carpets are dirty from all the riders sitting in my car, I see my car could use a vacuuming, as well. I also notice that this gas station’s vacuum pricing is higher than the same service at other stations. Wow. I seriously had never noticed these higher prices before.

I arrive home, tackle my windows and do my best. (I’ve never been good with cleaning windows so my best may be someone else’s laughable amateur window-washing, but at least I can see out of the windows better.) I clean my dashboard and use the remaining water and Pine-sol to give my car the equivalent of a sponge bath, no rinse. (I realize in typing this that I might be mortifying purists and those in the know about how to clean cars. I google cleaning cars with Pine-sol and get all the reasons as to why I should not use this detergent on my exterior paint. More sighs.)

I don’t feel like Ubering tonight. I need some introverted time. Uber reminds me by text that “Saturday night was the busiest night all week last week! With riders out enjoying the weather, help the city get safe rides home tonight!” And while it’s true that I felt a desire to Uber and help people with the big blizzard coming through and while it’s true that I have intentionally gone out in the fog to be a rider and help people get home safely, tonightI simply don’t care.

Instead, I continue binge-watching The Tudors and catching up on some other work.

 

Uber Chronicles #16

27 Mar

Tornado warnings and severe weather were on tonight’s menu of predictions, and they didn’t fail to deliver. Lighting, thunder, pounding rain, fierce winds … in February. Winter lightning is beautiful, if not a bit strange.

I got an invitation to go contra dancing earlier this evening, but I’m a bit “meh” on it. I could go. It would probably help me feel less funky and foul. (I know it would. It almost always does.) I decide to give Ubering a go, to see how I can handle it in a foul mood. I go online but rather than getting in my car, I decide to walk around my neighborhood to clear my head a bit. My hometown zone is surging at a whopping 1.4x, and I’m excited that I might actually get surge-rate fares on a Tuesday night. Spoiler alert: I don’t. Beep.

An expensive pair of panties

It’s 8:14 pm. My rider is outside of the Starbucks at the nearby mall. I pull up. The weather, post-storm, is actually pleasant; it’s not quite balmy but the air feels warm. That’s my lead in to why the heck is she not outside waiting for me! I take a breath, remembering my feelings of internal fussiness are not hers and that I don’t need to project onto her. She gets in. Maybe early 20s, white, pale, kinda pretty in a subdued, shy way. She has a small Victoria Secrets bag in her hand. Are you getting off from work at the mall? No, she works over by the college. Oh, I tell her I was there earlier today. No connection. No conversation-attempt touch points are working. I drive her home in silence; she’s looking at her phone. Her Uber fare is $7.95, a hefty add-on fee for what I presume is a pair of panties she purchased at VS.

Key experience: Would someone really Uber to the mall to get one item? Maybe she walked over after work, or Ubered over. Seeing people’s transportation costs in dollar amounts is eye-opening for me.

I decide to head to Baltimore to the contra dance, and if a ride comes in that I feel like taking, I’ll take it. I drive for awhile. Nothing. I then notice that I somehow went offline with the Uber app, which explains why no calls came in. I’m back on. Beep!

My first break-up

I wend my way through super-narrow streets in an older neighborhood, probably one built out in the ’30s. I can’t fathom how snow plows come through these small streets with cars parked on both sides, especially after the blizzard we had with 26 inches of snow. I feel I can barely make it through in my Subaru Legacy sedan. I see my passenger; she hugs whomever is at the door (I assume it’s her boyfriend) and gets in the backseat. She’s high-school young, maybe a senior, yellow Black and she doesn’t look me in the eyes. I chat a bit but she’s not biting, so I go quiet. We’ve got a 25-minute ride ahead of us; sometimes it’s better to be quiet on such rides. I point out the moon, waning from its fullness yesterday. She mumbles something back. Then I realize–and confirm–that she’s on the phone. I never heard the call start. I never heard the “Hey” or those built-in tonal changes in speech to indicate someone is starting or closing down a conversation.

She’s sitting directly behind me, but I can barely hear her. There is still much rain and water on the road (which creates sound from the car splashing against it) and she’s doing a grand job of high-school-kid mumbling. Plus, unfortunately for her, whether it’s her default speech or something she reserves for friends and peers, she’s speaking in an urban dialect I could barely follow if she were standing in front of me and speaking at a higher decibel. But I can discern this: her boyfriend has just broken up with her. She tells her friend on the other end of the phone her painful story, bit by bit. How he doesn’t love her, how he can’t be with her, how he wants to be free. She shares how she is attached to him even if they didn’t go to home base, how they’ve been friends for three years, how her mom is worried that she’s going to go to college and get attached to some guy but she already has her guy. This goes on, until it doesn’t. Has she stopped the conversation, is she listening to her friend? There are no more uh-huhs, or yeahs, or soft mumbles. This is so interesting to me as this young girl doesn’t vocally indicate the start or stop to her conversations.

I consider for a second telling her something positive about her life, something about how this is good because she’ll be happier if she is with a guy who adores her and wants her. I think to say something that might lift her spirits, but she didn’t invite me into the conversation of her woes, so I don’t jump in.

I know her 25-minute ride is going to cost $25-30. I can’t imagine a day in my life–a single circumstance–when I was in high school that my mom would have given me $25-to take a ride to my boyfriend’s house, or to any location for that matter. Though, come to think of it, my mom let me use her car for extra-curricular activities, and she carpooled with a neighbor who worked in the same medical practice, so that I could have a car. So, actually, my mom did do this for me … just in a different way. That’s a longer story, and perhaps one for another time.

Key experience: Dear child, $28.15 one-way to or from your boyfriend’s house to your house! You don’t need him or that cost (imo)!

I’m now too far north of my dancing destination to get to it with any ease, so I decide to Uber a bit.

Nooooooooooooo!

14 minutes away is my next ride. I take it. I’m in a part of Baltimore now that I’ve not been in before. It’s out of the city center, out of the area with fancy/hipster bars and restaurants. The small, old, same-same houses are still dense and tightly connected, as they are in the city center, but it’s clear that re-gentrification hasn’t reached here yet. And it may be a long-time coming. I pick up my passenger in front of a ShopRite grocery store. She is tall, Black, about 30, kinda pretty, with a mouthful of braces; she has a load of bagged groceries … and two kids. Ack. My bike rack is on my car, and I can’t open my trunk with any ease without having to spend a good 5-10 minutes to re-secure the rack. I get out. Introduce myself. Tell her we’ll make it work. We pack her groceries in, then her two kids, both boys, in the back seat (seat belts on), and she’s in the front.

Her boys immediately get a case of the giggles and she tells them to be quiet or she’ll take their puzzles away. Noooooooooooo! comes the chorus from these boys, pleading with their mom in that sing-song way of saying we hear you and we’re still playing with you. I ask them how old they are: one tells me he is nine and the other tells me he is seven going on eight. They’re adorable. The older one has a Star Wars puzzle; the younger, Transformus.

I take them home, a quick hop from the grocery store, .55 miles to be exact. I help them unload the car and carry the heavy pack of water up the stairs and to their apartment complex front door.

Key experience: I drove 14 minutes to get a half-mile fare. Such is the way with Uber. I don’t know the rider’s destination until I accept the ride. It’s all good. It really is all good.

I see gas is $1.59/gal; it was $1.95 in my ‘hood; I’m at about the half-tank mark. I pull over to fill up. Credit card in hand. About to open the door to get out when Beep! A call comes in, 4 minutes away. Like the addict that needs her fix, I take it, knowing that I’d probably be better off filling up my tank at $1.59 than taking the ride and filling up later. Ubering and the micro transactions of miles and minutes makes me more attuned to small charges, small profits and small costs. I’m ok with this. It’s not a bad thing for me to become more attentive in this regard.

His first time

His dad has helped him drop his car off at a nearby garage. Can I wait a minute? He just needs to get his jacket. He’s big, tall, white, kinda disheveled-looking, carrying about 50 more pounds than his healthier self should be, and he has longish gray hair. Stringy might be a better word for it. His gate is uneven and his center of gravity is off balance as he moves. His dad is short, as in petite short, wiry. Maybe he was adopted.

It’s his first Uber trip. Where should he sit, the front seat? Sure, it’s a different ride if you sit up front, I tell him. He was looking for an extra gig, some extra cash awhile ago, and was considering doing Uber, but his cars are too old. Oh, they have to be 10 years old or newer, I say. Yeah, he has a ’73 Chevy and a ’74 Plymouth. Yeah, Uber’s not an option for you now. We talk about gigs, making extra money. He tells me that he is a single dad with two kids and a mortgage, and his full-time job as an ESOL teacher doesn’t cover the bills; he has his master’s degree. He was a pizza driver for extra income but hated it, especially with all the WT around. WT? What’s that? White trash. They don’t tip, he informs me. He hardly made any money. He’s worked with the parks and rec department in the summer and he even helped set up an Uber picnic last year in one of the city’s parks. An Uber picnic, I exclaim! I had no idea.

He does some sort of work now for a real estate firm where he gigs research jobs to go to a site, take some pictures and report back certain information. He likes that he can do more or less of it, depending on his schedule. He has a long-term long-distance relationship with a woman in Queens, N.Y.. She’s 11 years younger than he is, he lets me know.

Key experience: Gigs. It’s important for many among us to have gigs and extra income that can be turned on or off as needed.

Forward ho

My next rider is nearby. I’m still in this older, more run-down, poorer part of Baltimore, an area I’ve often noticed surging on the Uber app but couldn’t figure out why. Until now. Now I get it: lots of folks here simply don’t have cars. I pick up my next rider. She comes out carrying two large bags. I’m doing my laundry, she tells me; hold on, I have more bags to get. She’s mid-20s, Black, with a very fresh face and a beautiful smile. She has thick, almost azure blue cornrows that seem to have some material woven in. Her hair reaches down past her mid-back. It’s striking.

I tell her I can’t put her bags in my trunk because of the bike rack, but we work it out just fine. She wants to start riding a bike again. She’s going to get her younger sister a bike because her sister never learned to ride a bike as a kid: she fractured her foot when she was young and missed out on a lot of kid’s activities. Her sister is 22 now, and my rider’s plan is to get her a bike with training wheels. How sweet!

It’s after 10 pm. You’re out late doing laundry, I say. It’s been a long day, she tells me. She had to go get her food stamps and then go to the Social Security Administration, then to the market. Now she’s doing her laundry. She does work-study to earn money at Baltimore City College and works in the library. She’s studying to become a medical lab technician, or something like that, and she wants to knock out her requirements at a less-expensive school then she’ll continue on to Morgan State University. She’s working on getting her GPA up because the scholarship monies are much better. She’s clearly done her homework. Will she go on to be a nurse? Perhaps. One thing at a time. I help her carry her bags of laundry and encourage her to study often and consistently. We say goodnight.

Key experience: I love her path forward, her vision for the next few years. She’s staking a claim in her future and going for it.

The giggler

I pick up my next passenger nearby. He’s about 25, Black, gay and smelling lightly of cologne. His destination is on North Charles Street, an area with a handful of gay bars. I make an assumption about his night and his plans. We talk about the weather, the evening’s storm. He heard it but didn’t see it. He got home from work around 12 noon earlier today and was sleeping or inside all day. He works as a surgical technician at a nearby hospital. He’s not very talkative, but he giggles and laughs at a lot of the things I say, which makes me feel happy and makes me want to hear him giggle more. I ask how he fared with work during the recent blizzard when many of his coworkers were snowed in for four, five, six days with unpassable roads. He tells me he worked Friday through Tuesday, sleeping on cots when he could. Did he make a lot of money with overtime? Yes, he was on the clock the whole, entire time as he was the only surgical tech in the hospital. Good on him!

We drive on a curvy, wet, dark and barely lit road that is plagued with thick fog. The two of us giggle through our nervousness. It’s treacherous driving. Soon enough, my GPS has me turning into a hospital entrance. Oh, I thought you were going out for the night! I wish, he says. They called him 30 minutes ago to come in. He gets paid extra for coming in at the last minute. He’s a sweetheart.

Key experience: Giggling is good.

I had you before

I leave the hospital. Beep! My next ride is really close by. I do U-turn, go through a hilly, curvy, set of roads, make about 6 or 7 turns … only to find myself … exactly where I left off the giggler. My rider gets in. She young, Black and in scrubs. Nice looking. I had you before, she announces. No, you didn’t, I tell her. (I’m thinking she has mixed me up with yet-another white suburban middle-aged driver with blondish hair.) Yes, I did. You gave me the scarf to wrap around my legs because I was cold. Whoa! With this specific fact, I know she means me. We were at the Horseshoe Casino, she says. I remember her: Oh, yes, you were wearing the white rabbit coat, with that super sexy burgundy skirt and the knee-high boots. She laughs heartily and seems happy that I remember her too. I tell her she is my first repeat customer.

We talk about the casino. Why does she like it? It’s nice; it’s relaxing, there’s music, they can hangout. It’s not a bar. She doesn’t gamble. I tell her I thought her boyfriend had a great smile. She agrees. She’s a certified nursing assistant at the hospital. She might become a nurse. She’s not sure. I know her ride home is a good 25-30 minutes long, and I ask if she ever thought about finding someone else who works similar shifts and needs a ride home to the same general area, you know, a way to reduce her costs. She thinks that’s a good idea. We talk light talk. Nothing deep. Her ride home from work costs her $29.48.

Twenty-nine dollars and forty-eight cents! I don’t know if she has to take an Uber every day, or both ways, or only once in awhile. And I don’t think the Uber price is too high. I simply wonder how much she makes per hour, how much she takes home per hour and how much she has to work to pay for this ride. Google tells me certified nursing assistants in Baltimore typically make $24,000-$33,000.

Key experience: Small world! She recognized me by name, but was sure it was me when she saw my iconic Irish wool sweater in my car.

12 minutes until …

Next up, I find myself driving through the Morgan State University campus to pick up a young girl at her dorm. She’s a freshman, Black, pretty as all get out with bright eyes and a great smile. Her hair is tied up in a navy blue bandana. She’s adorable. She’s getting her degree in education. All her life she has wanted to be a teacher; she even played school with her dolls and teddy bears before she went to elementary school herself. She might be a third-grade teacher, maybe seventh. She’s specializing in math education. She’s tired and exhausted but in 12 minutes it’ll be her birthday–Happy Birthday–and she promised a friend she’d spend part of her birthday with her. She’s a Pisces. Neither of us know much about Pisces characteristics. My dad is Pisces. I should know more. My mom is a Gemini. Took me until I was in my mid-40s to realize that I had two moms and that there was a name for this two-moms thing I’d experienced all my life. And its name is Gemini. My rider has lots of Gemini’s in her family–her brother, younger sister, aunt and more. I take her to her friend’s house, wish her a happy birthday, turn off my app and head home. It’s almost midnight, and I’m ready to be home.

Key experience: I love meeting people who have a sense of where they are headed. It’s quite fascinating to me.

My drive home is about 30 minutes long and the $4 toll is mine to cover. I wonder to myself how many Ubering hours I need to log to pay that off. In the big scheme of things, it’s all good. 

 

 

Uber Chronicles #8b

16 Mar

As I was driving to D.C. the other day for my hair appointment, I suddenly remembered the two rides (and the riders) which had eluded me prior in my Uber Chronicles #8.

The frustrated investor

I pick up a woman. She’s my age-ish, early 50s, Black, probably single, but that’s a guess. Kinda nerdy. Actually, pretty nerdy. Her father died recently and she was visiting her mother who still lives in the house where she grew up. One block from her mother’s home we pass a house where the yard is filled with some serious metal sculptures and much uplighting. There are probably 8-10 sculptures in the yard, maybe more. She tells me that a husband-and-wife team have been making this metal sculpture art for 40+ years and they’ve been decorating their front yard these many years; she tells me they switch out the art here and there and that the scene is often changing.

She talks a lot about her condo in Reston. Another condo in D.C. Neither of these in which she lives. She lives in an apartment. She should have sold then. But maybe it was better to buy this time vs. that time.We talk about property management costs, condo fees and how they can be really high in some situations. She manages to bring up this subject of her condos and her bad timing with real estate market again, and again …  She’s nice enough, though she strikes me as a bit obsessive. Really, you’d be amazed by how many times in one short ride that she managed to bring up the condo fees and not selling her condos on time.

Key experience: It’s interesting to notice on what subjects some people obsess. I imagine that what may seem important and worth repeating to me may be silly-sounding to others.

Lots of cop cars

I pick up a couple, young, Black, well-dressed and good-looking. They could be students at Howard University because that’s right around where I am when I pick them up. I had noticed an insane number of cop cars out with only their blue lights lit and flashing. As I drive them the short distance to their destination, I see even more of these blue-light-special cop cars and ask them if they know why there are so many out tonight. They don’t know. That’s the extent of our conversation, to my recollection. This is very clearly an “I’m a cab driver not your friend” experience.

Key experience: It’s completely OK to give someone simply a ride … for a fee, that is. Conversation is not required.

Uber Chronicles #15

16 Mar

It’s after 10 pm. I’m coming back from a very pleasant and enjoyable first date at a nearby tavern-like, suburban hipster joint. The kind of place with a leaning toward seasonal, locally sourced food and a nice selection of craft beers. All is well. I feel content. I turn on the Uber app and drive toward home, open to a ride if one pops up in the next 12 minutes or so. It doesn’t.

I’m in the house, reading; I’d almost forgotten the Uber app was on. Beep. The rider is fairly close by, 8 minutes away, in my ‘hood, my home zone. The rider is right across the way from a nearby grocery store. I’m out the door.

But, Officer …

I drive into an apartment complex of highrises and garden townhomes, a maze of twists and turns and poorly lit buildings where I can’t see the building numbers with any ease. Are you outside?, I text my passenger. Coming down now, meet me at the front of the highrise, he responds. I find myself feeling annoyed. Dude, you called Uber. Uber told you how far away the driver was. I’ve been in your parking lot for three minutes. You should be downstairs already.

Then I remind myself that the moon is full and emotions are amplified when it’s in its state of fullness, so I calm down. The two of them approach. Both tall and skinny. She’s white, with white-blond hair and she’s rail thin. He’s Black, wiry in frame. They both look to be in their mid-20s. Where to?

Target. They both work at Target. He in logistics, having come from Walmart only in the last three months; she in stocking, she’s been there three years. About 40-50 people work overnight at the store. I mention how a friend of mine worked in logistics at Target on the night shift but chose to give it up when his twins were about two years-old. Too crazy of a schedule. Yeah, the guy says. It’s tough to connect up with people when you work on the night schedule. The girl says she likes it because she can’t sleep at night anyway, but she can sleep during the day. I ask her if she likes to eat at night, if that’s her preference. It is. I tell them a bit about Human Design Systems and its Primary Health Systems (PHS) approach to digestion. That some people, per PHS, are night eaters, some day eaters, some one eaters and so on for about a dozen primary types of eaters. I’m a one-eater, people who do best eating one food at a time, and, no I’ve not been tremendously successful in it, though I see notice my life-long propensity to eat this when no one else is around. I tell them that PHS speaks to how you best digest food, rather than focusing on what you eat. It’s a theory, one of many about food and health, of course. She says she thought she ate late at night because she was bipolar. I tell her I don’t know. I’m simply offering someone else’s theory.

He tells me he prefers the culture at Target. That Target is more team-oriented and people-oriented. That Walmart was all about the bottom line. That people there were more into power trips. He qualifies that statement: Well, at least at that store. We talk about how these two stores, so close in proximity, so similar in offerings, are so different in the culture of staff, customers and vibe.

I turn a corner. Almost there. Police car lights flash behind me. I genuinely have no idea of what I’ve done to warrant this. Ma’am, can I see your license? Yes, of course. What did I do? I have no idea what I did wrong, I say as politely as I can. You didn’t use your turn signal, he tells me. I tell him that indeed I used my turn signal to turn into the turn lane but that I’m their Uber driver and the sound of the clicking turn signal while we waited at the stop light was jutting into our conversation; that it seemed loud and intrusive. He tells me that I still need to use my turn signal and that he is going to give me a warning, but then he hears me ask my passengers how much time do they have before they need to get to work. Where are you taking them? To Target, they work the night shift. He waves his hand. Well, go along. I thank him for the reminder to always use my turn signal. He leaves. We drive off.

I do that thing, that movement when one pulls one’s uplifted fist downward toward one’s body in a sign of triumph. Gotta try that one again…, I say with gusto to my passengers. That was a good one! They laugh and we all feel lighter that this was a minor incident and they weren’t delayed.

I drop them off and head home, ready to receive another ride if one comes forth in the next 10 minutes. It doesn’t. I’m in my home. Settling in but not settled. Beep goes my phone. The ride is close. I accept the ride, look at my phone and see that it’s 10:42 pm. Oh, let them have but a short ride to their destination, I plead to the nearby heavens. Hand on the door knob to leave the house and the rider cancels the ride. No cost to them, no profit to me, no worries.

Key experience: All is well.

Uber Chronicles #14

16 Mar

If you mostly like the stories I write about my passengers, you can skip this Uber Chronicle. This post is mostly my comments (minor gripes) about Uber. 

As I’m leaving an in-home training meeting (and potluck dinner) for my business, I flip on my Uber app and start to drive the 15 or so minutes home, open to a ride or two, though not pining for one. There are two reasons for the not pining: first, I have a bike on the back of my car, and the bike doesn’t seem securely fastened, and, second, I ate a lot of lemon bars at the training and am feeling a post-dessert sluggishness.

Cancel all you want

Literally four houses from arriving at my home, the app indicates a ride is open; it’s close by, well, 5 minutes away. Reasonable enough. I accept it. Pray they don’t need to go to Reston, Va., or some place that feels like a foreign world to me. While at a stop light and 60 or so seconds away, I text the passenger and ask for his landmark, what store is he in front of. No answer, but my GPS has him at Royal Farms. Here, I text. The rider has cancelled the trip, Uber tells me. No worries. I still get paid. The fare is $7 (minus Uber’s 25 percent cut). I don’t know if this amount includes the safe rider fee, or whatever Uber is calling it now.

I go home.

Speaking of Uber…

You can do better

Earlier today I received from Uber a text that said, and I quote, Jessie, you accepted 10 trips in a row last week falling short of your all time best personal streak of 13 trips. Next week see if you can hit a new personal record or even take the #1 acceptance streak for your whole city!

Now, I play with grammar. I bend some rules, but this text could use a little more punctuation. But that’s not what gets me. I feel not only unmotivated by the tone and message of this text but a bit annoyed. I am not 14. I’m not 28; I’m not a Millennial. I almost feel as though a teacher is standing over me, looking at my homework and telling me I did well, but if I apply myself I can do even better. I don’t care. I’m not (consciously, at least) in any gamification mindset or scoring or personal bests with Uber.

Tips from the clueless

And then this gem came in: Jessie, do you know the best way to fit Uber into your busy schedule? By simply adding 1 trip to your daily routine. (two spaces after the period) Heading somewhere? Try leaving 30 minutes earlier to pick up a fare. #UberOn

In my opinion, this is bad advice. Since I can’t and don’t know where my next rider is going, if I have to be somewhere in 30 minutes, the last thing I want to do is accept an Uber ride. What if the rider wants to go 20 minutes in the other direction of where I’m headed? That’s 20 minutes to their drop-off, 20 minutes back home and then off to my destination. Makes no sense to start driving for Uber with an event on my own calendar so close. This text message seems written by someone who has never driven for Uber. Or someone who has never given much thought to the driver’s perspective. Now, I think it’s great to add trips when I’m finished with an activity, but certainly not prior!

And?

How about this one: Hey Jessie! Saturday night was the busiest night all week last week! With riders out enjoying the weather, help the city get safe rides home tonight!

Again, huh? The presumption that I care takes me by surprise. I mean, I care, in the big scheme of things that people are safe and can get to where they need to go. But the presumption that I care and will go out of my way to make sure Uber’s supply of drivers is sufficient does not appeal to me. At least not at this moment. I am grateful to Uber for the gig as a driver, for the ability to step into their system–or out of–at will and at my leisure. I am grateful for their leaders’ intelligence and vision to disrupt the transportation industry, both the taxis and the automobile sales. I’m grateful for the times I’ve been an Uber passenger. But I do not feel deeply cared for by Uber, and I don’t really care about the big Uber Picture tonight. I’ve already decided to be in for the night, and I am.

I also feel this message is a bit odd for a suburban-dweller. I live not in the city. I live between two cities: Washington, D.C. and Baltimore. So a “let’s help the city” message falls flat on this suburban gal and motivates me not. Perhaps others feel differently.

This is a reasonable time for me to grumble about Uber just a smidge. One evening, years ago, after I’d eaten some cake, and I was soon after in a dark mood and not being very pleasant or kind. Gently, thoughtfully, my then-husband said to me that he noticed that many times when I ate sugary-carby food, especially cakes and such, that my mood shifted downward about an hour later. So insightful. So helpful this was. Not that I follow his wisdom or direction in all ways and not that I avoid all desserts at all time, but, yeah, I’m not feeling chipper at the moment. And, yeah, those three lemon bars earlier tonight were good! But my mood afterward is not so good.

 

 

Uber Chronicles #13

12 Mar

I’m off to D.C. today. I splurge with both time and money on a good haircut and color. I know it is a commitment to get my hair cut in D.C. And I imagine my life would be that much easier if I had a stylist closer to my home. I’ve tried. At the end of the day, my stylist is also a friend, and I’ve never found anyone who can cut and color my hair the way she does. Plus, I like being in D.C. It’s such a beautiful city. And so I head to D.C. to see her. I give myself a minimum of an hour and a half to get there, park and walk to the salon where she works. When I walk in, she tells me something she has never said to me in eleven years: I won’t cut your hair today; it looks great; reschedule in two weeks; go home. So I leave.

But before I go home, I Uber. Well, actually, first I walked around the northern DuPont Circle area and took in the beauty and splendor that is D.C. architecture, its people and its vibe. This area–in particular, the commercial area– has grown long in the tooth, in my opinion, and I see a spark of new development, more investment and a faster rate of change than I’ve seen in the past decade or so.

I turn on my app. Beep. My rider is a minute away.

It helps me with my anxiety

He calls. Tells me where he is standing, exactly. This is good. I pick him up and we’re off, a ways out of the city, to Chevy Chase, Md., one of upscale semi-urban towns abutting D.C. He tells me to ignore the GPS and follow his direction, which I gladly do, and I’m taken through back roads lined with embassies and pretty houses; there is little traffic. This is good.

uber chronicles pot smokingI neglect to stop for a pedestrian in a cross-walk and apologize to my rider for not being more aware. No worries. He’s in a rush. We talk about pedestrian safety, wearing lights when walking at night and changes in technology that help make pedestrians more visible at night. His wife wears lights on her when she walks to the Metro station early in the mornings, especially in the winter. He’s 5o, white, a lawyer.

He has seen my Nerium car magnet and asks me if I’m in the business. Yes. Do I know a particular person he names? I know of her, yes; she’s quite successful in Nerium. I ask if she has told him about the brain product, EHT. What does it do? Helps with focus, memory, cognitive function, immune system support, natural energy stores and overall brain health. That’s the quick spiel. What have I seen in using it? Better cognitive function. I can meditate now and stay focused. I’m calmer. My brain feels more my own. I encourage him to connect with the woman he knows in the business.

And then he drops a bomb–quite intentionally–to blast open a door. Will it help me with my pot smoking? He is intentionally ramping the conversation up, and I don’t flinch. With grace and ease, I walk right through this open door. I tell him I don’t smoke much pot (does anyone call it pot anymore?), but that I’ve recently done some psychedelics and I believe that EHT has enhanced my experience. He seems happy. He can talk. He can say what he wants to say. He can share a bit of his life with a stranger.

Right then and there, across the street, I see a rainbow on a daycare sign. I point to it and tell him the gods are shining down on us now, pointing to happiness and rainbows. He tells me he has anxiety and that the anxiety meds never helped him much, but pot does. We talk about drug policy change, self-medicating with pot vs relying on big pharma. He tells me he gets his pot delivered by a courier who takes care of this for him. He names branded varieties of cannabis that he likes, tells me how the strength of the strains is so much stronger now than it was before.

I drop him off at his office. I turn to shake his hand (not something I do often) and he tells me to first end the Uber trip. I do. Then he shakes my hand, tells me he’ll give me 5 stars and says he’ll probably buy the brain health product from me.

Key experience: Sometimes I’m the one trying to open up the conversation to see where we can go; sometimes it’s the rider doing so.

She really didn’t deserve 4 stars

My next rider is nearby. She’s early to mid-20s, white, overweight. I think I’m taking her to work at a nearby restaurant, but that’s a guess. We talk weather and I mention that I was out walking in D.C. to get some fresh air. We mind meld, both realizing at the same moment that discussing “fresh air” in relation to a city is relative, and we both laugh easily. She gives me directions then is focused on her phone screen. She is wearing something–her hair products, her body lotion, something–that smells too sweet to my nose. There’s no sophistication to it and it smells of factory-generated smells, nothing natural. It invades the entire car. We come up on a speed camera and she tells me to slow down. I thank her profusely. I drop her off and immediately give her a 4-star rating, my first less-than-5-stars rating, when many other passengers were more deserving of lower ratings, and she certainly wasn’t. I believe I did this because I wanted to lash out against the assault of the manufactured sweetness that I felt raging against my olfactory senses. She really didn’t deserve 4 stars; she was a 5-star rider.

Key experience: I feel small-minded for my actions and know that I can be calmer and more rationale; she deserved better.

It’s legal now

You smell like pot. That’s the first thing that comes out of my mouth when two white, early-20s guys get in my car. They chuckle. Yeah, it’s legal now. Yes, I know. I tell them I’m not much of smoker, having quit smoking cigarettes a good decade ago and wanting to stay clear of smoking in general. Have I tried edibles, one of them asks. Love edibles. I smile at him in the rearview mirror. I tell them I’m a big fan of cannabis, drug reform law, and living in/near cities and states where people can smoke cannabis to self-medicate rather than drink. They agree and launch into how alcohol makes people stupid, aggressive and obnoxious.

One of them is from Boston; the other from Maine. They are students at American University. Boston, one tells me, has medical marijuana but no dispensaries. (I google this later and find out this isn’t true.) They are pleasant enough. I’m grateful for the change of scents in my car and nose, transitioning from the obtrusively sweet smell from my prior rider to this, a more natural, herbal scent.

Key experience: I’m thrilled to see cannabis move from a hushed, hidden discussion to something that is more open, legal, acknowledged and embraced. More pot. Less alcohol.

Side note: Later in the afternoon, out of the blue, a friend I haven’t seen in ages sends me a Facebook message that reads, Do you smoke pot? (Where does this come from? Huh? What? Why?) Then later that night, watching Papa Grows Funk, a jam band, a new friend turns to me and asks me if I get high. What’s up with that? Four specific reference points to pot/cannabis in one day! 

Buffalo for the weekend

My next rider is nearby. She’s headed to the Reagan National Airport. It’s actually called the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, but, mercy, what a mouthful. She’s in her early 20s, she’s white, and she has an accent. She’s headed to Buffalo, N.Y., for the weekend.

She asks me what I like about Ubering? I tell her there are things I love; things I don’t love; that it’s much more relaxing and enjoyable than I ever thought it would be. She doesn’t think she would do it because it wouldn’t be worth it. In what sense? The money; it wouldn’t be worth the money. (This is a 22 year-old saying this.) It’s not, I confirm. By the time I add in my gas, car costs and maintenance, cleaning and whatever other expenses, minus Uber’s fees and then minus the taxes I have to pay, no, it’s not worth the money in terms of the fare I’m paid. Not to me, at least. But it’s most certainly interesting, and I really enjoy doing it, and there are many other forms of value from it.

She tells me she is in her last year of school at American University, that she is double-majoring in biology and math, that she will take a gap year and apply to medical school and go to Europe to do some internship work. European laws are more relaxed regarding what kinds of procedures and activities interns can do, she tells me. Her mother’s family is in Bulgaria, where she grew up. Her father’s family is here in the U.S., and she stays with them.

She is also wearing some sort of manufactured sweet-smelling something and it’s not pleasant to me, though it’s less offensive than those of the previous rider. I give her 5 stars for the conversation and because it’s not nice of me to dock someone a point in their rating because they don’t know to know that over-perfumed personal care products are not the best choice one can make. In my opinion.

Key experience: It’s really nice to be upfront and personal with young people and college students who have a vision for what they want to do. I like listening to how they are pursuing their dreams; it’s especially nice to experience their dreams vicariously as I don’t feel particularly directional or focused right now. It’s refreshing.

It’s now 2:40 p.m. I’m at an airport and could get a ride in a second, but I could also end up going deeper into Virginia (alien territory to me) and then having to crawl back through rush-hour traffic. I have plans for the early evening, in Baltimore, and need to get back to my home zone. I turn off the Uber app, wade through the thick city highways then finally am on somewhat more open and flowing roads back home. I have an hour of uncompensated ride time, but no big deal. I listen to Lee Mayjahs? as I groove my way home. 

 

 

Uber Chronicles #12

12 Mar

I’m off to a Zydeco dance this evening. It’s at the College Park American Legion Post, a place as drab and unadorned as it sounds. Curley Taylor & Zydeco Trouble are playing. I like the band and know many good dancers will be out tonight. Plus, I’m curious to Uber afterward as the dance is about a mile from the University of Maryland, College Park.

I arrive at the dance and feel an immediate desire to walk out. At 52, I’m one of the youngest people at tonight’s dance. (Erg! Where are the young people in this dance community? Zydeco is an incredibly fun dance with lively music!) I decide to stay. Once I start dancing, I’m having fun and I’m glad I stayed. I’m actually a very good follow. My ability to receive the lead from my partner is truly one of my natural skills, and I receive each dance as it is. With a playful lead, I dance playfully. With a classic-moves lead, I dance classically. With a guy who dances tight with small moves, I mirror him and dance that way. The smooth and fluid guy gets my smooth and fluid response. And the awkward stiff guy gets a response that matches his moves and dance, too. That feels right to me. I take my clues from the lead and respond to the dance. Dancing before Ubering makes me pensive, thinking about how we (drivers and riders) are in a dance together.

I bug out of the dance a little early to get some Ubering in before the night is too long. My first call comes in right away, and I’m en route to the Metro station near campus.

Middle East Peace Talks

Does anyone even say that anymore, Middle East Peace Talks? I don’t know. What I do know is that I’ve picked up an absolutely lovely gal who is a student at the university. She’s medium height, her hair is curly and black; she’s pretty enough without being a glamour goddess. She’s also freezing cold … and understandably so: she’s wearing a medium-weight coat, a thin skirt, thin tights and little ballet slippers. The outside temperature is in the teens. She’s another front-seater sitter, which is a good decision for her as my car has heated front seats. We get her situated with the heated seats, warm air blowing on her and a scarf to put on her legs, and then we head to campus. I’m taking her home.

She’s in an exchange program from a university in Turkey. Turkey, I think? She doesn’t feel or seem Turkish to me. She’s Egyptian, she tells me. She’s studying political science, and she was at an all-day conference in D.C. at which Middle East, refugees and much more was discussed.

She can’t figure out how to give me the directions to her dorm because GPS doesn’t recognize her dorm address, so she sends me to the Target nearby and verbally directs me in. There are student guards at the gate. She shows her university ID. I drop her off and ask her to do good work in this world. We need it. She smiles and heads to her temporary home in the dorms.

Key experience: How brave and wonderful for her to do an exchange program in two countries outside of her home country. To myself, I  wish her the wisdom to dress more appropriately for the weather. I know my life changed for the better when I finally got how important this was.

Somebody is always watching the house!

My next passenger is also on campus, which makes me happy. University of Maryland, College Park, is my alma mater, and I haven’t spent much time here since I graduated. Winding my way to my passenger, I get to drive around in an area of significant new construction. Wow! Much change since I went to school here. I come to a different security gate. The student-staff guards are, again, stopping cars and asking to see student IDs. I tell them why I’m here. OK, let her in; she’s Uber. I imagine that it’s only a matter of time before “I’m here for an Uber pickup” is part of a movie scene where some bad guy, or gal, gets through a security checkpoint and is then off to nefarious deeds.

I find my passenger: an awkward, nerdy and quite-likely-still-a-virgin young man. He’s coming out of the engineering building. His gait is not elegant, his face is too chubby and it speaks to medical problems he already has or will have soon enough because of his poor diet choices, and he’s on the short side. He tells me his dad was a post-doc here at campus, then a professor in the engineering department; he’s still a professor here these many years later. My rider tells me that he was allowed to exercise free will (his words) and pick his own major. What is that, I ask? Math and computers.

His dad always drives him to and from school. He has to match his dad’s commute, but his dad is in the Philippines now, along with his mother. They are visiting family and will be back soon. But someone is always watching him, he tells me. He has to check in. He has to text his aunt that he’s ok and that he is coming home now. I think this is sweet in that overly protective way that many adults are with their Millennial children, regardless of their children’s ages.

Little do I realize then what he’s actually hinting at.

Tonight he was at the campus late because he’s graduating this May and he was attending a job-hunting workshop. He keeps talking about being Their Guy and how he can answer most questions that people ask but he’s not sure if he can be Their Guy, but he’ll have to convince someone that he can be Their Guy. I realize he must have heard the term Their Guy at the workshop and that he is now parroting the term with wild abandon. What kind of job would he like to get? Software. That’s his answer. His complete and total answer.

I ask about him, his parents, school. (We have a 24-minute ride ahead of us and he is sitting in the front seat, so I figure we’ll probably be talking the whole ride long.) He grew up in the U.S. His parents were born in the Philippines. Our conversation is the epitome of small talk. Or so I think. When I ask about his parents, he says, oddly, someone is always watching the house.

He asks about the radio. Is there a particular station you’d like to hear? No. What about some CDs? I hand him my paltry collection of CDs, maybe six all told. (I’ve never been one to own, have, organize or assemble a lot of music.) He spends about 15 seconds barely looking at the CDs then puts them down. Maybe you could just pick one and try … an experiment, I offer. He does. He picks Lee Mayjahs?, one of my favorite–if not obscure to most of the world–DJs. I have had some of my most favorite nights out dancing when Lee Mayjahs? was playing a set. This CD is rather mellow, but he decides he likes it and wants to take a photo of the CD before he goes home. We travel down the road together, making more small talk.

He asks me where my Uber headquarters are? My headquarters? Do you mean where I live? No, where do you drive? Oh, I drive where I am. If I’m at home and want to drive, I drive there. Tonight I was at a dance nearby, so I drove afterward.

We get near his house. I ask at which house I should drop him off. He starts talking about Uber driver ratings and how he doesn’t like to have to give ratings but Uber won’t let him book another trip until he rates the prior driver. (I didn’t know this. You learn something new each day.) I tell him that I hope he’ll give me a 5-star rating; I get a non-committal grunt. I ask again which house is his. He tells me he likes to keep it vague (as though this is how he rolls, but I remember that this is his second-ever Uber ride, and I think what he has just said is rather odd); he tells me that I can drop him off here … this is fine … right here. I stop the car, he gets out, and he walks off.

Meanwhile, as I’m now in the midsts of dark suburban streets unknown to me, I need to pull up GPS to get directions so that I can get back onto a major road. My just-exited passenger walks slowly, turning around to look at me suspiciously. My GPS indicates to drive toward where he is; instead, I choose to do a U-turn and go in the other direction. It wasn’t until the end of the ride and having to process his suspicious stare that I realize he thought I was probing him for information and casing his house for a robbery. A robbery? Mercy, child! Learn to feel, sense, know. SMH.

Key experience: As I drive away, I remember one of my favorite quotes: “Someone else’s opinion of me is none of my business.”

I go home. With my Uber app open, and, fortunately, no more calls come in for the night.

 

Uber Chronicles #11

7 Mar

It’s the evening of Valentine’s Day. A Sunday. I’m not sure if people will be out much celebrating, or if Saturday night was the big night out. Either way, I’m Ubering tonight.

Be My Valentine

Beep. My first call comes in quickly and is nearby. I start driving and wonder if I should have brought my gloves. Maybe I’ll go home after this ride and get them. It’s 19 degrees out, and while I’m layered and wearing wool, I prefer not to drive wearing a bulky coat, and I could use a little more warmth.

I pick up a honey brown, 14 year-old kid with braces. He’s wearing sweatpants and a hoodie. In his hand is a small, mylar, heart-shaped balloon on a stick. I’m taking him to his girlfriend’s house, which happens to be about 12 houses away from my house (making it easy for me to pick up my gloves). He’s on his phone. We don’t talk much. I drop him off. He has a great smile! A fantastic smile!

Key experience: 1) How easy life is when it flows. 2) Bring gloves anyway when it’s cold; they don’t take up make space and they make a world of difference for my body temperature without adding bulk to my outfit.

On my Uber app, I see that about 20 minutes away there are yellow areas (indicating the area is close to surging) and red sections of the map (indicating that surge prices are in effect). I think to drive toward the surging areas but as I drive, the surge colors on the Uber map shift from surging to close-to-surging and, in some cases, the surging zones disappear entirely. Surge pricing is a minute-by-minute (or shorter) calculation of supply and demand with Uber. I decide to wait for a ride in low-density older suburb, figuring I’m near enough to some major highways that some rides should come in. Nothing does. For quite some time actually. I see no hope on the radar and realize that chasing surging is not a practice for me. 

I decide to explore. I’m near a (vaster than I previously knew or understood) food warehouse and distribution center. It’s huge. It probably has its own ZIP code. I drive up and down the long, industrial streets of this food distribution center. It isn’t in full swing (at least as far as I can tell), but there is still plenty of activity. As I’m currently listening to Ted Koppel’s Lights Out book about a possible (probable?) cyberattack on our nation’s power supply grid and the chilling aftermath, food, emergency planning and access to life-sustaining resources have been on my mind. I take some comfort–some–in being so close to such a large food distribution center.

No calls from Uber. Whatever. At home I’ve been binge-watching The Tudors to supplement my recent reading of The Other Boleyn Girl and The Boleyn Inheritance. I move closer back to my home zone, maybe I’ll just go home. 

Beep!

Like in The Godfather

I pick up a young guy from his job; he’s a junior in high school, Black, dreads, slight build. Bam! He sits in the front passenger seat. My second-ever, single-passenger, front-seater sitter. He’s named after a character in The Godfather. We talk about his work at a fast-casual restaurant, the team spirit at his school (the same high school I attended), the new principal there and what the words waxing and waning mean, particularly in relationship to the moon. He’s lovely and sweet. I take him home. It was nice meeting you, he says; same, I tell him.

Key experience: So far, single-passenger front seaters feel different than single-passenger back seaters. And so far, I like it!

Three sisters

My next call comes in quickly. I pick up a young woman from an assisted-living nursing home. She works there. She asks if I can pick up her sisters before we head to her home in Baltimore. Sure. She and her sisters are doing a Valentine’s Day sleepover as the next day is President’s Day, a holiday and there’s no school for her sisters and she doesn’t have to work. I love my sister dearly, but I can’t think of a time ever when we’d plan a sleepover during our days when I was away at college and she was still in high school. I marvel at this concept and wonder about their relationship.

My rider is 19, Black, fresh, young, bright, pleasant, well-mannered. She also has a maturity about her that is evident. (I soon discover that she is clearly the eldest of her siblings). She is a medications tech and took a specific one-month course at the local community college so that she could get a better-paying job and learn about her field while she studies to become a nurse.

She can’t stand taking taxis but she loves Uber. Why? Taxi drivers are so loud and mean. Uber is more like a luxury ride. We pull up to her mother’s home and wait for her sisters. They’re taking a while. They get on my nervous. Why they always got to be so late? She manages to say this politely. Sister #2 arrives and sits in the back seat with Sister #1. A minute or so later Sister #3 emerges. Will she sit with me up front? No, she opts for the back seat. They are 19, 17 and 15.

They talk amongst themselves so quietly and in hushed tones that I couldn’t eavesdrop if I tried. I feel remarkably calm, except for the first 20 or so times one of their phones beep, and they beep a lot with incoming texts. I keep thinking it’s my phone that’s beeping and I want to check it, but soon I acclimate to the beeps and relax. Other than soft whispers and beeps from incoming messages, the 35-minute ride is quiet.

I break the silence close to their destination and ask Sister #1 if she has to Uber in to work each day. (It turns out to be a $38.35 fare for her.) Sigh. A few weeks ago her car was totaled in a car accident on the way to work. She’s waiting for an insurance check to buy another car. Did she ask if her insurance company covers car rentals; many of them do. She didn’t even know such things were possible. I encourage her to check and find out.

I drive them into an old apartment complex in Baltimore, say goodbye and wish them a fun night. I’m not in the part of Baltimore benefitting from reinvestment and gentrification. But where I am is now surging. I’ve managed finally, tonight, to find this elusive surge zone.

Key experience: Sisterly love takes many forms.

A third wheel?

I wend my way through an old Baltimore neighborhood where the houses are all small and made of red brick and where each and all sport the same white porches; the streets are one-way, short and narrow. My riders emerge: two very pretty young Black girls; maybe mid to late teens. One is holding roses in her hand: 2 yellow and 1 red. She also holds a small Victoria’s Secret bag. Coming from a Valentine’s date? Yes. She lowers her eyes shyly. I notice the other doesn’t have any roses. No gifts to show. The two gals live a distance away from where I picked them up but a block away from each other. Were they double-dating? Just hanging out? I don’t know. They talk in hushed tones in the back seat. I can barely hear a thing, though I occasionally hear driving school and drivers test. Every once in a while they burst out giggling and can’t control the volume of their laughs, nor do they need to. I take them home. Again, I’m the neighborhood of one of my dear friends and someone with whom I regularly camp at festivals. But it’s close to 11 p.m. and too late to call on a dad with three kids at home.

Key experience: What’s going on here with these gals and their dates? I don’t know. And it’s not my business.

I could hug her!

Next up, my rider is in Baltimore County, right at the edge of the city. I’m in a neighborhood of same-same, single-family, large red-brick houses; I think they were built in the ’30s or ’40s. I wait. I see that her rider rating is a 4.5 (out of 5) stars. I start to have judgements. Maybe I’ll give her 4 stars for being a few minutes late. She gets in my car. Another front seater! She’s 22, Black, bright-eyed, plump in a healthy-looking way and pretty enough. Within minutes of meeting her I love her! Her voice! Her grit! Her values and ethics. Her humor and perspective.

She works at an assisted-living/independent-living home. She chose this job because the work pays more than many menial jobs for someone out of high school with no experience. I ask, $12/hour. $14 if you have some experience. She thought this was something she’d like to do long term but has decided against it. The family that runs the business is Muslim and there is no upward mobility for an outsider as the only people they hire beyond the service staff are family members. Two sisters, three cousins, a brother, the mother … the list goes on. She has been working since she was 15 and since graduating has always tried to have at least two jobs.

She’s grateful that she doesn’t have to change any diapers and that the people (two now, it used to be three) are all independent. What do you do? She mostly cook meals for them, gives them meds and cleans up around the house a little. She takes her job seriously and she wants the residents to be happy. If they want breakfast at 11 a.m., she’ll make it for them. Some of her co-workers tell her that she shouldn’t bother; just make them a hot dog, they tell her.

She tells me–laughing and rolling her eyes at once–that she does not feel appreciated and that the people she cares for are mean and cranky. It comes out in the conversation that these people have no family. Or no family that can be found. From what I deduce, the residents must be in some sort of welfare program for the elderly. Yes, the Muslim family gets a big check from the state each month. They don’t own the home where they operate. It’s a rental. Their business operates more than 20 such homes.

At 22, she’s already told her mother, Don’t ever put me in a home like that. Just kill me. Her mother’s mother died a few months prior and her mom is now dealing with the estate, the lawyers, the hassle. She and her mother are looking into starting a day care center, a family business that they can run together. I share my Nerium business contact card with her and lightly suggest she look at it with her mother. Perhaps there is something there for her. If she is willing to commit to it for the long haul. No pressure. An opportunity if it calls to her.

I take her home. I find in talking to her that she is the kind of person I’d be honored to have as a friend. I like her intensely.

Key experience: Judge not.

You learn something new every day

I’m now near the heart of Baltimore’s downtown scene and the Uber map is bright red: the whole area is surging. I don’t know what’s going on, but something is. My next pick up is at the Royal Farms Arena; apparently a comedy show has just ended and the throngs are looking for rides in this 19-degree weather.

I’m almost there, almost ready to pick up my passenger, but I’m not! The police are diverting traffic away from the entrance. A guy walks up to my car. Uber? Yes. I ask him his name. He’s not my rider. I can’t pick you up, I have to get my specific rider. That’s the way it works. But I need an Uber. I can’t find one. Uber says no drivers are available. I smile encouragingly and tell him to keep trying.

I contact my rider. Can they walk to me? No, they’re five blocks away he says in almost a panic. OK, I’ll find you. I try another route, thinking I’m slick and not listening to the GPS directions, I find myself in a mess of one-way streets headed right back to where I came from. I contact my passenger again. He tells me his wife is in heels and can’t walk far. I understand this fully. I tell him I’ll come to them. It’s almost a comedy scene with the number of cars, the maneuvers drivers are making to get toward or away from the arena, and the volume of people and vehicles. I’m grateful there’s no crashing or crunching-metal sounds. He spots me, thank goodness, and waves.

They’re in. An early-40s couple, Black, professional, nice-looking. They feel like they’ve been together a long time: they’re comfortable with who they are, and they’re out for a date night on Valentine’s Day to see the show. I ask if I can ask a personal question. It has to do with a scent I’m smelling. Do either of you use a lotion or cream by Nubian Heritage? No. Hmm. The woman offers that she is wearing a perfume, Lancome’s La Vie est Belle. It’s nice, I tell her. We talk perfumes, colognes. I may be older than you two, I say, but there was an era of branded perfumes in the mid-’80s. Drakkar Noir, yeesh, I say I remember once smelling that cologne from a car that drove by with its windows rolled down. Hey, I wore Drakkar Noir, says the husband; that was my favorite. We laugh.

Little did I know that I’ve just picked up perfume and cologne connoisseurs … maybe not connoisseurs purchasing $800 bottles of perfume, but they know their stuff. High notes, middle notes, low notes. Pulse points. Fragrances for different seasons. The wife tells me she changes out her perfume by the season and when I say I never knew of such things, the husband chimes in with a passionate perspective on how, absolutely, you have to change your scents for the season. I mention a perfume I used to wear years back and the wife shares a story of how her dad gave her that same perfume, her first adult perfume. We’ve arrived at their home; they thank me; the husband tips me $5 and I thank them, not just for the tip but also for the information and learning something new!

Key experience: Who knows what treasures we each carry. Conversations — and small talk — can open so many doors.

That’s a niche field

Next up: Two young Asians. The gal is clearly Korean, very pretty; the guy, probably Korean too. I didn’t get a good look at him. They appear to be in their early 20s. They smell almost of cigarettes and probably of alcohol. I figure out later that it’s the smell of vaping I was picking up. They’re in town for an audition. Peabody Institute? Yes. We’re conductors, they tell me. Oh, that’s a niche field. They laugh. Yes, it is.

I’m confused: My Uber application is beeping and beeping and sending me ride requests. I tell them I’m not sure what’s going on with this ride because I shouldn’t be getting ride requests while still driving. The guy tells me the latest Uber app now allows a driver to accept a ride while currently delivering another passenger to their destination. Oh. How do you know that, asks the gal. He did Uber once. He gets their updates. I drop them off at an apparently new and not-shabby-looking hotel, a brand I’ve never seen before, then I notice the Hilton logo. Yeah, they’re trying to make them more like apartments, they say. Hmm. Predominantly city locations, I presume. An attempt to tackle the AirBnB market? A shift toward the city-leaning Millennials? We say good-bye. I thank the guy for the tip — the information, that is. And I’m off to the passenger I’ve already committed to pick up.

Key experience: Read my Uber driver updates and stay informed. (If only they wouldn’t send so, so, so many texts …)

Depends on the person

My next ride is a mid- to late-20s white guy who looks just a bit different. He’s from Holland, I learn. His not-American-ness is obvious by his looks and vibe. I’m in a gay-ish area of Baltimore and am right outside of a gay bar when I pick him up. Do I like Uber? Yes. When do I like to drive? At night. There are fewer people on the road. What about the drunks? I don’t like the drunks because they think they are funny; they’re not, but not everyone is bad. Yes, I guess it depends on the person, he offers. Like me. Depends on the person, right? Yes, I assure him: depends on the person … and on how much they’ve been drinking.

He says married people when they are out and about are the worst. They’re mean to other people, he says. I don’t quite know what to say.

He’s animated. He has been drinking. He’s a talker. And he’s curious. I tell him that I think–though I’m not fully sure–that odd-numbered passenger pick-ups make it easier for conversations. That even numbered people, twos and fours, tend to bond in couples, but odd number riders, ones and threes, tend to be more open. This isn’t absolute or scientific, but I’m noticing this.

Key experience: Not all intoxicated passengers are unpleasant. Some are even sweet and charming.

Drinking tea and knitting

I’m near Hampden now, a funky little part of Baltimore. I’m ready to go home soon. I pick up a gal, late 20s, white, dressed in the updated version of the iconic image from John Waters’ scenes of Baltimore: faux leopard jacket, cat-eye glasses, bright-red lipstick. She’s cute. A hipster in her own right, Baltimore style. She’s had a long day and just wanted to relax. The bar she was at had some live music, not too intrusive. She drank tea and knitted. She tells me a story of a local legend, a man who wanted to build a rocket to Venus and saved all his money to do so. It burned; never launched.

We drive past a confluence of older homes and a brand new, multi-story apartment or condo building going up. Remington. A revitalization project. We talk about the city, the redevelopment, the older neighborhoods. Baltimore has its charm and funk, it’s history and its historic buildings, but I’ve looked at some older row houses for sale here and most of them are dreadfully small. It’s good, I think, for a city to have a mix of options. Baltimore gets a bad rap, she says as she’s getting out of the car, but she loves this city. We say goodbye.

Key experience: I do fall in love with this city more — for the diversity, heart and soul … and grit of this city. I appreciate her love for it, too.

Rolling with it

I open the Uber app and tap to go offline except that right then and there, apparently, a new ride came in at that split second and, instead of going off line, I’ve accepted a ride. I take it. The couple I pick up are shivering and cold and can’t wait to get inside my car! The woman is in thigh-high boots with exposed skin (her thighs) and a light jacket. She smells slightly of green apples; it’s not an expensive perfume she’s wearing. I offer her my wool scarf to put on her legs for extra warmth, and she’s grateful for it. She’s nice-looking and sexy in her own way, but it is 19 degrees outside and my I’m-52 sensibilities have me questioning her fashion choice. Plus, it’s starting to snow. The riders are both mid-30s-ish. She’s white; he’s Black. They feel like they’ve been together awhile, probably married. They’re headed to the casino. I ask them what they like about the casino. It’s open late, beyond the bar hours and it’s close to their home, a $5 cab ride home.

They ask me why I like Uber. I tell them I have an anti-aging business and am always looking for customers and people to join the business. (She says she might need some of what I have.) I tell them that originally I thought I would do Uber to meet people and grow my business, but I’ve discovered I really like the people side of doing Uber; each ride is a nutshell of an experience, a treasure in its own right. Am I a housewife, the guy asks. No. Oh, he thought maybe I just wanted to get out of the house for a bit. Yes, it is nice to get out of the house, and in a manner that requires no rush, no agenda, no specific actions that I go or be anywhere at any specific time. I do like that aspect of it.

She asks if she can check her lipstick in my rearview mirror. I thank them for sharing some time together this evening. They head out. My Uber app beeps; the rider is 1 minute away, also at the casino … and like a crack addict, I take one more. Just one more.

Key experience: In being asked if I’m a housewife (as though even if I were that would be my primary identifier), I realize how much we all judge each other quickly and with little data. I’m not innocent of such judgements myself.

A fashion trend

They’re having a hard time finding me. I’m not where the cabs are. I’m to the left. Can you see me? My blinkers are on. They spot me. I watch as the woman walks painfully, barely stabilized, in a pair of thigh-high boots. She’s dressed up for the night–it is Valentine’s Day–in a tight mini skirt and short rabbit-hair jacket. Her guy looks like a guy, warm jacket, ear-flap hat. He’s prepared for the snow; she’s sexy. They get in. I offer her my wool scarf to put on her bare legs so that she can have a little more warmth. Thankfully they are headed out of the city and closer to my home, and I mention this. Where do I live? In Columbia, I say.

They talk quietly to themselves. They have a nice energy: heart-centered, happy, kind. When we say good-bye, the guy has one of the biggest, warmest smiles I’ve seen in a long time. Their home, in a dilapidated area, is adjacent to boarded-up and vacant homes.

Key experience: I take note of their neighborhood and home, and I remind myself to appreciate things I don’t always remember to appreciate.

I get home, open my car door and the cloying scent of perfume follows me. I can smell it against the fresh wintery air. I go inside. I smell it still. I don’t enjoy this particular smell, and it serves as a reminder of the closeness and proximity that Uber driving brings, the good and the less-pleasant. Though, all in all, it really is all good. 

 

 

Uber Chronicles #10

7 Mar

It’s Super Bowl Sunday. I have visions of driving all sorts of party-goers and game-enjoyers around. I have visions of ultra surge pricing and making a lot more money per hour than I normally do. I also have plans earlier in the day to get together for a hike with friends with whom I’ve had strained relations for the past year. We’d decided it was time to normalize our relationship and find our love again. I tell them ahead of time that I need to be home by 3, 4 p.m. at the latest. My intention is to hit the road Ubering a couple of hours before the game starts.

I show up at their home and they tell me that–in their world–going on a hike is code language for doing mushrooms. I pause. This is not what I had planned. I had no idea. To me mushrooms are something I may occasionally do at a festival; something where my responsibilities for the day are nil. I haven’t done them enough to know what will or won’t come of my experience afterward.

The guy, the husband, is an avid, decades-long fan of psychedelics. He tells me he knows these mushrooms well, has used them many times, has ground them up and can dose us for a four-hour gentle trip. It’s early in the morning. I agree.

We pack some snacks, make some hot tea to put in our thermoses, then we get our many layers on and head to Great Falls National Park for a gorgeous hike. The waters are rushing-rushing-rushing and very high after a blizzard with 26 inches of snow followed by weather in the 60s and then significant rain; the river is easily 10 feet higher than usual. The ice is frozen on the canal and is a blueish gray; the sky is gray and the many lichen-covered rocks are stunningly blueish-greenish-gray beautiful. It’s a monochromatic sight to behold. Plus, as mushrooms do, they make everything more beautiful, especially nature, and we are in heaven’s land for natural beauty.

My friend is true to his word: the trip is gentle and light and lasts, almost to the minute, four hours. We are able to have important conversations into territory that needs traversing. The rushing water helps push and move emotions old and stagnant along and out of the way. It’s a good day.

We dine back at their home. He’s newly vegan in the face of an illness, but his definition of vegan includes fish (wild-caught, though somehow that includes tonight’s canned sardines) and eggs (organic only). I hang out for a while with this couple and their adult children whom I’ve known awhile. I notice that I choose to be with friends and to share a meal rather than rush out to Uber. By the time I’m on the road, the game has almost started.

My first tip

I pick up two gals, two white women in their early 40s. They’re in big pharma. They try to make it sound like they do good educational work, but a spade is a spade. I have no love for their industry. There’s a convention in town and they’re meeting up with colleagues.

A couple of days earlier I’d watched the Congressional hearings with Turing Pharmaceuticals and its poster-child bad boy of greed (the AIDS drug price-spiker). I bring this up. What do they think about it? He’s terrible. He’s greedy, they tell me. I say gently that this case and situation may be a chink in the armor of the industry and may portend many more changes yet to come. I drop them off. One gal leans forward and gives me my first–and to date, only–tip: $3 on an $8 ride. Not bad. Proportionally.  I wonder if they looked at me and saw my age and wondered what had gone wrong in my life that I was doing Uber as they were headed off to a hotel to meet up with their big-money colleagues.

Key experience: I have no envy of them. I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes, or their industry, ever.

He’s got a gal

Next up, I’m wandering through a mess of a mall parking lot trying to find my rider. My Waze GPS is telling me to turn right, now left, left again, rerouting, now right. Finally I text the guy. Can you give me a landmark? I find him. He gets in. He’s a big guy. Kinda tall. Definitely round. 28. White. Nice, soft-spoken. Might be Latino; there’s just a hint of it in his voice. He’s a cook at one of the cafes in the mall. He likes to cook. He likes his job. What do you like about it, in particular? He thinks it’s important to make food look nice so that people want to eat it. He didn’t go to college. He has a girlfriend. He likes her a lot. Their anniversary is coming up and her birthday is coming up. He’s going to take her out to a nice restaurant. He has a car but doesn’t have car insurance, and he has to get that taken care of soon.

This ride with me is the second time he has ever done Uber; the first time doing so on his own account. I don’t know the area well. We’re headed from Rockville, Md., to Gaithersburg, Md. There is a major highway with an express lane; I get in it, thinking it’ll be easier. There’s no way I can make the turn for his exit. I have to drive beyond his exit and go to his home another way. He’s concerned about the extra cost. I ask him how far I went out of the way with the missed exit and ask him to tell me when we’re about that distance from his house so that I can end the trip then. I have no interest in charging him extra for my mistake.

He’s concerned about kids these days. Why? They don’t have manners. I chuckle to myself. He’s 28 and is talking about kids these days.

Key experience: I know cars are expensive to own, drive and keep on the road. Being upfront and personal with people who can’t afford to have their car on the road yet have to take Uber rides really brings home to me the cost of transportation for the lower end of the working class in America.

I’m now in an area far from my home zone. I decide to head toward Columbia, home. I’d told a dear friend  (my BFF for the past 15 years or s0) that I’d stop by for the Super Bowl Game. Later her ex-husband and adult son join us … at her ex-husband’s house. For a combination of reasons, she’ll be staying with her ex-husband for a while and their adult son coincidentally moved home with his dad that weekend. Their whole family–the three of them– is together under the same house starting this weekend. I’m with them for a while as we watch the end of this boring Super Bowl game.

Earlier in the day I was friends who had been like family to me and we’d shared a meal with their adult kids. And the night prior, rather than going to a swanky party in D.C., I found myself unable to rally; almost feeling tearful. Instead I drove myself to the home of dear friends in Baltimore (some of my camping/festival friends), who were having a small, intimate party. 

While I had approached this Super Bowl weekend thinking money and Uber gigs, at the end of it, and with the Chinese New Year and a new moon rising, my heart pulled me toward friends and friendship. I accept this. I also am beginning to see that I’m never going to be calculating and strategizing to make the absolute top dollar possible with Uber. I’m seeing, more and more, that my Uber experience is multi-faceted for me and that it’s value is just as much about getting out of the house and connecting with people as it is about the extra cash.

 

Uber Chronicles #9

7 Mar

I’m a ways away from my home. At a temp job for the day that was meant to last a month. Data entry. It’s the Chinese New Year. I spent a week prior feeling crushed by this. Where is my opening? Why are the doors I’m knocking on not opening? Why this? Why data entry? I talk with good friends about this and decide to face the job with the understanding that for some people this is the best they’ve got. I go in feeling good, feeling respectful.

I bond with my two co-workers who are training me. After doing the project for about five hours, I go to the boss lady and offer a suggestion that would make the data entry go faster. The process would produce less income for me in the long run but she — the business — would get a better result (better quality data in a shorter time period). She looks at me as if I have three heads. I get a call at the end of the day from the temp agency not to come back. I shrug, I turn on my Uber app and see what comes.

At least the drive was pretty

Beep. A rider is about 17 minutes away. I’m in farm country. Semi-rural Maryland. The sun is still up, and it’s pretty. Plus, I’ve decided that I can use my Uber driving to see and experience more than when I’m on my normal paths or when I am destination-bound. I accept the ride, even though it’s 17 minutes away. Then a couple-few minutes from my destination, the rider cancels. What the …  ! I keep driving. Another call is 26 minutes away. No. Another passenger is 21 minutes away. No. I turn off the app. It’s too rural where I am to get any reasonable rides.

Actually, I have a meeting this evening. Best to go home and eat dinner. As things turn out, had that ride happened, I most likely would have found myself too far away to get to my meeting in time.

Key experience: Some days I’m not batting 1,000. It’s all good.

I learn later that night that if a driver is 5 minutes or more toward a pickup and the driver cancels that the rider pays a fee and the driver is compensated. In this case I got $7. And I got to see some pretty  somewhat-rural scenes.

Uber Chronicles #8

28 Feb

It’s 3:00 p.m. in the afternoon. My schedule is clear for the rest of the day … and into the evening. I go online with Uber. Beep. A call comes in. Three minutes from my house. I accept it and I’m out the door.

You’re not one of the regulars

I pick him up. He’s politely and respectfully standing outside of his home, waiting for me. He enters my car. Medium height, late 30s, Nepalese. He’s off to a dentist appointment. You’re not one of the regulars, he says to me, then begins listing a bunch of men’s names who, per his experience, are the regulars. No, I just started about 10 days ago. I live really close by. I assume he Ubers regularly and probably doesn’t drive.

He has many advanced degrees, degrees in finance, engineering, IT. He makes some comment about how it’s not fun to go to school but if you’re going to be a hippy then you have to live in a small house and not complain about how much money you make. I can’t tell if he’s bonding with me, preaching or channeling god. I’m a hippy, a modern-day one.

He has a smell about him. I make an assumption and tell myself a story: it’s his diet, his foreign-to-me diet and probably some Nepalese spices or staple foods he consumes regularly. It impacts all of him. It’s not bad, per se; it’s simply different. I recall that 25 years prior I dated for a short time the kindest gentleman from Cote d’Ivoire. He was smart, funny, attentive and really nice. But he had a foreign smell to me that I simply couldn’t get over. I remember going one day to his house where he and some siblings lived. They were eating peanut soup made with some tasty and exotic spices in it. I realized then that this guy’s whole biome is different; his gut is different, his bacteria are different. I felt the same with this Nepalese guy now in my car. His body is a whole different ecosystem and universe of bacteria, microorganisms and gases. And the resulting smell is neither familiar nor comfortable to me.

Key experience: Regulars! Who knew? I have a feeling I’ll probably be giving him more Uber rides in the future. What an interesting thought to have regular passengers.

I park my car. Read my book. No calls. I move my car. Read. No calls. I’m hungry and close to my home. I go home and eat a snack. 

At least I got paid

Back on the road, the next call is about 8 minutes away. I pull into the neighborhood. Text my rider. He says he’s one street over. I go there instead. I text him again. And again. I call. His voicemail box is full. I text. In my frustration, I start the ride on the Uber app. I ride through the entire (thankfully small) neighborhood in case I misunderstood him and his location. All told, I’m there 10 minutes. I leave. I check my payout report later: though I never got the message from Uber, he cancelled the call. I still got paid.

Key experience: Nice to know I get paid for cancellations (with conditions and restrictions, of course).

I wait for some more calls. I read. I move my car a little. I read my book some more. Nothing comes in. I go home, eat a real meal and head back out later.

In which I gush

For my next call, Uber has me twisting and turning here and there to get to my rider. The location is walking distance from my home and I ignore the directions. Thankfully, the rider has also seen the mess that GPS has me going through and she texts me the hotel name and address where she’s at. I’m there in a few minutes.

She’s white, early 40s, in town for business, headed to the mall. She wants to shop. Look around. She’s a dietician by training. Works for a home-health medical-supply company. I recognize the name of her company. I’ve seen the trucks. She’s here to train some field reps.

She saw my Nerium car magnet on the side of my car and tells me she uses the anti-aging night treatment. How do you like it? I love it. Has your friend told you about our EHT? No, what is it? It’s a brain-health supplement. I absolutely love it. I share how I felt a specific cognitive improvement within five days of using it, how my mind is calmer, how my focus is categorically different. I gush about it and encourage her, if she has the funds and if it’s a priority for her, to get in touch with her friend and give EHT a shot for three months and then watch the changes in her brain and mind. The changes may be subtle, but they’ll also be distinct.

I ask her which store she wants to be dropped off at. Any department store. I pick Nordstrom’s for her and drop her off by the shoe department door. Happy shopping!

Key experience: Yay, Nerium!

Flat tire

My next ride is to ferry a woman from her home (she has a flat tire) to her tutoring gig at a learning academy. She’s thin, a mom of two, married, Black, mid-30s and smart. She’s getting her master’s degree in education and plans on teaching middle school math. I tell her my sister is a middle school math teacher. That she chose middle school math because she’d been in the Peace Corps and had seen, up front and personal, what lack of opportunity looks like. That the math taught in middle school was more practical, more applicable to life. That she shared with me the saying that middle school teachers are born, not made; that you either love teaching that age or you don’t. I ask her if she’s heard the same.

She tells me she was in hospital administration; that she couldn’t stand the politics; that she couldn’t stomach executives and companies making so much money while so many patients could barely pay their medical bills.

I tell her I like Ubering for the gig, for the off-on-off nature of it, for the ability to make some money without having to be committed to a business that needs maintaining. She tells me that’s what she also likes about tutoring; she does it when she can.

I share my contact card and info about the local online calendar I created and tell her she may find there some interesting events to do with her kids and family.

Key experience: I appreciate her honesty and integrity about her profession and change of course.

Grocery shopping

A minute away I pick up a guy from a grocery store. He’s short, early 30s and he has a heavy Indian accent. He and his wife moved to the area a few months ago. He likes to cook and they are exploring the Indian restaurants in the area. I ask him which restaurant he likes best and I gladly discover that his favorites are my favorites. I give him my contact card and the calendar information, encouraging him to share the link with his wife and find some local events to attend. I assume that if he is Ubering to buy a few bags of groceries, they probably don’t have a car and finding some local (and even free) events may help them settle in here and find more of a sense home and community.

Key experience: Three scant bags of groceries for an Uber. Didn’t seem like much ROI for the money spent. His choice.

School’s out

Next up, I pick up an assistant principal from a newly opened, swanky-to-the-suburbs (meaning it’s a chain restaurant) burger joint. He’s white, mid-30s and a wee bit intoxicated — good on him for Ubering. Lead by example. School was out today, he explains, so he played. He was a drama teacher at the high school I attended and he loved it there. He loved the kids, the parents, the community, the heart and soul. A mentor encouraged him to go into administration, and that’s how he got his current job.

We know some of the same people. Our lives lightly intersect. I tell him I want to make a pitch to him, and he allows me. I tell him about the local calendar I created and how I’d love to see more school plays and musicals listed. Would he be willing to help me reach his colleagues with an email about the calendar? Yes, he would. We exchange contact info.

Key experience: How absolutely in integrity he is: an assistant school principal, in the suburbs–the land of drivers–Ubers for a night out and gets home safely after drinking. Walk the walk!

D.C.?

My Uber app beeps. The addictive crack that is the beeping sound of an incoming ride and my addict’s need to GET SOME kicks in again, and I accept the ride. Nay, I grab the ride. Thank God for GPS. I think I turned 17 different times in the eddies and hidden alcoves of one of America’s most suburbiest suburbs to get to my destination: a home deep in the curving, non-linear streets and cul-de-sacs of Columbia, Md.. Out comes my rider. White, medium build, 50, male, professionally dressed. Where to? D.C. OK, D.C. it is. 42 minutes away.

I wend my way back through 17 or so turns. He can’t help me with directions. He’s just visiting friends whom he sees about once a quarter. D.C. is where he lives. Phew, we’re finally on a main road. He’s looking at his phone. I think with 42 minutes of being together, some quiet might be nice. He keeps looking at his phone. I say nothing.

I enter an exquisitely Zen-like experience of simply being quiet and focused. I can’t turn on the radio, insert one of my personal development CDs or listen to my book on tape (Lights Out, which I’m plowing through). I can’t make a call to a friend to bide the time while I drive. And I certainly can’t check my phone to see whatever messages have been sent my way. I have one mission and that’s to drive: to get him to his destination as safely, comfortably and quickly as possible. The freedom of being allowed NOT to multitask takes me by surprise and I find myself utterly calm and peaceful. I’m aware that my energy — spoken or unspoken — fills the car, and I relax even more into the calmness of it all.

We’re on the road a good 30 minutes when we pass through downtown Silver Spring. I notice garishly bright new signage for some stores that popped up recently, and I break the silence with a comment about the signage, the new development in the area. He tells me he grew up nearby, and that none of the development was here when he was younger. We’re the same age(ish), and I also grew up in the area, so we talk about the changes in the city. He has recently lived in NYC, Hollywood and San Francisco. We talk about gentrification, living in cities, finding your groove in a new area. He lives in a tall apartment building in a nice area. We say goodbye and I decide to try my luck with D.C. Ubering.

Key experience: Who knew there was so much freedom in not being able to multi-task, with my actions, and particularly, with my attention.

I have two more rides in D.C. that for the life of me, I can’t remember. I notice D.C. riders sometimes feel more like taxi passengers (a description, a category) than people with real lives. I imagine this is because more of them do use Uber like a taxi. Fewer of them have cars. They are probably in Ubers daily or several times a week, month in and month out. I don’t take it personally. Equally, they’re not memorable to me. As I write about the day’s Uberbing, I’ve been staring at my online Uber ride history and the locations, trying to remember these people, and I’m drawing blanks. I also notice that the D.C. people have their Uber procedures on in full force: every single one of them has confirmed my name and told me theirs. (Note that those of you new to Uber: always identify yourself by your first name and always check that your Uber driver is the one designated to pick you up.)

Taxi

I do remember my next ride, but only in that she was just like the two prior passenger loads I can’t remember. She’s white, late 20s, pretty. My brief attempts at a conversation are met with tiredness and low interest. I take her home.

Key experience: I am a driver, not her new bestie. That’s quite OK, for both of us.

There’s that alcohol thing again

I pick up a white couple, late 20s; they’ve been drinking. I think it’s wonderful that more people who’ve been out drinking are in Ubers and Lyft cars and are not driving. I applaud this. It’s commendable. It’s a great culture change. It’s fantastic. Driving them simply isn’t as interesting to me as driving people who are sober because, invariably, people who’ve been drinking are louder, less cogent and not nearly as funny as they think themselves to be. The conversation with these two isn’t bad and they’re pleasant enough. They’re in a good mood and I go along with where they lead the conversation.

Key experience: Gratitude for fewer intoxicated drivers on the road.

It was how he spoke

My next rider is a man of medium height and build, Black, my age(ish). He opens the car door, greets me, says his name, and pauses. I feel as if he’s waiting to see if I flinch or judge him. I see his countenance, feel his energy, know that he’s interesting and intelligent all in a matter of microseconds. That’s what we humans do. Each and all of us.

He has some food in a to-go container. It smells vaguely sweet. Is it barbecue? No, it’s salsa. Mango salsa? No, just salsa. The guys at the restaurant made it for him, he says. His chums?, I wonder. What does he mean? The mystery begins. There is no way this guy works at the restaurant. I’m not getting that vibe in the least, yet he speaks about the restaurant with love. What kind of restaurant? He tells me the name, the story, the evolution. He used the word we. His voice swells with pride and hope when he speaks. Is he the owner? No, just an investor. We talk about the massive uptick in restaurants in the D.C. area; how there were but a handful of restaurants when he was a young man; how the whole food and restaurant industry has changed. We talk about how the city has changed. He wants to buy a house in the city; his wife doesn’t want their child going to a D.C. public school. I say there is a whole new movement of creative class (and more) people staying in the city and raising their children here, helping to make the school systems better. He tells me I’m preaching to the choir but his wife won’t budge. I wish him well, tell him I may check out his restaurant one day, and I head home.

Key experience: Trust my feelings, my awareness.

I do enjoy driving Uber in D.C., more so than I enjoy driving in D.C. to my own destinations, especially late at night. I feel I can see more in some ways, or maybe the word is different rather than more. I see the city differently at night. I can enjoy the architecture and the neighborhoods. I’m not in a rush to get anywhere. Not many people are out. The city is quiet. I like it.

Uber Chronicles #7

23 Feb

It’s foggy out tonight. Not kind of foggy or sort of foggy. It’s crazy foggy. The mounds of post-blizzard snow combined with a warm day have created a condition that someone more knowledgeable about weather than I could explain. At times, I can barely see 10 feet in front of me.

I consider not driving, but then the Mama J in me kicks in and I think there are probably people out there who really need rides and, well, I can try it for a bit and see what happens. I go online.

He’s cooler than the other kids

I pick up a young kid who is leaving a friend’s house after being there in the afternoon and early evening. He opens the front seat passenger side door and sits right next to me. He’s the first and, so far, the only individual rider who has sat in the front seat. I chuckle silently to myself. I feel as though I’m his mom and I’m giving him a ride.

He’s 16, short, Black and, unfortunately for him and possibly his future, doesn’t speak clearly or well. I ask him about school, where he goes, what he likes. I ask his permission to ask him a question about what social media he uses. He grants me my wish. He uses Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter mostly. No Facebook. Why not? I don’t like it. Why? I don’t like how it’s laid out. Is your Twitter account public for people to see or private? Public. What do you like about Snapchat? I don’t know. I just like it. How many followers do you have on Snapchat? A lot. A lot of people watch my stuff. Why? Because I’m cooler than the other kids.

I believe him. He’s charming in his own way. I take him home.

Key experience: We all live in our own worlds. And that’s ok.

Join us for a drink?

My next ride is really close by, 2 minutes away, which I find remarkable for a weekend night in the suburbs. I’m not complaining.

I pull up to a restaurant, a pub. A well-dressed man in his early 30s is standing outside. He tells me his friends are coming. This guy is wearing a quality, well-made overcoat (I can tell from a distance and in the dark) and his scarf is tied in a way that has me curious. He can’t possibly live in Columbia, my hometown, the land of men’s fashion epitomized by Dockers and North Face jackets. His friends arrive. All three are in. All three are well-dressed.

They’re in town for business. They say the name of their company. Oh, one of my dearest friends was just fired from your company two days ago. We all laugh to ease the possible tension from what I just blurted out. I ask them about what they do; they’re in a (my words) disruptive educational industry; management, efficiencies, buying up educational institutions, making them more profitable; bringing international presence to domestic universities. All three are in the Latin American division; I’m with a Brazilian, a Chilean and a Peruvian-born, Miami-dwelling American. The conversation is fascinating. I love to learn up front and personal, straight from the horse’s proverbial mouth. The Miami guy asks me if I want to join them for a drink to continue the conversation. It’s late. Sure. I was going to go home anyway. Plus, I’m open for a full-time job or gig. Who knows what door this may open.

Sam Adams Winter Lager in a hotel lobby. Nothing glamorous, but it’s the conversation I’m there for. The two younger guys bail and are off to their rooms to sleep. We talk for a couple of hours. I learn more about the business, the industry. Share some of my background. I learn that his parents came from Peru to Miami, in the early ’80s when he was ten. That some of his friends in school were the kids of drug dealers, large and small. That he sometimes got picked up for friends’ birthday parties or to go to the movies in limousines. That once they found a garbage can-size bag of cocaine in one of their friend’s homes and they took some and sold it. That this exposure to wealth made him ambitious. I learn about his son and his family. It’s getting late. I go home. I remind myself that I don’t like alcohol that much and I certainly don’t like mid-level beer.

Key experience: There’s so much to learn! So many people to meet!

Uber Chronicles #6

22 Feb

Why not? A couple of hours. Let’s see what happens.

I go online.

Anonymous

My first ride of the night comes in. I wend my way through the back roads and parking lots of  commercial office buildings close to my home and find my rider. Working late? No, I was at an AA meeting. He’s a lifeguard, a job that I doubt pays well: something I know as I’ve worked in an organization that hired 400+ lifeguards a year. He’s white, about 30, with a slight build. Nice, friendly. His Uber ride home is $9.92. I wonder if he has to take Uber to and fro with his AA meetings. I wonder if even an hour of his work, after taxes, covers this ride. I wonder if he’s in AA by choice, by court mandate. I don’t ask. I simply take him home.

Key experience: Feeling the cost of transportation.

An international hip-hop master

My next trip has me searching for my rider along a retail-dense, endless strip of stores along Rt. 40. The rider has entered his physical location–where he is standing–and not an address to which I can navigate with greater precision. I’m already gathering evidence that this choice by riders to use their actual physical location as the pick-up spot can confuse GPS and Uber’s system. Alas, I’m in the wrong parking lot by a hair. My passengers tell me they’ll walk to me and they trek across a snowy patch to get to my car.

They’re young, in their mid-20s. One is Black, thin, muscular, good-looking. The other is Latin, model-level handsome, which is a good thing because, well, he is a model in Miami. I ask him what kind of modeling he does and he says mostly swimwear because, and I quote, I can still pull off the 18-year-old athletic look. I wonder if by swimwear he means gay porn, but I don’t say anything, and as long as he’s happy and getting paid, all is well.

I tell him I was married for a time and my then-husband did some professional modeling. He had grayed early and was blessed with height, good looks and an exotic Mediterranean demeanor and vibe. He could pull off the handsome older guy look while still having a younger man’s vibe. We talk about how the modeling business is like gambling. Well, that was my experience of watching my husband audition for gigs: getting the call, preparing, driving to the audition, waiting sometimes hours for a five-minute (or less!) assessment and then waiting for a call. The gamble was for the big jobs. The spokesmodel gigs, being the next Marlboro man, or Flo of Progressive Insurance. I tell them that when we were first married, Viagra was very interested in my husband for a very big job. I tell them how we were both very excited. How I wondered what it might be like to go out and about, people recognizing my husband as the Viagra guy and wondering if he needed it himself. How right after the audition for the Viagra gig and the agency’s excitement about working with him, Viagra was under FTC investigation for advertising claims they were making. How, just like in gambling, we thought we were going to win the jackpot, but didn’t.

The other guy was from southern California. I ask what they were doing in the area. He was teaching a hip-hop class. His friend, the model, along for the ride. Hip hop? Yeah, hip hop. He teaches, choreographs, produces. He has worked with his mentors whom he has most-admired and has now built a consulting and production business. Commercials, movies, shows and productions. He’s working on an international project to bring master teachers to less-glamorous cities and towns throughout the world so that kids can have experiences working with the best. They all work together for about a month and then do a show for the community.

I ask him about the funding. It’s all coming out of his pocket. I take a moment to reflect on my own income at age 26 and my own vision of what was possible in the world, and I have a fleeting and alternating mix of envy and thrill: envy for a world that simply did not exist–to me–at that age, and joy for a world that has so many more openings and possibilities. I ask him if he’s going to create a 501(c)(3); this is a term that eludes him. A nonprofit, you know? He knows close to nothing about the tax implications, the structure, what 501(c)(3)s are, why they exist. I share an overall image. We talk about corporate funding and his message of youth, hope, dance, expression … and it seems with his Hollywood connections and direction that corporate sponsorships will probably work better.

He mentions that some people in his life think he should settle down and not be out and about so much. I tell them both about the work of Allison Armstrong and Celebrating Men, Satisfying Women. How, per her work, women are born with Temptress (play), Mother (nurture) and Queen (ruler) energy and can activate any of these energies at any time in their life span; how the female challenge is to find balance and to be all those roles with love and kindness. How the masculine path is different: how a man must first be a page; then a knight — away from the kingdom and security, out slaying dragons, finding out who he is; then a prince — applying what he has learned, developing himself; and then, and only then, how he can become a king. I share how the path for men is linear. How he and his friend are doing the best that they can be doing at this point in their lives by being knights; how they are investing in their future selves at kings. I feel a rush of love for them and the knights they are now and the men they’ll become. Their energy and hope is lifted. All smiles. Power is in the air, in them.

We say goodnight. I wish them the best and that all their dreams may come true.

Key experience: One small piece of information may, perhaps, help someone for the better in ways I’ll never know.

Where’s your coat?

I’m in Arundel Mills now. An area that was not much of anything until a near-Megalithic, big-box-filled mall opened up 15 or so years ago. Then the smaller stores, apartment complexes and homes were built. Then the casinos were legalized. It’s near BWI Airport, very near. To me, the area/community/town has never had much attraction. The mall I find soul-killingly large. And bland.

My rider is at the casino. I pick him up. White, medium height and build, late 40s, nice looking. I learn later, he’s married and has a couple of kids. It’s cold outside. Where’s your coat? I’m from Boston. Oh. Business trip. This weather is nothing compared to what I’m used to.

I tell him how I visited with friends outside of Boston a few years back in late-February. How I stayed for nearly three weeks and how my guest bedroom window overlooked White Pond. How I was mortified to see people walking across the pond and how my friends laughed at me and reminded me that I was in Boston not Maryland, that the lake was frozen solid. Yes, yes, they were sure. I tell him how impressed I was with how individuals and municipalities handled eight inches of snow–an amount that would shutdown this area–like it was nothing. How I remembered sitting in a cafe and noticing that every single person who came in or walked by had on sensible snow/cold weather boots, how everyone was dressed appropriately for the cold. How the pond was mostly melted and people were fishing on it when I left three weeks later.

We talked of global warming and unpopular perspectives on the subject. How the wikipedia entries on global warming are some of the most contested and frequently changed entries. How scientists today have so little historical information about weather changes and patterns. We treaded in territory that we both knew was potentially explosive but we had inched our way into a conversation rather than an argument.

We said goodbye and I headed home.

Key experience: I’d been concerned about talking politics or issues with riders; I found that with a thoughtful person — and certainly not an intoxicated one — I could indeed have such conversations.

 

 

Uber Chronicles #5

19 Feb

It’s Sunday late afternoon. Last night was my first night Ubering. (I loved it!) Today is my second day out, and I’m excited to see what the experience will bring. I go online with my Uber app and quickly get a call.

Happy to be alive

I pick up a tall white guy, mid-30s from outside of Target. I can tell by his movements, and then by his speech, that he has some internal problems he’s dealing with. I’m taking him home after his shift at work. He’s talkative, friendly, cheerful. He likes working at Target. His coworkers, he tells me, are jealous that he never has to work over-time or a long shift. Why is that, I ask. Why doesn’t he have to work over-time? Because he’s disabled. He was drunk and fighting in the street one night in his early 20s. He was hit by a car and was in a coma for five weeks, recovering from serious damage, broken bones and the overall impact of being hit by a car. His fighting foe that fateful evening walked away with nary a scratch.

He has been in jail numerous times and seems resigned to the fact that his choices aren’t great and the consequences catch up to him. And he’s remarkably cheerful. I’m happy to be alive he tells me. I take him home. He says goodbye, cheerfully.

Key experience: Live happy.

I then drive to a nearby neighborhood, park my car and read. I’m three-quarters of the way through The Other Boleyn Girl and I’m anxious to get back to my book. I read and read and read. Nothing comes through; no rides. The Uber app asks me repeatedly if I want to stay online and keep driving, I keep answering Yes. I finally realize that by not moving my car, I may seem offline to the app. I start driving. A call comes in right away.

Doing their best

My next pick up is for a Tajik man, 28, who is headed to the Greyhound bus station in Baltimore. He takes forever and a day to come out to the car. After a few minutes of waiting, I start the trip. I had seen someone holding a baby inside. Yes, he and his wife have a baby, three months old. Their first child. Was that your wife? No, she’s in Denver. She’s in IT sales and has to travel a lot. Turns out he works in NYC, five days a week at the United Nations. He has a Ph.D. in political science; he was hoping to get a job in Washington, D.C., or nearby. We talk about the job market; how companies seem to be, more and more, posting jobs that they try to make sound like entry-level jobs but can’t actually attract entry-level people as no one could have that amount of experience as requested for the job. Eventually he took a position at the United Nations. He hopes it’ll be a stepping stone to something better, something closer to home. No, his employer doesn’t pay for his apartment, travel costs or food.

I ask where he is from, saying I hear Persian/Farsi, but not quite Farsi, in his voice. He tells me he’s from Tajikistan and Tajik, his native tongue, is similar to Farsi. He also speaks English, Russian and Turkish. He encourages me to stay near the Greyhound bus station as I’m sure to get a new passenger soon. I wish him well. We say good-bye.

Key experience: I feel care and concern, even for strangers, doing so much to build a family and make things work. Wishing the best for all, especially their baby.

The accumulative effect of smoking

My next passenger is but a few minutes away. I feel a pull to turn one way but GPS has me go another way. I meander around trying to find my passengers. Texts, calls, eventually, they come to me. I’m at Horseshoe Casino. My passengers, a married white couple in their late 50s or early 60s, tell me that the pick-up for the casino isn’t where GPS tells me to go, but over by the parking garage, where the cabs are. Noted. (This is the area toward which I felt the pull to turn.) Everything about them says they’ve been drinking and smoking. Not just tonight, but probably all or most of their adult lives.

They look old, craggy, lower-class. Their voices are compromised by the hundreds, or thousands, of packs of cigarettes they’ve smoked. They’ve lived forever in Hampden, now a trendy and gentrified area of Baltimore: once the home to some of the poorest poor in America as people from The Appalachians came out of their remote mountain communities to work in the shipyards and factories during WWII. En masse, they created a great white ghetto in Baltimore’s Hampden community. A ghetto where white teen pregnancy rates were one of the highest in the nation.

And, as gentrification tends to happen in areas with depressed property values — in areas crying out for investment and new energy — they now live in a community with their long-time neighbors of 40-50+ years alongside the hipsters with their thick beards and well-paying tech jobs. I like Hampden; it’s charming for its mix. I drop them off. Realize I’m but a few streets away from a dear friend’s home whom I haven’t seen since my birthday party in August, and I text her to see if she’s up for company. She’s not home yet, but I have a glimmer of ooooh; I see how I can use Uber to get me to places I might not otherwise actively pursue and then I can have fun when I’m there. Yay.

Key experience: Up front and personal with unhealthy lifestyle choices makes me grateful for deciding to quit after 25 years of being  a light smoker.

You have another job, right?

I pick her up from a restaurant near Clipper Mill, which is an upscale neighborhood in Baltimore. She seems average. White, early 30s, dark hair. Maybe she’s simply tired. I’m not getting much of a read off of her. She asks me what else I do besides Uber. Do I have a full-time job? I don’t know how to explain to her that at 52 I’m in the middle of mid-life; I’ve achieved a level of professional accomplishment and skill that is noteworthy, but I feel directionless; that I’ve been under-employed for a few years; that I don’t want to start another big-adventure consulting business again; that I don’t even know if I want to live in this area; that my job applications have gone unanswered; that gigs and consulting work has been slow; that; that; that. I pick the white lie, the story that causes the least harm, as my problems aren’t hers and she really doesn’t care. I tell her I’m building my anti-aging business, which is true. I don’t tell her it will be awhile until that can be my full-time salary, or better yet, my residual income that supports even greater freedom and choice. I intentionally don’t go deep. I don’t feel concern from her, more of a morbid curiosity.

Key experience: All questions don’t need to be answered truthfully. Small talk and white lies are OK in some situations.

Considering Botox at 30

My next rider is a young woman, 30, a lawyer. She asks what else I do besides Uber; I tell her about my anti-aging business with Nerium. She tells me that she’s thinking about doing Botox and that many of her friends already are. I allow her her choice, and remind her that Botox doesn’t cure, heal or improve; that it’s only a temporary fix. I give her my card.

Key experience: A front row seat with the fear of aging, looking old.

More small-world stuff

She’s blond, white, early 30s, preppy-looking, clean. She’s going to a friend’s house. It’s her birthday. Happy Birthday. It’s been a birthday week with much celebration. She’s looking for a job. Maybe she’ll work with her mom. Her mom is in Columbia (my hometown) a lot; she just started a big project there. Oh, what’s the company? It’s a nonprofit group. She names the new big client in Columbia. Oh, I met up for coffee with her coworker earlier this week, and he told me of the new hire and that we’ll need to loop her in on some projects I’m doing with this group.

Key experience: Yes, it’s a small world.

Duller than dull

I’m now in #FedHill, Federal Hill, a charming, young-leaning, bar-rich part of Baltimore. I pick up two law-school students outside a Thai restaurant. They have take-out. The gal is white, early 20s. The guy is Korean, similar age. He’s the first in his family to graduate from college; also the first to go on to higher education. They’re both in an educational track focused on health care and law. The gal wants to work for the federal government; the guy wants to go into hospital administration, as general counsel. I notice they both seek jobs with a career track, more security and little likelihood of cut-throat colleagues clawing to become partners. The Millennial generation’s propensity to prefer secured, stepped progress over risk and gambling (that was my generation’s leaning). They are duller than dull to me. I imagine — and sincerely hope — that among their colleagues and friends they are brighter, lighter, more engaging and more interesting.

Key experience: I remember that 22 is young and there are many decades yet ahead for them to blossom and mature.

Eavesdropping

My next rider is a big man, tall, wide, round, Black, probably early 40s. He’s on his phone right away. Caucus this. Poll that. Elections here. Delegates there. He’s not just a hobbyist; he’s full-time, both feet in. I eavesdrop, not for secrets, though I doubt any were to be gleaned, but more to listen in on the life of someone that I’m not, someone who is intensely involved in elections. There is a smell about him that I don’t love. It’s not offensive or aggressive. It’s more of a passive, pervasive smell that is coming off of his clothes, him, his breath. I don’t know. I think I might want to sage my car or spritz it with essential oils after he gets out. I’d already decided he was my last ride for the night. I’m glad. I have a very physical realization that, in driving in the same care, we are so close to each other, even if he is in the back seat and I am in the front; even if he talks to someone in another location, and we share but few words. I drop him off close to the home of a dear friend, someone with whom I’ve camped with, partied with and hung out with dozens of times. But it’s probably too late to call. I head home.

Key experience: People have passion for all sorts of things. Thank goodness for diversity.

 

Uber Chronicles #4

13 Feb

Here is my virgin experience driving for Uber, my first time out.

I’m ready. My car is clean and decluttered, my trunk is vacuumed, my car is washed; I’ve even purchased cel phone charger cables and other such accessories. Where I live, we’ve just experienced what’s being called Snowzilla in the past week. Twenty-six inches of snow, blizzard conditions and uncleared roads kept many people inside for four or five days. It’s now Saturday night, the roads are all cleared and, I imagine, many people are raring to get out, to socialize, to be anywhere but at home.  I go online and wait. Maybe 10 minutes later, Beep! I accept the ride, grab my purse and I’m out the door!

It’s a small, small — really small — world

I wonder if I’ll know the people I pick up. Will I be embarrassed to be in the gig economy? (I’ve not picked the path of the 401k-er.) Will it be uncomfortable to be with strangers in my car? I remind myself that whatever it will be, it’s all good.

I arrive. Some Uber orientation training material I’d read prior said that it’s nice to get out and open the door for your riders, so I do that. Three people come out of a house. There’s black ice on the ground and I caution them to be careful. They ask if it’s ok that one of them sits in the front seat. Of course. The gal does so. Two guys in the back. Late 20s, two white people, one Asian guy; I’d guess Korean. Uber policy is to confirm the name of the rider, i.e. the account holder. I do. Where to? They name the place. Do I know it?

Do I know it? I used to have a small office in the same shopping center for close to a decade, I’ve hosted three parties, each for 50 plus people, at this bar-restaurant, I know the current owner, I am very good friends with — and even travelled to China with — the prior owners, and I’ve eaten or had drinks there countless times. Yes, I know it. The guy in the backseat was a bartender there. Oh, I recognize you now. Yeah, I wasn’t wearing glasses then. The bartender and the gal in front of me are recently married. Oh, where did you meet? The place where we’re headed, as a matter of fact.. Oh, how lovely.

They are happy and in a good mood. A wee bit of alcohol is on them; not too much, just enough to prime the talkative engines. They ask how my night Ubering is going. I tell them they are my first ride, ever! They are so excited to be my first. I’m so happy to have such a great group of people in my car. They chit-chat. They mention someone by first name. I feel it. I throw out a last name. Yes, it’s the same person. I ask how she’s doing. She’s remarried, happy, kids are doing great.

I have a contact card I’ve prepared to give riders when it feels right; it’s really pretty and nicely designed. It has links on it. Links to my Uber referral code; links to my Burning Man camp’s Amazon affiliate page; links to two local websites I’ve created, one of which is a calendar; links to my anti-aging business. The local calendar comes up in conversation. I tell them I’ll give them this sheet of paper when we’re done with the ride.

We arrive. I end the trip on the Uber app. Thank them for being such wonderful first passengers. As I hand them this pretty sheet of paper with the links on it, I realize that the art image on the front of the sheet was used for one of my parties at this location where we’ve arrived, and it was for a party honoring a particular friend. I tell them of the co-incidence and mention the name of the person for whom I threw the party. The bartender guy knows her, has some fun memories of her. We all wish each other a good night.

I think to myself, what a wonderful start on an adventure!

Key experience: It’s a small world.

Similar but not the same

Beep. My next ride comes in. 12 minutes away but closer to Baltimore. I’d like to get into the city as there are, I assume, more rides and the potential for surge pricing is higher. I pick up four people: all white, early 20s, two girls, two guys. I get out of the car and open the door. The two girls are in cocktail dresses and high heels with no coats. Yes, there are mounds of snow everywhere and much ice and snow on the ground. I open my trunk and grab one of my trusty, all-wool, 1970s, vintage afghans. I hand it to them and encourage them to cover their legs to get warm.

I’m thinking the cheer and good spirits from the previous ride will carry over. It’s not the same. Different people. Different vibe. Different mood. Maybe it’s that the prior trip was three of them plus me, four; balanced. This trip is four people, two couples; already balanced. They talk among themselves. I ask a few questions. Some are still in school. Blah. Not much excitement about school and their futures. The guy next to me mentions where he works, and I make a guess at the parent company, and I’m right. I know much about this company already, and I learn even more from him. He seems impressed that I know his employer. Or proud that he works there. Either way, it brightens the mood in the car. I drop them off at a house party in Canton, a popular bar-restaurant area in Baltimore. I’m the city.

Key experience: Each experience is unique. No expectations.

Right, but wrong

Beep. A ride close by. I accept it. Drive to the destination, per Uber’s GPS. I text the rider. I’m here. I wait. And wait. And wait. On the app, I start the trip. They call me. Where are you? Outside your door. The GPS isn’t quite right. Or, maybe they clicked where they are standing, their location, but didn’t provide an address. Turns out I’m on the wrong street. Close but not right. In normal circumstances, I’d navigate my way to them, but Baltimore’s Canton neighborhood on a Saturday night with mounds and mounds of cleared snow all around is not “normal circumstances.” They come to me instead. I’m embarrassed that I started their ride thinking they were late when it was my mistake. I should say something to clear the air; I don’t. I think they gave me a low rating.

Key experience: A learning curve  about the difference between an actual street addresses vs a GPS locations of where a particular human is standing.

Cowboys in the city

Next up, two guys are headed to the Garth Brooks concert. Both white, maybe mid-30s, wearing cowboy hats. The prior weekend’s concert was cancelled with the blizzard. Garth is doing, I learn, two back-to-back concerts at the Royal Farms Arena. 7:30 and 10:30. One of them has seen Garth before, several times. One hasn’t. They talk a lot about concerts by artists and bands that I don’t recognize by name. One guy places a call to someone, his sister I learn later. He finishes the call by saying I love you. The city is thick with cars the closer we get. We’re barely moving. They decide to get out where we are and walk. Fine by me. Seems a smarter move.

Key experience: I love you. How simple, how sweet.

Cowgirls in the city

Next up, two girls also headed to the Garth Brooks concert. Both white, maybe early 30s. One is butcher than butch, shaved head, inked all over her arms … and why can I see her arms? Because she is wearing short sleeves. I ask where they are from. Nearby. In Frederick. They already had plans for a weekend get-away in the city when one of the gal’s aunts called earlier today to say she had tickets to see Garth but couldn’t use them. The inked gal explains her poor clothing choice by saying it was warmer earlier in the day. We laugh. She knows to know better. They could have walked from where they were, but neither of them were dressed warmly. We are just coming out of a blizzard earlier in the week and there are mounds of snow all around and snow on the sidewalks!  The short distance and their being dressed improperly creates a ride and a surge-fair for me. It’s all good. They also choose to get out a bit early and walk as the traffic density right in front of the arena is really thick.

Key experience: Always bring layers.

I just love it here!

Next up, I go to a theater that’s just letting out. I see Lyft cars nearby with their tell-tale pink moustache LED lights on their dashboards. The city is h-o-p-ping. So many people outside. So, so many people. People have been couped up for days, stuck indoors with the snow and uncleared roads. I wait for my rider to show up. And wait. I text her. I make the same mistake I made before: I start the ride, thinking it’s her fault she’s not here yet. She texts me back. Little did I know, there are two theaters right next door to each other and by some sort of non-planning that I’d think the theaters would work out over the decades, both shows are letting out at the same time. I move my car up to the next building and pick up my passengers.

It’s a mother-daughter duo. Both white. Mom is in her mid-50s but feels/looks much older; daughter is in her late 20s. They’ve just seen Phantom of the Opera; the mother’s favorite play, which she has seen many times. The show and dinner prior was a combo birthday-Christmas present. Mom lives in Pennsylvania in a small town of 3,000 with but one stop light. She loves the city. She loves being here. So much to do. Sounds like you’re ready to move here, I say. Yes, but for now I’m taking care of my elderly parents. They’re not doing well.

Her mother has a problem with producing hydrochloric acid. I suggest salt, good salt, not any salt, not Himalayan salt, not Kosher salt, but artisanal salt. Salt. Upon which I launch into one of my favorite subjects: salt. History of salt, politics of salt in the American Revolutionary War, how gas was discovered not in the search of gas but in the search for salt. And much more that I tell about salt. They seem interested. And say things such as oh and interesting. I can’t see their faces well, so I don’t know for sure.

We’re headed out of the thick city traffic and the pulsing region of concerts, plays and night life and into a nearby neighborhood. I realize then that the density of the city traffic was starting to wear on me and I’m grateful for the reprieve.

The daughter’s husband works for Uber, I learn. Just started two weeks prior. A shoulder injury has him unable to do the construction work he was doing before. He likes it. She suggests that I get charging cords and USB ports; tells me her husband finds that people love that he has them. I tell her they just came in the mail earlier today. She calls her husband, who is out Ubering, to tell him she’s Ubering home. He heads home. We come to a stoplight. We all wave at the driver next to us, he waves back. She tells me to follow him to her house.

Key experience: Be nicer. Don’t assume. It’s one thing to be impatient in front of a house when my ride is at home and has plenty of time to get ready; it’s another thing to be impatient when dozens of people outside and trying to hail cabs, connect with Ubers and Lyfts, and mingle post-event. Chill.

My least-favorite ride of the night

I pick up two couples. White, late 20s/early 30s. Apparently they are two married, or significantly partnered, couples. They are intoxicated. They talk loudly. They say stupid things. They think they are funny. They insult each other with the intimacy of we know each other; you don’t understand our jokes. I could care less. They are intoxicated and not a word they say is charming, melodious, intelligent or interesting. I take them to one of their homes in Canton.

Key experience: Note to self, drink less, drink less often, just drink less.

Long day, long night

I pick up a petite, white female, mid-20s in Canton. She looks like she can barely stand. She’s tired. We don’t talk much. The ride is short. It’s after midnight. She just wants to get home.

Key experience: Good night.

Do I tip?

Next up, two guys at a restaurant-bar in Canton. One in the front seat, one in the back. You smell like french fries, I say before my manners can kick in. They review their meal and conclude, yes, they have had fries. Two white guys, one in his late 30s, another in his mid 40s. One is visiting but used to live in the area. We’re heading out of the city to some place I’ve never heard of before, some small, older suburb. Wherever it is, I know it’s closer to my home, and I was already feeling that this would be my last ride for the night.

They’ve had a bit to drink, but they’re pleasant enough. A bit slurred in speech but friendly. The guy in the front tells me the company he works for. I know the brand. It’s a quality brand product in a niche market. I tell him I know this. He is impressed with me and proud with himself.

He asks me a most thought-provoking question: Do I find driving for Uber relaxing? Hmm. Interesting question. Typically, I, Jessie, do not care to drive. And I certainly don’t find it relaxing. But I realize, as I answer his question, that it is actually quite relaxing. And I realize why. I have no attachment. I have a responsibility and a desire to get my rider from Point A to Point B as comfortably, quickly and safely as possible, but I have no attachment to their experience beyond the ride. If they are late to a concert, that’s not my issue. If they are coming from their boyfriend’s house and just had an argument, it’s not my issue. I’m only doing the driving. Also much of what I can find stressful about going places — parking, arriving in a timely manner, transitioning to the event — are not things I have to worry about, at all. I simply drive.

I arrive at his home. The front seat guy asks How does this work? Oh, your friend’s Uber account will handle the transaction and payment. Do I tip you? I tell him what my friend whose Ubering experience got me curious says, It’s not necessary. He opens his wallet and we both see the same thing: he has a $20 and a $100 bill. He grunts, looks at me and says it was really nice riding with me. I fill in the gap of awkardness and say But not worth a $20 tip. He laughs, grateful for the reprieve, gives me a hug and they exit my vehicle. I head home.

Key experience: As I close my first time out Ubering, I’m particularly fond of my first and my last trip, and I find it all a nice shining star along a path I’m choosing to walk (or drive) now. I can’t wait to get out again.

 

 

 

 

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