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In The Driver's Seat

Rideshare services have risen in popularity over the last few years. Many of us have utilized services such as Uber, Lyft, Door Dash, and Grubhub. Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be in this field and the company behind these drivers? These sorts of industries are interesting because they utilize the cars of everyday people to move their businesses forward. In 2018, my wife and I were having car issues so we used an Uber and I was fascinated. I asked the driver several questions about this profession that was new to me but had been around since 2009. My particular driver was driving full time for Uber and told me he made approximately $800 a week, but he was going to quit soon and go back to a traditional nine to five job because his wife was pregnant and Uber didn’t offer benefits. The ride was informative and my wife said it might be something we could look into whenever we got a new car.

Fast forward to January 27,2019, and I was driving my first day as an Uber Driver. I remember being nervous and my first trip was a bust. A customer left their phone in the car, called me and when I returned the phone they handed me a $20 bill. I had a decent day for my first day of a brand new gig. I would go on to drive for a total of 1,664 trips in the one year and two months of driving for Uber. I’ve had a lot of fun and interesting experiences and learned a few things.

Driving helped reaffirm my faith in humanity. Most of my passengers were kind and courteous and we had great conversations. So many folks were appreciative of the fact my car was clean, and appreciated my taste in music. Out of almost 1700 trips, less than thirty had negative encounters. All you ever hear about in the news are the negative encounters that customers have with drivers, but most drivers are just trying to do their jobs and move on to the next customer. A lot of my passengers gave generous tips(except the rich, but that’s an article for another time) and some didn’t, but my priority was to get them where they needed to go in a safe and orderly fashion.

I met a diverse group of people. From business owners, motivational speakers, professors, to people from the other side of the planet. I met people from my state of birth, Hawaii, and had great talks about the weather and food. My father’s side of the family is from Texas, so when I picked up Texans we always ended up talking about the fast food restaurant Whataburger. I felt like I was a great driver because my diverse background prepared me to speak with people from backgrounds that differed from mine. My parents were in the military when they met so I was born in Hawaii and lived there for about seven years. We moved to California, Texas, Florida, and Indiana. Some of these places we lived in multiple times and I met a different group of people each time we relocated. I always attribute my time as the child of Navy parents(affectionately called “Navy Brats”) as the reason why I never meet a stranger anywhere I go. When you factor in my background in science, food safety, my love for music, and comic books, I was able to speak to a wide group of people and that extended to my passengers. I guess that’s why I have thirty seven “Great Conversation” and thirty two “Excellent Service” compliments within the Uber app. I felt like I was becoming all things to all people so they could feel comfortable and have a great experience.

The most important lesson I learned was how to assert myself. Anyone who knows me knows that I avoid confrontation as much as possible and try to live peaceably with everyone. But there are times when you have to speak up for yourself and I had plenty of chances over the past year. It was around my third day on the gig when I realized I had been tricked into doing something that wasn’t right. My passenger's name that popped up was that of a woman and I had gotten lost in Louisville, Kentucky trying to find the school where I was supposed to meet my rider at around 6pm. Imagine my surprise when a teenage boy comes out of the school, apparently I was picking up the woman’s son from track practice and took him home to his mother. When I was done with my shift, I felt like something wasn’t right so I ran to Google and realized that riders are supposed to be at the age of 18 to even have an Uber Rider account and be able to utilize Uber’s services. With that revelation and learning that as an Uber driver I could request ID and deny riders if they were underage, gave me permission to say no.

I have turned down so many teenagers and almost all of them had no idea they weren’t allowed to use Uber. One child told me he Ubered himself to school everyday, and that was the overall response I received. Folks argued with me that they had never heard of that rule and said I made up the rule. I told people to Google “underage Uber” and made it my job to educate all the underage teenagers I encountered. I was driving early in the morning and turned down a teen attempting to get a ride to school, and they went and got their mother. This mother yelled at me and said I was lying and she’d never heard of that rule. I’ve had a teen call his mother and I was spoke to her on Facetime and told her I couldn't pick up her son. She asked if I could drive him home if she stayed on Facetime the whole trip so she could “watch” me. There were other times where I saw the pick up locations were in sketchy neighborhoods and I cancelled trips. I’ve been cussed out via message and phone call leading me to cancel trips. There was no way I would let someone who could disrespect me via the phone get in my car. I used to feel bad for them but I realized two things: this was my car and they were the ones who requested me not the other way around. I asserted myself and did not feel guilty afterwards, which was the most important thing I’ve learned in my time as a driver.

One word I would use to summarize my adventures with Uber would be “interesting.” No two days were exactly the same, even during conventions that were in town. I’ve met farmers, voice actors, bakers, scientists, and so many others during the year that I drove. I drove from January 27,2019, to March 15th of this year. Since the announced outbreak of Covid-19, I felt it was best not to drive. The emails I receive from say that drivers can refuse riders who aren't wearing masks, but I don’t trust that. People are still split on the imagined issue of wearing masks, and I don’t feel like arguing with people why I won’t let them inside my car. At this moment I consider myself retired from the rideshare industry and I’m going out with a 4.90 out of 5 star rating, High Likes, 85% approval rate, and a 2% decline rate. If you are going to go out, it’s best to go out on top, and I believe I did. Talk to your driver the next time you request a pick up, I guarantee you they have stories for days that you won’t believe.

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