Saturday, February 9, 2019

An unexpected, positive side-effect of riding Uber

One unforeseen, positive side-effect of riding Uber for many years is getting more comfortable talking to strangers. That starts with figuring out when drivers want to talk, and when they don’t. (Sometimes it’s the riders in the pool too, though that happens less often.) 

Uber is now the most regular exposure I have to near-complete strangers. We’re in an enclosed space together for 30-45 minutes each way, every day. At the end of that encounter, I’m going to get a rating, and give one too. 

As a rider, the most conservative approach is to do nothing offensive. 5 stars for not being a jerk seems a low bar, until you hear stories from drivers. (More on this later.)

Some drivers do the same, and some do more: offer extra amenities; try to have a chipper conversation geared towards you. Some drive like taxis. 

Some people seem to be driving not just to work, but also a bit out of human interest. One morning two weeks ago, I got dropped off and thought, “Hm, that guy really does not seem to be driving for the money.” Not in a creepy way—in a “he wants to talk about life” way. 

That guy was semi-retired, and talked about work he used to do out east. He was about to fly out to Boston again. When I inquired (Boston in January?), he said he’d been invited to give a talk. A talk about what? About overcoming addiction, to a group of drug addicts. He said he’s been doing this for two decades, as a side thing. Then we were at the drop-off.

Other drivers have shared their aspirations. One very easy-going conversationalist said he used to work on the food teams at Apple and Google, and was looking for his next gig. He saw my destination and asked about Stripe. He said for his next thing, though, he wanted to try a smaller place, leading and building up a team. <3

Another driver peppered me with questions about my job, till I realized, “Hm, most people don’t ask the price of the Series A round!” and turned the tables.

Some drivers share their frustrations—about Uber, or riders. In one recent pool, a fellow rider (who had ordered an ExpressPool) gave the driver attitude about her drop-off location not being optimal and slammed the door. That left the two of us, and the driver launched into a rant on the poor treatment he’s gotten from riders.

He’s had people order him to drive them a block further than the drop-off location. “If you just ask and use my name—hey Luiz, I’ve got a heavy box, would you mind...—I’m happy to do it!”

He’s had to explain to riders why he can’t pick them up at a bus stop—he can get fined $300, a day’s work—and had a rider respond, “That’s your problem.”

He’s driven passed-out drunk people to their destination, only to have them complain this is not their home (because they entered the wrong address), and demand he drive them to the right address. He had to say, “Get out, or I’ll call the police.”

He’s called Uber to complain, and they’ve said, “maybe they misunderstood you” (his English is not fluent).

I can see how otherwise friendly people can have a bad day and take it out on people around them. Unfortunately, an easy target is the stranger you’ll probably never see again, whom you’re in just the slightest position of authority over, especially if you’re in the back seat.

I used to always jump in the back, out of shyness, but these days I prefer the passenger seat if it’s open. Easier to get in and out, and easier to communicate with the driver. And it doesn’t feel weird anymore, which is the change I noticed.

I’d encourage more people to try the passenger seat. You might get more out of it than you expected.