Have you ever looked at the empty back seat of your car and thought “I sure wish there was a complete stranger back there, making me feel physically vulnerable?” Neither have I, but that didn’t stop me from turning my car into a mobile AA meeting by driving for Uber, or as they call it in Germany, “UBAH!”
I truly believe that there is dignity in all work, with the exception of anything done by the Kardashians (Also known as “Los Kardaskis” by my Peruvian mother-in-law.” As such, I would never see myself above trying anything, and I figured at the very least, I might get a good story out of it.
My wife and I were planning to take a long weekend trip in the next few weeks and (she) figured it would be a quick way (for me) to earn (her) some extra fun money for our trip. Oh joy! Getting set up as a driver was so easy it was a little frightening. They basically ask a few questions about who you are, and how you feel about other people’s vomit, then ask you to upload your driver and vehicle documents.
I filled out the required information and waited with anticipation for my approval. When it arrived, I waited with even more anticipation for a “We made a mistake. You’re actually rejected.” letter that never came. They even sent me that little window sticker that, fun fact, is based on an ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic meaning “My wife is making me do this!” Once I was approved, I tried to be positive, so I told my wife I’d vacuum the car the next day, and give it a whirl.
“OK.” She said “But when are we going to go shopping?” I was confused. “Shopping for what?” I asked. “For your supplies.” She said. “For what supplies?” I responded. “For your Uber supplies, dummy.” At this point, I realizedwhat she was talking about. My wife and I had two different visions of what me driving for Uber looked like.
Her vision: I pull up to a fancy restaurant, donning immaculate white gloves and a black chauffeur cap. Then I roll the window down and call out in my smoothest British accent “Archibald…I’m here to pick up Archibald.” When Archie crawls into the back seat, he chooses from my selection of complimentary French colognes and gently perfumes his wealthy wrists. I then offer him a chilled Perrier water and ask him to choose from my assortment of delicious Belgian chocolates. This top-shelf service leads to him add on a $100 tip at the ride’s conclusion. Five star rating achieved!
My vision: I pull up to a Taco Bell and grab my gym socks from the back seat before a zit-faced teenager hops in. “Hey man.” He says. “Mind if I vape?” “Whatever” I respond, as he proceeds to inhale what is most certainly a mixture of cranberry flavored tobacco and marijuana. In return, he offers me the first bite from his stale beef chalupa, which I accept, because manners are important. I receive no tip. Five star rating achieved!
Needless to say, we ended up at Wal-Mart later that night, buying supplies. To our surprise, they were plumb out of French cologne and Belgian chocolates. They did have Perrier, but I told my wife I couldn’t find it. By the time we left we had purchased a car cell-phone holder, an overpriced air freshener, a bag of Breath Savers mints, a case of small bottled waters, two bags of fruit flavored candies, two boxes of individual Cheeze-its snack bags, and a large center console tote to keep them all in. Only 80 dollars?! Let’s get more! This was shaping up to be the mostexpensive side-job of all time.
The next morning, I got up early, vacuumed and washed the car, and slapped the “My wife made me do this!” sticker into the back window. I started driving aimlessly around town, which is often what I end up doing on Saturday mornings anyway. After a few minutes, I heard “ping!” This was my first ride! I followed the app’s directions to the pick-up spot. I saw a friendly looking family waiting on the corner. The father hopped into my front seat, and the mother with two small children crawled into the back.
“Hi there, Itsuki?” I said to the gentleman in my front seat. He smiled big, nodded, and said “Yes. Itsuki. Thank you!” This was going well. Then I said “OK. Where to?” His smile immediately faded. “Ummm.” He stammered. “No English. No good English.” I thought to myself, of course no good English. Of course. “Just visit.” He said. “From Japan.” This was going to be difficult.
We struggled for about five minutes to communicate. I continued to ask where they wanted to be dropped off. Itsuki looked confused at my questions, then despondent over disappointing me. Throughout this ordeal, he kept pointing at my phone and saying “phone” as he pointed. Eventually, I realized that he was trying to tell me that once I hit the “Start Ride” button on the app, it would direct me via GPS to their destination. No good English was needed. If I would’ve spent the same time researching the ride process as I did choosing fruit candies at Walmart , I would have known that. Although, to my credit, it’s a little unfair to expect that of me because I am an irredeemable idiot.
Over the course of our 10-minute ride, I tried to convince my customers to please partake in the beverages and treats that were in the center console. They rejected my offer multiple times. I had my wife’s voice in my head telling me that these extra touches is what get people good reviews and, more importantly, good tips.When I could tell that they had become wary of my relentless hospitality, I gave up. I stopped offering them the freebies, which seemed to relieve them.
We arrived at their destination, and I pulled up to the curb. “Here is ok?” I asked. “Yes. Good.” Itsuki responded. They crawled out of the car, nodding and smiling profusely. Before he closed the door, Itsuki leaned back in and struggled to say “Sorry sir no food” as he pointed at the goodie bin in the console. “No money!” he said as he patted his jean pockets. “No money. Sorry.” I wasn’t sure what he was saying at first, so I just smiled and said “It’s OK. No problem!” Then Itsuki closed the door, and walked out of my life forever.
As I pulled away, I figured out what he was trying to tell me. They thought that I was offering them snacks and waters for purchase, not for free. He felt guilty that he couldn’t buy any from me because he didn’t have cash. My wife had madea sign saying “Please take one. Complimentary.” Apparently, she didn’t rememberto make a sign in Japanese as well. She’s the worst. Not only had my riders not enjoyed the snacks I offered them, but I had berated them to give me cash for 10 minutes. I could only hope that they figured out the reality of the situation after parting ways like I had.
I continued to pick up riders for the next few hours, and (don’t tell my wife) it was actually pretty fun. It was interesting to talk to people and find out what the day had in store for them. I wasn’t getting rich by any means, but the dollars started to add up. Eventually, I had made enough for at least a day’s worth of spending money for our little excursion.
Riders had a variety of backgrounds, stories, and smells. Overall though, they were pleasant and interesting. That first day of driving offered me a glimpse into the world of being an Uber driver. I have only done it a handful of other times since, but it has been a nice option on days that I have nothing else happening, and it has given me a new appreciation for what ride-sharing drivers deal with. For anyone that is considering a foray into driving for Uber, I would recommend it whole-heartedly. Just try not to shake down too many Japanese tourists for their last few dollars. That’s myjob.
To read about another one of my ill-conceived adventures, check out That Time I Tried…Being A Pro Mascot.