Uber Tales – Frequently Asked Questions, Edition

I’m going to list some of my most frequently asked questions (FAQ) here but if you have any questions for me that are not listed here, just let me know in the comments.

How long have I been driving for Uber?

  • Five years as of this year.

Do I like it?

  • Yes. (If I didn’t I don’t think I would have stayed with it as long as I have because of the freedom I have with this job).

Longest trip?

  • Current record holder is three hours (would have been three and a half if I hadn’t taken a couple of alternate routes around some high-traffic areas)

Biggest tip?

  • Current record is still $100 though if anyone wants to break that record they’re more than welcome to.

Any really strange or outrageous passengers?

  • Nothing totally bizarre or anyone I couldn’t handle.

How much time do I spend at the airport?

  • Enough to where I sometimes call it my home-away-from-home.

Are you from San Antonio?

  • Born and raised, and I’m old enough to remember when things were built, or something else.

When do you drive?

  • Anytime I want to though my bank account pretty much dictates when I work and for how long.

Has anyone ever puked in your car?

  • No, which I am forever grateful for. I’ve reduced that risk greatly by not 2 a.m. bar let-outs though I do get the occasional day-drunks.

Have I been like a bartender-therapist to people in the car?

  • Yes. I don’t mind because sometimes people just need to talk and I’m more than happy to listen.

How many ‘morning after’s’ (formerly known as the ‘walk of shame’) have I done?

  • Lots. And occasionally I get the story. And I call them ‘morning after’s’ because I had a family in the car one night (mom, dad, two young girls) and the mom was up front with me asking me questions. She was about to say ‘walk of shame’ but I stopped her with ‘morning after’ then angled my head towards her daughters in the backseat. I didn’t feel right saying ‘walk of shame’ in front of young kids and I think I also kept the mom from having to explain that term to her daughters.

Extras

  • I was offered pot in lieu of a tip twice in one week. First time was when I dropped this guy off and he said he didn’t have any cash on him for a tip so I told him he could tip me through the app. Then he offered me something to eat or drink (I politely declined) then he went, “Can I offer you a bag of weed?” I went, “Uh what?” because I wasn’t sure if I heard him correctly. He said yes rather enthusiastically but I declined and got out of there. Second time was a couple of days later when I was driving this lady home and she said she didn’t have cash for a tip so I told her she could tip in the app. Then she asked me if I wanted a joint but I declined smoothly by saying, “No, thank you, ma’am. I don’t smoke.”
  • I’ve been asked out several times (declined firmly but politely) though I got a rather indecent proposal from this guy one night. He was drunk and hitting on me then he offered me money for an indecent time and I went, “Excuse me?” in a tone of voice that made it very clear he crossed a line. He apologized all over himself and I let him flop around like a fish on a hook for a minute or so before I told him, “Apology accepted.” He tipped me well so I let it slide.

If you would like to ask me something that wasn’t addressed here, please ask in the comments here and I’ll do my best to answer it. Thanks!

Uber Tales – Where Things Are, San Antonio-Local Edition

In five years of being an Uber driver in San Antonio, I’ve probably been over every inch of this city (and county). As I tell a lot of my passengers, most people really don’t go too far outside their own little ‘pod’ as I call it. They go to work, school, and shopping. They may venture out to go somewhere different on occasion (though more often than not they’ll call an Uber, which is good for me). But in my job on the road, in addition to never taking the same route every day I also get to find out where a lot of places are, and I can tell people when some of these places were built and what they used to be (or might have been if I’m not entirely certain of a place’s origin story).

I was talking with a passenger just this past week and he told me this story of how his buddy forgot where he’d left his car one night after partying. I told him it sounded like the movie ‘Dude, Where’s My Car’. He didn’t know about that movie but I told him it was ridiculously funny (so stupid but so funny because it didn’t take itself seriously- I highly recommend it if you don’t want to expend any brainpower when watching a movie). I then told my passenger how I knew where all the impound lots were in the city because think about it: if your car has been impounded you’re going to need a ride to the impound lot. One is close to downtown and I tell people it just looks like crap during the day (it’s in an industrial area with a good amount of rust and dirt and pot-holed cratered streets) though I told him if you go down there after dark to watch your back. Then there was an impound lot on the northeast side off I-35 that looked like something out of a horror movie at five-thirty in the morning (I was taking a lady there whose car got towed from her apartment complex- she thought her neighbor ratted her out). I told her I wasn’t leaving her until she confirmed someone in the office to help her and to come out and give me a thumbs-up if so (which she did). Then there was the lot on the far west side off Highway 151 where UTSA (University of San Antonio) took their cars (and I haven’t been over there in a long time so I guess between the pandemic and improved parking these kids have learned not to park in ‘no parking’ areas).

Then there is Sugar’s. It’s a strip club right off Loop 410 not too far from the airport. On the front of the building there is a big shark (he’s white so I assume he’s a great white shark like Jaws). Now I can’t find anything online to figure out the story behind that shark but one passenger I had (a native San Antonian like me) thought that place started out as a seafood restaurant. Which sort of makes sense though I hoped they didn’t serve shark-fin soup. I wonder what they tell their patrons if they ask about the shark.

I’ve been asked by several passengers over the years why our airport in San Antonio is smack-dab in the middle of the city. I tell them the city came to the airport because when the airport was first built back in the late 1950’s there wasn’t a lot out there. The highway in front of the airport, Loop 410 was just being built and nearby North Star Mall was finished around the same time as the airport and looked a lot different (except for the giant cowboy boots out in front of the mall). I tell people I remember when our little airport had just one terminal and that before 9/11 you could go inside and have an ice-cream and watch the planes take off and land (though I will say the people watching coming and going from the security checkpoint was much more interesting). When I first started this gig the big parking garages in front of the terminals were just being finished up. And since I started this job, our waiting lot has changed four times (we share our waiting lot with the lot the cabbies had to themselves before we came along- they’re cool with us and we’re cool with them).

A few months ago, I had my first drop-off at the Bexar County Jail. All I had was the address so I didn’t know exactly where we were going until we pulled up and I read the lettering on the building. My passenger then asked where he was supposed to go and I found the Visitor’s Entrance for him (since he didn’t know where to go I think he might have been there to bail someone out, but I didn’t ask because in my line of work I don’t ask a lot of questions). Then my next ride after I dropped him was about two blocks away at the Bexar County Sheriff’s office. Again, I didn’t ask questions but I can say I know where the jail, Sherriff’s office, and I even know where the Parole/Probation office is (picked up a guy there one morning- he apologized for the pickup location but I told him people deserved a second chance, especially if they were complying with their parole/probation like he was).

So as you can see in my line of work, I can tell you where a lot of places are. And if you’re with me, I can guarantee you I won’t ask a lot of questions, especially about why you’re going to where you’re going. But if my passengers have questions for me about where they’re going (or coming from), I’m more than happy to answer them as best as I can. I’ll explain local jokes (such as Fred’s Fish Fry- little squat boxes that look like fronts for drug dealing though according to a SA Current news story no drug busts have ever been done there), why we call the Alamodome the White Elephant, and I might tell you what parts of town not to stick around for autographs, especially after dark.

Uber Tales – Dude-Bro’s and Predictability in an Unpredictable Job, Edition

In five years of being an Uber driver the only thing that’s predictable about this job is its’ unpredictability. The unpredictability is that every single day (or night) on the road is never the exact same as any other day. But after five years there are some things that have become a bit predictable, and one thing is the type of passengers I have.

Take the dude-bro I had yesterday. The dude-bro is all-male, straight, conservative even if they spout liberal talking points (which they only spout to liberal chicks if they think it will get them laid). They’re college-educated, probably belonged to a fraternity, and probably destroyed a fair number of brain cells in college. They listen to podcasts and worship at the altar of Elon Musk and Joe Rogan. They act like they have their shit together and have all the answers in the world. In reality, they slide through life on being white, male, and having money at their disposal. To me, they’re mostly harmless because they’re afraid of ugly middle-aged women like me because they know we can see right through them.

I’m sure you think I should be kinder in thinking about my passengers. No, that’s not a requirement of my job or of any job for that matter. The customer is not always right and nor should anyone be treated like that. And if I chose to push back at someone’s bullshit in my vehicle in a polite way with no profanity (that’s a line I still won’t cross in the car), then I can and usually will… unless I’m in very heavy traffic and need to concentrate of my driving.

Getting back to yesterday’s dude-bro… he says he’s from California but wants to move to Texas. Okay, I’ve heard that plenty of times before because these dude-bro’s think Texas is a conservative Utopia since it’s the home of their false-messiahs Elon and Joe (they’re not Messiahs and they’re not even very naughty boys, just dumber than a pile of cow shit and they smell just as bad). Then this dude-bro tossed an interesting curveball in the vehicle: he thinks wind and solar power are on their way out and nuclear power will come back. He claims there is a form of nuclear power that isn’t radioactive.

My first thought was: what in the hell has he been smoking? And second, how can something be nuclear and not radioactive? Instead, I asked why and he said something about nuclear being longer-lasting or some word-shit salad. Then I asked about radioactive waste and what to do about that. No real solution there other than burying it (which we’re already doing). Then he said if solar panels break down then what? I told him they can be recycled and not be radioactive for twenty-thousand years like nuclear waste. Then I told him the city of San Antonio has a plan to try and go all-solar and other renewable energy sources. That really shut him up and God I was grateful for that.

It’s this kind of stupidity I have to deal with from time to time and I used to not say anything in reply to it. Now I just do my best to bury their arguments in their own bullshit and keep driving at the same time, something they would never be able to do even if they got lessons from me (which I would never give because they would flunk my tests even if they tried to cheat).

Then in the silence I decided not to point out to dude-bro if he moves to Texas he’ll find the real-estate is cheaper than California but he’ll get whacked with rude jacked-up property taxes, homeowners insurance out the ass, and sky-high utility prices. Then he talked about going down to Boca Chica (in the Rio Grande Valley) where Elon-the-False-Prophet has a Space-X launch site. I didn’t tell him he’d probably be outnumbered a hundred-to-one by wild boars, lizards, snakes, coyotes, and eating sand.

The predictable part of yesterday was the dude-bro vibe I got from this guy immediately and that I was right on the mark. The unpredictability was the pro-nuke line of reasoning. T me, going against things that will help the planet and its’ people simply because it’s a liberal thing is so fucking stupid it defies any attempt to understand it. Of course, this is probably a guy who would tell other guys they’re ‘gay’ if they say or do certain things that aren’t ‘manly’ and conservative and traditional (because heterosexual dude bro’s are homophobic even if they try to hide it). But like I’ve said before, they’re mostly harmless unless they’re lawmakers or run a company and have people on their payroll (then they need to be voted out of office and not be allowed to make any decision more complex than what kind of pencils to buy).

In the end, most of the passengers that annoy me are mostly harmless. And after five years on the road, I’ve learned how to deal with them.

But I do like a good line drive out of left field, even if the person tossing it is in right field and not able to field anything to begin with.

Uber Tales – Housing As Seen From the Road, Edition

As you can imagine, I see a lot of things from the road. And yesterday I was thinking about housing. I know that might sound boring but I don’t think it is. I just think tract housing with lookalike houses is boring.

Yesterday I was all over the place as I drove through three counties way out in the sticks and then into the city. I know people need housing and places to live but these suburban developments with all these houses, a lot of crammed in together don’t hold any appeal for me. Why?

The houses are for the most part thrown up pretty quickly so in about ten years the foundations will shift and crack (they’re mostly slab foundations and since the soil here in South Texas is really loamy and goopy, they will shift eventually). Also, most of these developments are governed by HOA’s (Homeowners Associations) and these organizations can be flat-out nuts at times. Ostensibly they’re to maintain the community amenities like playgrounds and pools along with the streets and stuff. In reality a lot of them turn into nit-picky heaven and enforce all kinds of bullshit deed restrictions (no pink houses or pink flamingo in the yard for example).

I had a passenger who I picked up a few times on my early morning runs who managed a nightclub for two guys who according to him were morons and he also had staffing issues that would give anyone a lot of gray hair. But what he bitched to me about the most was having to go home to a tract-housing development and get dirty looks from his old-fart neighbors for not mowing the grass every week like these heart-attacks-just-waiting-to-happen did. He told me his wife wanted to live in this suburban nightmare but I don’t think he did.

The conformity of cookie-cutter subdivisions amuses me because I still can’t figure out the appeal of living in something so conformist. I grew up in subdivisions as a kid but that was back in the 80’s when you could ride your bike around the place and go outside and listen to music. When I drive through these cookie-cutterville’s I don’t see kids out and about very much. It’s rare for me to see kids on bicycles or hanging out on front driveways or anything like that. I know it’s a different time and all that but I also have to wonder: are a good number of parents class-A ninnies who don’t want their little darlings to scrape a knee and get bitten by a bug? Granted, my generation, Generation X, could walk out injuries that would send anyone else to the hospital but I just don’t see a lot of kids out and about these days.

I still look for them when I’m driving and yes in some neighborhoods I see kids out and about. In 2020, I saw a lot of families out walking in the afternoons during lockdown and I thought that was great. I know it was probably just a case of cabin-fever for a lot of people but jeez, the great outdoors aren’t so bad.

Another thing I’ve thought about is how my job enables me to see so much. Most people just go to work, run errands, and maybe venture out of their little bubbles from time to time to go to an event or something. I love the fact my job has taken me over every inch of San Antonio, Bexar County (the county San Antonio is in that is pronounced by us locals as ‘Bear’ county and not its’ proper Spanish pronunciation of ‘bey har’) and the surrounding counties.

For example, yesterday was one of those days where I was all over the place. I was in three counties, drove by the state jail on the far west side of Bexar County, and got to take a passenger on the scenic route through some pretty undeveloped land north of the city. As I drove by all that undeveloped land all I could think of was that I kind of hoped they put the tract-housing crap-villes somewhere else. I like driving by farms and seeing cows, horses, goats, and two young burros like I did yesterday. I like driving on two-lane country roads through a canopy of big green trees and houses tucked back from the road. I know that kind of life in the sticks isn’t for everyone but the tract-housing ideal sold to Americans since the end of World War II can’t be the ideal either.

Old neighborhoods built before suburbia are colorful because no two houses are exactly alike. Before zoning laws and crap like that people just bought a piece of land and built what they wanted. Now I know old houses are money pits but newer ones are, too. I like old neighborhoods that are a mix of huge mansions then the cottage next door where the poorer folk lived. And I like seeing houses painted blue, purple, or pink. In the past, some uptight-asshole types used to freak out over those colors and I wondered why. I mean, those aren’t ugly colors and here in South Texas the sun will bleach them out in about five years or so.

In the end, I’m not one for settling down as I don’t think it would have worked out for me. I like being on the road too much and I like the thought of living in a house-on-wheels and seeing the world. And also not having to pay HOA dues and dealing with dirty looks from the neighbors about lawn-mowing.

Uber Tales: Do You Like It, Five Years Later Edition

Today is the fifth anniversary of my sign-on date with Uber (the date I went live on the app and could start doing rides). As of today (before I start my run this afternoon), I’ve done approximately 12,900 rides and I probably have driven around the planet a few times (lost some milage counts a while back). When I tell people how long I’ve been doing this I get asked this question, one I’ve been asked a lot in the last five years:

Do you like it?

I’ve always wanted to ask what prompted this question but I don’t want to come off as rude or presumptuous or some crap like that. So instead, I’ll do my best to answer it here.

First, the answer is yes even after five years. And there are several reasons for that.

One, the unpredictability. As a driver, you never go the same route day in and day out though there are some constants in the job like going to and from the airport or downtown in a major tourist city like my hometown here of San Antonio. But there are days when I am literally all over the city, and on a few occasions I’ve gone from one end of the county to the other and into the surrounding counties.

Two, meeting new people. I’m shy and introverted by nature so this has really helped me learn how to gauge whether or not people want to talk and what to talk about. I’ve had a lot of conversations about a lot of different things and some have made me laugh, and a few had me fighting not cry behind the wheel.

Three, being managed by an algorithm. I’ve heard people say if you do gig work you’re managed by a computer algorithm and I will always say in reply, “And your point is?” Having been managed by both humans and algorithm I’ll take the algorithm because although I had some good human managers, most of them I wouldn’t give you a dime for because of their sheer incompetence and a few I wouldn’t piss on if they were on fire because of their sadistic cruelty. The algorithm doesn’t micromanage you as long as you keep your stats up and stay out of trouble, which I find very easy to do. Also, the algorithm I work for doesn’t say jack-squat to me if I go offline to use the bathroom or for any other reason. I’ve been micromanaged more than I ever want to remember and I sure as hell don’t miss it.

Four, I get to see my city and everything in it. I’ve been in some of the wealthiest enclaves with multi-million-dollar mansions, and parts of the city with houses worth a fraction of that. And yes, I’ve been a few parts of the city that are more than a little rough around the edges but I didn’t stick around for autographs as I’m fond of saying. But I’ve never had any trouble in any area and people are really good wherever you go.

Also, this gig has kept me from sinking into a depressive hell because as my full-time job, if I don’t drive I don’t eat. So no matter how awful I have felt mentally and emotionally, once I get on the road I leave that behind and focus on the ride. And I’m forever grateful for that and also even if something has gone wrong on a run I’ve been able to leave it behind once I park the car at the end of my run.

Is gig work perfect? Heck no. I’ve had more than my share of ups and downs with it, days where I couldn’t get any action going, and crap to deal with like any other job I’ve had. But I didn’t get into this job (or any job I’ve ever had for that matter) expecting things to always be sunshine and rainbows.

Is gig work for everyone? No. With this job I always say you have to be able to roll with things as they come and be able to think on your feet, or behind the wheel. Like yesterday for example, a passenger left a phone in the car and that’s hard to get back to someone (though I was able to, thank goodness). Also, on Tuesday this past week the app glitched just as I started my afternoon run at the airport so I lost some time there till they got it fixed. But as I like to say, things work out eventually.

I think a part of me will miss this gig once I’m able to move on to something else but one big thing I’ve learned is how much I like being on the road seeing the world and being my own boss. I’m far from perfect but I know I can function best when I’m on my own having the freedom to do my job without anyone micromanaging me.

And if you’ve ever asked an Uber driver if they like their job, can you tell me why? I’m just curious as to what prompts that question because my thoughts on it are pure speculation and I’d like to know from people who’ve asked the question instead. Thanks and here’s to more days on the road.

Uber Tales – Do I Like It, Edition

In the almost five years I’ve been driving for Uber there is one question I still get asked a lot, and that still baffles me though I’m not quite sure why.

Do I like being an Uber driver?

I always say yes of course but I wonder why I get asked the question in the first place (I haven’t asked that of my questioning-passengers because I don’t want to come off as rude or ungrateful, or something like that). I think for me the big reason I’m baffled by this question is that in all the other jobs I’ve had, I never got asked this question. In fact, when I worked in call-center Hell most people asked how I could stand dealing with people yelling at me all day over the phone. I told them it wasn’t the people yelling at me on the phone that made that job a crap-fest but the management I worked under (for every good manager I had, I had at least five I wouldn’t piss on if they were on fire).

I wonder if being a gig-worker as Uber drivers are sometimes referred to is still very alien and dare I say, unique to a lot of people. Like some people see us as free-spirits, or losers they secretly admire for not being a part of the corporate rat-race so they have to wonder if we really like it or we do it because we can’t hack it elsewhere.

So in reply to the question of do I like being an Uber driver, I’ll list some of the things I really like about the job.

First thing I like: no set schedule. Uber will post about potentially busy times and also any incentives during certain times (incentives are extra money given in addition to fares and tips- and all tips go directly to drivers). So if I take an evening off the road I can do a morning run (five a.m. to about nine a.m.). My preferred time is currently three-thirty p.m. to about midnight, especially with airport runs because those are usually pretty good money fare-and-tip wise. But if you’re feeling like crap, or if you want to cut out and you’ve got the money to do it, you can and no one says anything.

Because yes, as a driver you are managed by an algorithm. And when asked how that’s going I always say, “I’ll take the algorithm over the human.” Uber’s algorithm has always been good to me as long as I maintain my numbers (customer rating/acceptance/cancellation) which is easy to do with this gig. In call-center Hell, I was micromanaged by people who had no business managing anything other than a stapler. It was so bad I used to get dirty looks from managers when I stood up to stretch or go to the bathroom. With the algorithm, I don’t get any dirty looks for either stretching or bathroom breaks.

Another thing I like is tenure and top status has its’ perks. There is a four-level tier system for drivers and I’ve been in the top tier since the system was implemented. And they don’t keep adjusting the goalposts for this tiered system to make it damn near impossible for anyone to get into the top tier and stay there. It’s like having an ongoing performance review without having to sit down and go through one of those every year and be grateful for whatever pitiful raise you get.

And yet another thing I like- no yelling or screaming people. I’ve had a few people mutter shit about me or just treat me like something they scrapped off the bottom of their shoe at the dog park. And I’ve had a few indecent proposals. But the good thing is I haven’t had to deal with anyone like that in a long time, and if I really had someone go off on me and not back off and apologize I could report them and not be matched with them again.

One of the things I really like about this job is the diversity of the people I meet every day. I’ve met people from all over the world and from all walks of life. I’ve had a ton of conversations about everything under the sun and then some. I’ve laughed my ass off behind the wheel, and I’ve fought like hell not to lose it at some things I’ve heard, too. And yes, what’s said in my Uber stays in there because I don’t have any details about the people I shuttle around and I don’t ask a lot of questions in my line of work. So in response to my top FAQ: yes, I like being an Uber driver. And I’ll keep doing it as long as it works for me, and as long as they’ll have me. Thanks for riding with me today.

Uber Tales – Origin Story

Created by my friend Deborah Ratliff

On March 31, 2017 I became an active Uber driver. At that time I was working a part-time gig as a contract delivery driver for Amazon and needed some more money. Then at the end of May that year that contract gig ended and I went full-time with Uber because I needed to keep earning money and no one was responding to my resumes being submitted. Then I discovered I liked being an Uber driver and managed by an algorithm with no human support available at that time.

It’s now been almost five years, over twelve-thousand rides, a lot of miles, my own vehicle followed by four rentals, and numerous app updates. I’ve also survived the business crashing in March 2020 when the covid-19 lockdown happened here in San Antonio and the usual ups and downs of the ridesharing business in general.

One question I’ve been asked a lot over the years with this job is, do I like it?

I find that question odd even after being asked it for five years because before I started doing this job, no one ever asked me that before. But then before I started doing gig/rideshare work, I worked in call-center Hell. When I told people about that job the number-one question was how I put up with people yelling at me over the phone all day. I’ve told people the worst thing about call-center work for me wasn’t the yelling over the phone, but the incompetent to downright-sadistic management in the call-centers I worked in. I told them the places I worked where were run by penny-ante, nitpicking, bullshit-loving assholes for the most part. So when people say that I’m managed by an algorithm and not a human I say in return, “And your point is?” After five years of being managed by an algorithm I’ll take the algorithm over the humans because I had only a small handful of human managers I actually liked and respected.

Now I will freely admit I have not taken my Uber job nowhere as seriously as I probably could have, or should have. I mean I’m not the most organized person in the world with it nor am I the most ‘rah-rah-rah, go team!’ person about it either. For me, it’s been something I can do with the least amount of fuss and muss and as long as I maintain my numbers I’m good to go. But I’m also good to make my own schedule and take it one ride at a time. Because there has only been a few times when I came off the road flaming-hot mad unlike call-center Hell where that was almost a daily thing.

As of right now, I don’t have any truly insane, off-the-wall bonkers story to tell but I’ve got a lot of other ones to tell. Also, I’ve got a good number of observations about human nature, the world we live in, and life before and after the covid-19 epidemic.

I’ve read a lot over the years from economists and other egg-head types about how gig work truly sucks and takes advantage of people. Some of what they say is true but as someone who also worked for wages for a lot of years, I can make a lot of comparisons and contrasts between hourly-salaried work and independent gig-work. I went into this job with my eyes wide-open and no expectation of a red-carpet roll-out experience. To me, it’s just about making money and leaving it behind at the end of the road for the day. No two days are the same with this job and I’ve always said that the only predictable thing about this job is its’ unpredictability. Sometimes you hit the financial jackpot and some days you can’t get any action going at all.

One time after I’d answered a rider’s questions about my job he said to me (this is an exact quote): “So basically, you drive around all day, meet new people, and listen to music.” I told him that was about right though in addition to that I dealt with traffic, bad drivers, weather, and on occasion delivered food (back then I was doing food delivery to offset the reduction in regular rides).

So each week here till the book is published, I’ll share stories and behind-the-scenes bits like with my other three books. Hopefully I’ll get something off-the-wall nuts before I go for publication.

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