This is one of my sweeter experiences with an Uber passenger. My earlier hours driving had me pick up one of the more difficult passengers to date, and I found the pleasant company of this young man a gift. More stories about my experience as an Uber driver and the passengers I pick up can be found in my book, Uber Chronicles: Field Notes from the Front Seat.
He likes the pasta
Beep. Thirteen minutes away. I’m grateful that this ride is headed in the general direction of my home. Somehow, GPS has me on the wrong side of the road, about a quarter of a mile from where my rider is. We text. We find each other. He’s young, 16, Black; his countenance is sweet and friendly.
He’s talking on the phone when he gets in, and I have the distinct feeling that he is using his phone as a shield not to talk to me. I don’t mind that he needs to finish up his conversation on the phone, but I do realize that I want a minute or so of bonding—or at least some form of communication—when someone gets in my car.
I apologize for being on the other side of the road and having a hard time finding him. He tells me that GPS always puts drivers in the wrong location when he needs a pickup at this particular address. I gently suggest that he might want to include a better landmark or use a different address next time he needs a ride.
He provides me shortcuts to his home. He doesn’t get back on his phone. I ask him where he works. Red Lobster, he tells me. I decide to go for the white lie and tell him I’ve heard that it’s a really nice place and that my friends like it too.
I ask him what his favorite dish is there. The pasta, he tells me. No elaboration. The pasta. I’m good with that.
Then he does this thing: He asks if we can stop at McDonald’s on the way home. The second such request in a day. I want to explain to him—to the Molehill Lady as well—that I get paid by the mile plus ten cents a minute (minus Uber’s 25 percent; minus my gas, my car costs, my insurance … and then minus the 28, or whatever, percent I need to pay in taxes on my earned income).
I want to tell him that his 8-minute stopover at McDonald’s yields me not even 50 cents, but I figure it will probably go in one ear and out the proverbial other. Instead, I say yes and decide to pop in and join him at the counter. I want to get my thermos filled with hot water to re-steep my ginger tea. I stand beside him. I look at him. I take him home.
He says it was nice meeting me. I tell him the same.
Key experience: I needed him. I needed his sweetness to soften the bitterness that I was feeling about the extra work/time to get the packages back to the most-likely-not-even-very-grateful Molehill Lady.
Photo by Paweł Rękas.