Back in the early 1970’s when I was in college, John Coleman was the President of Haverford College, a close neighbor of my alma mater, Swarthmore College. During his vacations, President Coleman often worked as a laborer, short order cook, or dishwasher. My favorite stories were about his service as a garbageman. This college CEO and President of the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank fancied himself a pretty fair collector of garbage. Of course he never suggested he would give up his day job for one of these part time gigs, but I admired him for just being open to experiencing a different side of working life.
Whether being an Uber driver today is the equivalent of a garbageman in the 70’s is a point I won’t argue, but from my first ride with Uber six months ago, the urge to try this out from the driver’s seat appealed to me. It seemed like an opportunity to experience how a growing number of Americans experience work. And to be fully transparent, I love to drive and with a very creaky back these days, I’m not a huge fan of manual labor.
I’ve got to hand it to Uber. They are really good at what they do. Really good. Five minutes after starting the on-line registration, my cell phone rang and the voice on the other end of the phone asked “Am I ready to have my car inspected?” Ridiculously efficient. Within a few more minutes, a very nice man in a very clean car pulled into the entrance of my university. Had I really not washed and vacuumed my car in a couple weeks? Nice start to a new job. Despite these shortcomings, after a ten minute very organized and regimented inspection, I passed (or I should say my near-new, but slightly dirty Volvo passed).
My inspector had been driving with Uber for 17 months. His customer rating was 4.85 on a scale of one to five. He clearly was not someone to be ignored and so I listened very carefully to the driving tips he began to impart. It will take me a while, he suggested, to figure out how best to catch rides. Stay away from large events. They are a pain to get into and out of. I can drop people at the airport but I’m not allowed not to pick them up. Sometimes, he advises, it’s best just to sit near a hot neighborhood. The bars in Buckhead or the Marta stations in North Atlanta are a good bet. The gentleman’s clubs on Cheshire Bridge Road late at night are also lucrative. That ought to make my wife happy. Other times, just try roaming a bit. On a good Saturday night, I ought to be able to clear $300 to $400. Since I’m donating my earnings to Oglethorpe’s scholarship fund, that has the potential of being a night well spent. I’ve certainly been to plenty of alumni events where I didn’t take that much in for my school.
Here’s what else I now know about the inside workings of Uber. If someone throws up in my car, just take a picture, e-mail it in, get my car cleaned, and I’ll get reimbursed. And as an Uber driver, I’m eligible for all sorts of discounts at tire stores, oil lube outlets, cell phone companies and even gas stations. This was getting better every minute.
By the close of day one, my driving record has been checked and my license, insurance and registration reviewed and approved. I think we are awaiting my criminal background check before they allow me to take the Uber test. Seventy questions and I need to score a seventy percent passing grade before my credentials will be issued. My inspector commented that I seemed like a smart enough guy to get a seventy. Clearly, he have not discovered that I have flunked my first driver’s test 45 years ago. I plan to study up over the holiday weekend.
I’ll share more after my virgin ride. I haven’t been this nervous in a long time.