I Am Not A Robot

I’ve been wanting to write some sort of Uber expose from the driver’s perspective for a few months now. Instead, because my Uber driving account was deactivated (February 21), I am now writing this post as an exercise in purging the negative energy out of my system, rather than as a tell-all, although I’m sure it will tell many things.

I am human.

Late in February, on a very early Tuesday morning, my Uber account was deactivated – which means I was technically fired from being a driver. No sadness on my part over this move by them, other than I was losing the opportunity to quit the minute I put two more personal road trips using the Uber rental car under my belt. I had planned a trip for Southern California to visit a few friends, and one back up to Mt. Shasta. Those trips aren’t going to happen right now – and given the downturn in my Uber earnings over the past few months, those trips may have never happened anyway.

So, I’m cool.

What I’m not cool with is why my account was deactivated.

Continue reading “I Am Not A Robot”

Week Two: Uber Observations: Surprise!

I’m sitting having my morning tea at Peet’s and the local Uber app is lit up like a Christmas tree. If I was a morning person, I could be out there making 2x, but I’m not, so I’m sitting here enjoying hanging out with my posse at the cafe.

This week in Uber Observations is all about the element of SURPRISE!

I hate surprises. Really, I do.

For what it’s worth, my riders are the ones that are always surprised that I have no idea where they are headed until I start the trip. (I tried once starting the trip early, just so I could see the destination, but that backfired big time, when it was too far for me to drive and I had to cancel it.)

“Where are we going?”, I say.

“To work!”, they respond. Thinking that I somehow know where that is.

Or maybe they say, “I put the address in the app!”, with a tone that implies that I’m an idiot.

What I really want to know is, am I going around the block – yes, that happens – or should I pack an overnight bag? Last week I traveled some serious mileage – a few thirty+ mile trips one way – with no rider back. The overnight bag could have come in handy in that case. But instead, I ate a lot of gas and time. Sure I could have sat around San Rafael or Walnut Creek or down in Fremont and waited for a rider back to Berkeley, but how long would I have had to wait?

Seriously, until I swipe that bar, I have no idea. Surprise!

And then it’s a big surprise for you when I say, “There is no way I am driving fifty-four miles down to the South Bay in heavy traffic after driving already for six hours today. Sorry, you have to find another driver.” Are you ok with that? You better be, because I’m keeping you safe.

Another element of Uber surprise – the app shows you a photo of me and my car, but I have no idea who you are. I get a first name and that is it. I have no idea if that “Chris” is a man or a woman. No photo, no last name, no destination. Surprise! How many times has someone ordered up an Uber for their friend or girlfriend and aren’t even going on the trip? A lot.

Once I read the address and click on the GPS, I get the route map in chunks. I only know where the next turn is, I have no idea of the route. If the GPS is lagging behind me, which it often does, Surprise!, I miss the turn.

What else is a surprise? Fine print. Uber has a lot of fine print and it’s not easy to find. Yesterday I found out about an incentive to make more cash last week by filling a quota that was impossible to fill given the few hours left in the pay period by the time I got the memo.

I’m not a planner, but then I’m usually traveling by myself. I’m picking my own route, my own breaks, my own twists and turns. It’s nerve wracking to have a total stranger in the car and not know who they are or where they want to go until the last minute. Will they give me a five star rating or Surprise!, will they dock me to three or four for saying, “Have a beautiful rest of the day!” or “Have a safe flight!”. Multiply that by twenty times a day …

The map is still lit up, so maybe it’s time to take off to meet today’s surprises head on!

Week One: Uber Observations

Driving with Uber has really taken me out of my day-to-day reality. I’ve been to more places in the last few days than I have been in five years. Places both familiar and strange. I’ve had extremely diverse riders, including other Uber drivers and Uber employees.

Here are a few observations I’ve made about humanity in my first week of driving.

Teenagers are obnoxious. Cute. But obnoxious. They also don’t know where they are. Maybe I was an anomaly when I was a kid, but I loved maps and relating them to my surroundings. I loved looking at different ways to get from here to there. I could give my Mom driving directions on how to get to far away places I had only been to once before in my wee little life. The teenagers I’ve driven totally freaked out when I asked them anything related to direction. They have no idea where they are on the planet. They are totally dependent on the GPS system, ie: Tech. It makes me fear for our future and I wonder if the Singularity and Transhumanism already have their roots wrapped securely into our lives. If I have to come back to this planet, in my next life I want to remember to stay connected to nature and to find things out for myself – and go out and get lost.

Disposition. There is no rhyme or reason as to who likes to talk, who wants to be silent, or who is suffering from a hangover. Some people want to make sure you are going in the right direction, others will huff and puff in the back seat if you make a wrong turn or study the GPS for too long.

Direction. Which makes a good segue into this next point … If I miss a turn, it’s because I truly missed it probably because the GPS was lagging – believe me, I am not trying to extend our trip.

Music. The number of people who are impressed with the Classical music I have on the radio is truly surprising. Sure, it’s not for everyone, but people have mentioned that it’s a nice respite from the sounds that are happening in other Uber cars.

And finally …

Tips. Even if tips were not ok with Uber, I’d be telling you to tip your Uber driver. ESPECIALLY when you take them ten, twenty, or thirty miles out into the middle of no frakking where with no chance of finding a fare back to town. Even if you are just coming home from work, and going between the train station and home, throw some coins into that cupholder.

Off On A New Adventure … Maybe

One can look for work only for so long before it becomes truly a futile experience. That was about three years ago for me – the recognition of the futility of it all. But I continued the search, the fishing, the changing goals, and the self-education in updating my job skills, not because I wanted to but because I needed to. All those years I worked in tech … what are they good for now?

My past three.point.five years has felt like being kept in a cage – a kind of personal biblical period of tribulation. A spiritual retreat. Not being able to move about the planet as I would like. Having faith that somehow things would change. Now, it seems, finally, the energy has shifted and the cage door is cracked open.

It all started with the gift of an iPhone from a friend.

I had been tweeting for an old, but working iPhone – maybe someone had one they could hand off. I only wanted it to use for iphonography to work with my stock photography agency (as you can see by a lot of the newer posts on this site!) but after having it for a couple of weeks, it occurred to me that I could use it to sign up to drive for Uber. The politics/culture of the company aside, it may not be the job I want now, or would ever want, but it might get me moving out of the cage and into a forward direction out into the world.

After signing up, I realized that the whole process was going to be just a little more complicated than I first thought. The iPhone only had wi-fi and, um, I didn’t have access to an upscale vehicle. The Escape Pod was just not going to do for this project – which is fine with me, because it would need a lot of work to make it run around all day, plus, yes, it’s my sanctuary and carting strangers around in it is not something I’m willing to do.

A little research.

Recently Uber started a car leasing program to get new drivers who may not have the required level of vehicle into the program. The idea of leasing is not attractive to me on a number of levels. I have no where to park an extra car during the day or when I’m not driving for a few days, nor do I want to pay for an extra car during the weeks I might decide to take a break from driving. Not to mention extra insurance.

But one of the other offers is through a partnership with Enterprise. Rent a car when I need it – for weeks at a time if I wish – and return it when I want to take a break from driving. And the car rental insurance comes with it.

Whether leasing or renting, the cost of the vehicle is the first thing deducted from the paycheck, then the percentage (it’s now 20%) that Uber takes off of the top before paying out every Thursday.

It’s a bit like working for the company store whether the vehicle is rented or leased.

If you do the math, as I did, the leasing of the car, and renting for that matter, are not good deals for anyone with rent, bills, or dependents to feed. Seriously. It’s predatory. I though, have little overhead. I live in the pod and my only real monthly expenses are food and storage rent. If I drive full time, it will be possible to make just enough to cover expenses and have a little leftover to pay off little debts, and maybe purchase some much needed items like a new pair of glasses, some shoes, etc.

While in the past I have always been an independent magician, bringing together everything I need for my projects on my own terms, for some reason the Universe is forcing me to shout out to my community to get the things I need to start this particular project.

Which is ridiculous to think that it would cost a small fortune (for someone who has had no real income for years) to start a “job” …

I put the call out to my community. I told everyone who would listen what I was planning to do – which is basically exactly what I am writing here. Besides having the iPhone gifted to me, another friend put me on their friends and family plan for their mobile service. Other Angels came through with the basic cash advance, and a lot of other people are throwing rainbow darts in my direction just to get the energy moving.

My plan was to first commit to this for two weeks. I figured that two weeks of driving would let me know if I could handle the social aspect of driving people around. Two weeks would let me know if I can get over and above the company store aspect of the job. Even though it’s considered to be independent contracting, every incentive of driving for Uber ties the driver to the company. But unlike a company store, it’s easier to cut ties with Uber.

Now, I’m looking more at committing to driving through the summer. Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco. With my thinking cap on, I contacted Uber support and asked, could I take a working vacation? Could I go to say, someplace like Santa Fe, or Portland, or Seattle, and rent my Enterprise car and drive for a week? No, they said. But the good news is that I can drive anywhere within the state of California. Eventually I could go see some sites …

But for now, I’m starting with my home base.

Wish me luck.