A long time ago, in a city far, far away, there lived a pastor, his wife, and their FIVE
expensive lovely children…
it is a period of Civil War. Bills and automatic withdrawals, striking from multiple hidden bases, have won many victories against this pastor’s bank account. During these battles, Rebel spies managed to alert him of a New Hope – an income opportunity that simply involved driving people from point A to point B. They also stole some plans to an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet, but the pastor had no idea how to read blueprints, so the plans were merely “filed” away. In a box. Never to be seen again.
Multiple hats. In twenty plus years of ministry (children’s ministry, youth ministry, Jr. high ministry, church planting, street evangelism, etc.), I have worn a lot of hats, and had a lot of interesting experiences. The first church I pastored in was a largish church (I was the Jr. high youth pastor, 700-1000 members), but since then, I have found myself in mostly small and medium sized congregations. As such, I wear several hats. I write, I teach college classes (History, New Testament, Old Testament and even the odd Computer Science course from time to time.) I also work at a local Baptist Seminary. I am very blessed, and I enjoy all of those hats (or jobs) more than I can express here. Sometimes, however, those jobs are a little transient. For instance, I only work for the seminary about 8 months out of the year. That leaves our personal income a little puny in January and July-September. So it happened in January of this year that I became a professional Uber driver. Though I have only driven a few days (8 in total, for about 90 or so “fares”/pick-ups), I have enough interesting stories to provide great sermon fodder for the next couple of years! (Pastors: Driving for Uber is a GOLD-mine for illustrations and anecdotes. You can CLICK THIS LINK to sign up to drive for Uber – you’ll get an extra $100, and they’ll send some gold my way too)
And now, without further introduction, here is my first “Adventures in Uber” column. I’ll start out with a top five click-baity style post, and then get to some more in-depth stories and reflections down the road a bit.
Five Interesting Things About Being an Uber Driver:
- The People/”Pax”/Passengers Far and away, the most interesting thing about driving for Uber is the opportunity to talk with so many unique and interesting people. Some are out of towners – I’ve met several from New York, Chicago, and various other American cities – no out of country folks yet. Most (2/3rds) are from North Alabama, almost everyone local talks about how excited they are that Uber has finally come to Birmingham. (There was initially a long period of resistance by our city council – Uber has only been active here for around 9 months) The cross section of people that I pick up is quite remarkable. All races, all religions, all sexual preferences, all social classes. One of the dangers/downsides of being a pastor is that you might spend almost all of your time with church people. I actually like church people, and find that (at least in the circles I travel in) the frequently heard charge of hypocrisy is often a bit overblown. That said, solely hanging out with church people can give you an insular view of the world, and most pastors I know spend 99 percent of their time with other Christians. Driving for Uber really smashes that dynamic, and allows you to see people of all stripes. Most church people don’t swear a lot around me, because most of them know that I’m a pastor. Driving for Uber, however, it is quite clear that in the “real” world, many people swear with every almost breath. Lot’s of people drink – some heavily. I would estimate that somewhere around 40 percent of my passengers are drunk, or well on their way. (Note: I only drive on Friday/Saturday nights) Some passengers are incredibly jovial and fun and talkative, and some are more quiet and reserved. Regardless, It is fun, and I enjoy it greatly. By the way: None of these things offend me. When I pick up drunk people who swear, I am still the worst sinner in the car, and I don’t shake my head at them. As John Newton once said, “Although my memory’s fading, I remember two things very clearly: I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.”
- The Conversations: My policy for passengers is quite simple: I don’t talk if you don’t talk. Put another way, my second job (after safely driving/navigating) is deducing whether or not my current passenger wants or needs to talk. If they are quiet/reticent or shy- I usually just ask one open ended question that can easily be answered with a phrase or two. Sometimes people are quiet initially, but very much desire to conversate. Sometimes they wish to remain in mostly silence, except for some music. I have to make the call after that first question whether or not they want to talk. I would estimate that roughly 75 percent of passengers are interested in talking. They usually ask me a lot of questions about Uber, about myself, and about other passengers. Some people are exuberantly friendly, like the three guys I picked up Friday, one of whom vaped and left behind a Captain Crunchy like smell in my car; or the two guys I picked up in July that practically begged me to come drinking with them – even offering to buy all of my drinks for the night! Other people are friendly in more subtle ways. I talked with a young Auburn graduate this weekend about her job future, her family, her finance degree, and her hopes and dreams for the future. She had no guile and no hesitation to let her guard down and just open up about seemingly deep thoughts and feelings. Another young graduate asked me a lot of questions about teaching at a college (once she found out that I was a college professor.) At least three passengers this weekend apologized for “talking my ears off,” but I quickly told them that the deep and long conversations were my favorite part about driving for Uber. If you know me in real life, you probably know that I don’t do small talk very well…I’m actually quite awkward at it. So one would think that being an Uber driver would be one awkward encounter or conversation after another, but it has not been that way at all! When I’m driving and picking up passengers, I become something quite different than who I normally am. I’m not shy, nor an introvert, but I’m also not usually the first person to greet visitors at our church either. When Ubering, however, I’m the only greeter there is, so that pushes me into a place of openness and engagement that I don’t usually go to, and it is actually quite exhilarating.
- The Uber System itself: The Uber platform is, without doubt, a technological marvel. I have driven (on and off) for Uber since January of this year, and have never actually met or talked to another Uber employee in person. I have not met another Uber driver in the wild, (though there appear to be at least 100-150 in the Birmingham area.) (I do understand that Uber drivers who are more regularly driving than me have some places that they congregate, I’ve just never met any of them.) More interestingly, I have never actually met somebody from Uber corporate. Everything so far has been handled through the Uber driver’s application and through email. The app itself seems to work great. There is a rider’s app that requests a pick up, and a driver’s app that connects rider to driver. From the driver’s side, here’s how it works: 1. Drive around (or park) in areas that people are likely to need rides in. 2. Wait for a “ping” on your driver’s app. The ping is a flashing alert that comes in on your phone which signals that a potential rider near you needs a pick up. That first “ping” tells you where the rider is, what their rating is, and how far away they are. (more on ratings in a moment…) 3. If I accept the “ping,” my phone immediately shifts to give me directions to go pick up the passengers. 4. (The most complicated part…) Arrive at the location that a rider requested, and attempt to find the rider. Most of the time it is very straightforward – the “pax” (lingo for passenger/rider) is waiting curbside precisely where they are supposed to be. Sometimes – maybe 35 percent of the time, the rider is not waiting for you at the curb. They might still be in the restaurant/hotel/house you are picking them up at. They might also be a block or two (or three) away. It’s like a not too fun game of “Where’s Waldo,” and you sometimes just have to call the riders to find them. 5. The passenger gets in your car and (usually) their destination is automatically entered into the Uber Driver app. Just click the nav button and off you go! Hopefully, their destination is a long ways away. Sometimes it is not, and you can actually end up making less than $3 for a very short trip. Great for the pax, not so great for the rider. Tips do happen from time to time, but they are very rare in my experience. Which is fine, I suppose. I’m not a huge fan of tipping in general.
Payment is handled completely in app. I don’t ask the pax for money, so that makes things go much more smoothly. At the end of the trip, I press a button to complete the drop off, and am immediately prompted to “rate” the passenger on a scale of 1 to 5. I almost always give a 5, unless somebody is incredibly rude. The passenger does the same thing at their end. Rate the ride and driver on a 1-5 scale. The scale itself is a bit controversial. A 4 is a terrible rating for a driver, and 3 is worse, 2 is worse still, etc. If a driver averages a 4.7 or below, they will be suspended and not allowed to drive. Most of us are accustomed to thinking of a four star rating out of five as pretty good – sometimes very good, but according to the Uber system, any rating less than a 5 is terrible, and potentially career ending for an Uber driver. That is a weird system, and I’m not a huge fan.
- Telling people that you are a pastor is often, but not always, likely to generate an awkward silence. I do not engage in evangelism or proselytizing at all as a driver. However, passengers often ask questions like, “So, what is your real job?” Well, my “real” job is that I am a pastor, and I sometimes tell people that. Over time, however, I have learned that some people get very quiet when I do. Early on, there were occasions when people would be in the car and talking freely with me, and midway into the conversation, they would ask what I do. Upon finding out I was a pastor, they would get quiet and withdraw – sometimes even apologizing for the things they had said previously. I have not ever been offended personally by what people have said in my car, and I don’t want to put people in that kind of position, so of late, I communicate my “real” job in a different way. I sometimes just say that I teach Bible (which I do- I am an adjunct New Testament professor), or something like that. Saying I am a teacher is usually much less…shocking? to my pax than saying that I am a pastor, or preacher. For instance, I picked up a group of young gay men this weekend. Upon finding out that I was a Bible teacher and a history teacher, they had a bunch of questions about how the two things mixed. We ended up having a decent spiritual conversation, and they were not at all put off by my occupation. This is a good thing. I want to have spiritual/truth focused conversations as much as possible, but when driving, I don’t EVER force that on people…however, I am quite happy to go there when they initiate.
- The “Barf Fee” This Friday, I picked up a group of ladies headed out to celebrate one of their birthdays. They said, “I’ll bet you hear all kinds of interesting things as a driver, right?” Yes – I certainly do! It is more common to pick up a group of people (2-4) than to just pick up one person. Often, when there is a group, they talk with each other like I either don’t exist, or (more commonly) like I am one of the gang, Three groups of passengers this past week asked me about the “barf fee,” and had some interesting tales to tell from other Uber experiences that they had. What is the “barf fee,” you ask? Since a big part of Uber, and other ridesharing companies’ business is picking up people who are drunk, sometimes passengers get sick, and vomit in cars. When that happens (or any other bodily fluid incidences…shudder), Uber charges the passenger a fee from $25 (for a very, very minor incident) to $200 – for a full on barfing in the back seat of somebody’s car. I have never had somebody barf in my car, or pee on the side of it, but I have heard many stories of such behavior. The worst that has happened to me is that I arrived at church one Sunday morning (after driving until 3am the night before) to find some beer bottles in my back seat. (I didn’t charge anybody for that) One question I always ponder when driving: Would it be worth it to have somebody barf in my back seat? Yes – it would be nasty, smelly, etc. Yes, I would have to clean it up. Yes, the odor might…linger for a while. BUT – there’s that sweet $200 that would make everything better, right? Right?! Okay, maybe not.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, this finishes the first installment of “Adventures in Uber.” I generously give it 3 stars out of 5, and note that, “Adventures in Uber 1 lacks depth, both spiritual and otherwise, but does contain some good behind the scenes facts about Uber-driving.” Stay tuned or SUBSCRIBE to be alerted when the next amazing adventure drops. For the next AIU post, I intend to share with you some more of the best Uber stories that have happened to me so far. Stay tuned, and scroll down a bit to subscribe to the blog via email. I promise to not spam you. In fact, I hardly will email you at all.
Thank you for reading!!