Trip length: 48 minutes. Trip distance: 19.9 miles.
Fare: $34.18Song of the trip: "Where Are You Going" by Dave Matthews
This happened years ago, but it's a fun story to tell you none the less. But there are a couple of things that are important to understand about the time we were in when this story takes place. This was before Orange 45 became the dictator of the U.S., before tipping was allowed through the Uber app. Let's call it three years ago.
One of the most common questions I get as an Uber driver has always been "Is it true you don't know where you're driving a passenger until they get into the car?" In the last few months, Uber's implemented a feature to notify a driver when a request is a trip over 45 minutes, so that drivers who don't want to get too far out of their home can pass on fares that might take them to, say, San Francisco from San Jose. We didn't have that feature back when this story happened.
(Mind you, we drivers have been asking for another notification if a request is for a fare over 90 minutes, and you might think that never happens, but I have driven people out to Modesto, Monterrey and Napa, and those fares are brutal because you're almost never going to get fares on the way home, which means hours of driving on your own nickel.)
So every time someone's approaching the car, I'm wondering if the trip is going to be five minutes or forty. At this point on a Friday evening in August, I'm currently in Palo Alto, just off Stanford's campus, where I dropped off a lovely girl back at her dorm after she'd left a miserable first date. The trip request notification pops up - passenger is 7 minutes away, has a 4.87 rating. I tap to accept and see I'm picking up someone named Maurice, and he's over at the Apple store on University Avenue.
A few minutes later, I'm pulling up in front of the Apple store, and thankfully, Maurice is ready to go, so I don't have to stay stationary on the street for more than half a minute, as he climbs into the back seat. "You're Billy, right? For Maurice?"
"That's me, Joker," I say, and he laughs a bit at the Steve Miller Band reference. I slide my finger across the phone to start the trip and it looks like we're driving about seven miles down to an Irish pub in Mountain View called Molly McGee's.
"How's your night going?" he asks. Drivers, on the whole, are more than willing to engage in conversation, but we don't often make the opening salvo, because some passengers simply want to ride in silence, or listen to music.
"Not too shabby," I tell him, "although my last fare was a lovely young woman who spent most of the ride telling me about what assholes college boys can be."
Maurice looks out the window as we approach the 101 onramp, smiling a little to himself. "Well, everyone's an asshole in college. I remember I used to do all sorts of horrible things when I was in my 20s." He's a well-groomed, sharp-dressed black man in his early thirties or so, certainly at least half a decade younger than me, and looks like he's done pretty well for himself. "You know anything about this bar I'm going to?"
We get this a lot as well - people asking for the lay of the land before they get to someplace new to them. Uber drivers often play Sherpa to people exploring their local nightlife, especially when they've only been living in the Bay a few months. "Haven't been in there myself, but I've done my share of pickups from the place. Last call there can get a bit sloppy. Had a few too many overserved pickups from there for my liking. Drinks aren't too expensive and one of the bartenders is apparently cute and flirtatious, but that's about all I can tell you."
"Hey, that's more than I knew a minute ago." His pocket starts to vibrate and he gestures towards the stereo. "Sorry, can you turn that down a second? I gotta take this."
"Yeah, no worries," I say, tapping the button on my steering wheel to bring the volume of my music down a couple of notches. I think I was in an electronica phase at the time, but it's far enough back that I'm not even really sure what I was listening to then.
"Hey man, what's up?" This is always a riot, hearing half of a phone call and trying to figure out what's going on. I mean, it's not like the driving part takes all that much of my mental faculties. "Yeah, I'm in the Uber now, heading towards you. Wait, what? Speak up. Where? C'mon man, you just told me where you were five minutes ago. How are you gonna... okay, alright, I'll tell him. Be a bit longer then. Damn right first round's on you." He hangs up the phone and sighs, then looks up at me. "It okay if I change the destination?"
"Why wouldn't it be? You know how or you need me to do it?"
"Uh... hang on..."
"Where are we headed, just in general terms?"
"Down near San Jose Airport."
"Sure, I'll just stay on 101 then while you're updating it."
"There we go." My phone beeps in a happy little trill telling me the location's been updated, and sure enough, he's going to a place right by the airport, the Sonoma Chicken Coop.
(That's another way you can tell this story happened a long time ago - the Sonoma Chicken Coop apparently closed in 2016 or 2017. From what I heard, the place mostly turned into a bar, and then eventually, the rent near the airport just got too unbearable for them to manage being profitable. Rent being too expensive in the Bay Area? No! I am shocked, shocked I tell you.)
Turns out Maurice is a doctor, and this is the first time in about three months he's had to go out drinking, so he's intent on making it. He's only been living in the Bay about six months now, having moved here from Atlanta. We chat about his specialty (ENT - that's Ears, Nose and Throat), and me having been laid off from the newspaper a little over a year ago as the print journalism industry continued its slow, inevitable demise.
We're only about five minutes out from the airport when his phone rings again. "Hey. What? Are you kidding me? We're literally about to pull up and you're telling me you're not there? Okay, fine, where now... fine. Fine, if you aren't there when I get there, I'm just gonna stay there."
"Let me guess - new location?"
"Yeah, although can you do me a favor and stop at the first Wells Fargo you see along the way?" He's typing in the new destination as he sighs.
"Not a problem," I say as the phone chirps again, and I see the new location is the San Jose Bar & Grill in downtown San Jose. "Hell, if they move again, it'll probably be within walking distance. That's sort of ground zero for all the downtown San Jose bars and most of them are pretty clustered together."
"I'm sorry to keep changing the destination like this," he tells me, looking almost pained, so I laugh to put him at ease.
"Hey, no biggie. We haven't been that busy tonight, so it's not like I'm missing out on surge pricing, and you seem nice enough." I switch to Google Maps on my phone and find a nearby Wells Fargo, and it's only a couple of minutes off the path.
I pull into the parking lot of the bank, right over by the ATMs. Maurice runs out to one, gets some cash out, then sprints back over to the car, getting in the front seat this time instead of the back. "Here, man. To make up for all the hassle, and so you don't tank my rating." He holds out a bit of cash, and I smile.
"Appreciate it. It really hasn't been a problem, but I'm never gonna pass up a tip." I don't look at how much it is, simply slide it into my pocket. I always tell people, if you're at all worried that you're being a pain in the ass to an Uber driver, a small chunk of cash probably guarantees you won't get your rating spiked. (You can tip these days in the app, and we're always very happy to get those, but we don't know what those tips are until well after we've rated you, so if you're worried about your rating, cash is your friend. Drivers have had more than their share of people who have been assholes saying "Oh, I'm sorry I've been a prick - I'll just leave you a great tip in the app" only to see they never tipped anything, so sorry, we don't believe you.) "Friends just couldn't decide where they wanted to drink?"
"They got thrown out of the first place, apparently, and said the second place was too dead, so they were just heading to downtown San Jose, and that way, if they don't like one bar, they can just walk to another."
"Yeah, you might want to move them out of San Jose Bar & Grill if they're that drunk. That place is right next to Tres Gringos, which seems to be the bar that always has police outside of it downtown. Head across the street to The Loft, maybe."
"Thanks, I'll keep that in mind."
The rest of the drive is uneventful, and sure enough when I turn onto 2nd St. from Santa Clara, there are already a couple of cop cars parked in the bus lane on the one-way street in front of SJB&G, but they don't have their lights on. Might just be preventative oversight, or maybe they're just waiting for shit to break off. Call it a coin flip in either direction.
"Thanks for being so cool about the chaos and all the dropoff changes, Billy."
"Relax, Maurice. Sometimes life just takes things out of your hand, and you just do your best. Besides, it was good talking to you."
"Have a good one."
He hops out of the car and closes the door, and I pull out the cash from my pocket, more out of curiosity than anything, and it turns out Maurice has given me a $60 tip, almost double what he paid for the fare. That's still the highest tip I've gotten to date.
(I generally suggest people tip about 20%, simply because it's an easy amount to figure out, but hey, we're not going to turn down more, especially with the amount we make going down instead of up over the last several months. Not enough of you bastards tip, either, let me say that. In a weekend with some 70 fares, I usually get between 5-8 tips, and I try to be charming as fuck.)
By contrast, I had a guy who got blown by his date in the backseat while I drove them from San Francisco down to Mountain View, and he only tipped me $20. (Maybe I'll tell you that story if you ask me really nicely.) That asshole only got one star, because if I'm not getting blown in my car, nobody should be getting blown in my car. I'm willing to let a lot of things slide, but even I have a few lines I don't want crossed. And I certainly don't want other drivers to have to endure that kind of behavior.
Maurice, on the other hand? I'd have given him 6 stars if I'd only had the option.