Tuesday, January 10, 2017


Taking Uber is definitely the newest and best way to get around when you need to get from point A to point B and don't want to drive your car.  We use Uber to take us to and from the airport, which happens often.  Before Uber we either relied on the understandably infrequent generosity of friends to drive us, or we reserved a multi-passenger commercial shuttle van that picked us up three to four hours before our flight, which most of the time required that we get up at some god-awful hour in the middle of the night.  Then, depending on how many other people were also taking that same van, we either twiddled our thumbs arriving too early at the airport or we became very anxious because a confused driver started going south to San Jose International instead of north to SFO.   That awful I-might-miss-my-plane feeling is what makes my blood pressure rise, so until Uber came along, we reserved a luxury Town Car from a limousine service, which ensured a reasonable pick-up time, plus a comfortable drive on cushy leather seats while listening to soothing classical music on the way to the airport.  We didn't have to scramble for a good seat in a multi-passenger van, but most of all we didn't have to listen to mindless chatter or whining kids.   But even though we were really comfortable and relaxed, that fancy-ass limousine cost us nearly a hundred bucks one way!  

Although I was a bit nervous the first time I clicked the Uber icon on my mobile phone,  the service has been very reliable, at least in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I live, and in the DC area where I often need transportation to the airport.  I should comment, however, that we have never used Uber when traveling outside of the United States and probably wouldn't try it,  unless we were in a country where English is the first language.

Fortunately we've had good drivers with clean cars that seem to run fine.  We've never felt unsafe, nor have we had an experience where Uber didn't show up on time.  After I click on the Uber icon, the location service on my device notes my pick up location, and very quickly I receive a reply from a driver who is usually close by.  I text him or her back to confirm exactly where we are waiting; this is important at the airport, where our location can be confusing.  

Recently a long flight from Washington, DC, which was delayed 4-hours, meant landing at SFO in the pouring rain at 2:30 in the morning.   After we got our checked luggage, I clicked on the Uber app and plugged in where we wanted to go.   Then we went outside the terminal  and stood on the sidewalk waiting with a dozen other fliers who too were staring intently at their brightly lit device screens waiting for confirmations from their drivers.  

Ding Ding !!!!   Henry in a black Toyota Camry will be arriving in 5 minutes, I read on my small screen.  Other people began eyeing license plate numbers as a long line of cars slowly cruised by.  Our Henry pulled up promptly in a fairly new car and helped us load our luggage in the trunk.   Once we settled comfortably in the back seat, Henry began chatting us up and asking polite questions about our recent trip. "Where you guys coming back from at this hour?" he said in a jolly booming voice.  "Was this business or pleasure?"  "Pleasure," we struggled to answer in a coherent way, since our internal clocks told us it was really 5:30 in the morning, and we badly need sleep after having been awake for nearly 24 hours.   Despite our apparent exhaustion,  Henry continued to tell stories and ask more questions, and before long we are pulling into our home driveway and feeling very wide awake.

Talking to strangers is not a problem for me--to the contrary, as most of you know--but even Bruce, who is generally pretty quiet, engaged in a conversation with Henry because he was so nice and had interesting stories to tell.  He drives for Uber more for fun than money, although it does help pay his daughter's tuition in private school.  He starts driving at 2:00 a.m. at the end of his night shift as a public transit mechanic,  and he stays behind the wheel for two or three hours before going home and getting some sleep.   "Driving helps relax me from a physically demanding job," he said,  "I'm an outgoing person, and this way I get to talk to some pretty interesting people who otherwise I would never meet.  And besides the freeways are generally quiet at this hour too, which is another reason why driving helps calm me down."  He went on to say, "Some people go home, fix a cocktail and watch TV, but that's not me.   I get in my car,  turn on my Uber driver app, and start talking."  

Henry was not the first Uber driver we met who was doing this gig as a second job.  In fact, we've met only one person who drives for Uber full time.  A young fellow who works at my beauty salon and is just getting his hair cutting business underway also drives for Uber.   He says it's not a high paying job, but the extra income in his off hours helps meet expenses while he builds up his clientele.  We had a female Uber driver just one time, but we've had drivers from Senegal, Sierra Leone, Vietnam, and Texas.   We always enjoy talking to drivers who come from countries we have visited, like Morocco and Ethiopia.  Strangely enough Henry was our first Native Son of the Golden West! which means born and bred in California.

What prompts this post about Uber is because I want to share a funny story written and posted on Facebook by my very good friend. 

He is a 30-something entrepreneur, a  PhD, who has founded a couple of  successful startup companies here in Silicon Valley and is currently a CEO of a brand new startup that already employs twelve people.   He hails from the United Kingdom, and is the only individual I know personally who drives for Uber.   I found his recent Facebook story so amusing that I asked him if I could share this with you on my Biker Chick Gone Crazy site.  He didn't have a problem with my sharing it, but asked if I would keep him anonymous so that none of his friends or employees would find out, even though he did post it on Facebook.  So, I will honor his request.  Here's a very funny Uber story written by my friend whom I will call Bob.  

I've been moonlighting as an Uber driver for about six months now.  Whenever I have to drive to San Francisco or to Silicon Valley, I turn on the app and use the destination filter to pick people up along the way.  I normally hate driving, but I'm now a little addicted to picking people up on Uber.

After tax, car maintenance and gas, the money is probably around the minimum wage, so I'm not doing it for the money.  But I'm an extrovert and love meeting new people.  I am someone who has hitchhiked a lot around the world, and I normally pick up hitchhikers whenever I can.  I love the interesting conversations I have with the people I meet.

Last night, I attended a fancy dinner on UK biotech policy hosted by the British MP Lord Prior, for the JP Morgan Healthcare conference (happening next week in San Francisco).  After the dinner ended, I waited a few minutes before I turned on the Uber driver app to make sure I didn't pick up someone I'd just had dinner with.

Off I went.  "Tonight I'm a real chauffeur," I thought as I'm actually wearing a suit and tie!  After picking up four party goers and dropping them off at a wedding reception, I picked up another three people.  Two of them had British voices, but I could not see them.  The people were deep in discussion so I didn't say much.  As one of them continued to talk, I thought to myself, "I know that voice!" and I looked again in the mirror and realized it was a Palo Alto venture capitalist that I know.  I suddenly didn't know what to do.  Did I say hello or shut up?  I decided that this was too funny to keep quiet so during a pause in the conversation, I said, "I don't know if I should speak up or keep quiet but we know each other," and she replied, "Hi Bob, you know I thought I recognized your voice when I got in."  It turns out she was with two other colleagues going to the same conference.  She introduced us and we exchanged cards (I keep a stash in my glovebox and go through a lot).  It turns out that one of the other passengers was also having dinner with Lord Prior on Monday, and he promised to pass on my regards (!).  As we parted, he commented that I embodied the entrepreneurial spirit of the Bay Area.  I said "this isn't normal actually," and he replied "Are you kidding, this is the Bay Area, it's totally normal."  

So, if you have considered using Uber to get from point A to point B, I encourage you to try it since it works really well.  All you do is download the free Uber app on your mobile device and put in a credit card number so that no money is exchanged at the point of service.  And who knows one day if you are riding with Uber somewhere here in the Bay Area you might be in the back seat of a car driven by my good friend Bob, the PhD, CEO, entrepreneur turned Uber driver or Henry the public transit mechanic.  Either way you will experience excellent service and be highly entertained. 

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