I see my rider standing outside the Harris Teeter grocery store. He’s dressed in athletic clothing, looking nonchalant as heck. He sees me approaching and casually waves his hand in acknowledgement.
His Uber manners and protocol are good. He states his first name. Pauses. Waits for me to acknowledge that he is, indeed, my passenger then gets in the back seat. I introduce myself.
He’s of Chinese ancestry, about 21 years old, wiry and not particularly tall. He’s not carrying any grocery bags, yet I picked him up outside a grocery store. That alone makes me curious. He tells me he was running at the nearby high school track and that he went to Harris Teeter afterwards because they have free sugar cookies. Free, regular free? I ask. Like “you can take them” free or “they hand them to you” free? They’re in a jar, he says. You can take them yourself.
He asks how long I’ve been using Uber (his words). I tell him about three months as a driver, longer as a passenger. He says he has been using Uber for a year and a half, since they started. I tell him Uber has been around longer than that. Quite a bit longer. Seven years longer. Oh, he didn’t know.
I’m taking him home. His family’s home is in a pretty and rural part of my home zone of Howard County, Maryland. The houses are bigger and the land plots bigger still than those a handful of miles closer where I live. These more-expensive homes sit on some of the richest and most fertile agricultural land east of the Mississippi. The neighborhood is quiet, peaceful, green. The day is gray, misty, cool.
He’s a college student, studying philosophy at an out-of-state university. He took an Uber to the race track this evening, and now he’s taking one home. His parents aren’t able to drive him everywhere he wants to go, so he relies on Uber a lot. I drive past his house by a smidge. He’s not bothered. You can let me out here, he says. Then I watch him sprint home.
Key experience: As I drive down the idyllic roads leading to his home, I wonder about the expenditure for a run: $4.84 one way. Multiply that by two. For the life of me, I can’t imagine ever saying to my parents (as a teen or young adult) that I need to go to the track, and I need to hail a taxi. I’m pretty sure I’d be told to run around the neighborhood, instead!