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It’s his America-versary

Originally published in Uber Chronicles: One Driver, 35 Rides, Countless Stories.

He calls. He asks me to come to the front of the building and tells me that GPS will take me to the back parking lot, which is exactly where I am when he calls and gives me this information.

He works in the building next to where I was working earlier today. He says he’s coming down. I roll my proverbial eyes and wonder what it is about riders who call, get a text from the app telling them how far away their driver is, then act as though it’s a surprise when the driver arrives at the designated time.

Whatever. I start the trip.

I look at his picture in the Lyft app: he looks dashing and successful in his sport coat and ascot. An ascot, for Goodness’ sake!

His profile pic looks to be from a professional photo shoot, and I start making up stories in my head about how he’s some tech genius working at this big tech company. Maybe he’s in tech sales. Doing well and making big bucks. He looks a little too suave to be an engineer, but that’s just a stereotype, and stereotypes, pre-judgements and making up stories is where I’m at right now as I wait for him.

I can see him inside the building through the glass. He’s running down the hallway. He comes running out of the building. He gets in and sits in the front seat. His heart is pounding. Pounding. I can practically feel it. He didn’t run that far. He’s also shivering. It’s not that cold: 51℉. Maybe he’s nervous, too. I don’t know.

He’s Indian, darker skinned (I’m thinking more Southern India, but that’s a guess). He has a slight build and he looks to be in his early 30s. His clothes are plain, and he doesn’t look much like the guy in the picture, at all.

I ask him if he likes working for the company. (It’s a tech company, the world’s second largest software company, it begins with the letter O, is on the Fortune 500 list, and they pulled in $29.6 billion in sales in 2013, per an article in Forbes.) Yes, they’re very nice, he says. They gave him a computer that he can use at home. I find this a rather odd statement for someone to say in 2016.

He tells me this is his second job in the U.S. and that today is his one-year anniversary for arriving in the U.S. He has a green card and his first job was as a cashier at Walmart. Even though his profession is tech support, he accepted this cashier job because he wanted to start working as soon as he could. He was quite happy a few months later to get his current job at this $29.6 billion-in-revenue-per-year software company because he thinks it’s a good company name to have on his résumé. He does software support and help desk work, and he’s happy to be working back in his field.

He earns $24,000 per year.

He tells me the software company based his salary on his two previous jobs: his salary in India and his salary as a Walmart cashier in the U.S. An American who started a month before him, at the same company doing the same work, makes $46,000 per year, essentially twice as much as he makes for the same exact work. I later googled “help desk salaries in the D.C.-Baltimore area” and found $40-$45,000 is the typical pay range for this job. This two-tiered salary structure feels at the edge of abuse to me. He has talked to people in the company’s human resources department, but they say there is nothing they can do to make his salary comparable to other employees’.

He pulls out his phone and I see a picture of a baby on his home screen. Does he have a baby? Yes, she’s three months old. I pull up to his home. There is a for-sale sign in the yard. I can’t discern if it’s his house they’re selling, or if they’re in a rental; but they are moving.

He tells me that they don’t have enough money to live here. Since having the baby, his wife only works part-time at the hotel where she is a front desk worker. Something has happened with her ex-husband and he is no longer making the payments to her that he was making before. Their financial situation has become much tougher for them recently.

He’s incredibly sweet. Incredibly human. Incredibly poor. I don’t have anything to give him except a compliment. I tell him that he is a five-star passenger, and he tells me that he’ll give me five stars, as well.
And, yes, he lives in Oakland Mills, and I am back in my home zone. I turn off my Lyft app and head home.

Key experience: I wonder how this company’s key executives would feel with their fat checks, their bonuses, their stock options and total compensation if they had to sit with this man, his wife and his baby for ten minutes and hear their story. Who benefits, in the big scheme, when employees are underpaid and abused? And is that worth the cost? I can’t answer for them. I know how I feel about it.