Field Notes from the Front Seat (Vol 1)
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to drive for Uber?
Have you ever been curious as to how other people use Uber? Where passengers are going? What they talk about during their ride?
Yeah? Then these are the books to read!
Jessie chronicles her experiences with each–and ev-er-y–passenger. From fascinating conversations to the everyday ho-hum-ness of life and people who need a ride from one simple errand to another, to run-ins with the police while out ubering–Jessie includes it all!
But don’t let the ho-hum-ness of some of the rides fool you. The everyday-ness of life, the everyday-ness of interactions and the everyday-ness of people needing to get from one place to another provides the fodder and fuel for an interesting chronicling of life as an Uber driver.
Each book covers ten different days and nights out driving for Uber. That’s many passengers, many situations, many conversations and many learnings.
So, come along for the ride. Join in. Listen in. And experience what driving for Uber is like … from the front seat of the car.
Like in The Godfather
I pick up a young guy from his job at a nearby fast-casual restaurant. He’s a junior in high school (the same school I attended). He’s Black, has dreads and is of slight build. Bam! He sits in the front passenger seat. He’s my second-ever, single-passenger, front-seat sitter. He tells me he is named after a character in The Godfather.
We talk about his work, the team spirit at his school, and what the words waxing and waning mean…particularly in relationship to the moon, which is close to full and we both commented on how beautiful it is tonight. He’s lovely and sweet. I take him home. It was nice meeting you, he says; same, I tell him.
Key experience: So far, single-passenger front-seat sitters feel different than single-passenger back-seat sitters. And so far, I like it!
He’s got a gal
Next up, I’m wandering through a mess of a mall parking lot trying to find my rider. My GPS is telling me to turn right, now left, then left again, oops, rerouting, now right. Finally, I text the guy. Can you give me a landmark, please? He’s near Nordstrom and the Cheesecake Factory. I find him with ease after that. He gets in.
He’s a big guy. Kinda tall. Definitely round. 28. White. Nice, soft-spoken. Might be Latino; there’s just a hint of an accent in his voice. He’s a cook at one of the cafés in the mall. He likes to cook. He likes his job. What do you like about it, in particular? He thinks it’s important to make food look nice so that people will want to eat it.
He didn’t go to college. He has a girlfriend. He likes her a lot. Their anniversary is coming up and her birthday is coming up. He’s going to take her out to a nice restaurant. He has a car but doesn’t have car insurance, and he has to get that taken care of soon, he says.
This is the second time ever he has used Uber, though the first time he was with a group, so this ride is the first time he is using his own account. He’s a bit nervous. I don’t know the area well. I’m a bit nervous.
To get to his home, there is a major highway with a separated express lane; I get in it, thinking it’ll be faster. Unfortunately, I discover too late for correction that I couldn’t turn on to his exit from the express lane. Erg. I have to drive beyond his exit and get to his home via another route. Le sigh.
He’s concerned about the extra cost. I ask him how far I went out of the way with the missed exit and ask him to tell me when we’re about that same distance from his house so that I can end the trip early. I have no interest in charging him extra for my mistake.
He’s concerned about kids these days. Why? They don’t have manners. I chuckle to myself. He’s all of 28 and is talking about “kids these days.”
Key experience: I know cars are expensive to own, drive and keep on the road. Being upfront and personal with people who can’t afford to have their car on the road yet have to take Uber rides really brings home to me the cost of transportation for the lower end of the working class in America.
An international hip-hop master
My next trip has me searching for my rider along a retail-dense, seemingly endless strip of stores, restaurants and businesses. The rider has entered his physical location—where he is standing—and not an address to which I can navigate with greater precision.
I’m already gathering evidence that this choice by riders to use their actual physical location as the pick-up spot can confuse GPS and Uber’s system.
Alas, I end up in the wrong parking lot…by a hair! My passengers tell me they’ll walk to me rather than have me try to navigate to them, and they trek across a mound of plowed snow about three feet high between the two parking lots to get to my car.
They’re young, in their mid-20s. One is Black, thin, muscular, good-looking. The other is Latin, model-level handsome, which is a good thing because, well, he’s a model in Miami. I ask him what kind of modeling he does and he says, mostly swimwear because, and I quote, I can still pull off the 18-year-old athletic look.
I wonder if by ‘swimwear’ he means gay porn, but I don’t say anything, and as long as he’s happy and getting paid, all is well. I tell him I was married for a time and that my then-husband did some professional modeling. He had grayed early (in his mid 20s) and was blessed with height, good looks and an exotic Mediterranean demeanor and vibe. He could pull off the handsome older-guy look while still having a younger man’s appeal.
We talk about how the modeling business is like gambling. Well, that was my experience of watching my husband audition for gigs: getting the call, preparing, driving to the audition, waiting sometimes several hours for a five-minute (or less!) assessment, then waiting for a return call.
The gambling aspect was for the big jobs: the spokesmodel gigs, being the next Marlboro man, or Flo of Progressive Insurance. I tell them that when we were first married, Viagra was very interested in my husband for a very big job.
I tell them how we were both quite excited. How I wondered what it might be like to go out and about, people recognizing my husband as the Viagra guy and wondering if he needed it himself. I tell them how right after the audition for the Viagra gig, Viagra came under FTC investigation for advertising claims they were making at the time. How, just like with gambling, we thought we were going to win the jackpot, but didn’t.
The other guy is from southern California. I ask what they were doing in the area. He was teaching a hip-hop class where I picked them up. His friend, the model, is along for the ride.
Hip hop? Yeah, hip hop. He teaches, choreographs, produces. He has been blessed to work with his mentors whom he has admired for many years, and he has now built his own consulting and production business. Commercials, movies, shows and productions.
He’s working on an international project to bring master-level teachers to less-glamorous cities and towns throughout the world so that kids can have experiences working with the best talent and trainers. The teachers, students and he all work together for about a month and then do a show for the community.
I ask him about the funding. It’s all coming out of his pocket. I take a moment to reflect on my own income at age 26 and my own vision of what was possible in the world, and I have a fleeting and alternating mix of envy and thrill: envy for a world that simply did not exist—to me—at that age, and joy for a world that has so many more openings and possibilities.
I ask him if he’s going to create a 501(c)(3). This is a term that eludes him. A nonprofit organization, you know? He knows next to nothing about the tax implications, the structure, what 501(c)(3)s are, why they exist. I share an overall picture.
We talk about corporate funding and his message of youth, hope, dance, expression…and it seems that with his Hollywood connections and organizational direction, corporate sponsorships will probably work better.
He mentions that some people in his life think he should settle down and not be out and about so much. I tell them both about the work of Allison Armstrong and Celebrating Men, Satisfying Women. How, per her work, women are born with Temptress (play), Mother (nurture) and Queen (ruler) energy and can activate any of these energies at any time in their life; how the female challenge is to find balance and to be all those roles with love and kindness.
How the masculine path is different: how a man must first be a page (a child, learning from mentors), then a knight (away from the kingdom and security, out slaying dragons, finding out who he is), then a prince (applying what he has learned, developing his craft and himself), and then, and only then, can he become a king.
I share how the path for men is linear. How he and his friend are doing the best that they can be doing at this point in their lives by being knights; how they are investing in their future selves as kings. I feel a rush of love for them and the knights they are now and the kings they will become. Their energy and hope is lifted. All smiles. Power is in the air, in them.
We say goodnight. I wish them the best and that all their dreams may come true.
Key experience: One small piece of information I share may, perhaps, help someone for the better in ways I’ll never know.
My next ride is to ferry a woman from her home to her tutoring gig (her car has a flat tire) at a nearby learning academy. She’s thin, a mom of two, married, Black, mid-30s and delightfully smart. She’s getting her Master’s degree in education and plans on teaching middle school math.
I tell her my sister is a middle school math teacher and that she chose to teach middle school math after being in the Peace Corps and seeing—up close and personal—what lack of opportunity looks like. To her the math taught in middle school was more practical and more applicable to real life than high school math. I also share a saying my sister has often quoted: “Middle school teachers are born, not made.” Meaning, you either love teaching that age of kids … or you don’t.
She tells me she was in hospital administration, but she couldn’t stand the politics or stomach executives and companies making so much money while so many patients could barely pay their medical bills.
I tell her I like ubering for the gig, for the on-off-on-off nature of it, for the ability to make some money without having to be committed to a business that needs maintaining. She tells me that’s what she also likes about tutoring—she does it when she can.
As we live in the same community, I share my contact card and info about the local online calendar I created, and I tell her she may find there some interesting events to do with her kids and family.
Key experience: I appreciate her honesty and integrity about her profession and her reasons for changing course.
He’s cooler than the other kids
Beep! I pick up a young kid who is leaving a friend’s house after being there in the afternoon and into the early evening. He sits right next to me in the passenger seat. He’s the first and, so far, the only individual rider who has sat in the front seat. I chuckle silently to myself.
I feel as though I’m his mom and I’m giving him a ride.
He’s 16, short, Black and, unfortunately for him and possibly his future, doesn’t speak clearly or well. I ask him about school, where he goes, what he likes. I ask his permission to ask him a question about what social media he uses. He grants me my request.
He uses Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter mostly. No Facebook. Why not? I don’t like it.
Why? I don’t like how it’s laid out. Is your Twitter account public for people to see or private? Public.
What do you like about Snapchat? I don’t know. I just like it. How many followers do you have on Snapchat? A lot. A lot of people watch my stuff. Why? Because I’m cooler than the other kids.
I believe him. He’s charming in his own way. I take him home.
Key experience: We all live in our own worlds. And that’s ok.
“There is a relaxing magical quality to the way she writes these stories. A sweet quiet zen silence that is shining through every line. Jessie presents these encounters like a meditation, where the seer observes but doesn’t get entangled.”
– Gabe K.
“I’ve ridden in Ubers for years when I travel, and one day thought, “I could do that.” Now as a driver, I can accurately say that Jessie’s chronicles are spot on. Her positive spin and sense of adventure is contagious. Everything she writes about, I’ve also experienced, but not always with the same level of rider appreciation. Her “Blog” is more than a travel log, but a model about seeing the best in people, and an encouragement for all of us to do the same. An excellent read.”
“I got so caught up in each short story Jessie told that it was hard to stop reading. It seemed like I was another passenger watching each escapade as Jessie shuttled people around the DC-Baltimore area. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys observing and learning about how people think and act. I can’t wait for her next set of stories.”
– Roger C.