Tips are rare for Uber drivers¹. Maybe one out of ten riders will toss me a buck or two. An extra dollar would be nice, but I’ve got used to it. And I’m genuinely appreciative when the rare passenger offers me a little something extra.
That’s why I like aviators.
I had an unusually hard time locating William and his wife. It wasn’t my fault or theirs. There was some kind of glitch in the Uber app. I was sent to a residential address off Military Highway in Norfolk. I arrived at a dark house and called them.
“Hi, William. I’m in front of the house.”
“The house? We’re at the Waterside Marriott.”
“What? That’s crazy. The app sent me to a house. Give me a few minutes and I’ll be there.”
“Oh, it’s not you. Sometimes the satellite just misses the location I guess. I’ll be there soon. Hang tight.”
This wasn’t the first time the app sent me to the wrong pick up location, but it was the worst yet. I was about eight miles away. It’s frustrating, because that means extra time and extra driving but no extra money.
When I arrived, I found William in his formal dress, including bow tie and cummerbund. His wife was decked out too. He got in and handed me a five.
“This is for your trouble.”
“Thank you. I’m sorry you had to wait. The Uber app gets wonky sometimes. You two look great, by the way. What’s the occasion?”
“The Navy Ball. They make a big deal of it.”
“I hope you had a good time.”
“We did,” said the wife. “Unfortunately, we have to get home early. Kids.”
“Children can really put a cramp on the social life. How many children do you have?”
They have four, just like I do, and we launched into a pleasant conversation about the joys and challenges of parenting. I mentioned that my oldest was engaged to be married in a couple of months.
“That’s why I’m driving an Uber,” I joked. “I’ve got a wedding to pay for.”
We talked about jobs too. That’s when I learned that William is a fighter pilot.
When I dropped them off at their home in a beautiful, stately old Norfolk neighborhood, William handed me another bill.
“We really enjoyed the ride, Brian. Best of luck with your daughter’s wedding.”
“That’s not necessary, William. You already tipped me once.” I tried to return it, but he insisted.
“You have a good night,” he said.
It was a twenty.
My last ride that night was serendipitous. I picked up a married couple, Brad and Cindy. They needed a ride to Greenbrier, which is near my neighborhood. It was after two in the morning, and I was ready to call it a night. It’s nice when the last trip ends near the house.
And it was a fun ride, too. Brad and Cindy were a riot. They were pleasantly tipsy and needled each other the whole way home.
Only a few miles from our destination, I asked Brad what he did for a living.
“Oh, no. Here we go,” Cindy said. “He’s only allowed to answer that question if you promise not to keep us for another hour asking him questions.”
“Okay, I promise. I want to go home too. But now you’ve got me really curious. I wish I had asked sooner.”
“I fly F-18s,” Brad said, rolling his eyes.
“Every time a guy asks him what he does it turns into hours of f-ing questions. The last Uber driver must have thanked him a hundred times for his service. I don’t understand why men are so fascinated by pilots. Women don’t care.”
“They don’t?” I asked. “I thought women got all excited about pilots. Isn’t that what An Officer and a Gentleman is about?”
“Yeah, and Top Gun,” Brad said.
“It’s all complete b– sh–,” said Cindy.
“You’re telling me shirtless Tom Cruise playing volleyball in slow motion doesn’t do anything for you?” I asked her.
“Well, yeah, because it’s Tom Cruise, not because he’s a f–ing pilot.”
“Gotcha,” I said.
“She’s right,” William said. That’s why my buddies and I always used to make up answers when girls would ask us what we do for a living. We used to tell chicks in the bars that we were dolphin trainer trainers.”
“Dolphin trainer trainers. That’s great.”
“Or we’d tell them we were hall monitors for University of Phoenix online.”
We pulled into the parking lot that was their destination, and I said, “Well, I definitely won’t keep you, but I do think flying an F-18 is about the coolest job ever. And, of course, thank you for your service.”
“Tonight, buddy, I want to thank you for your service,” he said, and handed me a ten dollar bill.
Those two pilots were the only passengers to tip me in three nights of driving.
¹Tipping wasn’t permitted by Uber when it first started. Drivers were told to turn down extra money. Riders were told that the tip was “included” in the charge, though what that means is a mystery. After a law suit, Uber was forced to allow tipping, but riders have generally got used to not tipping. There’s no way to tip on the app, which further discourages tips, since people don’t tend to carry cash much these days.
If you use an Uber and your driver offers good or exceptional service, he or she will appreciate an extra dollar or two. But don’t feel bad if you don’t have any cash.