After every Uber ride, passengers are asked to rate their driver on a scale of one to five stars. My average at the moment is 4.86. I’d like it to be a straight five stars, but you just can’t please everybody.
For example, I got a ping to pick up Hank at an Oceanfront hotel. I was only a quarter mile away at the time, so I got there in a hurry. I got stuck at a red light across the street from the hotel, and I spotted Hank right away. He was a young white guy in a gray hoodie. He was outside waiting, looking at his phone. I tried to get his attention by waving, but he didn’t see me. He lit up a cigarette.
When the light changed, I pulled into the half-circle driveway and signaled to him. He opened the back passenger side door and leaned in.
“Can I smoke in the car?”
“Well, do you mind waiting while I finish this cigarette right here?”
It was the first time anyone had asked me that question. The truth is, I minded. Time is money when you drive an Uber. We get paid primarily for covering miles with passengers. We don’t make any money waiting for passengers to get on board. Even after starting the ride, we only make about nine cents per minute if the car is standing still. So I was honest with the guy.
“How long will it take? We don’t get paid to wait.”
Hank looked annoyed. He licked a finger, squeezed out the cigarette and put it in his shirt pocket. He climbed in back without a word.
I started the ride on the app and noticed that the destination was about a mile and half down the road. It would take three or four minutes to get there.
Hank was silent. So was I. His obvious irritation with me irritated me in return. I was going to make exactly three dollars on this trip and he expected me to sit in park for ten minutes because he couldn’t wait three minutes to finish a cigarette? Give me a break.
As we approached the destination, he spoke up.
“I’m just getting a bag and then going somewhere else. I can call another Uber or you can wait for me. I know you don’t get paid to wait.”
That last sentence was heavy with spite and sarcasm.
“Yeah, okay,” was all I said.
He got out and walked to the house. I ended the ride and left in a hurry. No way I wanted to spend another minute with that guy.
We can’t tell how a rider rates us, but I can tell you that my star average dropped a hundredth of a point soon after.
Immediately after leaving Hank behind me, I got another ping. I picked up two stoners at an apartment complex. A white guy and a black guy with skinny dreads. Their odor made it clear that they’d been lighting up very recently. They got in back and were immediately floored by my Jolly Ranchers.
“This dude rocks, man. He sells candy and water!”
“I don’t sell them. They’re free. I like to take care of my passengers.”
“Whoa, no way. Can I have some Jolly Ranchers?”
“Of course. Help yourself.”
“You are seriously the best Uber driver ever!”
We talked about music and life in general. They thought I was funny. It was a short ride.
When I dropped them off, the white guy said, “Five stars for you, dude. Best Uber driver in the world!”
“For real!” said the other one.
Those two rides were back-to-back. No joke.
You win some, you lose some. I guess a lot depends on what they’re smoking.