On D.C. Uber Drivers

I will hardly ever make this column about myself, because the young girl in a new city narrative has been pretty overused, don’t you think? Still, for the purpose of this column, I have to backtrack to the beginning of my time here in Washington D.C.

Unlike Texas, where people drive pretty much everywhere, most people in D.C. choose not to drive. Why? Traffic is horrible and the city is full of alternative modes of transportation. Needless to say, I did not bring my old clunker (I say that lovingly…sort of) from home, leaving me to take an Uber everywhere until I could get a metro pass.

Here’s the thing about Uber: You either love it or you hate it. For those who do hate it, I get it: getting into a stranger’s car for any amount of time can be scary, and while it varies from city to city, prices can skyrocket when there is a high demand.

However, it can also be great. It is super convenient in a new city when there seems to be no taxi in sight and you haven’t quite figured out the metro system yet.

There is one more thing that causes me to like the driving service even more. Hearing people’s stories. Yes, coming from a journalism major this would be a fairly unsurprising statement. Still, hear me out.

The thing I like about Uber drivers is that the majority of them do not drive full-time. In reality, most choose to drive after leaving work or on their way to run errands. So seeing a person dressed in business casual pick someone up is not an uncommon sight.

Now I’m the type of person who doesn’t like awkward silences. Seriously. I will talk just to avoid the dreaded lack of sound that fills the backseat of a driver’s car. I have made turned my dislike of silence into an opportunity by talking to my drivers about their day. Some are initially reluctant to open up, but it doesn’t take long before we get past the ordinary small talk and delve deeper into their life outside of Uber.

Take Andre for example. In a desperate run to Target (I needed bedding), I pulled up my Uber app and requested a driver. Within a few minutes, I got into Andre’s car. After pleasantries, I asked him about his life. His story goes like this:

Roughly in his 60s, he works as a driver for a flower shop down the street where I live. In fact, he had just gotten off of work when he picks me up. With all his children grown up by now, he lives with his wife just a few blocks from Capitol Hill.

As anyone can tell you, real estate in D.C. ain’t cheap. So when I ask him how he could afford to live in the Hill with a driver’s salary he tells me that the house he lives in has actually been passed down to him. It was his father’s.

As for his wife, he had met her in D.C. In fact, they had grown up together and went to a school just a few blocks from Target. She was his junior high sweetheart and he couldn’t wait to retire with her in South Carolina where they dreamed of building a house together.

Amid the symphony of honks brought on by evening traffic, he told me his story. I was captivated and by the end of the trip, I felt as though I already knew him. I got out of the car and thanked him, and with that he drove away to pick up another customer.

Deidre Martinez is a junior Journalism major from Katy, TX. She is currently studying in Washington D.C. with Baylor in Washington program.