Tag Archives: adventure

My First Uber Trick

images     I’m always looking for ways to supplement my income so that I don’t have to be away from home so much. I freelance photography jobs. I wrote a book. I made an app. I’ve even been a substitute teacher, but only for the tiny kids that are still afraid of adults and don’t know how to talk back.
When Uber became a thing, I was interested straight away. It sounded perfect until I read that drivers must have a four-door car and it must be newer than 2010. My crappy little Civic was two-door and a 2005. There went that idea. Plus I heard that Austin Uber drivers were getting busted by undercover cops posing as riders because technically Uber driving is illegal.
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They must have sorted that out with the taxi contingent because I started hearing about people using Uber all over the Austin area and no one had heard about drivers getting in trouble anymore. Sweet.

When I had enough money saved I got a new car, my first brand new car ever. I made sure it had four doors. I bought a fancy edition Toyota Rav 4 with all the bells and whistles. This is the first time in my life that I’ve owned a car where you can open and close the windows by pushing a button rather than cranking a crank.
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I started all the paperwork and background checks and within a week I was cleared to go. I watched a 20 minute long instructional video on how it works from the drivers’ perspective and I thought I had it down. Still though, I had already decided that my first fare would be my girlfriend since she’s an expert on the Uber thing from the riders’ side of it. I figure I could take her out to a nice dinner, pay for everything, then she could “hire” me to take her home. That way I can figure out the Uber app and get a perfect rating to my name in the process. It was a fool-proof plan.

Last night we put it into action. We weren’t really feeling a fancy dinner so we did Olive Garden instead. We got seated in a booth in the bar area by four screaming meth addicts, one of which was very pregnant. I wondered if any of them knew who the father was. The table on the other side of them demanded to be moved because of how rowdy they were. My girlfriend nearly went off on them but I begged her not too because one of the guys was showing the others how you can turn two Olive Garden steak knives and a breadstick into a makeshift double-edged sword. I found him to be the most normal of the four.
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That group finally finishes up and leaves in a Tasmanian devil whirl. The waiters apologize profusely about their behavior. Never in a million years would I think that those toothless rednecks would fail to be the weirdest thing about our night. I hit the button on the Uber app that says, “GO ONLINE.”

My girlfriend logs on and checks out the Uber car situation from her phone. There isn’t alot of activity in far North Austin at 11pm on a Tuesday night so we put the plan into action. She presses the button to request a ride and immediately my phone buzzes. I see the request and quickly accept the job. Pretty easy.

We walk out to the car and when we get in I try to tell the app that I’ve picked up my fare. It’s not giving me that option though. She checks her phone and notices that somehow my name isn’t listed as her driver, it’s someone else, and they’re one minute away. She quickly cancels the request as the poor soul pulls up.

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We quickly back out and leave the parking lot, trying to figure out how our plan fell apart. She requested a ride, my phone buzzed, I accepted the fare, and then what the hell? Obviously someone else accepted her request, but how could I as well? As we were heading home we realize that my phone is still saying I have a customer and that they’re seven minutes away, now eight.

Is it really possible that the second she requests a ride a stranger accepts at the exact moment a second person requests a ride and I accept? Well, yeah, I guess it is. That’s what we’re dealing with here. My instinct is to just cancel and go home because I need to be up at 6am but my girlfriend says I should probably go ahead and do it so I don’t get yelled at by the Uber people. So where is this joker anyways?

I turn on the GPS and start following the directions. It looks like we’re going to a part of town that’s nothing but warehouses. It says I’m a minute away and there isn’t a soul around. I’m hoping it’s all a big mistake, a glitch in the Matrix. Right on cue, I make the final turn and a well-lit building appears with a disheveled business guy sitting in the grass, waving me down. Welcome to Perfect Tens Strip Club.

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Before I even get to a stop he stands up and starts walking over. I guess this is the guy. He opens the door and climbs in. I ask him where we’re going and he says I should already know. Right, I guess I need to do something with the app. I tell it that I made the pick up and that we’re now en route to his house, which is 40 minutes away. The robotic lady starts giving us directions and immediately the guy tells me to ignore her because we need to go to Whataburger first.

I have no idea where the nearest Whataburger is so he gives me turn by turn directions, all the while playing on his phone with a bluetooth ear piece still in his ear. I wonder if he had that thing on during his lap dances. Probably so.
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I figured he’d want to just go through the drive-thru but he insisted on ordering from the counter. We park and he staggers toward the doors. I notice that when he gets his order it’s not in a brown paper bag, it’s a tray full of food, enough to feed a family. He sits down and starts unwrapping his burger as if he were defusing a bomb. Are you kidding me right now?
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It looks like he’s eating in slow motion. I’ve never seen a drunken meal go down so slowly. Things got worse when two high school girls in short shorts came in and ordered food as well. It took him ten minutes to remember that he had a burger in his hands and that he needed to be biting and chewing. In all fairness he did ask us if we wanted anything before he went in. If I had known he was going to take 32 minutes to eat, I would’ve taken him up on his offer. My midnight bedtime was never going to be achieved.

He finally finishes his feast, wipes his greasy fingers on his slacks, and heads back to the car, thanking us for waiting, but not before checking back on the high school girls one last time. I guess if he looked back and they were eyeing him then he’d ditch us and go with them. Since they had no idea he was ever there in the first place, much less left them, he climbed back into the back seat, looking a bit defeated. We notice he smells much better than before. The girlfriend thinks he put on cologne to impress the under-aged girls, but I think he put it on to cover up stripper sweat and other things on his lap before he gets home to his wife. We may never know.

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I’m not sure what the etiquette is here. Am I supposed to entertain him or just leave him alone? When I’m in a cab I just like to sit there in the backseat and do my own thing. But this isn’t a smelly cab, I’m letting this guy into my car, it’s personal and therefore a little more familiar. The obvious first question would be how is day is going but considering he’s drunk and I picked him up on the front lawn of a ghetto-ass strip club in the middle of nowhere, I already know the answer to that one.

The only time I’ve ever been in a Uber car as a passenger, I was sitting between two friends who were in the middle of a fight and they were screaming and cursing at each other like  Bobby and Whitney. That went on for 40 minutes. I spent the time making apologetic looks to the driver in the rear view mirror. That’s what I know about what goes on during an Uber ride.
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I decide not to say anything to him. Or to my girlfriend. I didn’t want him to feel like he was intruding on our evening, which he certainly was. We follow the directions down south and of course there’s road construction everywhere and his exit doesn’t exist. This first ride could not be going any worse.

He directs me to another road and the GPS Navigator takes it from there. We go way south and then start heading west into the hills. After 20 minutes we’re in the middle of nowhere, heading to either the fancy houses overlooking the lake, or to a kill room he has hidden in the woods. I thought fancy house, but the look on my girlfriend’s face said she thought the latter. At least we’d be dying together. She began sending out a myriad of texts to friends and family to let them know what was going on in case this was our death cab. She would later say that she had seen it all in her mind and begged him to kill her first so she wouldn’t have to watch me die. That’s sweet.
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We head up massive hills, make sharp turns, all the while avoiding deer and armadillos that seem to come out of nowhere. It just keeps getting darker and darker. I’m trying to follow the directions on my phone which I’m illegally holding in my hand because I don’t have a holder. He tells me to forget about the route map and just keep going straight until it comes to an end. I think too deeply on the existential interpretation of that statement. Gulp.

While we were stopped at Whataburger I tried to find an XM radio station that matched his personality. I guess the Pearl Jam one, but now I’m thinking I should have picked something a little more Patrick Bateman. I can’t help but think this is what hookers must feel like when they have to pleasure clients they’d rather not even look at. I just want this to end. It’s so incredibly uncomfortable.
images-12     The road keeps getting more and more narrow, but we start to see a few mailboxes so we may just get out of this yet. He tells us to pull over onto a side road that immediately dead ends into an iron gate. Just like that, he says we’re at his house which I can’t even see from the front gate. He walks over to a keypad and presses in some sort of code. We don’t even wait to see if it works, we just back out and head out ASAP.
images-13       After we calmed ourselves after fits of laughter, we go over our thoughts during the entire ordeal. We had to reaffirm that he really was as creepy as we’d made him out to be. We went over the evidence at every turn and built up quite a case against him. At the end, we were lucky we got out of it unscathed.

We drive the 45 minutes back home and only when I pull into our neighborhood do I notice that I never told the app that we delivered the goods. I quickly hit END TRIP and that officially closes the ride, and stops the meter. Yeah, I may have accidentally doubled his fare, but I think I deserve it. We had the lengthy unscheduled Whataburger stop and is he really going to complain to Uber about what happened on his trip home from the strip club? He’s wise to just keep quiet about the whole thing and chalk it up to a crazy night. I’m sure he spent five times as much money on strippers anyways.

Well my latest way of supplementing my income didn’t get off to the easy start I thought it would, but at least I foresee adventure in this endeavor. Next day off I have at home after I fly my Rome trip tomorrow will be spent trying it again. I’ll set aside four hours and just answer ride requests. I’ll figure out what exactly I can expect in a day’s work and if it really is something worth doing on my time off. I may want to do it during the daytime though, not at 11pm. I’ll learn.

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Straight Lesson #11- Foreign Taxis

The absolute worst part of any vacation abroad is getting out of the airport when you land, provided that they don’t have a decent public transit system. Thank you Amsterdam for taking care of that in epic fashion! Sometimes worse things happen to you during your trip, but those things are unexpected.  On every trip you take you’re going to have to deal with exiting the airport, unless you’re some kind of weirdo that just likes visiting airports.

You will be hustled and get the run-around and there isn’t anything you can do about it.  You think going to an official taxi stand is the way to go, well not always.  You think taking a ride from someone dressed really well is a smart move, well not always.  Last time I was somewhere dodgy was last week when I was in Buenos Aires.  I checked out the ride situation.  There were several people trying to get me into their cars but I didn’t commit at first.  I noticed that well over half of the cars out there were black and yellow Radio Taxis.  I figured they were probably the most honest ones out there, so I took them.  They probably were the most honest but they still ripped me off shamelessly.  The lesson I learned from them: always have small denominations to avoid relying on them to give you change.  They never have change.  Even if you see the exact change in their hand, they’ll lie and tell you that’s not really money, it’s lottery tickets or Kleenex or some shit like that.

Don’t be fooled by any driver with a crucifix or rosary beads hanging from the rear view mirror.  It’s doesn’t mean they won’t financially rape you.  Don’t buy it if there’s a plastic Jesus or Virgin Mary on the dashboard.  Those Saint cards that look like baseball cards on the visor doesn’t mean that the driver is a Christian and won’t break any of the Ten Commandments just to get a few extra Pesos out of you.  There is no God in a Third World taxi.

First and foremost when getting into a cab in a country where you don’t speak the language is to not let the cabbie know that you don’t know the language or where you’re trying to get to.  Know the destination of where you want to go and how to pronounce it correctly.  Even if you don’t know any other words in that language, know how to say, “take me to so-and-so please.”  The first time I went to Australia I told the driver I needed to get to Clovelly beach.  I pronounced it “Claw Velly” instead of “Cloe Velly” and forty minutes later I was where I needed to go.  It wasn’t until days later when I took a cab back to the airport that I realized how close those two places are to each other and how horribly the driver had ripped me off by taking the most scenic route possible.  I think we were somewhere near Ayers Rock for a while.  So say the destination correctly and hopefully your bluff will work.  A good follow-up step is to take out your cell phone and pretend like you’re talking to someone the entire time you’re in the cab.  That keeps the driver from asking you questions and accidentally discovering that you’re completely full of crap.  If you don’t want to keep up that charade then put headphones on and ignore the driver if he tries to talk to you.

If there are tolls to pay en route pay them yourself as you go through them.  Often times the driver will tell you that he’ll take care of it and you can just add it to the fare at the end.  “Wow, that’s was nice of him” you’ll think!  Bullshit!  Keep your eye on the sign on what they charge.  You will be charged at least ten times that when it comes time to pay the guy.  He’ll explain it by making up some crazy excuse like the “Driving an Aries on a Thursday following a New Moon” surcharge.

When you finally get to your destination he’ll try to get you one last time, or take it upon himself to tip himself.  Put up some resistance to keep at least some of your money but don’t create a bad scene that could turn dangerous.  The old trick of showing him your empty wallet works.  Turn those pockets inside out and translate the phrase, “You can’t get blood from a stone.”  It’s frustrating and infuriating, and you’ll feel completely useless/helpless but at least you’re where you need to be and  the nightmare is over.

When getting back to the airport you can play it just right and not be screwed over too badly.  You want to tell the driver that you’re in a hurry but not too much of a hurry.  If he think you have plenty of time then he’ll go down random streets and purposely get stuck in traffic, or worse, fill up with gas while the meter runs.  That’s when all of a sudden all four tires need to be filled with air and the oil needs to be changed.  He’ll drag that drive out as long as possible and take you for as much as he can.  If you tell him that you’re in a big hurry however, he’ll try to charge you for some sort of expediting fee that doesn’t exist at all.  He’ll say he can get you to the airport in time for your flight but he’ll need extra money because he’ll be breaking all sorts of speeding and traffic laws.  It’s a fine line and you need to know how to walk it.  To avoid the gas station detour, check his tank before you get in, that way you know and he knows that you’re not a complete schmuck.  Go ahead and take out your air pressure gauge and check the tire pressure as well.

If you must talk to the driver, tell him that his city is your favorite city you’ve ever been to.  Tell him the food is wonderful, their local sports team is the best, and the girls are beautiful.  This might make him happy but it won’t stop him from doing that thing he can do to the meter to make it charge faster.  I thought that was an urban legend until I saw a guy do it, again in Argentina.  He did something weird with some wires under the hood and I didn’t think anything of it.  By the time we got to the airport it read 340 Pesos on the meter when it was only 150 going the other direction from the same spot.  Only 8 of those 340 Pesos were wasted at the gas station as he let the gas slowly drip into the tank.  Some cabbies rig their meters so that they flip for an eighth of a mile every time they perform a certain operation, like a turn signal or flashing their brights.  I know, pretty brilliant!  Now I know why my guy kept running the windshield wipers!

Forget all about the NYC Taxi Customer Bill of Rights.  Those don’t exist anywhere but New York.  And don’t get your hopes up of stumbling into Cash Cab Bogotá, it doesn’t exist.  Ben Bailey won’t be giving you money as you get taken around town.  There will be no Red Light Challenge.  Street Shout Outs would probably be a bad idea anyways.

So 99% of the cab drivers you come across, especially in poorer countries will try to take you for all that you have.  It’s going to happen so just don’t let it ruin your holiday.  It’s inevitable.  It will suck and even though you know it’ll suck, you’ll still complain while it’s happening exactly how you knew it was going to happen.  Just suck it up, get through it, and get on with your holiday.  It’s smooth sailing after that, until the cab ride back to the airport.