Tag Archives: apps

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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Locations: NYC

I was landing in Austin at sundown, staring out the window and thinking about nothing in particular. That’s when, for some reason, I started thinking about how cool it’d be if there was an app that one could use in NYC that would point out all the random cool places that are out there. Not sure what the trailer parks in southeast Austin have to do with Manhattan but who am I to question the creative process?

When I give first timers my NYC tour I always make sure to point out certain things, like the building on St. Marks that served as the cover to Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti album and Allen Ginsberg’s old apartment building in Alphabet City. I make sure we go to one of my favorite bars ever, Vazac’s Horseshoe bar on 7th and B. Famous scenes from Sex and the City, Crocodile Dundee, and The Godfather 2 were shot right there.

If we’re on the west side I’ll point out the Friends’ apartment and tell them the story about Dylan Thomas and the White Horse Saloon and mention the bathroom graffiti directed towards Jack Kerouac in the same bar. Of course we’d spend alot of time talking about all the history of the Chelsea Hotel on W. 23rd and if Sid really killed Nancy.

In Soho it’s always fun to point out the Sam and Molly’s loft from Ghost, the fake orgasm location from When Harry Met Sally, and the Ghostbuster’s headquarters.

From there my tour includes the subway grate where Marilyn Monroe’s dress blew up in The Seven Year Itch and the intersection where Ratso Rizzo gives his famous, “I’m walkin’ here!” line in Midnight Cowboy. Nearby is the infamous Studio 54’s former location.

Since it’s directly across the street from my ex-girlfriend’s place on W. 69th, I know all about where Meg Ryan’s The Shop around the Corner bookstore from You’ve Got Mail. From there it was a short trip further up the Upper West Side to Tom’s Diner, which served as the facade for Monk’s from the Seinfeld Series.

Everyone knows all about John Lennon’s murder outside his residence at the Dakota, but it surprises me how many people didn’t know that building was also used in Rosemary’s Baby. The dude that was executed for kidnapping and killing the Lindbergh baby helped build the building across the street from the Dakota!

Near my old apartment on the Upper East Side is a bar that I knew served as the bar where Tom Cruise served drinks in Cocktail. Serendipity 3 was very close by on 225 E. 60th Street and Holly Golightly resided around the corner and down the street in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

That’s where my personal tour of trivial things would start and people seemed interested. I was thinking about all of this when I landed in Austin that fateful day and that’s when the plan was hatched. How cool would it be if every semi-interesting spot and hidden gem in Manhattan was all in one place in an app that would tell you when you were walking by one of the spots?

Immediately I started to collect as many books about significant spots in the city as I could, from Black History in New York, to Movie Locations, to books about specific neighborhoods. My girlfriend Amanda and I would take walking tours of places like Chinatown, the Lower East Side and Five Points, take meticulous notes from our young guide, secretly knowing that our ultimate goal was to make his tour obsolete.

I got my friend Colin involved since he has made an app or two and knows how these things get done. Almost overnight we were set up and I just needed to input the locations into the database which would immediately be turned into a pin for our GPS-based map. I love that the map also includes bus and subway stops, that was a nice bonus I wasn’t counting on.

Not only did we get every tv and movie spot as we could, we also found historical spots, like the oldest bar in NYC, the birthplace of the gay rights movement, the first speakeasy in Harlem back in the Prohibition days, where Edgar Allen Poe once lived and hung out, and where the world’s largest cast iron bell resides (Riverside Church).

By the time I had my list, I had over 200 notable spots. Amanda did some research on her own and came up with even more. Colin came up with the brilliant idea of having “haunted” locations so I got to work researching those. Now we’re over 300 locations and there are still some walking tours we plan on taking.

I’ve learned so much about NYC in the last two months, it’s ridiculous. It’s impossible for me to walk down any Manhattan street without wondering if there’s anything significant nearby. I wish to God this app existed when I lived in New York full time and walked the streets every single day.

I have a list of dozens of buildings I want to see again for the first time and haunted places I want to check out. Now I know the locations of: the Cosby Show brownstone, where James Dean lived before he left for LA,  where Humphrey Bogart grew up, where Marilyn Monroe supposedly contemplated jumping out of a window on the Upper East Side, the bar that inspired The Lost Weekend, the original factory for Nabisco, Count Basie’s lounge, where Malcolm X was shot, where the Titanic was supposed to arrive, where Andy Warhol’s factory was, the narrowest building in the city, where the Marx Brothers were brought up, the first skyscraper, where Joey Gallo was shot, where Jack Kerouac met Neal Cassady, where Robert DeNiro contemplated murdering Palatine in Taxi Driver, the apartment from The Apartment, Winkie and Blinkie’s flat in The Basketball Diaries, and just about anything that every happened in a Woody Allen movie.

As of two days ago the app is now available from Apple App Store. As much as I think New Yorkers and tourists will love it as much as I do, I have absolutely no idea how to get the word out on a large scale other than taking out a billboard in Times Square or having Ashton Kutcher tweet about it. And so this is where I’m at.