Car Talk In the gig economy, the journey is as important as the destination.


It is just me or do we sometimes have the best conversations when we’re all sitting in a car on our way someplace? I had held this belief for a while, but my brief spell as an Uber and Lyft driver really confirmed it.

It’s always helpful to have a little extra money, and my schedule opens up in the summer, when my teaching year ends and my son is snoring away at his mom’s house.

I uploaded my auto insurance documents, inspection reports and title. I got the car cleaned out. I downloaded the app and opened it up. Wow. All of a sudden I was a cab driver.

My first passenger was almost as unsure about it all as I was. He had arrived from Hyderabad, India just three days earlier to work at PayPal in Hunt Valley. It was a $6 ride from his new apartment to a driving school not far away in Cockeysville. He had very quickly figured out that life in this part of the world without a car is not easy. I dropped him off, wished him luck, and I kind of felt sad that I couldn’t chat a bit longer, hear more of his first impressions at this amazing time in his life.

This was going to be awesome, I thought.

I grew up surrounded by Irish culture in which life is all about making conversation. It feels somewhat rude not to reverence the people around me with some kind of sharing of spirits and stories. Since moving to the U.S., I have enjoyed the stories of the cabbies who have driven me. Now, it was time for me to flip the script and get the inside scoop on all kinds of people. Driving people around, you get to hear what life is like in America from top to bottom.

A few seconds after my first drop-off, the app pinged. I accepted and rolled up to pick up a tired young woman who used Uber to get from her job as a doctor’s receptionist to her favorite nail salon — another short ride. Is the temperature in the car OK for you? What about the music? Her headphones went in. That was my cue to stop asking questions. No problem. OK. I’ll just let you be. Long day.

The young heart surgeon who had just moved here from Lebanon was much more effusive as I took him from one luxury car dealership to another so he could choose the car that he would be replacing me with. So was the ghostly, dusty man coming off a 36-hour, back-to-back-to-back set of shifts at a drywall plant in East Baltimore. His sole intent was to earn enough money to get back to the Ivory Coast to see his mother for the first time in 18 years.

Next up, after I wiped away the dust and grit from the previous fare, was a young actor back in town from L.A. for the week who was on his way from a gym in Timonium to his mom’s house in Roland Park. Really? All the way out here to use the gym? Yeah, he told me, he needed to work out, and Uber made it work.

Now that I was in Baltimore City, the pace really picked up: a car full of college students headed from a party at Johns Hopkins to one in Towson; and then
a young man so tired and cold after a day unpacking boxes in a supermarket’s refrigerated storage that he was prepared to give up two hours of his wages to get from Harris Teeter in Locust Point back up to Parkville.

From there, two grad students, hungry after some evening drinks in Fells Point, were hankering for tacos at Clavel. Then, it was a short hop over to Park Heights to pick up a father of three who needed a 9 o’clock ride to Arundel Mills to work his night shift at the casino. This turned out to be the most lucrative ride of the night, as the return trip yielded an exuberant quartet who were headed to Edmondson Village after a successful night at those very same slots.

Ok. I’m tired, I thought, but one more ride and I would have made $120 for this seven-hour stint in my front-row seat of the glorious spectacle that is the humans of Baltimore. But after 20 minutes of sitting in Woodberry under I-83’s dark arches, a no-show finally convinced me to call it a night and head on home.

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