City dwellers may recognize the beginning of a typical Friday night—eager to hit the bars, see a movie, or attend a concert, you pull out your iPhone and call up the Uber application. Minutes later a black Prius drives up and you and your companions climb in, greet the driver with a brief quip, and then retreat to your phones to spend the rest of the ride in utter silence.
Can we start by acknowledging how wrong this is?
The problem I seek to address is not with the American phone addiction—although that is equally discouraging—rather our failure to recognize the incredible opportunity for conversation that we stumble upon each time we enter one of these cars.
I spent my freshman year of college in Los Angeles, a city known for its dismal public transportation. While I was taking classes I was a client at a medical treatment center about 4 miles from campus, meaning that six days a week I was required to take an Uber (yes I know how expensive that is).
What did I discover in all of these excursions? Uber drivers are cool as hell.
Not once, in hundreds of trips, did I have the same driver twice. That means that each time I called up the app I opened up a world of conversation with an entirely new person. And I loved it.
In the profoundly diverse city of L.A., the vast majority of Uber drivers are of foreign descent or speak a second language—and even if they don’t, they probably have a story unlike any other. So each time I’d hop in the car I would try my absolute hardest to strike up a stimulating conversation in the hopes of getting to know a little bit about a complete stranger.
The result of my efforts was amazing.
Egyptian immigrants training to become professional chefs, television actors scrambling to pay rent between commercial gigs, middle aged women waiting to pick their kids up from soccer practice—the list is endless. One man was so excited by my interest in his home country that he stuffed me full of “the best chocolates in all of Russia.”
I heard stories of hard times and fond memories of home. One man was driving fourteen hours a day just to send money back to his family in Nigeria. Another was waiting on a patent for his recent invention.
Many drivers work for ten or more hours in a day, driving countless exhausting miles. Most are delighted to make a friend or two along the way.
Uber is a unique opportunity to change your global perspective. It is a chance to connect in an increasingly disconnected world. It is chance to make someone’s day.
So the next time you open the door to the vehicle with the U on the windshield, consider asking your driver about their morning instead of sitting on your phone for the entire ride. You may be surprised at the conversation you get lost in. At the very least, you may get a free chocolate.