Conversations on Uber rides

Alternate clickbait title : How to survive an Uber Pool ride

I’m a 20 something who lives in San Francisco. Needless to say, taking Uber has become a regular part of my commute. Partly because it is almost as cheap as public transport here in the city and partly because I meet the most interesting people in these rides. The fact that you are sitting in a confined space with complete strangers who you are unlikely to ever meet again leads to the most brutally honest, politically incorrect, totally absurd and downright hilarious conversations. But to get to that level of brutal honesty, political incorrectness, total absurdity and downright hilarity, one must first plant the seed — start a conversation.

I wonder how my Uber Pool conversation with Mad Max would be like (image courtesy www.toonpool.com)

I start my typical conversation with the world’s second most cliched small talk question of all time (the first being about how bad the weather is) :

How has your day/evening been so far?

The answer to this question is a good indicator of which way the conversation is going to swing. Half the time it’s a “Meh” — that’s a signal for you to shut the f**k up and pretend to be busy on your phone. The other half the time, a smoke signal of pent up thoughts is let out — a strong indicator that a volcano of emotion is about to burst.

Sometimes that smoke signal comes in the form of rage :

I was set to pick up this passenger from a bar on the other side of the street, but she just refused to cross the street. What is this? A limo service? It’s my f***king car!

Other times, it is despair :

I picked up this guy last night who threw up all over my car. My brand new car! My life sucks.

Or just your regular dose of misogyny :

You know why I drive Uber? Because I get to pick up drunk girls all the time! Aww yeah!

On the rare occasion when the conversation isn’t about alcohol, I follow up with my curiosity question number 1 :

Do you live in the city?

If the answer is no, the typical follow up is to say, “It’s so expensive to live in the city.” If the answer is yes, the typical follow up is to say, “It’s so expensive to live in the city.” If I don’t follow up with this, they do. It is an unspoken cardinal rule of an Uber ride that at least one person in the car mentions the words “expensive”, “live” and “city” in the same sentence.

Next, I ask them my curiosity question number 2 :

Are you from the Bay Area?

This is when that emotional volcano erupts and accounts for the most heartwarming of back stories :

  • A native SF resident who prides himself on making ends meet in the city while raising 4 kids.
  • A Somali immigrant chasing the American dream of becoming a self-made entrepreneur.
  • A Chicago native who taught herself how to code and moved to SF in search of a tech job.
  • A Syrian student who perennially fears about the safety of his family back home.
  • A former Soviet Union Mathematician who moved to the US to escape the tyranny of Communism and is now a tech consultant telling companies to use Spark instead of Hadoop.

Soon enough the driver moves on to ask a question that I dread to answer :

What do you do for a living?

If you are an Engineer living in San Francisco, you know exactly why I dread answering that. Engineers are either extremely loved or extremely hated here in the city. We are treated like those bankers in that Wolf of Wall Street movie — people want to indulge in our lavish and exuberant lifestyle (read: sitting in front of a computer all day) or people hate our lavish and exuberant lifestyle. Yes, rising rents, gentrification, and eviction are serious issues, but they are too complicated to be casually discussed in a 5 minute Uber ride.

When I do answer with the truth though, I’ve gotten responses that range from curiosity :

What is it that you guys really do? Do you build apps and shit?

to excitement :

You’re an engineer! That’s amazing!

to entrepreneurial :

I have this great startup idea. I’m looking for a coder to help me build it! Are you in?

to racial stereotypes :

Of course you’re an engineer. You’re Indian.

to mild hostility :

Oh I see. Did you make a crap ton of money when your company became public? And here I am driving this Uber…

to not so mild hostility :

Engineers have ruined the city. You guys are the cause of all the evictions happening here. I was kicked out of my house. I hope you’re happy.

If the conversation starts getting hostile, that’s when I play my Writer card. Why else do you think I wrote a novel? :

I’m an artist bro. That’s a true San Franciscan profession, isn’t it? I’m a writer. I just work a full time job at a tech company on the side.

And if that doesn’t work, I can always play my India card. The India card never fails :

Have you seen a Bollywood movie? Did you know that Indian weddings last for 4 days? Yes, arranged marriage is a thing. No, there are no elephants and tigers in Indian weddings. But yes, there can be a horse.

And invariably, I reach my destination before I get quizzed about Chicken Tikka Masala.

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