Making Ends Meet

One of the more difficult aspects of a career in wildlife is the temporary nature of our work. Thus far, I found myself here and there in each job for several months at a time. The problem is the unemployment between jobs. Sure, I love to be home but the financial hardship is stressful. Although I attended a public school, I still graduated with a large amount of debt. I often describe it as a small mortgage. Of course, in addition to that financial woe, we have the normal bills that must be paid — house, car, utilities, and the like. So, what do I do to make ends meet? This time, I tried driving for Uber.

When I was younger — okay, maybe not that long ago — I really didn’t understand the phrase “making ends meet.” What was “endsmeat?” The image in my mind was of the end-skins found on lunch meat that no one wanted. Maybe it had something to do with the dietary components of impoverished people. I knew with some certainty that it had something to do with making enough money to pay bills and survive. Embarrassingly, not too long ago, I did a Google search and was reacquainted with the concept of idioms and found the correct spelling and definition for “making ends meet.” Therefore, I believe the title is appropriate.

I first got the idea from Chad, during my time in Yellowstone. At some point he told us that he drove for Uber between jobs to make some money. The whole concept was vague and frightening. Why would anyone want to trust a stranger and take them places in their own car? It sounded risky to me! He said that it wasn’t that bad and we left the conversation there. At the time, the idea was so farfetched that I could never see myself doing it.

Months later, I was at home. A couple weeks after our western adventure, I was wondering how we were going to pay my student loans. The financial stress grew as the days passed and my next gig was still unknown. Nonetheless, I knew that I would find something before long. What was I going to do for that short amount of time to make a few bucks?

At some point, I must have told Jill of Chad’s experience with Uber. I don’t recall who brought it up as a plausible source of income but I do remember that we talked about it for days. It was such a foreign concept — shuttling strangers in my own car. However, it wouldn’t be my car. My SUV is too old and inefficient to be a taxi cab. I would have to use my wife’s car!

So, I looked into it and found a multitude of conflicting information. Some people said that it provides a great income while others said that the expenses are too great to make a profit. The approach to Uber driving is also a matter of debate. Many blogs and videos say that an Uber driver should provide candy and water and other refreshments for the rider’s experience. They argue that doing so will help insure happy customers who will generously rate the ride. Conversely, other drivers say that it isn’t necessary and it is actually an expense that shouldn’t be incurred. Another point of debate is when to focus on driving. Many concentrate on the late night crowds and cash in on the drunks who need rides, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights. I could only imagine cleaning vomit from my wife’s car.

Needless to say, I did my research. Certainly, I didn’t want to invest too much into this venture. It was to be a gig between jobs after all. I decided to purchase what I thought were the necessities — door decals, barf bags, and a few cleaning supplies. There was no way that I was going to give people candy and water for free. I made up my mind that I was giving people rides, not an experience. I also decided to stay away from the late night crowd. Cleaning someone else’s vomit is not my forte nor did I think that my wife would appreciate that in her car. Instead, I would focus on the people moving during the day. It seemed safer. Maybe, I would take people to the bars but not home after they were loaded.

After deciding to do it, I put off driving for a few days. I was nervous about it. Even with all the research, I didn’t know what to expect. I never rode in an Uber. Besides the YouTube videos, I had nothing else for comparison. Nonetheless, my student loans would be due before long and I needed to make some cash. Before I set out to do this, I had Jill request an Uber so I would have a practice run. I went online in the driver app, then she requested a ride on her phone. Since I was closest to her, I got the ping, and drove her to Blue Ribbon for the experience. We rewarded ourselves with some ice cream after a successful trial.

By this time, I hardly recall my first ride. I remember going online in the driver app and waiting anxiously for that first real ping — a stranger’s request for a ride. Who would I pick up? Where would we be going? Would there be trouble? In hindsight, it was rather anticlimactic. I recall picking up a young woman, exchanging pleasantries, and dropping her off a short distance later. It wasn’t that bad.

I’m sure that you are wondering how it all goes down. Well, most of the time, I’m sitting in the car for a while, waiting for that ping. It’s not cost effective to drive around aimlessly. So, I would drive to an area that I thought would be productive and target the rides that I prefer. Quickly, I discovered that certain times are busier than others. There was no sense in sitting in my car at lunch time. I might as well go home to take a break and get something to eat. I found that mornings are good until just before noon and it picks up again sometime around two in the afternoon. Since, there are many Uber drivers these days, competition for these rides is high. Tactically, I use the rider app to see the locations of other drivers so I can position myself between them and the areas that I am targeting. When I get a ping, I have about fifteen seconds to respond. Not much information is available to make the decision. The app displays a map that illustrates a route between the rider and me and estimates how long it will take me to reach them. I noticed that if I’m outside of the app, a banner alert flashes on my phone detailing the address of the pickup. The screen also displays the rider’s rating (one to five stars). I make it a point not to take anyone below a 4.6. Then, I have the option to accept or decline the request. Once I accept, I then see the riders name and address. The driver app outputs the info to the GPS on my phone and I use that to navigate to the rider. I pick the rider(s) up and exchange pleasantries and verify their destination before proceeding. Sometimes the rides provide wonderful conversation while other times, they are painfully quiet. The people are diverse. Once I reach the destination. I exchange pleasantries again and end the trip once the exit my vehicle.

Now, you are probably wondering if I have any stories. Well, of course I do!

I had to call the cops on one lady. I picked up a woman downtown. We exchanged pleasantries and she told me that there would be an additional stop. That was no problem. The red flag should have gone up when she told me that we were stopping at a daycare. Perhaps I should have said something but how would I know that she was about to break the law? We got to the destination and she got out to retrieve her kids. She came back with three. All required a car seat by law and the youngest probably wasn’t a year old. I kindly told her that I couldn’t transport the kids without a car seat. She said that she never had a problem before. I bolstered my position by informing her that it was illegal to transport them without the car seats and that I would feel awful if her children were hurt. She expressed that I was aware that we were going to a daycare and that I should have said something sooner. Maybe, I should have said something as a courtesy but the responsibility rests on her shoulders. How was I supposed to know that she didn’t have the necessary equipment at the daycare? She argued with me for several minutes before demanding that I take her and her children home. That was the last straw. I told her that she had to leave the vehicle. She freaked! Going back in forth for what seemed like forever, I said that I would call the police to have her removed. She thought I was bluffing. I wasn’t. I called 911 while she and the kids were in the car and explained the situation. She exited the vehicle just before the officer arrived. She didn’t go far and she was the first to engage him. Despite her grievance, she admitted that I was doing things by the book but she was surprised by it. After the officer ran my information, I was free to go. I reported the altercation to Uber but I have no idea of the result.

On a brighter note, my longest trip was from Hanover to York for $128.95. I made $64 per hour. If the wheels are turning, driving for Uber with a fuel efficient car can make decent money. Unfortunately, the gig is very inconsistent and the driver has no idea where they are going until the passenger is picked up. Luckily, that night, I had the time and energy to take the trip.

Sometimes, I get hit on. I remember a woman that I picked up in Scranton. She had to be in her thirties and wore a short dress. She was very talkative and very interested in me. She asked me all sorts of questions. She even asked me what I was doing that night and if I was interested in going out to the bar later. Eventually, she asked if I was married. After my response, she was quiet for the rest of the trip.

Would I Uber again? Yeah, why not? For a while, I felt poorly about doing it. Driving wasn’t getting me to where I wanted to go. It had little to do with my career aspirations. However, driving was an opportunity to make ends meet. It was also an opportunity to meet interesting people. Some of them, I enjoyed getting to know.

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