UBER AND I: A MICROCOSM OF LIFE IN PUBLIC SERVICE

President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush arrive at the opening ceremony of the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas in 2013. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush arrive at the opening ceremony of the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas in 2013. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

A new CNN/ORC poll conducted by telephone on May 29 – 31, 2015, with 1,025 adult respondents, finds that more Americans have a favorable view of former President George W. Bush than of President Barack Obama, our current president.

Hold your thoughts.

Two months ago, among numerous good men and women who work in the oil and gas industry, I was laid off. As a result of the dramatic drop in the price of crude oil in the international market. As a father and as a husband, I have to continue to provide for my family irrespective of losing my job. So after considering my options on how to go about my manly duties, becoming an Uber driver tops the list. For one, meeting the security requirements was a cakewalk for me. Secondly, the idea of being my own boss and working the hours of my choosing was so appealing I had no choice than to latch on.

On my first day as Uber driver, my first ride request came from a Russian guy who is an international student in the U.S.

For those of you familiar with how the Uber thing works, well, brush to the next paragraph. But for those who do not know and haven’t used it before, this is how it works. Uber drivers have the Uber partner app in their phones and the riders have the riders’ app on theirs as well.  Each Uber driver has the make and model of his car, the license plate number of his car, and a picture of his included in his Uber profile.  On the driver app, whenever the driver wants to work, he has the “Go Online” button on his app. Once he clicks it, because going online is GPS-enabled, every rider wishing to hitch a ride in his area can see him. Anytime he wishes to stop working, he also has the “Go Offline” button, which takes him off the radar. Whenever an Uber driver goes online, which means he is ready to play, the rider who needs a ride can see how far away the driver is from him or her, and if the information on the driver’s profile in addition to his distance from the rider meets the rider’s needs, the rider can request a ride from the driver. Once the request is sent, it goes to the requested driver’s phone and the driver has 15 seconds to accept or ignore the request.

So on my first day as Uber driver, being excited about this new gig, especially the part about meeting new people – am a people person, when my first Uber request came in, I just accepted it at the first beep.

My Russian passenger has two girlfriends with him and they came into my car with plastic plates of chicken sandwich, all three of them.

Nobody eats in my car.

It was a rule my wife and former co-workers respected after I got my car earlier this year. It is a beautiful Toyota Camry SE, 2015 model, with a beautiful interior that I take pain to maintain. It feels great every time someone walks into the car and complements me for the clean interior and the fresh air hanging over it. Nonetheless, I relaxed my rule for the first time for my first passengers because I was so mindful of Uber ratings and wouldn’t want them to get mad and rate me low if I insist that they do not eat in my car. And also because they and I had already gotten into it for keeping me waiting at their parking lot for 12 minutes before showing up.

According to the Uber tutorial I got before hitting the road, after waiting for a passenger for at least five minutes, the driver should ask the rider if the rider want the driver to begin the trip while the driver waits for the rider to get ready. To begin the trip in this instance does not mean to drive off without the passenger. It simply means clicking the “begin the trip” button on the app to get the meter reading to compensate the driver for the time he spends waiting for passengers to get ready for their trip. So after seven minutes of waiting I called and asked the passenger if I should begin the trip and one of his girls started questioning why I wanted to do that? I told her they are taking much time to come down and that Uber policy requires us drivers to do so. And she said no. Vehemently. When they finally came down for the ride, there was this Russian aggression about them. Bad blood was already in the air and I didn’t want more of it in my first trip. So I did allow them to eat in my car.

Our third incident happened during the ride. The guy was riding with me in the front seat. His English was not good. After exchanging pleasantries and finding a common interest in soccer, we started discussing European soccer. Our discussion delved into a debate about who is the better player between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Am a Ronaldo fan and he favored Messi. At a point in our debate, I asked him why he thought Messi is a better player than Ronaldo. He knew what he wanted to say but he didn’t find the right English words to communicate his answers back to me. He asked one of his girls in Russian what the English words for what he was trying to say were. The girl didn’t have the answer but asked him to think harder. He did but the words didn’t come through and he gave up. The girl noticed and told him he was being rude for not responding to me. I didn’t see it that way. But that got him frustrated and he started screaming. An air of awkwardness descended on the car. Fortunately the trip lasted for a distance of 2 miles or less.

My second passengers were an African-American guy and his Caucasian girlfriend. They apparently live together and both work for Pappasito’s. I know because I picked them up from their apartment and dropped them off at their work, both wearing their work uniform. The guy is seemingly anti-social while the girlfriend is an extrovert. I tried to make a conversation with them but the guy shut me off. While the girl latched on and we discussed NFL and laughed through it until I dropped them off.

And my 3rd passenger is an African-American girl that I travelled for 20 minutes to pick up from a church and dropped off at a Laundromat less than a mile from the church. While I was driving her to the Laundromat and was focused on the road, she was silently and quietly eating in the back of my car and thereafter lathered my leather seat with grease. I found out after she had exited my car. I only saw her enter the back seat with her handbag. I did not know she had greasy food in it and was going to eat in and soil my car with it. There was nothing I could do about it.

At the end of my first day as Uber driver, my rating, which started at 5.0, dropped to 4.7. I did not get into any altercation with anybody that day. I accepted every request that came to my phone even those 20 to 25 minutes away. I drove as safely and smoothly as I could. I obeyed all the traffic laws. And I even allowed people to eat in my car, something my wife never did.  All I did that day was seek to please. And in spite of all these, I still got rated low. And that tells me a lot about us humans and the science of approval rating that presidents have to deal with on a daily basis.

When a new president comes to town, just like on my first day as Uber driver, he rides in the wave of surging approval rating. But then he settles into office and there comes the special interests. And his approval rating begins to tank. Not because he was doing a bad job. Most of the times it is because he is being good at his job and sticking it to the special interests.

The late Dr. Myles Munroe in his popular book Maximizing Your Potential said that when people start hating on you for what you are doing, be rest assured that you are actually swimming, and not sinking.

Your approval rating will receive a beating because some special interests are vexed that you signed that Civil Rights Act into law, thereby giving what they consider 3/5 of a human being equal legal standing with them. Your approval rating will suffer because some special interests are not happy with you for not dragging the country into an unnecessary war that will cost the country in fortunes and in blood but enrich their coffers. And your approval rating will suffer because some special interests are mad at you for being black and trying to accomplish something that 43 white presidents before you couldn’t accomplish even though what you are trying to accomplish is good for the country.

Most of the time, low approval rating for a sitting president – except in cases such as the fatigue with the Iraqi war coupled with the economic meltdown that characterized the twilight of President Bush’s administration – is not a function of how bad a president is performing at his job.

I am not an Obama defender. He has legions out there that are paid and are willing to play that role. I love President George W. Bush. When he was in power, I was still in Nigeria. Because of the time zone difference, President Bush is another man, besides Bishop T.D. Jakes, that I defied sleep in order to watch his speech live anytime I got wind of his speech. Are both Obama and Bush super-humans? No. Are they immune to occasional error in judgment? Of course. Did both set out in their presidencies to achieve greater glory for America and do good by its people? Undoubtedly. And are both getting better credit for the good they did than for some of the bad choices they made? Nada.

Approval ratings as I have experienced first hand are not completely a function of how good or well a public servant is doing at his job. It is for the most part a function of people’s emotions.

As an Uber driver, I have picked up passengers who want me to drive at 100 in a road that has a speed limit of 60. They tell me they are running late and want to make it to their destination on time. When I was new to the game and was bothered about rating, I would oblige them and hit the gas pedal. But then at that speed, should a frantic driver at much more desperation to get to his destination swerve into my lane without warning and I do what I have to do to avoid collision and they experience a little discomfort, they will still rate you bad after they exit the car. On a bad day, while you are knowingly violating traffic laws in order to please a passenger, an officer of the law can pull you over and give you a ticket that sometimes may be ten times the worth of the fare that got you into that situation. And the driver and the driver alone will suffer the loss the same way President Bush alone and his legacy is suffering the ill-advised invasion of Iraq. Some passengers will get into your car and would wanna turn it into Cadillac One with them being Mr. President and you the chauffeur. In their little mind and travelling a distant that will get you the barest minimum fare, they will want you to step out of the car and open the door for them and then close after them once they settle in. They won’t talk to you at all during the trip because of course they are the president and you are the chauffeur. And once you get to their destination, they will want you to repeat the ritual. If you ignore them, they will exit your car and bang the door to break. Of course after banging your door, they will proceed to rate you low as well.

I have picked up passengers who have never exercised authority over anybody in their lives and when they see an Uber driver, they thought their time has come. And they do a pretty good job at it. Such people will not tell you the address where they want you to take them to so you can enter it in the navigation system. No. They will tell you how to drive to get there. Not as if there is anything wrong with a passenger choosing a shorter route to his or her destination or volunteering to guide the driver if he or she suspects that the driver is not familiar with the area. But what is problematic is when passengers chooses to not tell the driver whether it is a left or a right turn once they are approaching an intersection until they get to the intersection. That situation can lead to accident. Some passengers will tell you to negotiate a turn when you are halfway pass the road they want you to turn into and if you find it at that stage an impossible turn to make and decides to drive further on your path to make a U-turn and return back to that road they want you to turn into, they will hate you for that. Actually, it is mostly the uneducated, the poor, and those that are emotionally unstable who doesn’t believe they can command power or respect in the society that does these. They set out from the onset to set the driver up to offend their sense of powerlessness in order to punish the driver by rating him low. They have a problem with the world. And they wanna pile it upon the Uber driver. Ironically they always travel less than a mile. They are the least people you can get a good fare from. But they are the Simon Cowell of Uberworld, the austere judges of drivers.

But I have also picked up passengers like Tom Lockhart, a Texas oil magnate who dresses in shorts and speaks well of Obama. Tom is one guy you can never have a dull moment with. We spoke from River Oaks where I picked him up to George Bush International Airport where I dropped him off. He is smart, progressive, and down-to-earth. But above all, Tom appreciates the value of a good conversation and Tom appreciates the value of a good ride. And Tom and people like him have no qualms expressing their appreciation of quality service, not only in giving a driver a 5-star rating, but also in passing along their business cards, establishing friendships, and picking up your calls anytime you call. People like Tom are the reason why drivers like me wake up every morning and hit the road in order to serve. And I know that there are also people like Tom in the polity who appreciates the fights presidents put up with everyday on behalf of the common man and who through their support keeps the presidents going even when their approval ratings are at their all-time low.

I have kowtowed to passengers’ reckless demands. I have driven on potholed roads on a speed that I should not have, putting unnecessary tear and wear on my car so as to please people who I have no business pleasing. I have drove beyond allowed speed limits at the risk of accident and citation in order to satisfy passengers who are insatiable. I have travelled miles I should not have travelled, wasting gas in the process, to pick up ungrateful passengers who kept me waiting for scores of minutes and who at the end of the day only traveled a distance that got me $5.10, the minimum Uber fare. I have reflected at the end of every day of work for the first one and half months I drove Uber why I got certain reactions and treatments from passengers. Was I not articulating enough in my conversation? Was my involvement in the conversation half-hearted that the passenger noticed? Should I have chosen a different topic? Or should I have just stayed on my lane after the first exchange of hello and hi and drove the passenger to his or her destination without any further exchange. I had a bit of personal crises. I wanted to maintain a perfect 5-star rating. I was ready to do all that it takes. Just like any president in his second year in office or after his party suffers a midterm defeat in the polls.

But after two months in the trade, I have come to realize that since Jesus Christ, an embodiment of goodness, could not please the world, even after raising the dead, causing the blind to see, and the lame to walk, that neither could I. Just like it dawns on any president at a certain point of his presidency that there are certain demography that even if he gives them the sun for a diamond ring, will still not be fair-minded towards him. Consequently I have come to care less about rating. Not that I have stopped doing a very good job of driving smoothly and safely and being courteous to my passengers. I do that everyday. But accommodating reckless and dangerous demands of passengers that start fighting you the moment they requested a ride from you – folks you can never satisfy no matter what you do? Never.

After two months in the trade, I can pick out the character of a passenger the moment I arrive at their pick-up place. I know those I will have to observe all the traffic rules while driving them in my car and once they are in the car, to just keep to myself and drive them to their destination. And I know those I will have to make adjustments for to get them to their destination. They sit on the front seat with me, I greet them “what’s up, bro” as they get into the car and once we began the trip, we chat all the way to their destination. But overall, I no longer allow myself to drive under the pressure to please anybody just like a seasoned president knows to do. I drive like I would drive myself and I have a notice that asks passengers not to eat in the car. And they respect it. By the way my Uber rating is at 4.58 today.

If most Americans have a low favorability towards President Obama today than President Bush, every smart person out there knows that it has more to do with emotions that with job performance. America’s economic situation during the Bush era, especially when he had a year and half left in his administration CANNOT in any way compare to what it is now. It’ll be like comparing an ant with an elephant. America’s position as the leader of the free world was not as reinforced as it is now despite a resurgent ISIS, which by the way is a Middle East problem. And since whatever happens in the nation, good or bad, is credited to the sitting president; President Obama should get the credit for America emerging the world’s largest producer of both natural gas and oil. Another harbinger of further economic development of the country. If Bill Clinton who had no hand in the dotcom business boom that flourished the U.S. economy and led to budget surplus during his administration could be credited with the economic boom because he was the sitting president when that happened, there’s no reason why Barry, whose smart fiscal policies have gotten this country out of pit and into prosperity should not be rightfully credited with this historical achievement which happened under his watch.

The science of approval rating is not a pure science where blue litmus paper turns red with acid. It is a behavioral science that is relative and governed primarily by human emotions and to a lesser extent honest job assessment. Just like no one can say with certainty which plays a major role for the highs or the lows for a white president, no one can equally say unequivocally what the case is for a black president. Only the respondents in the innermost parts of their minds, which sometimes they wouldn’t even admit to themselves, know why they responded how they did to certain questions about a sitting president. However there are certain things that are too obvious to argue.

3 thoughts on “UBER AND I: A MICROCOSM OF LIFE IN PUBLIC SERVICE

  1. I am an Uber driver and I can relate to this article. Nice writeup. Am intrigued by how you made a connection with politics with your Uber experience. That is genius. Keep it up.

    Like

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