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How to wake up a snoring passenger without making things weird, and other lessons from a young, female Uber driver

Uber Everywhere

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When I got my first snorer, I felt like Pinocchio becoming a real boy. Only in this case, a real Uber driver.

My side-career as a rideshare driver started right after my cross-country move from Portland, Ore., a brumous city of cyclists and milquetoast drivers. Squirrels get the right of way there. After recovering from the 3,000-mile transverse drive across the continent with my mother, I decided Charleston would be a reasonable place to try this Uber driving thing. The Holy City has fewer bridges, more sunshine, and a slightly better tourist-to-tortured-artist ratio.

One quick application from my iPhone, a trip to Jiffy Lube, and a selfie profile pic later and I went from singing "Uber every-fucking-where, pre-rolls in my VIP" to vacuuming my Prius upholstery on a Friday night. Unlike Lyft, Uber has no minimum requirements for residency, so transplants like myself get paid while following Waze and faking insider knowledge for the tourists.

Let's be straight from square one: I am the target demographic for Uber passengers, not drivers.

I am 26 and female, which makes me an orphic creature in the Uber driversphere. I like yoga, kale salads, and dancing to Beyoncé at Prohibition. I hate city driving, loud conversations, and people touching my things. I am type A with recreational OCD, but I also went to Coachella this year and ended my last birthday by throwing up a Red Bull-vodka. I am not a recent college grad, unemployed, or even between jobs. I like Uber for the extra cash and I'll gladly sacrifice my weekend nights if it means more paella money on my trip to Spain next month, but I never want to make a career of it. And again, I am young and female.

But I do drive a Prius.

The Snorer had a rough time spotting my white Prius in the blinding, 11 A.M. sunlight on a Sunday. He was one of the sketchier pick-ups, the type mom would worry over. While some drivers are obsessives for punctuality — the kind who will slow roll by and leave for the next passenger if your hand doesn't touch the door within a minute of arrival — I'm not one of those. I once waited 10 minutes for a CofC upperclassman named Billy to find my car, all the while talking to his mom on the phone because she'd ordered the Uber for him. This Snorer pushed even my threshold though. He was a wild goose chase.

Ironically, it's rarely the late night rides that make your gut drop. Drunken anecdoche at 2:30 a.m. is never not as annoying as fuck, but it is harmless so long as no one vomits Ketel One at the side of your face (more on that later). The ones you have to keep an eye on are the Sunday hangovers and the late-to-workers. The Snorer was probably a bit of both.

His pick-up location was just off Highway 17, past the befuddling Clemson Vegetable Laboratory in West Ashley (as an Uber driver, you discover weird landmarks like that). In this case, "just off Highway 17" does not mean a road connected to the highway; the Snorer was just wandering a grassy area by the interstate and I found him only after looping through the nearby apartment complex's driveways a few times. Wearing dirty sweatpants frayed at the heels and carrying a plastic grocery bag in one hand and a half-empty Big Gulp in the other, he was grimacing at the sun like it was acid rain. He would've fit in well at a Detroit Greyhound station circa 1991. Once you've made eye contact though, there's an obligation.

Your nice ride may require some cleaning after a long night of driving bachelorette parties around - RUTA ELVIKYTE
  • Ruta Elvikyte
  • Your nice ride may require some cleaning after a long night of driving bachelorette parties around

Inevitably, the first reaction I get when I mention driving for Uber is a look of confusion and then questions about Mace. If you're curious, Amazon stocks a variety of sticky pepper sprays, keychain tasers, and even a mini, light pink stun gun for under $12. Law prohibits shipment of this twee, 38,000,000-volt accessory to places like Chicago and Philly, but you can get free same-day delivery to our Holy City. Tasers aside, being a young, female Uber driver gives a lot of people pause, and reasonably so. The cutoff for AMBER alerts is 17, so you could look at every trip as a calculated risk. (My least favorite anonymous compliment reads: "She was very nice ... and very beautiful.") To restate the obvious, we're all in this for the money. No one is driving for Uber to impress their in-laws or because they enjoy the potential of being a fluke murder case. Depending on your determination though, Uber can be lucrative, not unlike exotic dancing. TechCrunch reported that Uber drivers average over $19 an hour and as much as $30 an hour in New York City, meaning a full-time driver could make up to $40,000 a year after taxes and fuel.

The going rate in Charleston is 85 cents for every mile and 14 cents for every minute, meaning my questionable pickup from a grass patch near Savannah Highway to the Market Street destination was making me bank. Long highway trips are the UberX cash cows, even without surge pricing.

I first heard the murmur of snores as we crossed the Ashley River Bridge to downtown. In the rearview mirror, I could see glints of drool just starting to gather. It's moments like these when Uber driving puts you face-to-face with existential questions. What am I doing with my life? Driving a drooling and potentially hungover stranger to work in my downtime between grocery shopping and yoga class?

Spitz says it's the early morning hangover pick-ups Uber drivers really have to be wary of - RUTA ELVIKYTE
  • Ruta Elvikyte
  • Spitz says it's the early morning hangover pick-ups Uber drivers really have to be wary of

Nothing will convince you of the widespread need for psychotherapy like driving for Uber. Rideshare drivers are the 21st century's shrinks, and while Freud would surely have his own theories regarding back seats and stick-shifts, my simple observation is this: Everyone who gets in my car is either lonely or in love. One solitary guy on an East Coast motorcycle trek wanted to know where to eat wings and get lost in a crowd. A travelling trucker tipped me for driving a mile because it was the most human conversation he'd had all week. One couple broke up in my Prius, slowly sliding to opposite extremes of my backseat as we crossed the Ravenel Bridge. Another couple got together, deciding mid-trip to make a pit stop after their sorority formal so she could grab a toothbrush. Someone named Mark didn't know his own street name but insisted he'd lived there for 10 years. And someone named Kate ordered a cross-city Uber for her Netflix and chill buddy. No matter what, every passenger brings invisible baggage.

You'd be forgiven for thinking every passenger is a drunken mess after 10 p.m. on weekends, but you'd be wrong — mostly. I have picked up a bachelorette party that squeezed an extra passenger into my back seat (don't tell Uber). I coached a blonde through not vomiting for the final three miles while her dipshit guy friends laughed at every speed bump and discussed mushrooms for their pizza order. I picked up a hot mess who'd driven herself home drunk and was headed back to King to explain to her crush why she'd flashed his best friend at Midtown Bar. She dug through my glove compartment for gum. For the most part though, Uber driving obliterates your expectations. It rubs your nose in your own prejudices, communication quirks, and pet peeves. It forces you to accept people as they are and take them where they want to go, no explanation needed.

The Snorer situation got worse before it got better. I thought the Grand Canyon potholes on Cannon Street would save me the awkwardness of having to poke him awake. They didn't, but thankfully an abrupt stop to avoid massacring a carriage horse jolted him enough that he came to and realised he needed a nicotine boost before facing work. In his case I agreed it might do him good, so at 11:25 a.m. I made the unofficial detour to a Scotchman on Cumberland and State streets and waited while he bought cigarettes and gum.

RUTA ELVIKYTE
  • Ruta Elvikyte

All controversy aside, Uber makes discrimination, even the accidental kind, difficult. Ride requests pop onto your smartphone screen as a nondescript blinking orb and after you accept you're given a basic street address and a name, little else. The destination is even a mystery until you're en route. A silent rider shares no more of his life with me than his Uber handle and the minutes it takes to drive between two pinpoints of his day. I've only had one complete mime; most people magnetize to interaction. Maybe it's because I might be the one conversation all day where they don't have to battle a smartphone for the other person's attention, ironically. Even the Snorer explained to me between dozing that he's the pastry chef at one of the nicest places downtown and spent the last two nights overwhelmed by nonstop reservations, elaborate orders, and next-day prep that goes through pre-dawn hours. That book-and-cover adage applies on every ride.

The Snorer was just the first of many trips to make me pause, re-evaluate, and drop expectations. I picked up a beautiful young blonde one Friday night thinking she'd be headed downtown to meet friends. Instead I was driving her to work at the Silver Slipper. She'd just woken up from a pre-work nap. Another request came from downtown Folly late Saturday night, a standard for Bachelor parties and hammered friend groups. Instead, I picked up a developmentally-disabled thirty-something guy holding a grease-smudged Whole Foods takeout box outside a gas station. He'd just finished his shift as dishwasher. He told me it was a hard day because he hadn't been able to keep up and a co-worker had to help him complete the task. Normally his retired veteran father would fetch him from work, but that night dad's back injury flared up and he needed a ride. It's amazing what you can learn about someone — and yourself — in the span of a 15-minute drive.

Uber drivers get badges like "Above and Beyond" and "All Star Diver," but there aren't accolades for the real triumphs — racing to get a couple of Citadel boys home before curfew, convincing a dragging Bachelorette party to rally, or subtly waking up the snoring guy drooling on your grey upholstery without making it awkward. Because you never know if he's an award-winning pastry chef at a triple-dollar establishment, exhausted from late-night catering and self-medicating with Big Gulps and cigarettes.

You never know when your driver has a mini pink taser or your passenger is the next Duff Goldman.

What am I doing with my life? I'm driving Uber to get pocket cash for travel. I'm taking strippers to work and single moms home from swing shifts. I'm touring CEOs from the Restoration Hotel to Husk. I'm the pop-up therapist for lonely travellers and the accidental witness to vulnerable moments of love. I'm dedicating a few hours every week to the spaces between point A and point B, because as cliché as it sounds, it's not always about the destination.

In between the King Street Snapchats and brushing your teeth, there are moments where we're all just a first name and a street address and bodies hurdling over pavement — maybe snoring a little.

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