Before we get started, this was not a social experiment, nor was it a freaky way to make friends. I’m also definitely not a sex offender.
I was in Perth a few weeks ago for a job interview and a day or two of cruising around. I got around pretty easily by foot for the duration of the trip until it was time to go to the airport. The hotel offered a shuttle bus for just $60. Dreaming champ. A cab was no better. A few people I was cruising with suggested I download Uber to get to the airport.
$18 later, I was sold. Not only did the driver reach me faster than what it would take me to wipe my bum, he also offered me a mint. Whether or not my breath was funky after the garlic infused hummus slathered over my morning eggs is another question, but Uber driver Paramjeet delivered the goods nonetheless. He told me he worked in a big mining company and just drove in his spare time for a bit of side cash and to pass the time.
I have always made the effort to speak to cab drivers, mainly because most are Indian, and they probably don’t get much more than “gee how about that weather” or “has today been busy for you?” I’ve delved into all sorts of topics with cabbies such as cricket, politics, religion and I’ve always asked what kind of backdoor method they’ve used to enter the country. Plenty of scintillating conversations, and some even heated.
I had to come back to Perth for a second interview, and brought a friend along for the ride. In the 3 nights we stayed in Perth, I booked a total of 26 Ubers. It started as a matter of convenience, who needs to walk when you can pay $5 to get from the hotel to the casino. It then slowly became an addiction. The more drivers we met the more excited we got at the prospects of another Uber ride. Over the four days we met some of the most interesting, funny and knowledgeable people. From job searching Indians, Afghani fathers earning some side cash, retired locals passing time, business executives driving for the interaction, and Somalians driving to improve their English, Uber gave us a bag of liquorice allsorts.
Amongst one of the most memorable moments was with Daniel, the friendly Zimbabwean Uber driver. The 7.79km cab ride from Crown Casino to our apartment in East Perth was probably the moment that made the trip. His sheer enthusiasm and laughter was something we won’t ever forget.
Above all, every Uber driver I met was warm and friendly and I got out of the car feeling good about myself. That basic human interaction that so many of us don’t experience anymore due to our smartphones was reborn, and it felt good. Knowing that you’ve brightened someone’s day by asking them a question, taking an interest in their story and sharing your own thoughts can provide gratification unlike anything else.
We are all guilty of talking through our screens, not that there is anything wrong with it, it’s just the reality we live in. But next time you take an Uber or a cab, put your phone away and try starting a conversation. I can guarantee you it won’t be hard. Many are on the road for 10-12 hours a day. Your one question which doesn’t involve the weather could be enough to make their shift worthwhile. You just might find that you hop out feeling extra good about yourself.