An honest reply to Uber's request for a "Sixth Star Award Nomination"

6:03:00 AM



Brooklyn was under the umbrella of a scorching heat while my neighbor from my block and I waited at the intersection of "18th Street and 3rd Ave" for more than 30 minutes. My neighbor had called  a local car service to drive us back home. It never arrived.

We had just dropped off my neighbor's own vehicle at the mechanic for routine service. He had asked me to come along since he was unsure that his post-ACL surgery knee would be able to tolerate working the clutch on the drive. Should it give out, I was "on deck" so to speak.

Old San Juan, PR 6-30-2014.
Police state that their presence is
due to the peaceful demonstration
staged by the Taxi Union in protest
of Uber's possible entry to the market.
Now, Uber has been an unavoidable topic this summer, appearing both in my mailbox in the form of political postcards and also as a real presence during a recent family vacation to Puerto Rico where the Taxi union had shut down the cobblestone roads near the Governor's Mansion in Old San Juan, protesting Uber's potential launch of service on its shores.

As such, I asked my neighbor while we waited fruitlessly for his car to arrive - me sweating and he sweating and hobbling - about his thoughts on Uber (Our neighborly friendship is founded on and based in, primarily, on our mutually active involvement in the local civic scene, and it was not inappropriate to ask his views on a current issue of public discourse such as Uber). I had offered to hail an Uber X while riding to his mechanic, and was somewhat surprised to note his response seemed to express disdain for the service though he had no personal experience with it. As it turns out, his disdain was based a perceived legal disparity for Uber drivers versus traditional livery services in New York City. It concerned him that Uber drivers, as far as he was aware, were unprofessional "average Joe's" like him had offered up their ride and who had not undergone the same rigor and oversight NYC required of its Taxi drivers and car services.

My rejoinder to him was that I was not well-versed on the legal and political issues and could only speak as a user of the service. I opened up the app on my phone, and showed him how the map disclosed the  location, estimated fare, and aproximate arrival of both an UberX and UberT to our sidewalk at "18th St. and 3rd Ave" - some critical certainties that would not have been possible prior to something like an Uber app. I also gave him a rough sketch of my experience of price which to me has always been comparable with the local car services. After a few minutes longer of waiting on the sidewak, he finally acquiesced, asking me to hail a car through Uber.

I placed the pin on "18th St. and 3rd Ave" despite my phone's GPS signal indicating that we were nearby but not on that block. I had heard him call out the intersection on multiple calls to his car service to bring any skepticism to bear on what the Uber app was displaying as our true location. I submitted my request and a nearby car went into action tracing the four-minute route the app clearly rendered for the pin I had dropped.

A couple of times I brought my phone out of my pocket and showed my neighbor the display which showed the UberX navigating towards us. At a certain point, though, I recognized that our car ought to be right in front of us. It wasn't until our driver called me that we - my neighbor and I - realized that we had been standing at 20th Street and 3rd Ave. all along. The car that had been dispatched to our stated location would never have been able to reach out to us for clarification or correction of our own error.

The driver waited patiently while we walked the two short blocks towards him, and as soon as we stepped into his vehicle, there was a palpable sense of relief. And, it wasn't just the sweet, crisp air conditioning and the fragrance of a freshly detailed interior that did it. Rather, it was the fact that the the passenger armrest had been stocked with two complimentary bottles of water.

Now, we didn't avail ourselves them having already supplied ourselves with cold drinks at the deli which had been on the corner we had been waiting. But, the mere presence of the water bottles was yet another cue signaling to us an immediate sense of refreshment and comfort.

Our driver was not only cordial and content to deliver us home with nothing short of limousine treatment, but he also welcomed our need for convivial conversation with him. The chat was, specifically, about how Uber works from his perspective, and my neighbor seemed satisfied by the driver's responses - commercial plates and insurance; our driver's statement that he had been required to pass tests and training to gain the privilege of taking Uber fares; that Uber had provided him with a means to be his own boss (a value I know my neighbor holds in high esteem), and that he - our driver- expressed putting a lot of care and dollars into ensuring his vehicle remained consistently immaculate.

When our ride concluded, I showed my neighbor the invoice that quickly appears as a notification on my phone. My mere presence on this simple expedition was doing him a favor, after all, and he expected to be permitted to reimburse me for the fare - a little more than $12, which, to my estimation, was comparable to what his own car service would have charged.

At any rate, I informed him that should his first experience with Uber be sufficient to win him over in so far as he decides to sign up, that he would allow me to refer him via the app and qualify us both for a bit of bonus.

Finally, I want to say that our driver deserves that sixth star not only for his superlative service, but also for the fact that, when he was unwittingly tasked with being Uber's brand ambassador, he definitely succeeded, I think, in convincing my neighbor that there may be more nuances to the public rhetoric regarding the so-called "problem with Uber." Certainly, our driver expressed gladness for the additional choice he had at making his daily bread, and I, for one, am content with the service I've received thus far from the perspective of a consumer in a free-market economy. I may benefit as a citizen in educating myself on the broader ramifications this nascent, "disruptive," technology and be better equipped to appraise the bigger picture, but, in the meantime, give our driver that sixth star he truly deserves. He made you look really, really good.

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