At no time previously did I ever have aspirations to have an Uber career.
On the last Friday in March, Good Friday, I arrived at my corporate office shortly before 6 am. Friday is always an early start as payroll is completed that day, and I was one of the first in the building. In the first two hours I completed approximately a third of payroll. At 8 am the telephone lines opened with a deluge of calls, and at 11 am the general manager addressed the entire operations team about taking care of our first customers, our employees. Payroll was completed at about 2 pm, and at 3 pm I was assigned tasks for completion on my days off over the weekend.
A typical standard Friday.
At 4:45 pm, my supervisor asked me to accompany him on a walk. In a conference room I was met by the human resource manager, another client manager, and my separation check. By 4:50 pm, I was being escorted from the building as a former employee.
On the drive home, crawling in rush hour traffic, I began to mathematically calculate how long I could go without an income. Mortgage, second mortgage, car payment —no, wait — there are two car payments, and car insurance that includes a driver under 25 years of age. The last check was not going to stretch that far. At home, my wife and I examined our savings and realized we had some breathing room.
I spent the following week hacking into our expenses and putting our tax return together. The final numbers gave me a clear picture of the dollar amount we needed to sustain ourselves in Southern California. While we had talked about leaving the state due to items like the gas tax, we were no longer financially equipped to make that departure. With the separation, we were going to have to stay for a while.
My resume got a work over and updated. In nine years with the same company I had advanced and specialized, however, as I was above the age of fifty, the opportunities for reemployment were dwindling. There wasn’t enough time left for career reinvention, I would have to stay in my chosen field.
My resume went out for a lower position with a competitor of my former company. When I interviewed they advised that the advertised position had long been filled, but offered me a minimum wage job part time job.
A well respected supervisor reached out to me when he heard I had been separated. During the conversation I recalled that I had found him as an Uber driver before he came to work for me. When I questioned him about it, he gave me some pointers of his experiences with the ride share program.
Uber markets itself as a peer-to-peer ridesharing network, which has since branched out into food deliveries and transport. Headquartered in San Francisco, the company has expanded across the globe, and importantly, into the locations where I had considered moving to when we left California.
The ridesharing program works off a cell phone-based application. The application (app) connects riders with independent drivers who use the Uber app, to deliver riders to their destination. In the city of San Diego where the public transportation networks are, at best marginal, I could see how this program would work well, especially for the “last mile” where public transports ended and the urban sprawl continued.
I perused a number of online forums and began to read of the experiences of the Uber driver in San Diego. I was most interested in the amount of income, and while several people did disclose some numbers, their estimations seemed inflated. When I looked into it deeper, I found some financial numbers that I could begin to work with.
The process of becoming an Uber driver is completed entirely online. A background check based on your social security number and a driver’s license histories are completed through their onboarding platform. Vehicle registration and insurance documents are uploaded through the onboarding platform; the only physical requirement was a vehicle inspection.
Each vehicle considered for Uber is reviewed by a mechanic at their facility. I arrived at opening time, along with about five other people. There were retirees, college students, men and women; there was no demographic to group us all together except that we had a car.
A mechanic went over the other vehicles, failing one before he got to mine. The mechanic’s inspection appeared cosmetic — lights, turn signals, reverse lights, seatbelts, and mileage.
“What sort of car is this?” the mechanic asked.
“It’s a 2017 Equinox,” I said.
“How do you spell that,” he asked. “I don’t get many of these cars coming through.”
In the coming days I would begin to see more of the Uber and their competitor’s icons on vehicles across the county. Most vehicles were four cylinder and hybrid cars, several larger vehicles, and a few sport utility vehicles similar to mine. Only once did I see a Toyota Tundra truck with an Uber sticker. I had no idea there were that many drivers working within the county, and I began to wonder whether this may have been a mistake, adding to an already over-saturated market.
The following Monday I was cleared to drive. An email arrived at lunchtime advising me to report to the local office, called the Greenlight Hub. In Santee, the Greenlight Hub is housed inside the Sprint Office at Trolley Square. I walked in and the Uber staff member, Donna, remembered me.
“You were just in on Thursday; that was quick. Some background checks can take weeks.”
Donna handed me the driver’s packet for Uber, a small introduction book, two Uber cling=on stickers, and a contact phone number. I was good to go. No Human Resource training class, no orientation, just turn the app on and drive.
“Are you excited?” Donna asked.
I didn’t tell her I was petrified. In the three days it took to complete my background check, unexpected bills arrived, bills which normally would be covered within the regular paycheck that I used to receive, but now, were draining the financial coffers.