Tales from the front seat — Uber part 2

Discovering the American spirit – by Mike Joslin

I have to admit, people interest me. We’re all so different, each one with our own particular story. Backgrounds, personalities, interests, abilities, circumstances and more merge to create a milieu of people that is America alone. Fascinating!

I suppose that’s why I think the best part of the Uber experience is talking with the drivers. Sure the convenience of Uber is nice. The rates are good, too. But it’s the drivers and the conversations we share that keep me clicking on the Uber app. To me, a ride in Uber is an opportunity to connect, hear stories I’d never otherwise hear, and learn some about the local economy.

Of the many drivers who have shuttled me around, here are four who stand out.

Young single mother

A young African-American woman picked my wife, son and me up for a ride to a restaurant in New Orleans last August. The day was hot and humid. As we climbed into the cool relief of her air-conditioned car, I noted that she had the cleanest Nissan Altima I’d ever seen. I also noticed the clock on the dash was set in 24-hour mode. Her demeanor was sharp and attentive, so I followed my hunch and asked where she had served.


After her initial surprise at being identified as a veteran, she shared that she had been a supplies and logistics support person in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan for several years. Now a civilian and divorced mom of three children, ages 9–16, she was dividing her time between attending college, running her kids around and driving for Uber. As a busy mom and student, it was no surprise that she valued the flexible work hours of Uber.

Somalian immigrant

On a ride to the San Francisco airport in the fall of 2015, a Somalian man, about 35, openly talked about his on-going efforts to move his wife and oldest daughter from Somalia here to the States. He explained that as members of a minority tribe in Somalia, he and his family were regularly subjected to discrimination and even brutal violence. A few years ago, he fled Somalia with his 12-year-old daughter and moved in with friends who lived near San Francisco. He was planning a trip back to Somalia soon, hoping to return with the rest of his family.

The man worked two jobs. His full-time job was at a nearby hotel and his side job was driving for Uber. He said working for Uber allowed him to speed up his savings (for that trip back to Somalia!) and practice his English speaking skills.

Retired warehouse worker

On the same San Francisco trip, I took an Uber ride with a Filipino man in his mid-60s. He had just retired after years of working at a warehouse. That job had been labor-intensive and he had the injuries to prove it. Those injuries kept him from doing more physical work, but driving a car? No problem.

Like many retired people, he wanted to keep working — just not full time and on his own terms. Uber was the perfect fit. He got to enjoy the freedom of retirement, travel with his wife and still earn extra money to help pay for those trips.

College student

On January 2nd this year, a big snowstorm hit while I was having dinner with friends at Pago, a restaurant in downtown Salt Lake City. By the time we finished our meal, maybe five inches of snow had piled up on the roads. In that short span of time, Uber’s surge pricing kicked in. What had cost less than $15 to get from my hotel to the restaurant, was now tripled. I could have grumbled, but really, I was just glad to find a ride. (And hey, supply and demand do work!)

My driver was a go-getter in her early 20s who was attending college nearby and also working part-time as a social worker with abused children. Her goal was to get her Ph.D. in counseling and then move back to her old digs in Dallas. She too was using Uber as a way to make some money on the side, in between work and school. If the can-do attitude she displayed while tackling the treacherous drive back to my hotel was any indication, she should have no problem obtaining her Ph.D.

The value of a front-seat conversation

These are just a few of the compelling stories I’ve been fortunate to hear over the last few years. What has struck me the most — and as a business owner, I’m admittedly drawing parallels here — is the quiet pride all these people displayed as they took control of their financial future by choosing to commit some of their spare time to building their income. I’ve had a front row seat to watch the American spirit at work, making dreams happen.

On your next ride in Uber or a taxi, I encourage you to sit in the front seat and fire-up a conversation. You’ll be surprised at what you learn from your driver. If you have yet to give Uber, Lyft or other similar services a whirl, wait no more. I’m confident you’ll like it.

Advisory services are offered by Joslin Capital Advisors, LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor.

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