Sunday, September 13, 2015

Learning to Love Uber

The image at the top captures the sentiments of cab drivers everywhere, and who can blame them? In 2014, it cost over a million dollars to buy a taxi medallion in New York City. The most recent sale price was $740,000. 

Since moving to Boston 2 months ago, I've learned to love Uber. It's the only sensible way to get to the metropolitan neighborhoods that ring the downtown area. It is a nightmare to drive in this city, and not just for newcomers. A woman I met the other day has been living here for 30 years and still gets lost anytime she tries to go somewhere she's never been. And this is with GPS. 

The T can only take you into and out of downtown Boston, so a trip to anywhere else entails going into the city, changing trains, and going back out. A 20 minute drive becomes a 50 minute T ride. In every other city I've known, the subway is faster than driving. Hence, my love affair with Uber.

I will happily take the T from my home in Cambridge (top of the red line) to my job at UMass (where the red line splits at the bottom). But getting to my daughter's house in Jamaica Plain (two stops from the western end of the orange line) from work or home means 20 minutes at the mercy of an Uber driver. Most of the drivers I've met so far have been retired men. I assumed this was an easy way to supplement a pension for someone who doesn't mind driving. They make quite good money and are never idle. But I was mistaken in my assumption that what compels them to do this job is financial need. No. Apparently they are looking for conversation or at least a listener. In 20 minutes you can learn an awful lot about someone, especially if they do all the talking. 

My last Uber driver worked for 30 years as a guard at a maximum security prison. Hearing this, I figured we probably didn't share many interests, but this was not a guy I wanted to offend, so I ploughed on asking polite questions, hoping for common ground. He identified as Sicilian - born in Boston, but Sicilian. "Do you speak Italian?" "I speak Sicilian." Coming from Philadelphia, where the large Italian population is mostly from Sicily, I knew we had a common interest in good bread. I shared one of my deepest disappointments about moving, my inability to find a loaf of real bread in this town. Look, I said, in Philadelphia you can buy good bread anywhere. Sure it's baked in South Philly, but there they have the sense to put it on a truck and drive it around to neighborhoods full of WASPS who, though they may have grown up eating sliced white, have at least experienced the real thing on their European travels. He wasn't interested in my opinions, but he did want to tell me his - the best bread in Boston is at Parziale's in the North End. Of course, I can only get there by Uber.

1 comment:

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