By, Dr. Kerris Dillon
The community college in which I am a professor of psychology cut back on 400+ part-time jobs this last semester, which meant I was out of a job. For the last 7 years I have been teaching night classes, but had to say goodbye to them as a flourishing economy meant a lack of student enrollment.
What was I going to do now? Where was I going to find a job at night that would allow me to take care of my Type 1 Diabetic son during the day and not get angry with me when I quit as soon as my teaching position opened again?
Uber seemed like the perfect fit. I could schedule my driving time when it was convenient for me and make some money that I could immediately download into my bank account each night. I could still homeschool my son during the day and my husband could watch him at night along with our two other children.
As a woman, I did have some major concerns about driving with Uber. If I was driving by myself, did this mean I would be alone in the car with other males? How could I stay safe? Even though I had learned and taught martial arts in college, I still wasn’t sure what being in a car with a man alone would be like if there was a problem.
I was absolutely petrified the first time that I picked someone up in my car to take them to an unknown destination. Uber doesn’t allow you to see where you are taking someone until you have accepted their ride request, which provides a first name only as well as a rating for your rider. I was relieved when I saw my first name and realized it was definitely a female.
I drove in the dark following the navigation system provided by the app and squinted at the numbers on the apartment building until I saw the right one. Then, I sat outside and waited for my first official rider. I had no idea what to expect. After about 2 minutes, a very normal looking young woman with long dark hair emerged from the front door and headed to my car. She seemed much more confident of this whole process than I did. Fake it till you make it, right?
She got into the backseat and I greeted her. “Hey, how are you tonight?”
“Good. Thanks for asking,” she answered, peering down at her phone and scrolling through her messages. I would soon realize that this behavior was quite normal for a majority of riders in the future.
“Where you headed tonight?” I asked, attempting to make light conversation.
“I’m a stripper and I’m going to work,” she replied nonchalantly.
“Oh, that’s great! I mean…totally cool. Umm…” I stuttered stupidly not having any idea what to say. “So, you are my first official Uber rider.”
“Oh, cool.” She replied and continued to look down at her phone. That was going to be the extent of our conversation, I guessed. When we got to the strip club, I asked her what door she wanted to be dropped off at and she handed me 3 ones as she exited the backdoor.
I breathed a giant sigh of relief as she entered the club and I took off around the building. I had to stop the car for a moment and take in what had just happened. The Uber app blinked and $3.56 appeared on the top of the screen. So, that’s what I just made taking her a couple of miles, which ended up taking 5 minutes to get to her house and 10 minutes to get her to work. I later found out that clients like her paid $8.00 in total fares and that Uber drivers only gained about half.
I decided to complete a couple more rides and the rest of the night was pretty uneventful, but my next 100 rides provided me a lesson in socio-economic status, alcohol tolerance and states of drunkenness, and most recently in inappropriate cowboy who I will name Bill to keep his identity a secret.
Uber can make a person anywhere from $15.00 an hour to $30.00 an hour, but it doesn’t pay for gas or the wear-and-tear on the vehicle. My plan has never been to work for Uber for more than a year and my journey with the company almost officially came to an end yesterday.
My pickup yesterday was for an individual named “Bill” who was at a HyVee store and had 5 stars for his rating. There weren’t any red flags there. When I arrived at the store, I saw an older gentleman with a flannel shirt on, boots, Jeans, and a giant cowboy hat. I stopped in front of him as he was the only one standing there and he recognized my car and face from the pictures on the Uber app site.
He opened the door to the front of the car and sat beside me. I would say that 40% of passengers sit in the front of the car and it tends to annoy me because I don’t know who these people are or what their intentions are. I live in Iowa so we are a pretty neighborly state, but no one can be too cautious…especially a woman.
I tend to be talkative and friendly with my riders and we started talking right away about driving for Uber and what type of work that he did. Cowboy Bill informed me that he was in a trade field and that he was now retired after many years of backbreaking labor. I told him that I was a professor headed back to teaching as soon as the opportunity arose.
Somehow, we got into the conversation about my YouTube channel and this is when the dialogue began getting strange.
“What’s your YouTube channel about? To be really honest with you, I won’t probably look at it unless your doing something sexual in it,” he stated and then started laughing.
The comment took me by such great surprise that I started to laugh along with him. “No, I don’t think I’m into anything like that. I’m a mother of three with a husband and I don’t think he’d like that too much.”
“Are you sure he’s the father of all of your kids?” Cowboy Bill asked, laughing again.
What the hell was this guy trying to get at? The dude was like 55-65 years old and I am in my early 40’s, but most people tell me I look 35-38 years old. I was starting to feel really uncomfortable and kept looking at the navigation system to see if we were any closer to the destination. I then tried a psychological trick called distraction and changed the subject.
“So, what are you doing during your retirement to stay busy? Do you have other jobs that you are doing?” I asked, hoping he would take the bait and stop talking about all things sexual.
“I am sleeping in late and enjoying my retirement. It would be a lot nicer if I had a woman I could wake up next to each morning. I’m a horny old man that is willing to pay money to have a woman wake up next to me,” he said, laughing out loud again, but there was a different tone to his voice than before.
Luckily, we had just pulled up to his destination and I changed the subject again as soon as I could.
“Looks like we are here!” I said quite loudly and clicked the locks on the door to make sure he knew his way out.
“Well, thank you very kindly! I hope to see you again, sometime!” He commented as he shut the door.
“Yep,” I replied, as I quickly backed the car up and headed away from the destination. Gross! GROSS! GROSS!!!!
What in the world gave that guy the idea that he could talk to me in such a manner? Did he not take hints? Did he think that because I drove Uber that I would be into that kind of thing? Is it because I was nice to him that he thought I might be into him? Yuck! I was done after that ride. I was done with Ubering for the night and possibly for a very long time. Does that ever happen to men? Why doesn’t Uber make sure that women like myself are guarded from this type of behavior?
After this incident, I would definitely say that Uber is not safe for women. I would also caution women to not drive at night. I drive primarily throughout the day and tend to not have problems, but only 2 out of 100 drives have been bad like this one. I am happy that I have a background in self-defense, in EMS, as well as in psychology, but what about other women? I am almost 6 feet tall and that alone makes me much different than other women my age. Men don’t try as many things with me as they do women that are much shorter and smaller than me. Uber needs to do much more to make sure that its women drivers are safe and comfortable or they won’t continue to drive with the company anymore.