Dan Rattiner's Stories

Dan the Uber Driver: A Captive Audience Would Have to Hear My Stories

I’ve been thinking that when I retire from writing stories for Dan’s Papers, I should drive my car for Uber. It’s been on my mind recently. This July will be the 57th year I’ve been writing my East End stories. At the rate of about 200 a year, that’s a lot of stories. Surely, I will run out of stories. It’s bound to happen.

I’ve even been thinking of driving for Uber if I don’t stop writing for Dan’s Papers. Sort of during the long decline that is likely to be setting in as I go into my dotage. I’ll do my writing and then do Uber part-time. As an Uber driver, I’ll meet the people hailing my Tahoe. You do that with Uber. You get to know them. I’d tell them about the time Carl Darenberg Sr. put the Napeague Coast Guard Station on a big wooden barge and towed it with his fishing boat to where it is now on Star Island. They’d tell me about the time a friend they know in Shinnecock found a solid gold brick in their garden. Must have fallen off the back of a truck. And they still have it. Afraid to turn it in.

I haven’t been drawn to the idea of working for a taxicab company in the Hamptons, as good as they are. I wouldn’t want to do that. I don’t want a boss. I’m not in the mood to tell stories if I’ve got some guy calling me all the time saying pick up that guy in Flanders, then head over to Shelter Island, there’s a guy drunk at the Dory. No, that’s not for me.

The fear I have with Uber, though, is that I might get sucked into driving 80 hours a week. I’ve been reading about how Uber has hired a team of psychiatrists who advise them on how to tractor beam applicants in to become drivers. It does, after all, all come down to the deal. What if they want me to put up $9,000? That would be a bad deal. Would they have so messed with my mind I’d just hand over $10,000 and happily tell them to keep the change? All hail Uber! Could I risk the power of Uber?

Well, I decided, I have to have more faith in myself than that. So I took the plunge. I might note that every time you hail an Uber on your phone there are three words you can click on at the very bottom that read DRIVE FOR UBER. So it’s right there in your face.

Two weeks ago, I got up my nerve—my wife and I were on vacation in New Orleans at the time, which as you will soon see plays an important part in this story—and I pressed DRIVE FOR UBER.

This led me to a website that happily told me some people drive for Uber as a full-time job and make a lot of money and maybe that’s for me. Other people do it part-time. It’s all up to you. I clicked CONTINUE. And there was a form to fill out.

Name. Address. Contact information. Social Security number. Social Security number? I balked and quit. That would be the beginning of the tractor beam. Forget it.

About four days later I got a text. The sender was a code number that, when I tried to reply, sent a further text saying it could not be replied to. “Thanks for your interest in driving with Uber! For regular updates on the status of your account stay subscribed or reply STOP to receiving texts.”

I was right. They got me.

Two days after that, on April 4, I got another text. “You’ve signed up to drive—how exciting! To complete your profile, consent to a background check at…” Below that was a link to click on.

Hey! I didn’t sign up for anything!

And that put me off this for about a week, when, once again, the romance of me and my Tahoe, with the stickers on the back and the fishing rod on the roof, driving for Uber took hold again. So again I went ahead with it.

The thing about this application, at least on the cell phone, is they keep asking you questions that you answer. Press NEXT and then on the next screen there is a new question to answer and sometimes it’s a question you don’t see coming and have not prepared for. I gave them my address and with NEXT gave them my driver’s license (they got it by my taking a picture of it, after I linked them to my photos, uh oh, my photos), but then they wanted to see the front page of my car insurance policy. That was at home. I was at the beach. I can’t keep my phone hovering for two hours. So again I backed out and closed down the application.

At home, I went through it still again and even gave them a photo of the front page of my car insurance. But then there was a question they asked that said “photo your brake tag.” What the hell was a “brake tag?” I Googled it. It’s a term used in New Orleans that everywhere else means “inspection sticker.” They think I’m from New Orleans. Again I backed out.

I got another text.

“Interested in speaking to someone about what you need to get started with Uber? Come visit us—we’re always happy to help!”

I’m old school. Where is the Uber building? Okay, forget it. Where do I go on the website? I went to Uber.com but simply could not figure out how to contact anybody unless I had a complaint about a driver who took me somewhere.

Next text: “Have questions about completing your profile?   Most partners do! See helpful information about how to get started on the road.”

They know I’m having trouble.

And psychiatrists are at work here. “Your profile.” “Get started on the road.” “Partner.” Now I’m a partner.

This third message came from a telephone number. I texted back.

“I live in East Hampton, New York. I hear Uber might be coming. Is that true?”

“Hello!” came the response. “We don’t monitor responses on this number.”

But they just did. This is spooky stuff. But give it up, Dan. There’s no privacy anymore. Uber knows everything. Everybody knows everything.

I am determined to get through the process. But that is as far as I’ve gotten so far.

By the way, that part about Uber coming to East Hampton is true. For the last two summers, East Hampton has not been a place where you can call an Uber. The reason is that when Uber started up, East Hampton contacted Uber and told them they’d have to abide by the Town’s stringent taxi regulations, which are designed to keep bad people from driving cabs. Uber said they wouldn’t submit to that. So no Uber. Uber does drive in Southampton and Westhampton, though.

Next summer is going to be a different matter. I’m talking the summer of 2018, not 2017. The State of New York has just passed a law taking over the licensing of Uber cars beginning in 2018. East Hampton will not be in charge anymore. New York State will.

An article in the New York Post cited Uber as urging New York City drivers to come out to the Hamptons for the summer, saying that prices for rides are about double what they are in New York City, so you can really cash in.

I’ve been told that in Southampton in the summertime, some Uber drivers from the city sleep in their cars in the lot behind the Southampton movie theater, and in the morning they wash up in the Lake Agawam public bathrooms. You’re not supposed to be sleeping in cars, I think.

Hey. Another text from Uber just arrived:

“Uber: Friendly reminder to come to 2520 Bayou Road today (Friday) at 9 a.m. or tomorrow at 1 p.m. for an Uber info session.”

Y’all come now! Heah?

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