Since moving to San Francisco I have become a loyal fan of Uber. Uber is a car service that is based on a smartphone application. You download the app on your iPhone and create an account with your credit card number and personal information. When you want a car, you open the app. It finds your location, shows you the closest Uber cars at that moment, and tells you how far away the nearest driver is from you. You then press a button and in 3 or 5 or 8 minutes – never more than 10, at least in San Francisco – a car shows up to get you. You get an email with the cost of the trip and the drivers name and his or her rating. You get a quick ride to your destination. When you arrive – for me generally at the airport – you jump out and go. You don't have to sign any paperwork. The tip is already included. In a few minutes you get another email that serves as your receipt. You are asked to rate your driver.
The whole Uber experience is highly satisfactory, particularly if you are comparing it to Philadelphia cabs. The pricing in San Francisco is pretty good. It is more expensive than a cab but not by a large margin. I pay $50 to take a cab to the airport. Uber is $65 with the tip included. The only difficult part was at the beginning I wanted to schedule the Uber the night before so I would be sure there would be availability n the morning. Uber doesn't let you do that. You order if and when you are ready to ride. Coming from Philly that was a hard bridge to hurdle – getting a cab to show up on short notice has always been a challenge in the city of brotherly love – and hard to risk when you know you have an early morning flight. But I finally gave it a try and have been ubering it ever since.
Uber is useful for any purpose but I think of it as primarily business oriented since they send black town cars and the pricing is more than taxi service. However I read about SideCar and decide I should try it out.
SideCar is the People's Uber. Its app works the same way. I am set up and ready to go in seconds. I open the app and find that the closest SideCar driver is 13 minutes away. That's a little further than I am used to with Uber but fine. I have allowed a little extra time so I am not worried. I have to input my destination – that is different than Uber but no problem. I input that I am going to the airport..
I finish up my packing. I bring the bags to the door. My cell phone rings.
"Is this Jay?"
"Who is this?"
"This is Mickey. I just got a call for SideCar"
"Oh yeah. That's me."
"I can see here that you are going somewhere down in the South Bay."
"Yeah. I am going to the airport."
"That's a long way."
"Is there a problem?"
"No just wanted to make sure it was on the up and up."
"Yup. Up and Up."
"Glad to hear it, I will see you shortly."
Mickey was as good as his word. In 5 minutes, a grey Honda Civic pulled up in front of the house. A young athletic fellow bounded out. He was wearing a grey t-shirt that said STATE in big letters.
"I am Mickey." He said. "here let me get your bags."
He wrestled my bags into the trunk. I squeezed into the rear of the cleanish Honda.
"I am going to the airport," I said, just to be clear.
"You gone there before?"
"Oh yeah. Just take a right up here and then go to Geary."
"Sure thing." Mickey proceeded in the right direction and began to tell me about some issues with his iPhone. In a few minutes drove right through Geary.
"That was Geary," I said.
'Oh you're kidding. When I get talking I don't pay attention." He consulted his iPhone map and said, "it says to go left on Fells. Is that ok?"
"It is probably time to tell you about my game."
"Do you like spelling?"
He fumbled into the glove box and handed me what looked like a deck of cards. It was in a little box and said HEARZ! on it.
"Is it a card game?"
"No." He said, quickly and slightly over-emphatically, as if I had missed the obvious point. "It's a word game. So I say a word and you have to write down all the words that you hear in the word. You get a point for every word you hear. Its an oral game."
"So I say 'Cargo.'"
"How many words do you hear?"
"Well," I said, "CAR"…" I paused.
He cut me off, apparently disappointed I was talking too slowly, ""… and GO," and so you'd think 2 words, right?"
"But you can also hear O."
"You can make one letter words?
"No. No one letter words."
"But you just said 'O'"?
"It isn't how you see them; its how you hear them. Its an oral game. You got that, right?"
"So it isn't O, it is OH. Actually you get two points cause there are two ways to spell O.
"OH and OWE."
"O," I said.
"So CARGO has 5 points."
"The ARE. Don't forget the ARE."
"I almost missed it."
"You have to listen carefully. Its an oral game."
"How's the game doing?"
"Oh its fine," he said, unenthusiastically. "I have got it in about 50 stores. But I see it more as an app."
"Definitely an app."
"How do you like SideCar?" I said.
"Love it. Really great. I am out of work you know and then I heard about SideCar and I started driving."
"Keep you busy?"
"Mornings are great. I get going about 6:30 am and then I am generally busy til noon. Afternoons are very slow. The evenings are really busy but I don't like the party people. And weekends are great all day."
"You know. Drunks. Coming home after a night of drinking. Don't want them in my car."
"Yeah. You ever get someone puking?"
"No and I don't want to."
"I rode in a cab the other day back on the east coast and they a had a $250 charge on the tariff for "vomit clean up".
"I just do the weekend days. They are busy all day."
"Yeah. Its good. You are my longest."
"SideCar is cool. They keep trying to say it is commercial service and shut it down."
"Isn't it a commercial service? I have to pay a fare, don't I?"
"No, it's just a recommended amount for a donation. You could pay more or less. There is a slider button on the screen when you get out of the car and you can raise it up or lower it. It is a donation. You see we are a donation-based arrangement. That way they can't make any law apply to us."
I am a lawyer. I don't always live my life as a lawyer, but there are certain times when I can't help thinking like a lawyer. This was one of the times. I had to fight off an over-powering urge to engage Mickey on the last thought. The best I could do was create a long enough silence that Mickey moved on to other subjects.
"I see you are reading Tom Wolfe," Mickey said.
"How'd you know that?"
"It was sticking out of your bag. Back to Blood.
"Have you read it?"
"No I am reading John Grishman. I read the one about the guy who is on death row and the lawyer finds out the truth that he didn't do it but he can't get anyone to believe him and the guy dies. Did you read that one?"
"So its pretty good. I am going to write some stories. I want to write about high school football. I know about that stuff. Tom Wolfe I have never read him but he is kind of a dweeb. I want to write about football. There aren't many books by people who play football. I think if I do it will encourage other football players to tell their stories."
"You have a lot of interests."
"I am really a singer. A singer-songwriter."
"And a game designer."
"Yeah. I think it should be an app."
"I was thinking that, too. I like Words with Friends.. You play that?"
"Yeah. I play all the time. You are going to hate this though."
"I have a Words With Friends cheat program."
"You are kidding."
"Yeah. Nothing too blatant. I like to keep it sort of close."
We reached the airport and he pulled up to the US Air drop off. I got out of the car. I pulled out my iPhone. Sure enough the screen said in large letters "Recommended Donation $49″.
"Mickey," I asked, "is the tip included, like on Uber?"
"Nah, it's a recommended donation. You can raise it up for a tip if you want. It isn't in the 25%".
"That's what they get."
Mickey came over to my side to make sure I could find the slider on the screen.
'Well," I said. "let's see. I pay Uber $65, how a bout I pay you $55? Would that be okay?"
"That would be great! Of course, I will give you a five."
"Yeah. Of course."
"You mean you rate the customers?"
"Oh yeah. You never know."