As we all know, Glen loves to take public transportation. He loves the process of “figuring it out” and I agree, there may be no better way to get a sense of the soul of a city. However, I think that there is an equally interesting research project out there to be had by studying Uber drivers. It’s an education!
Yesterday, I took a walking tour of Treme. I’ll likely write about what I learned later. The guide mentioned that throughout its history, the non-white inhabitants of New Orleans have always had a “side-hustle” in order to survive. Seems that most Uber drivers use this method of gaining income as their second income. And boy do they have stories to tell!
Here are a few stories from NOLA…
There was the crazy driver. I really didn’t feel safe in his car. He spent the entire drive looking at Glen in the back seat. He kept stopping at stop signs and would not get started again until he had finished his topic. Mostly he was telling us about how messed up the City government is in NOLA. He definitely told us that during Katrina, the levies were intentionally broken to save the garden district at the expense of the 9th Ward and other neighborhoods.
Then there’s the driver who was such a large man driving his mega truck (4 door) with his seat was pushed so far back and reclined to such a degree that anyone 1/2″ taller than me wouldn’t be able to get in the seat. He lives 80 miles away and his wife works in banking in NOLA. He drives her into the city every day and then stays to drive for Uber. They are both retired military. He told us the story of how he retired from his second or third career and then started driving for Uber.
He loves fishing and he and his buddies like to go fishing on the lakes for nice long days. But there was that one time when the day got away from him (likely he was hooking too many fish) and he was late to pick up his wife from work…It was his last day fishing. Can’t you just hear the conversation?
His wife still wanted him to stay busy so she “gave” him the Uber app. He resisted because he really didn’t want to work anymore and he was mad about the end of his weekday fishing trips. When he finally listened to her and started driving, he realized that he could make $3000 a week and he was hooked…just wasn’t hooking any fish!
There’s the young driver whose car was so dirty that Glen didn’t leave a tip (for the first time ever).
There’s the guy who took us to The Turkey and the Wolf (best fried bologna sandwich EVER…can’t wait to go back!) who talked endlessly about sports with Glen. There was a pause in the conversation and I asked him, “Who is your favorite poet?”. That was a conversation stopper. Then he switched the topic and we learned about his four sons, their jobs, his grandkids, the one who lives at home because why would he move out when his mom does his laundry?
But my all time favorite was on a ride with Randy and Allison to the airport to pick up a rental car. I’ll just call her “Grandma Gone Wild”! She was HILARIOUS! She had been out the night before with her gaggle of friends and they had stayed out way too late “dancing till our knees hurt”. She said that she took a “shot at home and smoked a cigarette” to think through this night out. She told us about the famous “host” on Bourbon Street. Her name is “Concretia” (pronounced Con-cree-sha). She’s the woman who greets you at the beginning of the evening (or morning because it is Bourbon Street, after all) and plies you with shots until you meet her at the end of your foray with your face planted on the…concrete of Bourbon Street. Sounded like “Grandma Gone Wild” had met Concretia a few times.
I hope that this post doesn’t end here. I’m sure there is more to learn about the soul of New Orleans through its “side-hustlers”.
BELOW ADDED BY GAT!
First, a couple of general comments – Uber is much more predictable and safe. AND at my best I resist both and opt for the uber-unpredictable (clever?) and often uncomfortable (unsafe? not really) world of public transport. When I am picked up by someone like me, I mostly go quiet or go to info gathering mode. When picked up by someone different than me, I go to questions targeted at experiences. I so enjoy gaining their perspective.
Now, to specifics –
Unsafe Dude (UD) – nope. He knew what he was doing. Was he distracted? Yep. Did my “low-safety” self feel unsafe? Nope. And UD did ultimately spout comments that even caused me unease, the early part of our discussion was really insightful. We went through Treme and he told us his take on the neighborhood. He also shared with us a history lesson or two of Jazz Fest. While the ride was “memorable” . . .
James – he of the largeness that provided JDT minimal back seat space. Factually I do not have anything to add. Context? A bit. This was a return ride from lunch on Friday that was in Mid City. It was a stark contrast to our outbound ride (more below). I am the keeper of UBER in our relationship. So, among other things, I get some Uber information on the driver. First name, car make and license number, route to get there, Uber rating, etc. It also gives the number of Uber trips (this is the contrast with below). James was 7,099. That, in my experience is quite a lot. So, shortly after identifying ourselves (an Uber thing), I quipped – James, you’ve given 7,099 Uber rides. (JDT said, you mean we are number 8,000? Just another reminder JDT’s brain works so wonderfully different than mine.) I love it when these opening quips “work”. They led to us learning an OG’s (likely our age) experience (how less in common could we share?) in the gig economy (my speculation is JDT is not familiar with the economic term for “side hustle” – BTW “side hustle” is generationally better for me). JDT’s omission for me was the whole discussion of “Wifey”. I use this term guardedly. Another generational term that James used as part of the self-identification / introductions – “Hello Glen; hello “Wifey”. And while we have very little in common with James and Wifey, I don’t sense it is nil. Wifey, it seems, continues to work while they have financial independence. You say, huh. How do I know this? James spent 30+ years in the military; Wifey 25+. And wifey has been working her current career (bank leadership) for 10+ years. Financial independence? Certainly! I wish Wifey were on the ride with us. I just know she would teach me ABOUT THE STRUGGLE!
Gregory – he of the outbound Uber ride. (How do I get these names? They are part of my Uber history). I believe we may have been one of Gregory’s first 100 rides. Gregory was also a part of the gig economy. He had a talk station on his radio. I noted early in our ride that it had a “business” sense to it. A local discussion of the side hustle. AND this was so generationally appropriate. AND THE MORE THINGS CHANGE, THE MORE THEY STAY THE SAME. While quite comfortable with James (we are two OGs), I’m not as comfortable with young black men like Gregory. Frankly, I don’t trust myself to not to say something completely offensive. It wouldn’t be intentional. It would however still be real and come from something perhaps worse – the stark contrast in our experiences with privilege. And it is incredibly comforting to see a culture that nourishes its young ambitious constituents.
Kerry – local college and high school basketball referee. Do you get a sense that sports are, at a minimum, a support culture to the primary cultures of music, food, etc. in NOLA? It is one of my attractions to the South. Kerry taught me about the looming unresolved conflict in LA in sports between the public and private (mostly Catholic) schools. The system is but one further piece of evidence of the growing divide created by outdated and thoroughly TIRED government and economic policies.
It is wonderful to discover treasures in unexpected places.