Day 5: A friend’s first bite of Uber

This is our friend Paul. My job is to make his life miserable. Today I’m doing it with Uber.

Paul and I have lunch together once a week. It’s my turn to drive. Without a car, though, I go to plan B. I show up at his house on my bicycle. It’s time to introduce him to the Uber ride-sharing service.

What did you think of your first Uber ride, Paul? No need to thank me.

I ignore his “leave me alone” look. As a friend, it’s my job to keep Paul connected to the 21st century. He reluctantly hands me his phone so I can load the Uber app. I see his not-even-full single screen of apps. “This is pathetic,” I tell him.

I should have anticipated what happens next. He doesn’t know his Apple password, so I can’t install the app. He starts looking through a journal for his password. I need to move fast, or he’ll start rambling about Amish menswear or ancient Chickasaw burial practices. I’ve seen it happen. Not today, mister.

‘Pick a restaurant and shut up’

I tell him to pick a restaurant. I show him what I’m doing on my phone so that he’ll know how to use the app when he installs it in the year 2035, assuming he can find his password by then. Within three minutes, our Uber has arrived.

Sure wish the driver would turn off that damn Siri thing. Doesn’t he know where he’s going?

The show is about to begin. In the car, Paul turns into an Okie version of Studs Terkel. He peppers Bradford, the driver, with questions about his business, about Uber, about his prospects for the upcoming Super Bowl in Houston. Paul is an insatiable learner. He’d like more time to quiz Bradford, but our seven-minute ride is over.

I tell Paul that Uber will have a limited role in our transportation makeover. It’s our fallback to walking, biking and buses.

Of course, Paul gets Uber … and he hates Uber. He reminisces about his two months as a cabbie in Minneapolis, ferrying widows, hookers, drunks and factory workers. He worries about underpaid Uber drivers and laments the demise of paid benefits and unions. We discuss what’s motivating a Georgetown state senator to file a bill to streamline (steamroll?) the approvals process for ride-sharing services statewide.

My role is to listen, nod and play provocateur. “Driverless Uber cars are getting closer, you know? It’s going to be safer.” He and Studs definitely won’t like that, except for the safer part.

Why don’t people walk more?

Bánh mì sandwich with fried egg. Where have you been all my life?

Our Hughie’s Tavern “beer lunch” of bánh mì sandwiches and excellent Eureka Heights craft beer, both shamelessly hyperlinked, is done. I ask Paul if he wants to Uber or take the bus back to his house, two miles away. No, he’d rather walk. Fine with me. It’s a warm January day, and I’m wearing shorts and a t-shirt. We walk some complete streets and some incomplete streets. Neither of us understands why more people don’t walk everywhere. It’s wonderful.

Back at his house, I check my phone. The Uber receipt is in my email, along with an offer to send a friend a $15 coupon for an Uber ride. I know just who to send it to.

Coming soon: the Uber article you probably expected

Join the Carfree Houston Facebook group if you’re interested in more frequent updates and discussing the topic of going carless in H-Town.



  1. Uber is great. I’ve used in Paris, Amsterdam, SF, Seattle and Honolulu. Best service was in Paris where they offer you bottled water and even hard candy. I once got an Uber (Toyota Prius) from Palo Alto to downtown SF and it was sub $100 including tip, plus the driver was from some exotic part of the world. We had a great conversation.

    Only problem is Uber and airports. Somehow, on my last trip to SFO a sneaky guy pulls up and says did you request an Uber, then asked (my wife’s) last name. She gave it to him and he studiously looked at his iPhone, and said yes, here you are. Luckily the real Uber driver wasn’t far behind and since I knew is license and name, we obviously didn’t take the fake and called him out!

  2. I had an interesting experience with Uber last spring in Mexico City – or my friends had an experience. A group of friends and neighbors had gone to Mexico City on an art tour. The last night we were there, we all went to dinner at this very nice restaurant using Uber for transportation. All was well. On the return things got a little interesting. There were several of us so we were using several cars. As we were leaving the restaurant we noticed several young “policemen” hanging around in the street. Three Uber drivers pull up and me and three others got in the first car and took off – quickly I might add. The policemen surrounded the other drivers and ordered everyone out of the car, for what reason no one seems to know. The drivers refused to leave, but the visitors were leaping out of the cars because they did not know what was happening. But the drivers and the policemen were getting very vocal and animated. Apparently, the driver of the Uber car is not necessarily the owner of the car, he drives for someone else – I guess sharing the evenings earnings. One driver was screaming at the police “You have no idea who owns this car! You will be in so much trouble!” The police were calling tow trucks (that happened to be nearby) to come tow the cars with the drivers still in them! So the group of “gringos” legged it out of the neighborhood and got taxis at the Zocalo. No one was hurt but they sure had some stories to tell. We will never know what happened to the Uber cars and drivers.

  3. For those of us who have dined with Paul, it’s a great story! If he ever gets to Uber on his own, they may ban him – making a 7 minute ride into a 45 minute conversation! But to the point at hand, response to your request in 3 minutes – pretty impressive!

  4. Love Uber’s, one fact I find interesting is that lately I have had many woman drivers one even on a Lexus. It is a good self employment for mothers since we have had a lot of training driving our kids for many years.

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