My Friend Fred, the Uber Driver

We were sitting around our living room by the fire several weeks ago, sipping cocktails with overnight guests, when our friend Fred announced he was a driver for Uber, the international transportation company. From our reaction, you would have thought he told us he’d just picnicked on Pluto with Kim Kardashian. Huh? What? When? Why? How?

Fred is in his mid-60s, an excellent golfer who’s won his club championship three times. He’s also a Vietnam veteran who earned a Purple Heart and currently serves on the board of D.O.V.E. (Development of Vietnam Endeavors), a non-profit humanitarian and development assistance organization founded in 2000. He returns to Vietnam yearly, often twice, with volunteers and vets from the United States to help build schools, day care centers and nurseries. And he’s a happily married man with grandchildren who live nearby and whom he sees as often as he can, now that he’s retired after 43 years with Northwestern Mutual.  

So why’s he driving a cab?  “It’s not a cab,” he said. “It’s my own car, and I do it because I really like meeting people. The money I earn is way down on the list, but it is nice to see Uber make a deposit into my bank account.”

“I have picked up professional dancers with Dancing with the Stars,,” he said, “and a Marine vet who needed to know more about the opportunity he had with the GI bill. I had a young man who was wondering about marrying his girl friend who he felt couldn’t have a child, so we discussed the opportunity of adoption because I have personal knowledge of that.”

“I’ve taken a professional to work who’d lost his license due to a DUI,” he continued. “I have picked up people who have had too much to drink and are smart enough not to consider driving home.  I have also taken people back to bars to pick up their cars the next day.”

Fred originally heard about Uber on his car radio. He recalls, “I remember thinking, I love driving and talking to people, it sounds interesting, maybe I’ll give it a try.”

Once a week Fred details his Uber-mobile, a 2011 white Toyota Camry with a black interior. “If it gets dirty because of the rain, I go to the car wash,” he says. He purchases cases of water at Costco and offers iced bottles to his passengers. He spends around 10 hours a week driving and has yet to lift a very heavy suitcase in the trunk.

What about accidents or fender-benders, we ask. Fred says, “The insurance coverage with Uber starts when I sign online and am ready to drive. The driver’s liability is $50,000 for an individual who suffers bodily injury, $100,000 total incident for bodily injury and $25,000 for property damage.  And the insurance is paid by Uber.”

By this time in the conversation, you could almost see wheels turning as each of us entertained the idea of becoming Uber drivers. Even the women!  According to Uber’s website, nearly 15% of their drivers are women; and the company has pledged to sign up one million by 2020. 

Uber’s slogan is: Drive your own car and be your own boss. Passengers do not tip the drivers and the fare is calculated on time and distance. Drivers do not deal with or collect fares; payment is done with credit cards via your cell phone, and it’s handled between the client and Uber. Uber deposits directly to your bank account. Since the company started five years ago, Uber is now in 58 countries and 311 cities, including Kennebunk, Maine and Palm City, Florida.  

Sounds like Fred subscribes to the words of one of my favorite sayings: Retire from work but not from life.