I left the house around 7 PM. Since the Clearwater airport is only four miles away, I headed there first after checking their website for arriving flights. The first flight landed, and nothing. I waited ten minutes and got bored, so I decided to drive around. I repositioned to the main strip connecting Tampa and Clearwater, and less than a mile on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard I got my first ping. The destination was a Christian High School a couple miles away. I accepted the ping and made it to the school, but then I had no idea what to do. I couldn't figure out how to call the passenger, and the school was part of a much larger complex so I wasn't even sure where to pick up my passenger. If that weren't enough, the "passenger" on my app wasn't even the person listed on the screen. Mom paid me to take her teenage son home. Fortunately, Mom called me after she saw my car (on the online app) driving around in circles, and after telling her what car I was in her son magically appeared. It turned out to be a pleasant first experience. The son took the passenger seat and played on his phone while I drove. I nervously changed the radio to a Christian station, thinking I was being clever. He didn't comment so I turned the radio down. Five miles and 11 minutes later, I dropped him off in his driveway.
That first ride was a good one, because it took me west towards the beach. I headed back to Gulf-to-Bay and decided I would station myself on Gulf Boulevard. But before I crossed the bridge, I got another ping. This one came from Mandalay Avenue, a beach-side strip I knew very well. Of course, easy wasn't in the prescription, not on my first night! I drove to the address, which was actually a two-story retail center with no street parking. I fumbled around with the app, once again trying to call my passenger. Second mistake: my Republic Wireless phone was set to use Google Voice, but Uber had my non-Google Voice phone number in their records. When I tried to call my passenger, the phone called me. Frightened I wouldn't locate my passenger, I logged out of Google Voice and texted the passenger. She was in the rear parking lot, which was actually on a different street. I had to convince the lot attendant (parking isn't free on the beach!) that I was just picking someone up, but soon enough I had my second passenger, who took a seat in the back of the car. That ride was relatively painless, although I took the wrong exit on the roundabout which probably added a few minutes to the time it took to take the passenger to her destination. $13, less fees, added to the bank.
Unfortunately, my second ride of the night took me to a mostly residential area, and I knew I wouldn't get any fares anytime soon. I headed back to the beach. Good idea. As soon as I hit Mandalay Avenue, I got another ping: literally from across the street. I made a quick U-turn and picked up my passengers. This time, the passengers were awesome friendly. They were a little younger than me, from Texas, and wanted to chat. There's was a two-part ride: we drove to another hotel to pick up their friends, then everyone went to a bar near the first hotel. The fact that I had two stops was inconsequential to Uber, as I just left the meter running until we reached our final destination. Easy.
My luck continued, as I got another ping almost immediately. This one was a beachfront restaurant maybe a mile from the last stop. It was a group of ladies in town for a social worker's convention. The passengers didn't enter their destination, and only told me the name of the hotel, so I had to look it up and enter it into my GPS. What was great about this ride was their destination: 14 miles away. My four passengers were all from different places, so they were a jovial group and they included me in most of their conversation. The drive took a bit more than half an hour, and my gross fare was $20.
It was close to 10 PM by now, and even though my last fare was at a hotel by the Clearwater Airport, there wasn't anything going on in the area. Then I noticed something interesting on the Uber map: an orange shaded area. Uber colors their maps to let drivers know where the demand is. I figured I would head in that direction, but it was more than 10 miles away. As I drove, an alert popped up saying there was "surge" pricing with fares at 1.5 times normal rates. Alas, it wasn't meant to be. Near the Countryside mall the surge, as well as the orange color, faded away. I decided to circle the mall, thinking maybe a some kids leaving the theater would need a ride. Instead, I did get a ping, but it was from an employee at one of the mall's bars, who needed a ride home. I found the passenger easily, and he hopped in the backseat. He had already entered his destination, so I clicked "navigate" and took him home. I felt like an Uber veteran, as everything went just as it should. It was only two miles, but I was ecstatic that I had my first completely flawless ride.
By now it was getting late, and my partner texted to check in. I was also a little concerned with my phone's battery. I had the phone plugged into the USB port all night, but I kept getting popups suggesting I use the energy-saver features. Figuring as long as it was plugged in I was fine, I decided I would take the long way home. I got on Gulf-to-Bay one last time, heading towards the beach. The idea was to take the beach south to the next bridge, which would take me straight home. Before I made it to the beach, I got another ping. This one was in downtown Clearwater, at the bus terminal. Someone requested the fare for someone else, so the passenger in the Uber app texted me a phone number to call when I arrived. I did, and a guy hanging out at the bus terminal answered the phone. He had been drinking, and we were going to a less desirable part of town, so my adrenaline was up. Fortunately, the guy was really laid back, and even though he had been drinking, he was nice to me. Unfortunately, the damn phone died on my way to his apartment. WTF! I had no idea what to do. I remembered the address he gave, so I whipped out my Garmin and entered it into the GPS. Thank goodness I had that as a backup. I reached his home, and of course he asked me how much the fare was. I had to explain that my phone died, but he was cool with that. I sent an email to Uber as soon as I got home, and they adjusted the fare accordingly.
My first night was quite the adventure. I'm still learning how to use the Uber app. When my night began, the app would tell me how much the fare was after each passenger was dropped off. Then it stopped doing that, and I have no idea why. I also couldn't figure out how to change screens on the app a few times, which was a little embarrassing. But I know it will get easier. I will learn exactly how the app works, which is the biggest source of anxiety right now. I will also become more familiar with the area, which will help when passengers (many of them from out of town) don't enter their destinations when they request a ride.
- On the clock four hours.
- Accepted all 6 fares I was offered.
- Gross income: $61.21; Net income: $44.17.
- Moving forward I plan to track paid miles versus total miles driven. My first day included some preparation driving (test driving the car, taking it home from the dealership, etc.). Since I will only use the car for Uber, it should be easy to track how much downtime I have both in time and miles.