This morning, I decided to bring my car to the repair shop to have the carburetor checked. The car had been hard-starting recently and dies every now and then. It was a public holiday and so I thought it’d be the perfect time to cruise along EDSA. At 8:00 AM, I started the car (still hard-starting) and tried to kick the gas pedal back and forth. Another car inside our village passed through me and said there was white smoke coming out of the exhaust pipe. I gave him a thumbs up. I (foolishly) decided to give it a go and not a kilometer in, I looked at my rear view mirror and saw white smoke everywhere. I had to apologize to the people covering their noses with their shirts. I initially thought they were waving their hands at me, trying to cheer me on. But I later concluded that they were just trying to fan away the ridiculous amount of smoke as hard as they can.
I had to call my brother so we could somehow pull my 22-year old car to the shop. While waiting, I decided to continue reading Freakonomics from the curb and listen to our neighbor watch the NBA Finals. I could tell they were rooting for the home team (the Cleveland Cavaliers) ’cause their cheers were in sync with the fans. Anyway, my brother arrived after an hour and so and we pulled the car to the nearest shop we could find. There were about 4 times where the harness detached and I had to go out running waving to oncoming vehicles. I found out the car’s horn is busted as well so my brother and I decided to talk over the phone while doing this so I can let him know if something’s amiss—which instantly felt like the 90’s when our Dad and uncles would talk over CB radios while in a convoy.
We got to the nearest shop and had the car checked up right away. My brother had to leave since they were originally going to the mall before my abrupt 911 call. The diagnosis was a faulty fuel pump—a 22-year old fuel pump. It could’ve at least soldiered on for a year or so but no. It gave up the same exact day I was going to have the carburetor checked—a routine thing I do every now and then ’cause of the age of the car. I noticed the mechanics were trying to retrofit a weird futuristic (compared to the original one) pump which prompted me to ask “Do you have a spare part available?” and they said no. This is when I decided to make a quick trip to Banawe—the mecca of all car parts in Metro Manila at least.
I’ve been using Uber daily this past week because of the car’s problem and I really found it very convenient. Very convenient that I now can’t imagine myself hailing and riding in an ordinary cab—they’re just too filthy, uncomfortable, and the drivers are, most of the time, rude—not to mention the unwritten rule of them keeping the change. Now, Uber; Uber is amazing. Not only is the actual ride comfortable, the drivers are really friendly (thanks to its rating system) and they can also hold a decent conversation. I’ve ridden a couple of part-time Uber drivers who actually had day jobs. I’d say they have the more interesting stories to tell. It’s never boring and you’re not compelled to think twice before asking the driver to adjust the thermostat or switch radio stations. Some of them offer mints and even crackers—wow, right?
So, back to the repair shop. I flipped open the Uber app and saw one driver nearby—as in less than a kilometer away. I tapped “Set pickup location” and within a couple of seconds, I’ve my Uber driver on his way. Enter Ricky. A young looking fella who would easily fold when a bully tries to scare him but nevertheless chooses to grow a beard or two. I asked him if he could take me to Banawe and back since I’m just going to be a just few seconds there to pick up a spare part. He instantly obliged and asked if I’d like to use my Waze. I told him I don’t use one and we can just pass by EDSA if he’s not sure how to get there.
I did my requisite “How long have you been using Uber?” question and he said he’s barely a month in. The car was his uncle’s and had him drive it instead. I asked how they split the earnings and he said they split it 50-50. Wow, what a generous unc! EDSA was surprisingly a little packed and so the conversation went on. I asked him how many rides he’s booked for the day (my question to see if they’re after a certain bonus/goal) and he said I was the first one for the day. Buena mano as they would call it. He went on to explain that he was actually on his way to get a bite (it was around lunch time) when his phone buzzed and decided to pick me up. I told him I already ate but if he was up for a drive-thru meal, we can go get something to eat. He said he was fine and would just take a break once the trip was done. He immediately took what he said back and went on to say he actually might skip lunch and see if he could book more rides since he was after the week’s bonus. He further explained that if he is able to book 65 rides, he’ll get an additional PHP 300.00 for every ride. I did my quick calculation (in my phone, not in my head) and it came out to PHP 19,500.00. Wow! 20K in a week—that is not bad; that is really not bad (thoughts of signing up crossing my mind). I remember my phone’s battery already running low back in the shop and immediately sighted his USB car adapter with 2 ports. I asked him if I could charge my phone for a bit and he hurriedly said yes while freeing up one slot for me. Nice!
We were near our destination when I realized I wasn’t carrying enough cash. I asked him if we could pass by an ATM so I could withdraw. Of course he once again obliged (isn’t Uber great? Like really really great?). After a while, I was able to spot a bank and asked him if he could park right in front and wait for me. I quickly hopped out and told him I’ll be really quick. He nodded and off I went running to the ATM. Luckily, there was no line so I slipped my card in and started going through the prompts. In the middle of keying the amount I thought I’d be needing, I somehow remembered that I left my phone in his car—charging. I felt my stomach fall a little—kind of like when you ride a roller coaster meant for little kids instead. In my head were the words “Don’t you [expletive] move. Oh, don’t you dare [expletive] move.” I got my card, then the cash, and didn’t even bother getting the receipt. I dashed as fast as I can back to the car and saw the passenger door open. He opened it up for me and I was like: [expletive] but tried my best not to show my scary ass. None of us mentioned the incident and just went on like nothing happened. Well, nothing happened really. It’s just that it didn’t feel right to have left your phone in a stranger’s car. Had he left, I wouldn’t have known what to do. Yes, I would’ve had cash but I wouldn’t have a phone to call my wife, or even to get another Uber—I am not riding a normal cab; even in this situation.
In my head were the words “Don’t you [expletive] move. Oh, don’t you dare [expletive] move.”
We got to Banawe and I told him (once again) I’ll be very quick. This time, I brought my phone with me. I got the part and saw him backing up the car already. He opened the door again and asked me if there were any more stops before heading back. I couldn’t blame him. Our trip going there took us an hour and I practically was in and out of the shop in seconds. I told him we were heading back already but not before stopping him from changing the gear to “Drive.” I told him “You know what? Since you’re trying to reach that goal of 65 trips to get the bonus, what if you end our trip right now, I’ll get an Uber again, and you take it? This way, this’ll count as 2 trips and you’ll get the flag down money one more time.” I saw his face light up and he immediately agreed without any hesitation.
The scene after is like 2 old asses trying to figure out today’s tech as we were both trying to make sure I “ride” with him again. We were tapping on our phones and found ourselves staring at each other’s screens. The first try, there was another guy who picked up my request. I cancelled it immediately and told him it was harder than we thought. We got it on the second try and this time, we decided to go with what Waze told us instead of trudging through EDSA again. It took us a shorter time to get back but just enough for him to share his stories with me. I could tell he was more comfortable now. Like two buddies riding together retelling stories from the past. When we got back to the repair shop, I thanked him and shook his hand. I told him there’s a 7-11 nearby if he’s still looking to get a bite. He said he’s still okay and is going to try and book another ride before eating. I wished him well and off he went.
I know Uber has been getting some heat because of a story where an Uber driver stole an Uber operator’s car and so I wanted to share this my experience to let people—especially those who haven’t tried the service—know that that story has nothing to do with how great Uber’s service is. My car is now fixed and running but I actually wouldn’t mind continuing riding Uber to work. I realized it was actually much cheaper than riding a cab and almost the same if I were to bring my car and pay for gas. The funny thing is, that’s just one facet where they beat riding a regular cab. Add the comfortable ride, drivers who can hold a decent conversation, drivers who look decent, no bargaining for spare change (Uber charges your credit card so this isn’t a possibility), and the option to look like you’ve a driver of your own when you arrive at your destination (I highly recommend saying “yes” when asked if that was your driver). But really, there is a good chance you’ll ride with someone like Ricky. Someone who wouldn’t take interest in taking your phone. Someone who would volunteer one slot of his USB adapter so you can continue on with your business. Someone who wouldn’t complain that you’re making two trips in one. Someone who offers you crackers even though he himself hasn’t eaten lunch yet. Cliché as it may sound, my faith in the Filipino is (somehow) restored. It just takes a little discipline and (maybe) a curtailed experience so both parties are forced to be fair (and extra nice) to each other.