July 27, 2018
In the last few years, Uber has become a ubiquitous part of urban life in Philadelphia and most other cities. Passengers can get around much more easily than they could a decade ago, and living in the city without a car has therefore gotten a little bit more feasible.
Uber’s rise has led to led to multiple political controversies, involving the behavior of its executives and disputes with incumbent cab drivers and even a report last week that a female Uber driver ferrying movers and shakers around at a national security conference in Aspen, Colo. may have been a Russian spy. Meanwhile, a law firm reported recently that Uber usage has led to a 17 percent decline in DUI arrests in Philadelphia since 2010.
But beyond those headlines, what really goes on the Uber cars of Philadelphia? PhillyVoice talked to four experienced Uber drivers about the things they’ve seen and heard in their time on the road – from the hilarious to the horrifying to the inspiring.
“Sometimes, you get some crazy customers,” said Kadmiel Kelome, who became an Uber Eats driver in late 2016 and started driving for Uber proper the following spring. And the craziest of all, he said, was during Eagles games and other sporting events.
“One time, I was picking up a guy from the Phillies game – he put his address as Lincoln Financial Field,” he said of one inebriated rider.
The man actually fell asleep, and Kelome needed to coordinate with his wife to unlock the fingerprint on the man’s phone, in order to figure out his actual address, which turned out to be in Conshohocken.
One particular memory of Kelome’s came when he drove some visitors from Minnesota around, prior to the Eagles’ NFC championship game win over the Vikings in January.
“I was picking up people from the art museum, and they were Vikings fans,” he said, likely referring to the infamous incident in which Vikings partisans did their “skol” chant on the Rocky steps.
“It was really genuine because we got to talk about a lot of important things with both teams, and about our city.”
Kelome said he makes an effort to keep things positive in his vehicle.
“When I’m in the moment, I try to give people a good vibe. I try to make people feel cool.”
Another positive experience was had by driver Harold Elam, who has driven for Uber since early 2017.
“After 5,300 and some trips, I would have to say one of my best rides was on the Memorial Day holiday,” Elam said.
After picking up a family that was visiting town, he said to them: “We’re going into Center City. We’re going into the concrete jungle.”
When the two children – an 8-year-old girl and 12-year-old boy – asked what he meant, he launched into an extended analogy about the city as a jungle.
“I told them the buildings represent the trees. The buses represent the elephants that are in the jungle,” he said.
“SEPTA buses – like elephants.”
The delivery trucks were rhinos, and the bike riders gazelles, he said. And the kids played along, and when they asked who the lions would be, Elam replied, “the Philadelphia Parking authority because they’re vicious.”
“By the end of the trip, we had named everything that moves in Center City,” he said, and he was inspired, “to see someone get engaged in a conversation on a 12-minute ride.”
He also recalled the time he picked up a nurse in the city who was eight months pregnant and possibly in labor, and drove her 45 minutes to Bryn Mawr Hospital, as she’d called an Uber when none of her emergency contacts were able to pick up the phone.
“We’re on this drive. She’s crying. I’m crying,” Elam said, and while he got her to the hospital in time, he later realized she’d left her phone in the car. He ended up bringing the phone back to the hospital and delivered it to the woman, who had her baby that day. As you may expect, this earned him a five-star review.
Teayra Monroe, an Uber driver since February, has a memorable story about the strange things that happen in UberPool situations.
“I remember I had a pickup of a grandma from a bar – it was an UberPool. She kept complaining that it was hot, but I had the air on full blast,” Monroe said.
Two younger passengers came in the car and disagreed about the temperature, and when one of them joked, “You must want to get naked in here,” it became an episode that ended up on Facebook Live, with the woman starting to unbutton her shirt, and at one point, hopped out of the car at a red light in order to twerk, before hopping back in.
“When people get in my car, as corny and cliche as it sounds, I lead with love,” said Najwa Ali, who has driven for Uber for nearly three years.
When she first started driving, she told her very first ride that she was new at it, and they gave her friendly advice. Since then, she has treated her car as something of a therapist’s office/life-coaching service.
“I had four college girls get in and ask me every single question about being a woman,” Ali said of a recent ride.
“I asked, 'Why aren’t you asking your mothers?' And they said, ‘Oh, we can’t do that.'”
She's ended up giving her number to people who have asked her to mentor them.
Ali has given other passengers advice about careers, about their personal lives, and sometimes repeat passengers have told her they took her advice and thanked her, both in person and with positive Uber ratings.
She’s especially proud of the way she’s helped out a couple of children who had been bullied, and encouraged them to develop self-esteem.
“Don’t get me wrong. I do get some douchebags,” Ali said. “But they come out of my car better than they came in.”
But it wasn’t always all life coaching and advice for Ali.
“I’ve gotten swingers,” she said.
“I was educated on the different levels of swinging, multiple times.”
She’s also had drunken passengers lead loud sing-a-longs. Such sing-a-longs are far from a rarity in Ubers, it appears. Monroe had a similar story, involving a particularly rambunctious sing-a-long to Cardi B’s new album.
Elam, who doesn’t normally drive at night, once picked up a rather flirty group of “four beautiful ladies” in Fishtown who sang along with his entire playlist, also Facebook-Live-ing it.
“Every song that came on the radio, they knew. They were still singing when they got to their venue," he said.
"For a 51-year-old, when young women are saying how good looking you are, that made my evening."
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