A Conversation with Uber.
An Uber conversation with Gordon Middleton.
I don’t have a driver’s license. I remember back in 2012, I really wanted to be an adult already and finally get my license. I’m the last one of my friends to not drive. I was prolonging it for so long because deep down, I really didn’t want to drive. I think it’s a mixture of a traumatizing car accident when I was 11 and the fact that no matter how good of a driver you are, there will always be a bad driver that will crash into you. Luckily, around that time, a new car service was making waves…that service was Uber. I guess it wasn’t meant for me to drive all along!
Fast forward, 6 years later, in Soho, I was on my way to meet with Gordon Middleton to talk about his experiences as an Uber driver. Now you’re probably scratching your head as to why I’m doing this because I’m just a menswear blogger. But I decided to take this task because this is more than that. I relate to Gordon and plenty of peers around my age when it comes to doing what you love and making money out of it. I’m sure most of us has at least 1 friend or know someone who drives for Uber. It’s really an interesting job that definitely serves a purpose. Not only did it make traveling easier for all of us, Uber also made it affordable and safe for everyone. I wanted to do this interview because, I’m sure I’m not the only one, I love having conversations with Uber drivers. I’m always curious as to why they drive for Uber and why they love doing it. And now being given an opportunity to go one on one with a current driver, I couldn’t pass up this chance.
Doing my best impression as a journalist for the day in the back of a clothing store/coffee shop with my trusty notebook and iphone to record our conversation, I was ready to get this Uber Fast Lane conversation started.
Gordon, 27 years old, from Brooklyn not only drives for Uber but is also a co-founder of a non profit organization called Plastic Tides. Here’s a little excerpt from their site:
“ Plastic Tides combines adventure and science to address plastic pollution via Stand Up Paddleboard expeditions, Education and Outreach. Our 501c3 nonprofit was founded in 2014 by three Cornell University students— Christian, Gordon & Céline — on a mission to combine their love of water-sports with environmental action. ”
Gordon couldn’t have been more professional and friendly. I honestly felt like we’ve known each other for some time now. We just clicked and everything went smoothly as planned. He’s worked plenty of odd jobs to make ends meet and just started driving for Uber in November.
Denny: Where are you from? What were you doing before you started driving for Uber?
I'm from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. I went to college at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY and co-founded a nonprofit called Plastic Tides right after graduating. When I moved to Brooklyn, I knew my nonprofit wouldn't be anywhere close to enough for me to live off of so I started working in freelance film and TV. The work was fun, but long hours and not flexible. I essentially had to choose between working on my nonprofit and freelancing. It wasn't sustainable. I ended up working for several jobs and everything in-between. Either it was hard work with little pay, or easy work that wasn't very flexible. I struggled to keep up with my nonprofit and make enough to keep the lights on at the same time.
Denny: So you mentioned you started November?
Gordon: Yes, November. Pretty much all this odd jobs that I was doing….the benefit obviously is that I can go to my jobs when I wanted and all that stuff but they weren’t making me much money at all and there was a lot of inconvenience. I’ve been thinking about Uber for probably 2 years and I think it was a Fast Lane article or ad that made me go… “ well, maybe I should think about it again. “ I’m a big researcher. When I want to do something, I do the research really hardcore before I start. So yea, I kinda looked into it a little bit. I took one day and took a bunch of uber rides to talk to a couple of drivers and see how long it took them and what I needed to do. What they were doing as far as cars? Do they rent or do they buy? And then yea, I was just like… “ All right, let’s just do it. Let’s just go for it. “ It’s a big thing, you know, you get your taxi license. You know what I mean?
Denny: What did you do to get started with Uber? How did you know what you needed to do to get a TLC license?
Research. Lots of research. The first place I went to was the Uber site and I can honestly say that everywhere else I went to just gave me more confirmation of what I had already read on Uber. They really lay it all out for you and give you a step-by-step guide to getting your license.
Denny: Can you give me a summary of what the TLC licensing process entails? How did the Fast Lane Program help you during this process? How did it alleviate any of your concerns?
It's a significant process with a fair bit of startup cost, but the Fast Lane program guides you by the hand the whole way. It even updates as you complete each step. The TLC licensing process starts with an application then you need to have a medical exam; take a 11 hour Defensive driving and wheelchair accessible vehicle course; upgrade to a Class E DMV license; complete a drug test; get fingerprinted; and finally complete a 24 hour TLC course and the exam. It's no small feat and would be much more daunting if Uber wasn't their to help you along the way. You can sign up for courses, exams, tests, all of it, through their site and the Greenlight Hubs are very helpful in explaining the process in more detail if you get stuck.
Denny: Was the TLC licensing process what you expected it to be? How did you know what to do after you left the Uber office?
It was exactly what I expected it to be because Uber explained it in simple terms. After that first visit to the Uber office, you're handed a physical checklist to guide you along the way.
Denny: Was it hard to get started driving in NYC?
I wouldn't say it was easy, but it was a lot easier because of Uber. As anyone knows, anything with the DMV can get lengthy and complicated. Uber streamlines the whole process for you.
Denny: And do you think that way kind of makes the job legit and trustworthy?
Gordon: Yea, I think that Uber has helped me every step of the way. I never really had a poor experience with their customer service. You know, they got the greenlight hub which helped a lot. You can set up an appointment, you can just kind of jumped in there.
Denny: I mean, the one thing that makes Uber better than taxis are the conversations.
Gordon: Conversations, convenience.
Denny: I think the cool thing about Uber is that you can set your own time.
Gordon: So that’s the reason, it’s such a positive thing versus all these odd jobs I was doing. I could make consistent good money and it’s even more flexible than other jobs. Those things, I had to schedule something. I can literally with Uber, I can just walk out my door at any time of the day or I can go off line at any time of the drive and that’s amazing because with Plastic Tides, my non-profit, things arise that must do right now or “ I know you plan to drive a lot this week or something but it’s not going to work out “ and every once in while I get these breaks for a week a long and I can just hammer it on Uber.
Denny: Let’s talk about all the other pros other than the schedule.
Gordon: Yea, I mean flexibility would definitely be the biggest but the next biggest would be money. It’s good money.
Denny: And when do you get paid? Do you just get paid right away?
Gordon: Oh yea, so you can either do weekly, which is fast, you know fast. You know I’m coming from the TV and freelance life and 90 days sometimes! I don’t want 90 days. And if you need it right away, you can pay 50 cents and just boom right there.
Denny: Do you think the hours you put in pays off?
Gordon: It depends on who you are, like me, I’m used to hours. So I can put it in the hours just to make it pay off. Why I’m actually purchasing a car versus renting now because I’m figuring two things: One, if you purchase a car, I’m going to pay it monthly to finance it versus rentals, I’m paying half of that a week. So you want to talk about who’s making real money, not me, that guy who’s renting his car. But yea, if you can lessen your expenses, it’s all about figuring out how to lessen your expenses. The other thing of course is the quality, and if you’re up to providing that level of quality and you’re up to trying to purchase a car then definitely look into Uber Black, look into Uber SUV and those higher quality services because the rates are much higher. So that’s where I’m at. I’m kind of working my way into that field and in doing so, my hours will drop drastically and my wages will be the same or maybe get a little bit more. Definitely with uberX you can put in some serious hours if you’re trying make good money.
Denny: I feel like most drivers that do UberX is their full time job.
Gordon: One of the great things about UberX is that you’re trying to provide this level of quality but the suit isn’t necessarily a defining factor. It’s more about being personable and being friendly, opening the door when you can and putting stuff in the trunk. Especially UberX, a lot of people aren’t experiencing suit and tie, they are looking for someone who is friendly and willing to go where they want. Work with the passenger.
Denny: Any other positives?
Gordon: Yea, so for me, a kind of weird positive that I think a lot of people don’t say but to me is a nice positive. Um, I like to shut my brain off sometimes, you know what I mean. With Plastic Tides, I’m the creative director, I’m the co-founder, it’s like my brain is on overdrive whenever I’m working on a project. It’s kinda nice to sit in my car and almost meditate. Go here, Be friendly, chat, pick them up, drop them off, next job. It really is almost like a meditation because when I drive my personal car in the city and I’ve got that personal agency to go somewhere, I’m the worst type of driver. I’m just like any other New York driver, I’m so annoyed and yelling at everybody. But when I drive Uber without that agency that I need to go this place and personally need to be here. Obviously, I need to get the passenger there as quick as possible but I don’t feel this anger at all around me. When someone does something stupid, I kind of just smirk and move on with my life.
Denny: I mean you can tell who really likes to drive Uber and there are people doing it because they have to do it, I understand, it’s your hustle.
Gordon: Yes, and you don’t know what’s going on with peoples lives and stuff. I also know that I’ve had personally struggle with money, hell, I’ve been on Medicaid. I’ve had personal struggles in my relationships, I’ve had that type of stuff and I’ve been able to go to my job and say, “ breathe in, take moment you know, this is your job, “ and your job is based on ratings. It’s based on that. You got to do good.
Denny: I think in times like these, it’s a good thing to have Uber as a job.
Gordon: Yes, I think it’s a good thing. You’re your own boss. You got the most flexible schedule of all time. It’s a good gig.
Denny: Since you’ve been both passenger and driver, from a passengers perspective, why do you think Uber is a good thing?
Gordon: I think all of these kind of app based industries are a positive thing in a lot of ways. It makes life easier, it’s promoting what I feel strongly about, kind of with the sharing economy. I feel really strong about that myself. In my mind, these bigger cities potentially reduces carbon footprints instead of people using their own car and it creates that level of service for that everyday person that they wouldn’t get otherwise.
Denny: How did Uber changed your life these past 4 months?
Gordon: Yea, as I said before, just struggling for rents pay every year, every month, you know Plastic Tides pretty much pays me nothing. It’s a passion project but at the same time I’m putting full time work into it. Often. And in so, with that kind of structure, it’s really hard to pay your rent, utilities and all that. I was pretty much at the end of my rope as far as my savings and Uber was just perfect. Honestly, when I got it all sorted out. The first two weeks, I just worked! I worked my face off. I was hitting that 10 hour limit a few times. I’m a big driver and so it wasn’t unnatural for me to driving long hours but it was instantaneous that idea of
meditation I was telling you about, that was instantaneous.
Denny: One more thing, what do you want to tell people that are considering driving for Uber?
Gordon: If they’re anything like me, they’ve done research. There are a couple of Uber forums and those Uber forums you get a lot of nay-sayers. You get a lot of drivers who’s been around since the hey-day of Uber. What they’ll come across is a lot of them saying that it’s not worth it and it’s a dying business. My suggestion is to just ignore that. I see no negative if you’re looking for flexibility and consistent pay. The other thing is that you get those nay-sayers online but when I was doing research and sat in those 7 Uber rides, I just talked to people and almost 90% percent of drivers said they were happy.
Denny: Lastly, the cool thing about Uber is that there is no age limit.
Gordon: Yes, I remember I got into an Uber last year and the driver must have been in his 70s and it was hilarious. There was this little old man who’s really talkative and you can tell he’s just happy to be out and talking to people. I was, “ this like this is cool.”
To learn more about Gordon Middleton, check out Plastic Tides.
To learn more about Uber Fast Lane, click here.
THIS POST IS MADE IN PARTNERSHIP WITH UBER.