One of the more recents additions to the list of things I overthink and obsess over in life is my Uber rating.
My fascination with my rating as a customer began when one of my drivers told me I had somehow earned the flawless average of five stars.
Yes, the coveted, nearly impossible to get, perfect rating. I was basically a unicorn parading around the streets of Manhattan.
Once I found myself in the one-percent of Uber customers, I made it my life's mission to maintain the cherished status.
Naturally, once I started going out of my way to impress my Uber drivers in hopes of preserving my perfect rating, things got weird (really weird) and began to fall apart.
I recorded the most memorable encounters in what is now an essay titled, “The Uber Diaries,” which appears in my recently-released book, "The Art of Living Other People's Lives."
"Saturday Night Live" recently aired a skit titled "Five Stars," in which Aziz Ansari and his Uber driver express equal paranoia over their respective ratings.
In an attempt to impress one another into a guaranteed five-star exchange, the pair participate in a series of shameless and awkward moments.
Now, I'm not going to say that "SNL" found inspiration for the skit in my book.
All I'll say is that my book hit shelves approximately three weeks before the skit aired. Oh, and I happened to send an early copy of the book to Aziz's agent, since Aziz is represented by the same agency as me.
Coincidence? Who knows.
Regardless, the skit proves that the concern over Uber ratings may be more universal than I thought, so I figured I'd publish an excerpt from "The Uber Diaries"on Elite Daily.
The below text is an excerpt from "The Art of Living Other People's Lives," which is available online and in stores.
Knowing I had a five-star rating to protect transformed me into a different kind of passenger. A passenger desperate to impress and dazzle, not sit back and relax.
Each Uber ride after discovering my rating may as well have been a first date or audition for The Real World. In the back of every Uber, I was part myself and part whoever it was I thought the stranger in the front seat wanted me to be.
If the driver had on a Yankees hat I'd complain about the previous night's pitching or talk about how much I missed Jeter. If they had a picture of their kids on the dashboard I'd pretend like I was thinking about becoming a father.
It wasn't dishonesty as much as it was being a good conversationalist. This led to more intimate conversations with strangers than I expected.
I began keeping notes on particular rides once I realized just how open some of the drivers were willing to be once they knew I was interested in hearing what they had to say.
I also assume Uber customers are generally split between two demographics: the ones who say hello then sit quietly on their phones, and the drunk customers, who sync their shitty playlists with the car radio, talk about vulgar sexual experiences with their friends, and ask the driver to stop at McDonald's for late-night Big Macs and milkshakes.
A lot of these drunken customers probably throw up in the back of the car, too. I only did this once, but luckily someone else had ordered the Uber, so my rating wasn't affected after blowing chunks out the window, but really all over the outside of the car.
Some of the most memorable conversations with my drivers are the following, which have been partly transcribed to best reflect the original dialogue.
The Cheating Husband
It's safe to say I may be the only person in New York City, or perhaps the world, who has witnessed their Uber driver cry. It wasn't a heavy flowing cry with sobs and dripping snot, but there were tears and one definitive sniffle.
The ride started out normal. I got picked up on a Wednesday night from the same spot I get picked up every Wednesday night after playing basketball with a bunch of guys from Elite Daily.
My driver was particularly quiet, and it worried me that sitting silent in the backseat could lead to an average rating, like four stars. Not a bad rating, but not perfect. You never know exactly what a driver's rubric is.
I broke the silence by asking him how his night was going. He took his time to find the words, and then responded, “The night gives you too much time to think.”
Just like that it was the darkest, most personal Uber ride I'd ever been on. Not to mention, he delivered the line with such conviction and honesty that if I remember correctly, I felt the hair on my arms stand up.
Imagine Dylan Thomas driving you around New York City while reciting,
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
I'm not one of those people who are good at memorizing quotes. I wish I were.
I respect the people who can, at the drop of a hat, recall a sentence so perfectly architected and considered by someone historical and great and use it in everyday conversation.
Though, there is one Van Gogh quote that I'd always remembered but never used. Finally, my time had come.
I swallowed, and with a shaky, completely unconfident voice, squeaked out the words, “'I often think that the night is more alive and richly colored than the day.' Vincent Van Gogh said that. You know, the painter.”
The driver remained silent, possibly considering the message, possibly ignoring me altogether. After successfully merging onto the entrance to the Queensboro Bridge, he spoke up.
Driver: Tonight is the night I will tell my wife I have failed her.
Me: [after taking at least ten seconds to process what I'd heard] What happened?
Driver: [after taking at least ten seconds to carefully search for the answer to my question] I will tell my wife of twenty-one years that I have been unfaithful.
[Okay, just assume there was at least a ten-second delay between each response.]
Me: Maybe she will understand.
Driver: She will understand what is true. That I am no longer the man she married.
Me: You're strong for telling her.
Driver: I am the weakest I've ever been.
Through the silent pauses I could hear his muffled sobs. I decided to give the conversation a rest and let him be.
As we moved slowly over the unusually crowded bridge, the Manhattan skyline stood tall and shimmering off to our right, a home to so many secrets.
Order "The Art of Living Other People's Lives" to read more insane Uber driver stories. You can also find out I lost my precious five-star rating.