A Conversation with an Uber driver

It was a Saturday afternoon outside the SFO airport. I had just landed from Houston after spending 4 days there for the Grace Hopper Conference (thanks Google!). I ordered an Uber so I could head home, unpack, and unwind for the evening. As my Uber driver pulled up, I got into his white Toyota Corolla that was so new that he didn't even have his own license plate yet. The car ride started off pretty quiet which I enjoyed since I was too tired to really strike up a conversation. Somehow, we ended up talking and having a conversation that really stuck with me today as a good NTS reminder. We started off by talking about my flight. He asked me how long it was so I told him it was around 7-8 hours including a layover in Dallas. He then tells me that he used to be a truck driver where he would drive for 11 hours before sleeping in the vehicle before completing the average 15 hour drive...back to back for several months. He told me it was a rough job and almost impossible to have a life since you were never actually home much. In the last 4 months, he was only home for 14 days..the rest were spent on the road around the country. I don't know much about truck driving culture or what the job is like, but he said it was rough. He hated it so much that he finally quit and that's when he became an Uber driver. In my head, I was trying to figure out why he even decided to take that job in the first place.

I asked him about family which turns out they were all back home in Nigeria. Since none of his family were here, I asked him why he was in the United States. He told me he's been here for 3 years now and this is where the opportunities are. Based on his facial expression and tone, it occurred to me that he didn't seem all that happy. I asked, "So, do you like living here?" and immediately, he shook his head and said "No" with a chuckle. He also seemed to really despise Silicon Valley and techies from the way he was talking about how expensive San Francisco was. Since he didn't like living here, didn't like his job, and didn't have family here I didn't understand why he was here at all. Instead, I asked him what his dream place to live would be, and he said Dallas, Texas. I was surprised, but immediately said, "so why don't you go there!". He didn't have much of an answer. At this exact moment, I realized how fortunate I was, and also how much I took for granted even though I always tried to be very conscious of the tech bubble. It's not always easy to "just go there".  Back home in Canada, I grew up in a city where kids attended after-school programs, clubs, sport teams, back to back. It was a city of opportunities and well-developed education programs. It was a very well-off city. I have never seen a homeless person on the streets in my city of 350,000 people... I didn't even realize how well-off my hometown really was until I googled it one day. 

My point is, I am reminded today that I have to actively try harder to see the full picture. Working in Silicon Valley is a luxurious place. Yes, we work hard and the companies like to treat us very well...but my Uber driver also works hard too, and most Uber drivers work two jobs. Working in Silicon Valley doesn't make us any better or any smarter, or harder-working. I want to remind myself (and all of us) that sometimes things are easier said than done and that making money is not easy. As a foreigner in the states, almost all of my friends are from tech since all my friend groups were formed through work friends or design events. Because of that, it means I have to expose myself more to the world beyond tech and design. I think it's incredibly important to have a diverse group of friends and interests so that we don't end up be blinded to our first-world lifestyle. And quite honestly, there are bubbles everywhere...the Tech bubble, Hollywood, the fashion industry, cities that are less diverse...these are all examples of places with a high concentration of a type of lifestyle making it easier for us to become immune to it.

The conversation I had with my Uber driver today helped snap me back to reality. We say that everyone has a choice, and that's true, we do...but sometimes it's really hard and taking a job you don't like but pays well is what ends up winning. For my Uber driver, he did it for 9 months before quitting. It's easy for me to switch jobs or move if I'm not satisfied but I have to remember it's not that easy for everyone. To be humble also means to accept your reality and know how that lifestyle differs from others and to always be compassionate and empathetic. For this exact reason, I volunteer regularly at the Girls and Boys Club in Redwood City so that I can give back to our communities.

It was a short 15 minute conversation but one that will be used as a constant reminder.

I hope you make it to Dallas one day :)