Talk to your Uber driver – you will learn something useful

Quick summary of what I learnt from my Uber driver:

•  Young Kiwis drinking behaviour is getting worse
•  Alcohol kills a lot of people in India
•  Hard work and social interaction can heal you
•  Indian cricket is going to get stronger & stronger
•  Indian cricket used to have a problem with nepotism
•  Taxi drivers can potentially give you some very sound financial advice 😉

I’ve often enjoyed chatting to taxi drivers, not always – occasionally I have been antisocial – but definitely more often than not. It helps whittle away the minutes while you head home to a comfy bed or soothe the nerves before you head to an important meeting. It also often feels like the decent thing to do. Have you ever met a taxi driver who’s said to you:

“Hi, I’m living the dream; I love my job so much. This is the career that I always dreamed of!”

No, of course not. Being a taxi driver is a means to-an-end. No-one in this country, regardless of upbringing, education, or social background, grows-up aspiring to be a taxi driver. So, my view is that participating in some friendly conversation is nearly always the decent thing to do.

On the recent weekend I was picked up by an Uber driver who I will simply call ‘G.’ It was a 30 minute drive to Albany to collect the car that I’d left behind the night before, while attending a mate’s birthday.

He gave off a friendly, chilled out, positive vibe straight away so I got talking to him immediately. This is a quick summary of what I learnt during one short taxi journey.

‘G’ chooses to work the 5am-midday shift on weekends. He does this to avoid the worst, most foul mouthed, out-of-control, projectile vomiting, domestics-having, drunk people. He told me, “from 5am most people are just really tired and quiet and sleepy. Everyone is just really mellow.”

Makes sense! I feel that way at midnight these days.

When I questioned him further about his weekend nocturnal Uber driving experiences ‘G’ told me that the hardest part of his job is witnessing, “so many young girls are crying at the end of the night” and also too many young kiwi couples having massive drunken rows, in particular:

“Sometimes there are young men yelling at their girlfriends. Sometimes, I am thinking ‘come on mate, she is your lady, time to stop. Please stop now.”

I found this concerning.

This led our conversation onto alcohol, and young New Zealander’s drinking habits. I told him I knew we have a culture problem and that coming from a single-sex boys Highschool, I am all-too-familiar with male binge drinking in my teens and in patches during my early twenties. He agreed we have a societal problem.

I asked him about drinking behaviour in India, his country of origin.  Turns out, drinking behaviour is often very harmful there too: “where I am from, Punjab province in Northern India, we are all very heavy drinkers. My father used to drink very heavily all his adult life. In the end his drinking killed him. ” He told me this in a very matter-of-fact way. Apparently, his father exclusively drank home-brewed fortified wine. No-one had any idea what the alcohol content was.

Also, a quite poignant end to a line of conversation.

‘G’, who has been a kiwi for 13 years, told me that his father’s drinking behaviour did have one ‘silver lining’ – it had changed his own attitude towards alcohol. “I used to drink a lot when I was younger too, one time a friend and I drank a whole bottle of whisky and then we just lay on the ground for hours – the next day I was so ashamed. I just thought, why I am doing this?”

‘G’s’ partner passed away here two years ago. I didn’t ask how. He told me that his father’s demise gave him the necessary motivation to refrain from drinking after her death. He was left with a 9-year-old son and two mortgages to cope with.

“I decided to work, work, just work really hard and not drink. The driving (being an Uber) helped because it helped me with socialising. I was always working and always talking to people. And that helped me be strong and get through that time.”

Again, I found this very poignant.

Believe it or not, this had all been a very free-flowing and relaxed conversation – despite the quite personal nature of the chat. I decided however, that it was a good time to shift the conversation to something lighter, so I asked him about the Cricket World Cup and why a country with a well over a billion people (India’s population is estimated to be 1.339 billion) isn’t also mind-blowingly good at other sports like football?

He told me that India’s national obsession with cricket is something that can’t be explained. That cricket is virtually a religion in India and that it is played on every second street, in every suburb in every Indian city, town and village. He said that Indian cricket will only get stronger and stronger now that the IPL has brought professionalism and wealth to Indian cricket and that the ‘old boys club’ that used to exist, prior to professionalism, is now irrelevant.

In other words, players are now selected for the national team based entirely on performance and talent. Not with any consideration of who/what the player’s father is/was. I was fascinated to learn that nepotism had previously been such a big issue in Indian cricket. But, professionalism has now largely removed corruption in Indian cricket, it has raised standards, and the game is also now a very, very lucrative career option for aspiring Indian athletes.

‘G’ also told me he considers himself a staunch fan of the Black Caps and we both agreed that our national cricket team punches massively above its weight: “Kiwis are too hard on your team. I think you are doing very well for your population.”

Finally, ‘G’ inadvertently put me to shame by telling me at the age of 39 he owns two houses outside of Auckland, has Kiwisaver accounts for both himself and his son and invests in mutual funds. The kind of ambition / life achievements that many more ‘upwardly mobile’ young kiwis wearing designer clothes and working for impressive sounding companies have not yet achieved.

I gave ‘G’ five stars and I hope to share his taxi again. I loudly cheered India as they beat Australia in the cricket World Cup last night and I am terrified that our Black Caps have to play them next. At least there should be no shame in potentially losing to a country that makes our geographical and demographic proportions look like a postage stamp. Defeat at the hands of a country with far too many people, far too much suffering, populated by stoic people, with impressive work ethics.

NoteThis blog is in part a response to what I think was a totally shit article published by Stuff last year. “Dear Uber driver, please don’t rate me down…
Dear Penny, who gives a toss about your passenger Uber rating?! There are so many Uber drivers, you’re never going to struggle to get a lift. Ever. Perhaps what those Uber drivers really objected to, was your complete lack of humility.