Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Wonders of Modern Travels

PS: and yes, I realize that the word 'modern' in my title has become outdated the second I typed it. 

How many times do you go through the day and think “Oh, brother! I wish I would have come up with that idea!”?! I know I do about half a dozen times! I had one of these moments the other week, when on a trip to DC, I had my first Uber experience.

My more worldly friends will chuckle, but yes, I am a provincial. Always have been and even now that I live in America, I still am. Provincialism is something that speaks to me, and probably runs through my veins. Sort of a weird melancholy that you only understand that you like to hang on to, kind of like the passe, moldy smell of country cottages.

So, although I am more worldly than most people living in Utah, I am still a small town girl. And yes, Uber has been around for a while, but I never needed it. Out here, in the West, we are in charge of our own driving, in the remote place we live. Anywhoo … forced by circumstances at the time, I had my first (and second) Uber experience.

The whole concept of the deal blew me away: you install this app on your phone, and you spot the “Ubers” in your area. You put in the address that you want to go to, and you are given several options of Uber vehicles close and far away from where you are (the phone detects where you are, you see, if you activate “Locations” on it). You choose one car, and you are given their distance from you, their name, and make and model of the car you are waiting for. It might be more, but I was not the one placing the request and this is all I was given when I asked how it works.

While waiting, you know exactly what car you are looking for, and you can watch on a map exactly where they are at the moment, how far, etc. I wondered, in one of our instances of using Uber, whether we'd all fit in one car, as there were seven of us waiting. The person summoning the Uber (I am still new to this: do you hail a Uber? Call (up) a Uber? Order an Uber?! Not sure.) told me to relax: “we are getting a Uber-X, they know we have 7, so we're all going to fit.”

Once you are picked up, it feels kind of like you are in a cab, only a cleaner, more comfortable cab. No weird and doubtfully working credit card machines strapped with duct tape to the back of the passenger seat, no faded ID picturing an angry chauffeur with an unpronounceable name hanging from the rear-view mirror, no antiquated meter, mounted crooked on the dash. It feels like you are in your friend's car and they're just giving you a lift on their way somewhere.

Our Uber-X was a GMC Yukon and yes, we all fit in it. The inside was pure luxury: all leather, smoky windows, nice smells, and incredibly clean – it was definitely a newer car, not your usual run down cab in a large city. The driver was wearing a suit and white button-down shirt, with no tie. Our passenger in the front seat was having a cold that day, so the driver promptly pulled out a box of tissues and gave her a bottle of water to take for the road. I have never had that kind of service from a cab driver in my life, in any country I have ever traveled.

Sonja, the driver of the second Uber (a Volkswagen Jetta), was super friendly. One of our passengers was from Raleigh, and Sonja talked about her cousin who lives there and how she probably should take some time off to visit her down in Raleigh. It was like watching old pals catching up. She was friendly, without being intrusive, which is my favorite kind of strangers, but hard to find.

We gave the wrong address first to Sonja, so, the person who called the Uber had to rectify that: with a few taps on her phone, she corrected our destination address, and the address updated immediately on Sonja's phone, sitting on the cradle on the dashboard. And I mean immediately: the second our friend hit “Update” on the map on her phone, I watched Sonja's phone refreshing and the map finding the new address. At the end, we all said good bye and moved on with our lives. I asked my friend who was going to pay for all this. She said “the app takes it out of my credit card.” No money, no tips, no dirt, no fuss, really. Just a ride.

I am sure you can worry about hackers breaking into the Uber database and stealing the credit card numbers, but I don't much worry about such things. After all, we're all Amazon shoppers, right?!

So, yeah, I was pretty blown away about it all: the convenience, the speed, the ease of the process, the courteousness of the drivers and the comfort and the politeness they offer with their service. And just the idea of this service, from the ingenuity of the app to the seamless process of knowing your driver, and what car you're getting into before it happens, the map system, and everything – would you have wanted to come up with that?!

And I must say: the phone has come a long way since Mr. Carson allowed it into the pantry.