Whether you’re having a night out or simply needing a quick lift, Uber is a popular option for a safe ride to your destination. For many, Uber serves as a quick drive. Point A to Point B. Maybe some small talk about the weather or traffic. Arrived at destination. Done.
Uber and other ride-share services that offer one-on-one experiences are unique in that one is forced to be in such close proximity to another person for an extended amount of time, alone.
Though it is completely normalized to stay mostly silent on these drives, I find it beneficial to take advantage of this unique dynamic and create conversation. Obviously, only when appropriate and only if they, too, are willingly engaging in conversation.
Writer Kelly Corrigan gave a powerful speech at the commencement for The Walker School last year, and, among other valuable lessons, the speech provided me insight into the potential social benefit of otherwise awkward Uber rides.
In the speech, Corrigan encourages graduating students to be curious in their daily lives and emphasizes repeatedly to ask questions. She goes on to describe specific scenarios in which she learned valuable information from strangers by asking them questions, noting that she would have “almost missed” the valuable lessons if she had chosen not to engage.
One of the impactful stories she heard from a stranger involved a driver who kept a small elephant on his dashboard. After questioning the driver about the trinket, she learned he was an immigrant who left his mother in India and never saw her again. She noted she would have never known his tragic yet powerful story if she hadn’t engaged in conversation with him.
I quickly found that in most of my daily social settings, mirroring her question method was harder than I imagined. Finding situations for genuine yet unguided conversation proved to be difficult, especially as someone who isn’t completely an extrovert. It seemed awkward and unnatural for me to approach an individual out of the blue, especially in a university setting in which students are constantly busy and simply looking for a quiet place to study and get through the busy day.
However, after considering settings in which her theory was appropriate for my day-to-day life, I noted that Corrigan’s example of her conversation with a driver was something I could potentially test in my own life: maybe my late-night Uber rides could provide some benefit to me other than just a quick ride home.
I began my test of this theory this past summer: I found myself in a situation in which I was traveling in a college town that was not my own. Alone and unknowing of my exact whereabouts, I opted for Uber despite being somewhat close to my destination.
To my luck, I was greeted by a kind, female Uber driver that put me immediately at ease. I engaged her in conversation and, fortunately, she was open to my many questions.
I learned she had a job interview that day that would lead her to move to Seattle. She was so excited and couldn’t wait to explore a new city. She also told me she loved to drive young girls, like me, home at night because she loved knowing that she was the person responsible for getting them home safely.
Our short yet fast-moving conversation was easily the highlight of my night. Corrigan’s theory proved true–though I didn’t learn any “lessons” from the driver, I found that conversing with someone I had never met before–and someone I likely would never see again–in such an open manner was such a good feeling.
My success encouraged me to incorporate more conversation into my daily life when possible. Coincidentally, the driver-passenger dynamic in ride-share settings proved to be a perfect place for this.
Since my first conversation, I’ve conversed with nearly all of my Uber drivers (minus a few quiet ones). I met a driver who nearly begged me to join a sorority for the networking later on, a man who Ubered just as a side job when he isn’t away at sea as a performer on Royal Caribbean Cruises, and a woman who got so distracted passionately talking about her other job as a hair stylist that she took the wrong exit and added several minutes to the otherwise short drive. Stories that, if I hadn’t just asked, I would have missed.