Truth is Stranger Than Fiction When You Drive for Uber

In this week’s round up, senior RSG contributor John Ince covers some weird driver stories, from a ‘privileged’ scissors robbery to a baby bird’s first Uber ride. That, plus the cast of Stuber shares their passenger stories and how ratings are taking over our shopping experience.

Uber driver unknowingly acts as getaway driver in gas station robbery [WABI TV]

Sum and Substance: ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KOAT/CNN) – An Uber driver in New Mexico was shocked when police showed up at his house and told him he had acted as the getaway driver for one of his passengers….

Uber driver Terry Owens had just gotten home from work in February when officers with the Albuquerque Police Department arrived and demanded everyone inside exit with their hands up.

Owens and his wife did so, even though they were confused about what was happening.

When they talked to officers, it was finally revealed that the last passenger Owens had driven had allegedly robbed a gas station…

Owens, who was new to the job at the time and very trusting, says he had no idea he had acted as the getaway driver for the suspect, identified by police as Austen Harris.

The Uber driver had picked up Harris that night and driven him around town for about two hours, even befriending him during the trip. The last stop of the night was a Valero gas station in northwest Albuquerque.

“We pull in the parking lot, and the young man proceeded to go inside the gas station,” Owens said.

Owens says he was busy texting his wife, telling her he would be home soon, when Harris came back outside. He says the man was acting strangely and was also holding a pair of scissors.

“He’s acting a little fishy when he gets back in the car, telling me, ‘Let’s go! Let’s go! Let’s go!’” Owens said. “He says, “I’m just using this pair of scissors to cut strings off my jacket.’”

It was late, so a tired Owens dropped his passenger off and headed home. An hour later, police were outside.

My Take:  I will say this for the gig of being an Uber Lyft driver: you see a lot of crazy stuff, and this story is pretty crazy. I’ve had some really bizarre experiences, but never, to my knowledge, did I act as an unwitting accomplice to a crime.  Okay, second week on the job, I took people to a marajuana dispensary, before weed was legal, but it could just as well have been someone with a medical weed card.

But it must have been a very unnerving experience for this driver – who was new – to have been used in this way. Trust seems to be on the wane in society, in so many ways.

Intoxicated Utah Man Calls an Uber to Rescue Injured Baby Bird He is Too Drunk to Help [People]

Sum and Substance:  An Uber driver in Utah had a rather chirpy passenger last week.  Christy Guynn was expecting an ordinary pickup when she got the notification on her Uber app, but upon arriving at the location, she soon realized it wouldn’t be a regular drive

“I got there and there’s three or four guys standing out in the yard and they’re holding beers,” Guynn told FOX 13 of Salt Lake City. “And I’m like, ‘oh no. These guys are going to get in my car and I hope they know they can’t bring their beer.’ “

As it turns out, they hadn’t called the Uber for themselves, but for an injured baby lesser goldfinch that they found struggling on the ground. Guynn explained that the man, Tim Crowley, who ordered the ride, asked her if she would be willing to take the tiny bird to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah, as they had all been drinking and couldn’t drive.

“At first it was a joke, like, ‘Hey, maybe we should just call Uber!’ ” Crowley told the the local FOX affiliate. “Then we were like, ‘No, really. Why not? We’re paying them.’ “

My Take:  If the first story was crazy, this one was weird.  I suppose a goldfinch is better than a drunk. What are your stories of weirdness? Would you have taken this one?

For Stuber’s cast, the Uber insanity is all too real [CNET]

Sum and Substance: Some Uber drivers go to great lengths for a five-star rating. They’ll stock up their car with snacks and drinks or ask if the music’s too loud.

Some may even be willing to drive you in your quest to hunt down a murderer.

That’s the premise behind Stuber, an action comedy starring Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista that hits theaters July 12. Nanjiani plays Stu, a man in his 30s who works at a sporting goods store and drives for Uber to save up for a spin gym business he wants to open with his dream girl…

While it’s unlikely anyone’s had an Uber experience as insane as the one depicted in the film, Nanjiani once had a strange encounter with a very hungry Uber driver.

“I got in the car one time and there was a box of food next to me that somebody had left,” Nanjiani recalls. “I was like, ‘Somebody left their food. And [the driver] was like, ‘Give it to me.’ I handed it to him, and he started eating it. It was noodles. So he’s like, eating noodles with his hands while he’s driving. I gave him five stars.”…

Hopper Stone/SMPSP There’s also the joy of riding Uber in the entertainment capital of the world.

“In LA particularly, there’s a lot of actor/Uber drivers,” said Betty Gilpin, who plays Stu’s love interest Becca. “I’ve had a lot of performance-based car rides. There’s been some instruments in there and some pretty amazing life stories.”

Natalie Morales, who plays Vic’s daughter Nicole, had a less pleasant experience once when she thought she was getting kidnapped.

“It just turned out that the guy spoke literally no English, not even ‘Left’ or ‘Right’ or ‘Please stop the car, sir,’ or ‘Hello’ — none of that,” Morales says. “He would just ignore me and keep driving, and not in the direction I was going. I wasn’t kidnapped, but I was very scared that I was going to be.”

My Take:  I knew I should have tried harder to sell that book I wrote, Travels With Vanessa, to a Hollywood agent.  Forget about book sales these days, movies and videos are where it’s at – and Uber stories are hot these days.  Just think, all us drivers get to live the movie and we don’t even have to pay admission to the theater.  Great deal… Right?

Read Harry’s review of Stuber here, including how accurate it really is for drivers.

Companies can now give shoppers an ‘Uber-style rating’ — and block people for too many returns.  [Business Insider]

Sum and Substance:  MyVerte, an online marketplace for direct-to-consumer companies, is launching Monday with more than 100 brands. The site allows companies to give customers an ” Uber-style” rating of one to five stars based on their return activity.

The ratings tool will allow brands to block serial returners from purchasing — or even browsing — their products. Returns cost US retailers an estimated $369 billion in lost sales in 2018. Many major retailers, including Amazon, Best Buy, Home Depot, and Victoria’s Secret, also track customers’ return activity…

The ratings tool will also allow brands to block serial returners from purchasing — or even browsing — their products on the marketplace, Kahlon said.

Here’s how the ratings system works: if a customer returns too many items, their ratings will fall. Brands will be able to view customers’ ratings and block all shoppers whose scores fall below a certain level. Brands that don’t want to deal with any returns, for example, may choose to block all shoppers with ratings of four stars or below.

My Take:  Uber’s rating system, flawed as it is, was a significant innovation for building trust within a network or community.  Uber certainly isn’t the first – Yelp, Amazon, and many others use ratings to assist in the sales process, but Uber also used it as an instrument of management control – with passengers becoming surrogate managers through the force or fear of their ratings.  Like it or not, ratings are a fact of modern life.

Readers, what do you think of this week’s round up?

-John @ RSG