I am looking for friends – perhaps marriage – in an Uber pool, but nobody will talk!
I’ve spent a lot of time in pools this summer – Uber pools.The ride sharing app now allows (in parts of Australia) the option of splitting rides with strangers, often for less than the cost of a bus ticket.
In the last week I’ve had a dozen trips using Uber pool, and each time been excited about the possibility of meeting new people who live in my area, while starting new conversations, connections and friendships.
I mean, yes I already have friends. But who doesn’t want more?
So how many friendships did I make in my 12 Uber pool rides?
After the fifth ride, the atmosphere in the car was so consistently frosty that I downgraded my pool expectations from “creating a new start up together” and “perhaps marriage” to “a hello would be nice”.
The experience was really getting me down. Yes, it was only $3.50 to get from Bondi to Redfern but my fellow passengers were awful.
This is how a typical ride went.
Sprint to random corner – the app tells me I have “two minutes” to get there before the Uber arrives. Do not want to keep my new friends and potential business partners waiting!
Make it just in time. Sit in front seat. Say hi to fellow passengers in the back. They are scrolling. They don’t say hello back. Say hello again. Driver says hello. Passengers in back don’t look up to look at me.
Ask, “so, where’s everyone off to today?”
No answer. Tell car that I am going to Redfern to meet friends for dinner then try to talk about house prices, which is guaranteed to appeal to eastern suburbs riders. Silence. Driver who feels sorry for me talks about the traffic.
We talk about the traffic for a bit. Then silence. It is awkward silence.
Can’t handle it. What are they scrolling? Instagram? Really? Is it that interesting? Won’t you get a crick in your neck from looking at the screen?
Ask the driver if we can turn on the radio. Smooth FM. It’s just like being in a normal Uber. Pointless. Get dropped off first. Turn and look at the two people in the back. Make intense eye contact at the top of their heads.
“Goodbye. Have a good night.”
They. Do. Not. Respond.
At the dinner is a woman who used to own a chain of restaurants. She tells a fabulous story of how a few years ago her dog was kidnapped in Kings Cross. She took all her delivery drivers off the road to search for George and plastered every pole with pictures of his face. Rather than be upset that they couldn’t get their meals delivered, her customers enthusiastically became involved in the search (and eventual rescue) of George.
It was like the whole city was invested in George’s safe return. For a few brief days while George was missing, Sydney wasn’t the bad place. It was a big, friendly country town.
The conversation switched from George to Uber pool. My friend who had half of Sydney looking for her dog had strong opinions. “I get in them and I,” she waved her arms in front of her face indicating an invisible partition between herself and the other passengers. “I am like – DO. NOT. TALK. TO. ME. OKAY?”
“But why not?”
“I do not want to talk to people. Even if there are other people in the car I pretend I am in an Uber by myself.”
A few more Uber pools later, I come to the conclusion that maybe the problem isn’t Uber pool. The problem is Sydney.
A line leapt out of Helen Garner’s Tower Diaries that felt particularly true. She was living in Bellevue Hill at the time: “I am invisible in this apartment building. I enter through the front door. Coming out across the carpeted, panelled lobby are three young women, dressed for the office in heels, tight skirts and little sleeveless tops. My neighbours! I want to be greeted and to greet. The first two pass me with heads down, expressionless. The third makes as if to do the same, but I force the issue. I say in a quiet, firm tone ‘Good morning.’”
I also spent years living in Bellevue Hill apartments, and greeted and was greeted by my neighbours the same way – eyes cut to the ground, blank facial expression, terrified that someone would talk to me.
To make eye contact was somehow an intimacy, or an infringement of privacy. Best keep your head down. Best keep scrolling.
When a school friend came to visit me from Warrnambool she greeted everyone she encountered on the Bondi to Bronte coastal walk, and only had one or two responses.
“It’s not a very friendly city, is it?” was her conclusion. I thought at the time, but did not verbalise – “to say ‘hello’ to strangers is to do a violence to them.”
In 2016 I went from Bellevue Hill to spending part of the year in a country town in central Victoria. A violence was done to me on a daily basis. People would greet me and I would scowl and then remember I was here, not there, and here people said hello. It took a long time before I could say hello back. And now that I can say it back, I can’t stop.
There’s no Uber pool in the country. There is a taxi service that I take several times a week. When you ring you are put directly through to the taxi over the radio so anyone in the cab can hear the call.
There’s a natural pool with this taxi service. If it’s raining, they might ask if I’m okay to share with someone who might be stranded at the station. In the cab, there’s always chatter.
I’m back in Sydney for the summer – a summer spent floating alone in the Uber pool. But life has a funny way of upending your presumptions. Just as I was adjusting to the chilly temperatures of my fellow riders (and by extension damning the whole city as unfriendly scrolling zombies) I lost my laptop.
I had put it on the ground outside an apartment building while waiting for one of the Uber pools and in the race to get to the random corner to get the ride, I must have either left it on the ground or it fell out of my bag.
I went back the next day. I was, to put it mildly, devastated. Another laptop gone. All that work …
One of the people in the apartment – a stranger – was helping me find it. We knocked on all the doors. Then we saw a sign “LAPTOP FOUND”. And an apartment number and phone number. We both got so excited we jumped up and down. It was just like looking for George.
The stranger and I knocked on the other stranger’s door. This stranger had found my laptop and had kept it for me.
Later a text arrived in response to my thanks: “It makes me happy when people help each other. I wish you all the best in your life.”