The story below is from our July/August 2015 issue. For the DIGITALLY ENHANCED VERSION of this story download our FREE iOS app or view our digital edition for FREE today!
Out there tonight, while you're calling a cab or waiting on a friend, others are on their smartphones, in touch with the screen of a car like yours or mine, about to provide the ride.
uber- Syllabification: u ber
Denoting an outstanding or supreme example of a particular kind of person or thing, Origin: German, from über, meaning over, beyond
(Definition taken from oxforddictionaries.com)
In an undisclosed location on a Friday evening in the Roanoke/Blacksburg area, Uber Rob* and I sit in his small-sized SUV, waiting for his next call. It doesn’t take long; Fridays are hot Uber nights around here. The iPhone mounted to his dash starts beeping loudly and steadily. The screen lights up with a countdown from 10 inside a circle that flashes red with each beep and grows smaller as the number count decreases. It takes all I have not to touch the screen myself worried that catastrophe might strike if we let it hit zero. But not Uber Rob. He does his quick checking to make sure it’s a call he wants to take, then hits the screen in the center of the circle disengaging the countdown and activating the phone’s navigation system. My James Bond moment is over. Uber Rob pulls out of his undisclosed location and we follow the navigation system’s directions to pick up his first of dozens of Friday night riders.
This is Uber. Everyday people using their own vehicles to shuttle other everyday people who need rides from Point A to Point B. It’s sorta like a taxi service, but it’s not. It’s sorta like calling up your friend and asking if he can pick you up from the airport, but it’s not that either. It’s called “ridesharing,” but it isn’t free. In fact, Uber is a little difficult to define. It’s better understood in process.