It’s been three weeks since my goodbye on a Friday afternoon and I confess, this unexpected vacation is already beginning to take its toll. I’m still going through those initial emotions of anger and sadness, but then comes this whole secondary set of emotions: worthlessness, absence. I’ve already programmed my new phone, revised my resume, started setting up meetings with potential future employers. I’ve cleaned the kids room, organized the garage, and folded the laundry over, and over again. I can be as useful and proactive as I want, but none of that changes the fact that I get up in the morning with no workplace to go to. I imagine anyone who’s been there can tell you, it all wears on you. It does. The kids are in summer camp. The wife is at work. I’m not much for sitting around and waiting for the phone to ring. So I decided not to. I’ve heard a whole lot in the past few weeks about “going in a new direction” so that’s what I decided to do, taking the first step to put it all in the rear view mirror. Literally.
Here goes nothing.
So I went online and filled out a quick application. I downloaded the partner app to my iPhone. I uploaded my license, registration, and insurance documents. I submitted to a background check. I waited.
It was the first time the kids were genuinely interested in cleaning the backseat of the car. We found all sorts of treasures hidden back there. ALL sorts. I got the car washed and vacuumed before taking it for the inspection. They put it through all the tests: headlights, signals, horn. Everything passed, even that backseat. I passed the background check too. It all took less than 24 hours. Just like that, it was done. They handed me my welcome packet and that classic “U”.. the Uber U.
This TV news guy, in between career stops, unable to handle any more Law & Order reruns or court shows on daytime TV, had officially become an Uber driver. Yes. Me. Uber.
Truthfully, it all seemed so familiar. When I was a kid and my dad was on disability from his career as a high school English teacher, he became a taxi driver. I remember going along with him in the summer or on the holidays. The people he’d meet. The stories he’d tell. The pride of a hard day’s work when that log sheet would fill up. I remember it all. Yes, I also remember the occasional stares and second guesses from people we knew who wondered HOW a guy doing one thing was all of a sudden doing another. But he never cared or at least never showed it if he did. There’s no shame in doing what you need to do for your family.
So here I am. The newbie. I watched all the Uber training videos to be a 5-star driver. My kids thought it was cool. They suggested I keep cold bottles of water for customers. So I did. Uber suggested I keep a phone charger for people who might need it. So I did. I was as ready as I’d ever be. I dropped the kids off at camp in the morning and hit the button to go “online” which in Uber language means you’re on the clock. One ride chimed in. I let it pass to someone else. It was weird but I was really nervous. I’ve been in the booth during live TV breaking news events, for fires and earthquakes and chases, and all of a sudden THIS was giving me the butterflies. I knew I just needed to get that first ride done. Another one chimed in. I accepted.
I drove up with my Uber badge in the window, and picked up a woman named Gina. She gave me directions where she was headed just a few miles away. We talked about the weather and the incredible heat here in Southern California. She asked me how long I’d been with Uber. I told her she was my very first Uber ride.. EVER. She asked why I started driving and we talked about my job loss. It was a little heavy for small talk but I guess for my first ride, the “taxicab confessions” were coming from the FRONT seat instead of the back. We thanked each other as I dropped Gina off and went on my way. $2.92 in the bank. Gina gave me my first 5-star review. I’d make several more trips before calling it quits for the morning. Funny thing, LA traffic isn’t so bad when you’re being PAID to sit in it. Among the rides I had, a mom and son that I took to Children Hospital LA. It was a good reminder that there’s always someone who’s going through things far more difficult than you.
In the end, my Uber experiment was a success. Two hours in the morning. Four rides. $25 dollars earned. Over the next few days, a few more rides in my spare time, an extra hundred bucks in the bank. No I wasn’t getting rich quick. But I wasn’t sitting at home and WAITING to get rich either. It felt good to be doing something, anything, as I navigate this unexpected mid-career change. Truthfully, we’re the lucky ones. My family doesn’t need the money right now. We don’t. And I’m thankful for that. Maybe in a few months we will. But not now. For me it was just about getting out there to do something. Job number one is to keep researching and networking and interviewing with potential employers. I know my next newsroom or new career stop is out there. But just like I wasn’t afraid to rip scripts in the newsroom, or jump in to write stories, or even grab water for a guest when they needed it, this has been a good reminder that I can’t be afraid to try new things.
The week ended with my wife and I dropping a typical hundred bucks at Target on a bunch of things we sort-of needed. Only this time, I measured it in Uber rides. My old workplace fading away into the sunset in the rear view mirror as I go in this new direction. My new career somewhere down the road. I’ll get there.
LinkedIn: Peter Wilgoren
Read my other essays on this journey: