[Day 72] San Francisco’s Chatroulette on the Go

Living a non-driving adult life in the Bay Area means that I will have to Uber a lot. On an average day, I take two Uber trips, and on days when I go out, I’d easily make 5 or 6 trips. In San Francisco, Uber has “UberPool” in which you share an Uber with random strangers. I always feel slightly excited whenever I take an UberPool because you never know who you are going to meet.

As my friend Tucker put it, UberPool is like a chatroulette on the go. With San Francisco being the heart of all kinds of ideologies, movements, tech, arts, expressions and the home of all kinds of people: startup founders, software engineers, activists, artists, chefs, new age bums, hipsters, nouveau riche, old rich, you never know who you are going to meet.

In San Francisco, it’s unacceptable to be so close to someone without talking, so almost everyone I share an Uber with strikes up a conversation. It could be anything from a short, courteous “How are you?” to something more substantial like “Are you going out tonight?” and take it from there.

An Italian chef with an elaborate handlebar mustache and holes all over his body–I later found out he worked at the expensive restaurant Acquerello–gave us recommendations for the best Italian places in town. A realtor in Bellevale tried to convince us that the only good place around to buy a house now is Bellevalle, and if we ever want to buy a house, give her a call. Once a guy entered our Uber reeking of weed, so naturally, we asked him for weed-related advice, and he did. A guy pitched his startup idea to me–a Yelp-like location service–and I ended up downloading his app.

I haven’t heard of people trying to recruit through UberPool, but given the fact that Silicon Valley recruiters having been quite aggressive on Tinder, it wouldn’t be long before people start passing around business cards on Uber.

One thing I notice is that the UberPool crowd is often very young, everyone is in their 20s or 30s. Older people either don’t live in the city, don’t go out, don’t Uber or if they uber they don’t pool. Many of them are single and ready to mingle. It has never happened to me, but I have seen people getting along on an Uber and exchanging numbers. A guy asked me if I had a boyfriend and if I wanted to hang out sometime. And of course, UberPool also made it to Missed Connections on Craigslist.

learn365project_uberpool.pngEven though I live here, I don’t know a lot of people who were born and raised in San Francisco, and thus I never knew how bitter the natives are about the expansion of Silicon Valley. One day, I was sharing an Uber with two white, well-dressed professionals in their early twenties and they were talking about “those immigrants coming in and destroying their city”. In the heat of their arguments, they turned to me and asked: “Don’t you agree with me?”, and I was like: “Can you not tell by my look and my accent that I’m one of those immigrants?” The girl, rather embarrassed, tried to fix it:

“Oh no, I didn’t mean you. I mean all those software engineers who talk tech tech tech all the time.”

“Did you just assume that I’m not a software engineer because I’m a girl?”

Man, I love using that card.

Even though San Francisco prides itself on its diversity, there is always some subtle racism. My friend Negi and I once rode in an Uber with an Asian American marketer who had an opinion about everything: Trump, PokemonGo, Stanford students, even the Indian rum brand Old Monk. He was loud, chatty and had a great laugh. When we passed by a long line of people waiting at the bus stop, he stuck his head out of the window and screamed: “Hey I got place on my roof.” I love it.

It was an hour ride so we got to talk a substantial amount. One thing led to another, and out of nowhere, he dropped this bomb: “You’re so gorgeous all the white boys will love you.”  Where did this come from? We hadn’t talked about race or even hinted at race. I wonder if “the white boys” came up because he assumed I was only interested in “white boys” or because he implied that if “white boys” liked me then “non-white boys” would also like me? And how does he even know what “white boys” like?

I kept those questions to myself. As we zipped into the night, joining thousands of young, excitable San Franciscans who happened to be on the road at that same time, I felt a strange connection with this city. Maybe I don’t hate Silicon Valley that much after all. Maybe there is still some hope.

[Day 72] San Francisco’s Chatroulette on the Go

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