An Uber Encounter, An Epiphany

The probability of ever getting a ride on the same cab with the same driver in Singapore, within a month, is approximately less than 5%, assuming 15 rides per month and official statistics as of August 2015: the current fleet of taxis in SG being 28,404, with 2 or 3 shift-based cabbies are tied to a vehicle (~70,000 drivers), and P(n,k)=1−(n!/n^k(nk)!).

Don’t quote me on that. Math was never my strong point. Plus the statistics of which is not important to the story I’m about to tell.

Couple of nights ago: 4:35am 

I start my workday at the wee hours of morning, at the end of a typical graveyard shift. As always, I book a cab from  Uber or GrabTaxi, with the former being my preferred app, right before stepping out from the door. The driver was already waiting for me  at the sheltered drop-off. When I get in, he says: “Hello. Remember me? I drove you. Last last week.”

He’s a bespectacled Malay man in his 50s. Although he does not smile or look me in the eye as he revs up the car, his verbal acknowledgement was already a nice gesture.

“Yea I remember!” But honestly I don’t.

“You know how I remember? I see same pickup address, you also going to Central, and I see your Dad – downstairs to see you off, just like last time. I think to myself – same one!”

I laugh. That’s right. Uber drivers between 2 – 5am in my residential area revolved around the same handful anyway. It’s no surprise he’s driven me twice.

“Why you go to work so early? F&B?”

And so goes the long explanation of why despite working in a corporate office, I’m part of a team of shift-work warriors.

The cabbie laughs at this point, says “You must be earning more than usual la. This kind of timing you work, so hard, how you sleep in the afternoon?”

And we go back and forth with ways we both try to stay awake. His shifts are from 4ish in the morning to 3pm. The conversation shifted to his daughter who works at the DNATA, Changi Airport, who’s shift only ends a little past midnight. By the time she reaches home, it’s usually 2am.

“You see, your father come downstairs send you to work. Very sweet of him. I also, want to send my daughter to work, but no chance la. We difference shift. Everyday only see her 1 or 2 hours, if I wake up early, otherwise, don’t even see her.”

“Do you send her home sometimes?”

“No la, airport provide transport. She la, follow my footsteps. I also work at airport DNATA for 20 over years before becoming a taxi driver. She always wanted to work at airport. Her choice la. Want to spend time with her, I wake up 3 hours earlier to eat with her. She supper I breakfast. Sometimes I wake up, she too tired, she just sleep. Cannot spend time together.”

And then it dawned on me: perhaps dad just wants to spend a little more time with me. When I was a stewardess and even now as an analyst working on shifts, Dad makes the effort to get out of bed at the most insane timings, whenever it’s dark and creepy outside, just so he could (a) help me with my hugeass luggage, (b) make sure I don’t get attacked by stray dogs in my hood, (c) prevent me getting kidnapped, even though I’m physically more able to drop-kick somebody in comparison to my Dad, and (d) take down the taxi car-plate, remember the taxi driver’s face and flash cabbies the ‘nobody-messes-with-my-daughter’ face, in case somehow I do end up missing. Perhaps it’s all of the above, and a very simple fact that he just wishes to spend a little time with me.

For 2 years, I was never chatty while waiting for my taxi. I was always anxious to report for flight. Usually I’d taken too long to pack/makeup/paint my nails/eat or just plain procrastinated till the last minute. Sometimes, being the headstrong independent person I tend to be, I got impatient and insisted on rolling the luggage by myself as I am very used to carrying my own luggage. But thinking back, there was never a time I was left alone to wait for taxis by my own, in the dead of the night. My almost 70-year-old Dad waits with me.

It’s crazy how lucky I am for this little sacrifices (of sleep and time) from my loved ones. I’d taken these acts for granted., thinking Dad would always be my ‘cab companion’, so instead of talking to him, I’m usually too tired and grouchy to speak, having been disrupted from a healthy night’s sleep. Maybe another time. Just like how the cabbie’s daughter falls asleep thinking that there’d always be another supper with her daddy, when her dad has already woken up prepared to spend time with her. But what I often forget, is that just like how the cabbie sacrifices his sleep to see his daughter, Dad wakes up in the middle of the night to see me off too.

Often we don’t get the luxury of the same chances, over and over again. And because I do, I’ve been really blessed.

Amazing how a simple chat with an Uber driver could bring such clarity.

Viktoria Jean

P.S. On a side note, I was in Bangkok for a short getaway last week, and instead of hailing cabs off the street, I used UberX for all of my solo transport needs. Guess what? Each trip (albeit only within central Bangkok) amounted to about 50-90THB, which was SGD$2 – 5. I literally grabbed UberXs every single time, even for short distances from Nana’s Place to Terminal 21, or even though I could have taken the metro. Spoilt for choice!

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