Forest Park resident Tom Reich had been working as a real estate appraiser for 35 years until a year ago, at the age of 60, when he felt burned out. His daughter Elizabeth, who was living in Austin, Texas, told him about driving part-time for Uber, and the idea sounded like a welcome change of pace.
Since his wife, Kathy, was teaching and had health insurance, and with all three of their adult children being more or less on their own, the empty-nesters decided that Tom could give Uber a try.
“It was relatively easy to get signed up,” Reich recalled. “I did most of it online.” Uber required that he have a valid driver’s license, a four-door car that could seat four passengers, insurance paid up, and a smart phone for the Uber app. The company did a background check on him and he had to take his 2008 Honda Civic to a Jiffy Lube to have them certify it was safe.
Being a bit old school, he didn’t have a smart phone, so he went out and bought one, even though Uber would have rented him one for around $10 a month. Uber will even lease you a car with only $250 down if you prefer to do it that way.
“Uber was a good company to work for,” Reich said. “They paid weekly by direct deposit. If you had a problem you could go to one of their local offices to rectify it or email them. I didn’t really have much contact with the company once I settled in.”
Uber’s website declares you can “earn money on your schedule; drive when you want; earn what you need,” and that’s pretty much what the former appraiser did. Reich set his own schedule. He worked a lot on the weekends when tourists are flying into O’Hare and Midway and during the early morning rush hour. He said he heard other drivers say they made a lot of money during the late-night hours, but he didn’t want to get involved with intoxicated passengers.
He controlled his schedule. And when his Uber app beeped because he was the closest driver to the customer, a voice would say, “Do you want to ask this passenger?” He could refuse the fare, but once he accepted it, he had to follow through, even though the app never told him the passenger’s destination.
He made money, about $20 per ride during rush hour and on weekends and $12-15 during slower times. Uber withheld nothing from his check. They sent him a 1099 tax statement at the end of the year, making him responsible for paying all of the taxes at that time.
Being a sociable, outgoing person, Reich enjoyed kidding with many of his riders. He picked up one flight attendant who said she was a Sox fan, and joked that, being a Cubs fan, he was going to drop her off in the middle of the Kennedy Expressway.
She worked as a flight attendant on most of the White Sox charter flights to away games and noticed that the Sox weren’t very together as a team under Robin Ventura like they had been under Ozzie Guillen. They kept to themselves during the flight. She said her significant other is a pilot who has flown the Cubs on a charter flight, and that, in contrast to the Southsiders, the Cubs socialized with each other and were “having a grand old time.”
He remembered picking up international students from UIC who were returning to Egypt for their summer vacation after finishing their freshman year. “They had so much luggage,” he said, “I didn’t know how we would get it all in my Civic. That was an interesting ride. Somehow we stuffed it all in and made it to the airport.”
He also had a couple of unpleasant experiences, like picking up two young women from a beer fest near Union Station. One of them kept touching him from the back seat until he laid down the law. Another time, he picked up a man on the West Side who was acting “pretty erratic.”
“He said he wanted to pick up some prescriptions and spent most of the time on the ride to Walgreens on his phone using a lot of bad language. It seemed like he had mental health issues. I was so glad when we got to Walgreens, returned to his residence and he was out of my car.”
“I tended to avoid getting into political debates,” he said, “unless the rider thought the same way I did. Then we would talk for the whole 20-minute ride. One time I heard the couple in the back talking about buying a house, so as an appraiser, I had a lot to contribute to the conversation.”
About a year after beginning his Uber adventure, however, Reich called it quits and went back to appraising.
“I got out,” he said, “because my Civic has 160,000 miles on it and required repairs. That type of driving is hard on a car. I went back to appraising because there is more money in that profession, and because sitting in the car for long periods of time isn’t healthy. I’m the type of person who likes to move around after sitting for a while and appraising allows me to do that.”
Looking back, he said, “I’m glad I did it for a year. I have no regrets. It was a great experience and I’d recommend it.” He then added, “But I’m not going to do it again when I retire.”