A new kind of con­nec­tion

A few cou­ples have found love via Uber’s car­pool ser­vice.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Living - By JA­SON LAUGH­LIN & SA­MAN­THA ME­LAMED

IT’S a meet-cute story that couldn’t have ex­isted just two years ago.

With­out Uber’s car­pool ser­vice, UberPool, in­tro­duced to Philadel­phia, the United States in Fe­bru­ary 2016, Nick Marzano and Melissa Schipke would never have shared a ride last De­cem­ber dur­ing a heavy down­pour, would never have started chat­ting – and would never be plan­ning a 2018 wed­ding.

“I’ve never met any­body that I con­nect with on so many dif­fer­ent lev­els, and I credit Uber for that,” Marzano said.

Ride-hail­ing apps have re­shaped the trans­porta­tion en­vi­ron­ment. Now with the ad­di­tion of UberPool, in which pas­sen­gers save money by shar­ing a ride with oth­ers head­ing in a sim­i­lar di­rec­tion, they have also cre­ated a novel play­ing field for the eter­nal hu­man pur­suits of love and com­pan­ion­ship.

These meet­ings by the glow of dash­board lights present an un­fa­mil­iar so­cial arena, said so­ci­ol­o­gist Eli­jah An­der­son, who an­a­lysed how ur­ban spa­ces shape ci­vil­ity, or the lack of it, in his book The Cos­mopoli­tan Canopy. They can be re­fresh­ingly egal­i­tar­ian, mix­ing peo­ple who might oth­er­wise never in­ter­act. They also cre­ate en­coun­ters that can be awk­ward, un­com­fort­able or worse.

Ride-shar­ing, An­der­son said, “brings out new op­por­tu­ni­ties for these rid­ers, but also chal­lenges or even dan­gers.”

Es­pe­cially when pas­sen­gers are un­der the in­flu­ence, he said, “there are no guar­an­tees”.

While rid­ers say that most Uber trips are un­event­ful, en­coun­ters are com­mon enough that Uber’s web­site ad­dresses them: “Don’t touch or flirt with other peo­ple in the car. As a re­minder, Uber has a no sex rule. That’s no sex­ual con­duct be­tween driv­ers and rid­ers, no mat­ter what.”

Nev­er­the­less, Uber driver Gary Dages has watched a few love con­nec­tions – and some near misses – un­fold in his rearview mir­ror.

Once, strangers he picked up in Manayunk made an instant con­nec­tion, and ex­changed phone

num­bers. An­other time, he said a man rid­ing in his car struck up a con­ver­sa­tion with a woman. Af­ter she got out, Dages re­called, “I said to him, ‘Why didn’t you get her num­ber?’ He kicked him­self for the re­main­der of the trip.”

Once the mo­ment had passed, there was no way to re­con­nect. “You snooze, you lose.”

Marzano, 35, and Schipke, 30, are both out­go­ing, civi­cally ac­tive and driven – and, as they quickly learned, they share plenty of mu­tual friends. They even once ex­changed a few mes­sages on the dat­ing app Bum­ble. But that never re­sulted in a date, and they didn’t recog­nise each other Dec 6, 2016, when they both walked out in search of a ride. He was get­ting out of work, and she was leav­ing an even. She was head­ing home. He was go­ing to a date.

“I looked up and was like, ‘Oh that guy’s re­ally cute,’” Schipke re­mem­bered.

When their UberPool, a Toy­ota Camry, showed up, Marzano got in the front seat and Schipke shared the back with an­other pas­sen­ger. The two re­mem­bered talk­ing over the other woman.

“I’m sure the en­tire time she’s just watch­ing this go down,” Marzano said. “We’re crack­ing jokes, fig­ur­ing out all the con­nec­tions we had.”

“The stan­dard flirt­ing,” said Schipke.

The two ex­changed num­bers and met for drinks a week later. About six months af­ter that, Marzano pro­posed. They’re hop­ing by get­ting their story out they’ll find one more name to add to the guest list – the man who drove the Uber the night they met.

Still, most Uber ro­mances aren’t ex­actly fairy tales.

Of­ten, they be­gin af­ter last call: A guy, hop­ing to squeeze the last min­utes of pos­si­bil­ity from his night, looks over and spots the most beau­ti­ful girl in the whole wide car.

Eli Jones, 22, once found him­self shar­ing a late-night Uber ride with a woman he had hooked up with once and never called. He tried to strike up a con­ver­sa­tion, angling for one more drunken li­ai­son. It didn’t work out. Aminda Leme da Silva San­tos said an Uber driver caught her at­ten­tion as she rode in a metic­u­lously kept red Cadil­lac to an ap­point­ment in South Philadel­phia.

He was tall with a deep voice, she re­called, and she no­ticed him glanc­ing at her in the rear view mir­ror. “I thought he was go­ing to ask for my num­ber,” Leme de Silva San­tos, 42, said. “He was tak­ing too long, so I asked him for his.”

They didn’t date for long, but she still thinks a car is as good a place as any to meet some­one.

“It’s all an op­por­tu­nity,” she said. “The bar is usu­ally worse, in my ex­pe­ri­ence, be­cause peo­ple are usu­ally drunk.”

But for ev­ery harm­less flir­ta­tion, there are un­wel­come ad­vances, or even per­ceived threats.

Some women have de­vel­oped strate­gies to cope with ag­gres­sive be­hav­iour. Katy Kopen­haver, 25, said a cou­ple of col­lege stu­dents were re­lent­less in hit­ting on her and a friend, con­tin­u­ally ask­ing ques­tions like, “Where are you guys go­ing?”

“I asked the Uber driver to drop them off first,” Kopen­haver said. “I didn’t want them fol­low­ing me.”

Men, too, de­scribed un­com­fort­able mo­ments.

He laughs about it now, but Max, 22, who de­clined to give his last name, said it got awk­ward when an in­tox­i­cated woman once spent a 3am ride try­ing to phys­i­cally pull him into the back­seat with her.

The driver was no help. “He was like, ‘You should go back there!’”

That said, some have found that the worst thing about Uber – that you re­ally never know who you’ll be get­ting into a car with – can also be the best thing.

And some­times, amid all that love, lust and leer­ing in ride-shar­ing, there are just de­cent peo­ple, look­ing out for one an­other.

Josh Mer­mel­stein, 27, was headed to his home one night when a woman, drunk to the point of in­co­her­ence, ended up in the car with him. Mer­mel­stein fi­nally coaxed her ad­dress out of her.

“I called a new Uber and put her in it, and sent her home.” he said. “I fig­ured it was good karma.”


Schipke, left, and Marzano met in an UberPool six months ago, and now they’re en­gaged. They are shown in front of an Uber ve­hi­cle they called to take them home.

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