50 shades of Uber: Why they are driven to succeed

FILE- This March 1, 2017, file photo shows an exterior view of the headquarters of Uber in San Francisco. Uber has fired more than 20 employees after a law firm investigated complaints of sexual harassment, bullying, discrimination and other violations of company policies. An Uber spokeswoman says the firm Perkins Coie was hired after former […]

They come from many lands, including this one, and they drive for many reasons. Almost all have a story to tell. Here are a few, collected during the short rides I take twice daily.  Uber doesn’t provide drivers’ last names, and neither will I. 



Ibrahima has been in the States for eight years, an immigrant from Mauritania. His “full-time” job is at a garage where he works 40 hours a week, but he isn’t considered “full time,” so he gets no benefits. Driving for Uber is perfect for him because his work schedule changes from week to week.

Mauritania Flag

He lives in West Philly with a couple of other immigrants. He sends money to his family back home (he has become a citizen) and is saving so he can bring some of them over. He was quick to help me get in and out of his Nissan Altima.



Grace has a ponytail and a cute Jennifer Lopez accent. She had worked the miserable 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. shift for a local insurance company, but her supervisor was worse than the hours. She says he installed spy cameras in the workplace so he could watch staff from his home.

She had free time during the day and soon found she was making as much driving as she was from her full-time job, so it was bye-bye to insurance and hel-lo to Uber.



Nawfel drives a Honda Accord for Uber as his regular job, but his “other” job is “flipping cars.” An immigrant from Bangladesh, he buys cars at auction, fixes them up, and sells them. “Are you a mechanic?” I ask. “I learn to fix cars using YouTube videos,” he tells me.

Bangladesh Flag

Wow. His goal is to save enough money to begin flipping houses. Nawfel has drive, intelligence and ambition and will probably wind up being able to buy and sell me.



Desiree’s mother is a Philadelphia police office in the 23rd District in North Philly, near where she grew up. Desiree drives her VW Jetta after she finishes her job as an insurance broker in Bala Cynwyd.

She likes the perks of that job, such as taking clients to lunch, and uses Uber as an income supplement. Desiree wore big, fashionable sunglasses and showed a lot of concern about my ability to squeeze into the small back seat of her car.



When the Nissan Altima pulled up, I saw a handsome young man behind the wheel. Richard lives in Lansdowne and is a behavior therapist at a well-known local institute, where he works late afternoons and evenings. He drives Uber in the mornings to make extra money, important now that he has a new baby.

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I asked about his light accent and he told me he is from Liberia, the West Coast of Africa country founded by freed American slaves. He seemed delighted that I knew that about his country and that the capital, Monrovia, was named after James Monroe. His father worked in the government and when civil war broke out in the ‘80s the family found asylum in America. Richard has since become a U.S. citizen.



Driving his Honda Civic is Gurjeet’s main job. He came here from India after high school, admits he wasn’t interested in college, did a variety of jobs before settling into Uber.

India Flag

He just had his third daughter and fourth child, and Uber allows him to be Mr. Mom while his wife works as a nurse at Children’s Hospital. What happens when automated cars kill his Uber job? “I’ll think of something,” he says with a smile and American confidence.



Regina was terribly embarrassed when she drove her Buick Versa right past me and had to pull over up the block. She was driving only two months and hadn’t quite mastered it.

She drives in the morning because she’s still wired when she leaves her overnight job in West Goshen, where she’s an office worker. She’s also studying business management at Community College of Philadelphia, a subject she really loves — unlike psychology, which she tried earlier, but it wasn’t for her. “I had to go all the way through high school to start getting Fs?” she says, shaking her head.



A man of some 300 pounds that put a strain on the driver’s seat when he leans back, Abdul is from Ghana, where he served in the army. He speaks fine English, but pretends he can’t if he has a passenger he doesn’t like.

Ghana Flag

He has applied for citizenship and his plan is to utilize his military experience by joining the Marine Corps, understanding that can speed his citizenship dreams.

He figures he can drop most of his weight when he’s ready to enlist and the Corps will remove the rest in basic training. When I got to my destination, he hopped out of his Hyundai Elantra to help me out of the back seat.



Jean came from Haiti as a teenager and has lost most of the accent he brought with him.

Haiti Flag

We talked about the terrible poverty that grips Haiti, with Jean (pronounced Shon) laying the blame on the mulatto elites who are corrupt, he says, and don’t care about the country, which should be at least as prosperous as the Dominican Republic next door.

Jean has a master’s degree and when not driving his Toyota RAV4, he is a psychologist for the School District of Philadelphia.


He came here two years ago from Egypt with his wife and son on a visitor’s visa and then requested asylum.

Egypt Flag

He is a Christian and claimed persecution in Egypt, which is not hard to believe. Bahaa was granted sanctuary and now drives his Chrysler 300 for Uber.

His English wasn’t too good, but he was a professional back home, an architectural designer of some kind.  He had some bad things to say about Arab Muslims, not all Muslims, and wants to become a citizen here, because in America he is safe.



A polite young man, Koman came here six years ago from Mali to study business administration, starting at Temple (“it’s expensive”)  to learn English, as Mali is French-speaking. He then studied at Camden County Community College.

Mali Flag

His English is accented but understandable and his Ford Fusion was spotless.

He has applied to become a permanent resident. I suggested he apply for citizenship because, as a Muslim, he might have some difficulty under President Trump. He lives in West Philly and seems happy about his prospects.



His Toyota Camry was new, bought to be Brian’s Uber car exclusively. A retired Philly cop who worked the job 27 years, he moved to Cheltenham after retiring. “We didn’t downsize, we upsized,” he says with a laugh.

He’s been driving since September and likes it. In addition to the money, it keeps him active, and he was used to driving a lot during the years he was a cop.



Boureima came here 10 years ago from the small, landlocked nation of Burkina Faso, which has Africa’s third-greatest gold deposits, but not much else. It’s a former French colony.

Burkina Faso Flag

Before he started driving his Chrysler 300 for Uber, he worked in a body shop, and likes this better. He is planning to apply for citizenship, but his 6-year-old son, who loves to play soccer, is a natural-born citizen. Boureima asked his son if someday he would like to play for Team Burkina Faso. His son shook his head. “No, I want to play for Team USA.”



I was happy when the GMC Terrain pulled up, a really big car. Anthony jumped out to help when he saw my canes.

He had a Puerto Rico pennant hanging in his car and explained his father was born in Puerto Rico, but grew up in the Bronx. Anthony lived in New York for two years but came back because it’s too expensive.

His father was drafted by the Army in 1967, but joined the Marines instead because he didn’t want to be surrounded by people who didn’t want to be there (Vietnam) and wanted to get the best training possible.



He’s from Ivory Coast and drives his Kia Sorento under the name Al to make it easy for passengers.

Ivory Coast Flag

Al’s been here five years and just completed his studies in law at Temple. He is waiting to take the bar exam so he can start lawyering, possibly business law or immigration law.

He will become a citizen and suggests Western nations could reduce the flow of immigration by making conditions better and safer in Third World nations. I tell him he gives us too much credit because we have trouble fixing domestic problems.


I wonder who I will meet tomorrow?