You’ve probably been there. You’re in the middle of a conversation—on the phone or with a friend—when your ride pulls up. You hop in and keep the exchange going, forgetting where you are entirely until you reach your destination. You don’t give the interaction a second thought, but what about your driver?
If you’ve ridden in an Uber with Tom Vandel behind the wheel, he was listening. And he wrote it down, too. Vandel’s book “Driving Strangers: Diary of an Uber Driver” details his many interactions with the passengers he ferries around the streets of Portland.
“People have conversations [in my car] as if I’m a robot or something,” Vandel tells OPB. “They’ll say anything to anybody.”
Vandel, who also works as a freelance copywriter, teamed up with his friend Karen Wippich, an artist and graphic designer, to create the book.
“He was emailing me these little stories he’d written about the people who were riding in his car and I just kinda fell in love with them,” Wippich said. “I thought, ‘Wow these kinda go with some of my paintings.’ So I asked him if he wanted to make a book together.”
“Driving Strangers” combines Wippich’s collage-style portraits with Vandel’s writing to tell the (anonymous) tales of Vandel’s fares. Everything from a couple who broke up in his back seat to a rock star who drank too much before his own show gets the diary treatment.
Vandel may have a book out now based on his Uber passengers, but he doesn’t think that will change their behavior in the car. It won’t change his, either.
“I’ll always eavesdrop on what people are talking about,” he said.
So the next time you hail that Uber, remember that your driver may be listening.