Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Uber Chicago Review (alternative title: Uber Uber Alles)

Last Friday night my wife and I went to my firm's holiday party here in Chicago.  The party itself was held at the Adler Planetarium, which I had never been to (mostly because I don't think they do late night Zeppelin or Pink Floyd laser shows)

However, I knew exactly where the Planetarium was, because I used to run there when I lived near the Loop.  The best part of the run was turning the corner on the Planetarium peninsula, which juts into Lake Michigan.  As you turn you get a fantastic view of the Chicago skyline.

Of course that fantastic view, the one of all the tall buildings in Chicago, only exists because you're extremely far away from everything.

That's where the question of transportation came in.

It was easy enough to get to the holiday party.  We took a taxi (because I was definitely not planning on staying sober).  We hopped in a cab and had the following coversation:

Us: "Take us to the Adler Planetarium please"

Driver: :::mumbled gibberish:::???

Us: "Um...the Adler Planetarium?"

Driver:  Add-Rur Pranet-A-Rium???

We couldn't tell if he understood us, but he was clearly having problems and I'm not sure he knew where or what the Planetarium was

Us: "Yes, the Planetarium.  It's near the Field Museum? By Soldier Field?"

Driver: "Oh, Field Museum?"

Us: "Sure, near the Field Museum is fine"

Driver: "OK!"

:::One minute passes:::

Driver: "Oh! Add-Rur Pranet-A-Rium!  Yes!"

Apparently he just needed to start driving and the epiphany came to him.  So he drove us down there, and after the various charges and tip we were out $15 for the ride, which I guess was normal (there was a good amount of traffic)

Fast forward a few hours to when we're trying to leave the party, along with another couple dozen consultants, spouses, and entourage members.  Remember how I mentioned the Planetarium was far away from everything?  That creates a bit of a problem when you desperately need a cab out of there along with everyone else.

The firm had thought that might be a problem, and so they had arranged with cab companies to have cabs on standby.  But unfortunately, that didn't appear to be the case (they may have very well all taken passengers and gone)

But that still left a ton of us standing there, with nothing but a shut down Planetarium for fun (the optimal time for those Pink Floyd shows, I would argue)

I quickly went to my phone and loaded up the Taxi Magic app, which had saved me a couple times on late nights at the office.  I requested a pickup, and waited, and waited, and waited.  Usually the dispatcher confirms a car relatively quickly, but clearly not this time.

After a few minutes, I grew impatient.  We had a bunch of other people with us who were all also trying to call cabs, and nothing seemed to be working (clearly cab drivers didn't have huge incentives to drive all the way out to the Planetarium late on a Friday night)

So I finally decided to try Uber again.  Uber is the phone app which allows you to book towncar/limo service.  They promise a simple solution to get you a driver and arrange payment to your credit card with no hassle.  Only problem is the one time I tried using it in Manhattan (admittedly in a thunderstorm in the West Village) it hadn't worked at all.

But maybe tonight would be different?  As it turned out, it was a completely different experience and may have converted me to Uber entirely.

I put in my request for a car to my location, and almost immediately got a confirmation that my driver, Zoltan, would be bringing a black towncar to pick us up.

Let's leave aside the fact that the guy's name was Zoltan, I got a confirmation almost immediately and could see him on my phone's map less than half a mile away.  Taxi magic offers the same map, but I've never had it work as well as Uber's did.  I could see mini-Zoltan making his way closer to us at the Planetarium.

Then I got a text notifying me that he was almost there.  Of course, I knew that anyway because I couldn't tear my eyes away from mini-Zoltan on the map.  But it certainly was nice of them.

Not more than a few minutes after placing the request, Zoltan arrived, towncar and all.  The four of us got in to a pristine automobile, and Zoltan proceeded to take us to the next party somewhere in River North.

As we got to our destination, I asked him how I was supposed to pay (having never used Uber before).  I assumed I had to sign something?  Scan a bar code?  Show a credit card?

Nope, Zoltan replied.  It was already taken care of on my credit card.

So we got out and went straight to the party.  Later that night (or the next morning), I got an email from Uber with my receipt.


So for only $8 more, I got an absurdly clean car, that came directly to me and picked me up, and I didn't have to fumble around paying with an automatically emailed receipt?

Yes.  Definitely something I'll consider using again in the future.

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