A mom, dad and daughter slide into the backseat of Jake Davis’s silver Infiniti, parked in the small circular drive in front of MIA Uptown. Their bag of leftovers fills the sedan with the smell of Italian food.
“Hey guys, how’s your night going?” Jake asks.
He asks this of all of his passengers when they first get in. He does it to be polite and to make conversation, but also to gauge whether or not they’re up for socializing. Some passengers like to talk, others are just trying to get from one place to the next.
The family starts laughing.
“Oh, you know,” the mother begins, “we had a nice dinner, had a trip to the emergency room…”
“Wait, what?” Jake asks.
Before dinner, their son tried drinking from a broken bottle, a stunt that landed him in the emergency room to get stitches.
“And he’s still going out tonight,” the mother added.
“He’s a hockey player,” the father said, chuckling. “He’ll be fine.”
Jake dropped them off at the Hampton Inn and said goodnight.
But for Jake, the night is just beginning.
It’s a Saturday night. Jake has an open can of Mountain Dew resting in his cup holder — a small dose of caffeine for the long hours ahead of him.
He begins driving at 5 or 6 p.m. every day. On weekday nights, he’ll stop around 10 or 11 p.m., when students have finished their evening trips to Walmart and Kroger.
But on the weekends, it’s possible to be out until 4 a.m.
It’s 45 degrees outside according to the thermometer inside Jake’s car, but his passengers say it feels much colder. Even though March has just begun, there’s a chill in the air from the last traces of winter.
Jake can’t complain, though. The colder the weather, the less inclined people are to walk and the more people call for an Uber.
He’s been driving for just over an hour. In that time, he’s picked up about a dozen passengers.
A mom and her daughter from the Comfort Inn to MIA. The mom was visiting from Chicago for Delta Gamma’s mom’s weekend.
A father to pick up his son from his house, and then both of them back to Buffalo Wild Wings. Both of them are from Oklahoma and members of the Myaamia tribe.
A student from Level 27 Apartments to No. 5 for dinner. He’s originally from China, but he and Jake share a love for Boston.
A guy and girl from New Bar to Richard Hall. It was hard to tell if they had known each other before or if they just met that night in a drunken encounter.
A girl in a flowy, pale pink blouse and dark jeans. She was carrying a red reusable shopping bag full of bottles that clinked together when she shifted her weight in the backseat.
The map of Mile Square on Jake’s phone is highlighted in red. This marks the surge zone, an area where it’s busier than normal and the demand for Uber drivers is greater than the supply.
He’ll get paid double the normal rate, sometimes more.
Most nights, driving an Uber pays around $17 per hour. On weekend nights, he gets paid up to $30 per hour.
His day job, on the other hand, hasn’t paid him in two months.
During the day, he works as a salesperson for Aflac, selling insurance to businesses door-to-door. He only gets paid in commission — 40 percent for each person’s premium. The unpredictability of his pay is as frustrating as it is inconvenient.
He got the job after he graduated from Miami’s Hamilton campus in the spring of 2017 with a degree in small business management.
At 27 years old, Jake is older than most recent college graduates.
On the first night of his freshman year in the fall of 2009, he passed out drunk in front of his dorm room in Emerson Hall. His RA found him and claimed that he couldn’t wake him up.
Jake woke up to a police officer asking if he was okay. He received a violation for underage drinking and was suspended.
That summer, he was arrested several times for underage drinking. The judge gave Jake a choice: He could either go to jail for 60 days or go to a court-ordered rehab facility in Florida.
“I was like, ‘Is that a choice? I’m going to Florida,’” Jake said.
He spent 65 days in rehab before moving to a halfway house. He stayed in Florida for two more years to work at Wyndham, a resort chain, before moving back to Ohio in 2011 because he wasn’t satisfied with what he was doing. He didn’t feel like he was progressing at all.
He picked up various construction jobs and other temporary gigs, and went back to Miami for a few semesters to earn his Associate’s Degree in Psychology.
In 2013, he applied to the Professional Golf Association Apprentice Program to pursue some type of career in golf. To become a part of the program, he had to pass a golf player ability test. Jake had played golf through his teenage years and spent the summer practicing. You don’t have to be a pro, but you have to be good.
Jake was working at the Oxford Country Club when he passed the player ability test in 2015. With this new official apprentice status, he began looking for promotions within the country club and related jobs elsewhere, but every position required a bachelor’s degree.
Jake began driving for Uber in mid-February. For the most part, it’s easy — all he really has to do is drive and talk to people, two things he enjoys doing.
Still, there have been some bumps in the road.
In the busy streets of Uptown Oxford, it can be hard to tell who is a waiting passenger and who is loitering.
“Uber?” Jake calls out his rolled-down window at passersby. They’ll give him confused stares before shaking their heads. When it’s dark out, it’s especially hard to tell who his passenger is supposed to be.
He’s gotten stopped by the police twice.
Once, outside of New Bar, he pulled into a spot for taxis only to pick up a passenger. A police officer tapped on Jake’s window and gave him a $25 parking ticket.
The other time, Jake was driving passengers around Hamilton when his car was mistakenly identified as a stolen vehicle. The officer made Jake get out of his car and sit in the back of the police cruiser.
After a long night of driving, Jake cleans out the back seat of his car. Pretzel crumbs. Loose sequins. A push pin. He’s especially confused about how that got there.
“I don’t know who was doing arts and crafts in my car,” he said with a chuckle.
To top it all off, he found some vomit caked onto the outside of one of his back doors. He suspects it was one of the girls in a group of six that squeezed into his sedan.
Jake has lived in Oxford for nearly his entire life.
Well into his 20s, he thought he’d have moved elsewhere by now — a bigger city, back to Florida or at least Cincinnati.
Oxford is small. Too small for his big dream.
Jake’s wants to build golf courses one day.
He calls it his “Everest Goal.” A goal that at first sounds like an impossible feat, but seems more attainable when you list out the steps it will take to get there.
He doesn’t know if he will ever achieve that goal — he knows how unrealistic it sounds — but it gives him something to work towards.
“You think you’re going to do something, and then something happens and you’re in the opposite direction, and then before you know it, it’s five years later and you’re doing completely different things.”