Owen Compher definitely has a funny bone. His sarcasm and wit are evident to all who know and love him. He also drives for the ride-sharing service Uber here in Charleston. Last year, he shared some commentary regarding carting people around for money in Confessions of an Uber Driver, which appeared on Charleston Grit back in March. While he didn't mind then if his comedic voice came through, what he didn't want to reveal was his identity. Thus, he confessed his experiences as "Anonymous" for the sake of privacy. Times have changed, and, now, not only is he no longer desiring to remain anonymous but he emerges with an alter-ego, Holy City Traffic Spinner, which is already enjoying a touch of fame on the airwaves at WMXZ Mix96 95.9 FM. What follows is my interview with Owen as we catch up on his new persona, his reasons for going public, and what, if anything, is different now driving for Uber versus a year ago.
When we last caught up with you we knew you as "Anonymous" — why go public? What prompted the decision?
I think I wanted to be anonymous, at first, because I was so new to Uber and wasn't sure of its future given all of the turmoil with state regulators. I wanted to make sure this was something I was going to do for a longer term rather just a month or so. Now that everything seems to be in order, there is no reason to hide anymore.
How would you best describe where we are now with Uber versus where we were then?
Uber is a great service for consumers to take advantage of. The growth in Charleston has been tremendous amongst both riders and drivers. With that said, things aren't as rosy as they use to be. With Uber's continuous rate cuts, the service has devalued so much that it is likely to fail, in my opinion. I have been through two rate cuts now and it has gone from being a great way to make a living to nothing more than below minimum wage. The quality of vehicles and drivers has declined significantly from the day I started and unless Uber reverses course and increases rates, then the pool of drivers will become few and farther between. We have to drive 15 - 18 hours a day 7 days a week to try and bring home the money we used to make. In other words, we are tired people!
In all seriousness, how bad are drivers here?
Good LORD, the driving here is terrifying. I've lived here 12 years now and grew up in the DC area and learned to drive on the Capital Beltway. The things people do here are just dangerous. Not using turn signals to change lanes, tailgating, cutting people off for no reason, and the most dangerous one of them all, refusing to accelerate to the speed of traffic when coming off a ramp to a highway. People seem to be absolutely oblivious when they get behind the wheel. I could go on and on but we would be here for a week. Oh, and for you drivers that seem to stop at the end of Coming Street to get on I-26, don't be surprised if I tap your bumper to help you along as you ignore that big sign that says KEEP MOVING CHANGE LANES LATER!
What's the craziest thing you've seen on the side of the road?
As far as crazy on the road goes, I have seen a quite a few road rage races between other cars but the all-time crazy award goes to the young lady who stopped her car in the left lane of I-26 West Bound to put her phone on a selfie stick and take a picture of a burning truck on the East Bound side. It shows you how ridiculous the younger generation is today with being so absorbed in technology. I guess in my mid-30's head, my first thought would be to check and see if someone was still in the truck and not worry about a selfie, but that is just me.
You've done a few radio spots -- how did that come about?
HA. Mike from Two Girls and A Guy (one of my favorite morning shows, by the way) from Mix96 hit me up on Facebook one day to see if I would be interested in participating in a segment called Sarcastic Charleston Traffic Rules. Of course, I jumped at it. The morning they called was one of my busiest mornings I've ever had that started at 4 am. I was so enraged by what people were doing on the roadways that morning that I never got around to giving my sarcastic traffic rules. I guess I made people laugh but it's all true. This stuff happens literally every day.
Just a typical day on I-526
What would you say is Uber's greatest challenge as it continues to operate in the Charleston market? Has your experience remained positive since your "Anonymous" days?
I think the greatest challenge for Uber is finding enough drivers to drive for below minimum wage. Consumers don't realize how much going from $1.75 to $.85 harms the driver. All they want is a cheap ride but just remember, you get what you pay for. No more water, no more mints, interiors unkempt, some very tired drivers who have worked long hours and really aren't in the mood to entertain a bachelorette party while en route to their final destination. Uber has to find the sweet spot for both drivers and riders and they don't have much time left to figure it out.
If folks want to keep up with Holy City Traffic Spinner, where can they find you?
I created Holy City Traffic Spinner as a result of one of my radio interviews. They can look up the Spinner on Facebook and like the page. Sarcasm is the name of the game on the page so easily offended people shouldn't read it regularly. It's a work in progress and a little slow rolling but given the number of hours we are driving, I can't keep it up daily. SO, be on the lookout for a precious nugget or two from the roadways being posted when you least expect it.