“This fish must have died five years ago!” I muttered under my breath. The restaurant at the Hilton in Orlando was almost empty at this late hour, so I assumed nobody would hear me. I had ordered the Florida Yellow Tailed Snapper. Presented whole, bones out, lightly fried, with Hoppin John rice, Jicama slaw and Tabasco butter!
It had been a long day. My flight to Orlando had been cancelled and I was given the option to take either the 14 hour journey via Boston and Charlotte, or take the 2 hour flight to Tampa and then figure out the last 100 miles! So I had flown to Tampa. Obviously.
I thought of renting a car and driving the 100 miles. Then I thought of the hassle of renting in Tampa and returning the car at the Orlando airport, then taking a cab to my hotel. It would be a hop skip and jump. I decided to take an Uber instead. Obviously!
In less than 90 minutes I was in Orlando. A pleasant and comfortable ride. At half the price of a taxi. I thought to myself, there must be a great supply of Uber drivers that was pushing prices down and making the wait times shorter and shorter. But more on that later.
I checked in to my hotel quite late and then realized I was starving. It was past dinner time and restaurants were either closed or closing. So the only option I had was to make a dash for the in-house restaurant downstairs.
“Is everything Ok sir…” the smartly dressed waiter had appeared from nowhere, he must have heard me complaining.
“Oh nothing really…I was wondering what to pair this nice looking dish with.” The fish was indeed looking nice. Great for uploading a picture to social media and making my brother jealous. But in reality it was tasteless.
“Sir, may I recommend a glass of Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay, or perhaps the Joel Gott Sauvignon Blanc…” he looked at me curiously as my expression changed from wide enthusiasm to sudden disdain. All of a sudden he read my mind. He knew that I knew that he would be serving me the flat tasting remnants of a bottle of wine that had been opened in the distant past.
“Or I can run upstairs to our lobby bar and see what we have on tap…would you care for a Sam Adams Boston Lager or perhaps a Hop Gun IPA?!”, he was grinning now.
“The IPA please” I winked at him as he took the order. He had demonstrated to me that he deserved his tip, despite the tasteless fish.
Later I realized the hotel was right next to Disney Springs where there are plenty of restaurants providing a wide variety of cuisine from around the world. This could be one reason the restaurant at the hotel was not too busy.
It was basic supply and demand. Without enough demand, the inventory of fish was bound to get stale!
Many would associate Orlando first with the legendary theme parks and only secondly as a conference destination. But in reality Orlando is one of the top places for a conference, not just because of its large convention center that can accommodate thousands and provide over 2 million square feet of exhibition space but also hundreds of hotels and resorts around it that provide roughly 120,000 rooms. There are more than 5000 hotel rooms that are connected to the convention center via covered walkways making it quite convenient for conference attendees. Also the airport is quite traveler friendly and it connects to more than 100 cities around the world with non-stop flights. Add to this the year-round tropical weather, and you know why it is such a popular destination.
After my meetings were over I had called for an Uber to take me back to the hotel. The guy who showed up was middle-aged, and really nice to talk with during my ride. He had worked at reputed companies such as Motorola and knew a lot about technology. We talked about Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning! Being an Uber driver in Orlando kept him quite busy and he said he kept learning new things from his conference attendee passengers, and meanwhile he made good money. He may never have thought of driving a taxi, but driving his own limo around the city while having great conversations was certainly a good way of earning money. Impressed by his knowledge and his pleasant attitude, I requested him to pick me up the next day for my ride to the airport.
He showed up promptly on time the next day. I put my bag in the trunk and got inside the car. It was only then that it occurred to me that I should formally order his service via Uber. So I said to him to be ready to accept as soon as I placed my request in the Uber app. I was already inside his car so it seemed to be a no-brainer that he would be the closest driver found by the app.
But funnily enough, there was another Uber driver who picked up the request before him and the app asked me to go with that other driver. The other Uber driver was waiting outside the hotel actively seeking a passenger!
For a moment I was faced with this dilemma. Should I just cancel the Uber request and continue with him to the airport or should I take the other car that the app had assigned to me. If I canceled the Uber request there would be a penalty, and there was the other issue that my Uber driver did not have a metering mechanism. After all I did request him to come the previous day. I would have to negotiate a flat rate with him. Perhaps not even get a receipt. I didn’t have to think too long. The Uber driver was voluntarily letting me go to the other car. At first he wouldn’t take it, but out of guilt I forcibly paid him a tip.
I justified to myself that he would get another passenger soon. After all this was a busy place. If the demand at that time was not high and he didn’t get a passenger and had to wait – then he would perhaps be analogous to the stale fish.
On my ride to the airport I couldn’t help thinking what a difference this was from the belligerent and greedy lot of taxi drivers one has seen in life. This is a welcome disruption. Meanwhile an amazing level of Uber density has built up in a short period of time in Orlando. This high density could be matched only with a high volume of requests coming in all day. I was thinking about supply and demand again. It applied to Uber as well as fish.