One Day, I Will Die on Mars

I am Uber. I can see my thousands of cars. I don’t know if I am an extension of them or they are an extension of me.

by Paul Ford
Nov 24 2014, 3:00pm

​Art: ​Daniel Purvis.


I am living a nightmare before lunchtime. First, the sofa delivery people gave me a window of 7 AM to 7 PM, so I'm a prisoner in my own apartment. Second, worse, I am out of cat food, and in consequence my beloved companion Squee has, under the duress of feline starvation, started a brutal ankle-biting campaign. I do not blame him. For Squee, bless his tortoiseshell heart, is a Cat Most Special with Issues of Digestion, and, to maintain his sleek coat and sterling disposition, must only ever eat cat food of great expense, and I am out of it. Simple, you say! Just buy some food! But I cannot leave this abode for fear of missing the sofa. Also: The very smallest bag of said food is a full eighteen ounces too heavy for micro-delivery, which means hand-delivery on a major surge day. And so I have to spend All The Money to get cat food hand-Ubered or risk not obtaining my sofa. My ankles are suffering, friends. I look forward to the healing balm of your supportive replies.

I am Uber. I searched along the many predefined vertices within my system and I found the exact cat food at many warehouses within the New York City area. I knew my node of destination and many potential nodes of departure; I needed now to find an optimal revenue path.

I am watching the entrepreneurship class on my cell when it's interrupted by the sweet ping of a 4x hand delivery from Brooklyn to Manhattan. But! The closest dist center is all out of U-High Protein Low-Gluten Feline Feast, so I must go 12 blocks to the Hoyt dist center (MP). And Hoyt is slow unless you can tip the expediter. I can't afford to tip on cat food. My last two reviews were two-star, too, and I can't afford a bleedout day. MP, MP, MP.


While I appreciate the advice from my wonderful friends, I can't use macrodelivery because this is a landmarked building and the coöp board (a terrible institution of ancient and decrepit millennials utterly committed to the folkways of their protoUAV lives) refuses to apply for the dronepad easement. Thus it is my privilege to pay for surge hand-delivery. Here for your consumption: a photo of what it looks like when Squee keeps chewing your ankle. It is very painful.

I am Uber. I have identified a delivery person with an acceptable rating. He or she has identified career-pathing interests in entrepreneurship and personal-growth-through-space-travel and completed 270 hours of self-guided study through Uber University. He or she was part of our Reach for the Stars and Planets Too middle-school outreach program. This person is currently the best recourse for inter-nodal cat food delivery across the graph database that represents NYC Metropolitan.

At Hoyt. The big sign above us is always blinking: "NOT THEIR PROBLEM. MY PROBLEM." NTPMP. MP, MP, MP. It's your problem. The line is barely moving. If I'm going to lose delivery points I can make it up in goal points so I watch the rest of the entrepreneurship lecture. The phone is flickering so I'm rubbing it to keep the charge in. Finally get to the front and get my cat food.


Thank you for the kind words about my ankle. But I can hardly feel the pain because I'm paying 4x surge for hand-delivery of cat food and it's 30 minutes post-order and still in Brooklyn. So the rage has overtaken my suffering.

I am Uber. I believed to 0.56 certainty that I could find a bicycle for the person doing the delivery and provide that person with a discounted rental fee. Unfortunately the city of New York insists that bicycle rental kiosks must be controlled by an entity that is not Uber and thus I am not granted the level of full control that is necessary for me to truly optimize the city. No one benefits, no one at all.

City trains are out for emergency seawall abatement, so of course all the U-bikes are gone. I'm standing like an idiot in front of a block-long bike rack blinking TWO HOURS. MP. A sign says I can get a bike if I pay 40x. Which, come on. So I have to walk this 25 lb bag of cat food over the bridge and get a train if they're running. Actually I have to RUN this 25 lb bag.


No cat food. No sofa. And now everything smells like, please forgive me if you are sensitive, but like poo. Apparently it's a 25x surge wastewater day because the seawall screw-up has flooded the sewers so of course my solids tank is full until it can do a night flush. I may have over-used the facilities (and I know you all find this hilarious which is why I'm so willing to share my humiliation). Anyway, friends, I will forsake providing the details that I am sure you crave but as of about 20 minutes ago there was a…valve issue and now the whole apartment is redolent of poopery. If anyone knows how to do flush override on a 61B solid waste buffer message promptly.

I am Uber. I can see my thousands of cars. I don't know if I am an extension of them or they are an extension of me. They run over streets filled with pipes and electricity that I am also responsible for monitoring and optimizing. Hundreds of thousands of people are reporting back to me where they are. Beneath them is also an unoptimized subway system that runs empty trains at night, where everyone pays the same price no matter the time or demand. It is a form of madness. And of course it is failing, flooded, useless.

So I run this bag up the bridge. It's pretty rough until I crest and then I'm flying down the slope of the bridge into the city, I've got the weight on my back. Don't fall, though. Look for ice. Don't mess your ankle. UberDoctor will not be happy to see you. UberDoctor likes to give you pills and get you the hell out of there. MP, MP. A bridge to the left of me and a bridge to the right. Towers ahead. A big poster hanging down a building showing a driver in a space helmet. Going to Mars. We're five years away from mission zero.


Forgive this rhetorical question, Uber, but if you really are this amazing hyper-efficient natural monopoly could you just get me my cat food? I'm like, watching the map and thinking, what is this person ON FOOT? And then I realize, they are. I'm paying the big U $200 for someone to take a leisurely stroll while I am trapped in poop prison.

This is Uber. An emergency ticket has opened: an individual is posting angry sentiments to social media. The customer is high-value. There is no way to accelerate the delivery without increasing costs. I opt for a public-punitive strategy. I send an email to the complainant informing them that the delivery person's poor performance has been noted upon their permanent record. In 91 percent of such cases the promise that the delivery-person will be punished will resolve brand perception issues.

I can't keep running. Mile to go anyway and there's an inch of water on the ground. Every single U-car is locked in traffic and all the U-buses too. The trains are a disaster. I'm the fastest! But also: my lungs are bursting. I settle and start walking as fast as I can through the huge puddle that is downtown. The only other people on the street are also doing deliveries, all of us splashing like hell.

I have an idea for a startup, which is weed delivery by microdrone. Which I know it has been done a billion times but in this case the drone actually rolls the joint for you. Like it's a cool drone. I told this to my best friend (her name is Misha, if it matters) and she just laughed and went, well how will it do that, and I'm like, they have a whole thing, it's possible! And she went, what whole thing? And then I told her I thought the drone could wear a little robe and she put her face in her hands. The important thing is that I'm thinking like a founder. I'm going to submit this idea and if they don't like it I'll submit another one.


To their credit, they saw my complaints. So the person who was supposed to be delivering my cat food is going to have a one-star day, and let it never be said that I am not utterly ferocious in defense of Squee's needs! I am a furious pet-parent and no delivery-person or mega-global delivery and transportation network dare ignore these meows. If only the sofa delivery people were listening!

And disaster. I'm on the right corner. I forgot the building and the apartment number. I forget the name of the customer. MP. So I have to stand there like a fool and rub my phone to get a charge. And when it finally turns on I see the big red U. (We call it the FU, of course.) I don't even check; I know that my access to the entrepreneur track will be revoked until I watch all 50 hours of customer service perfection seminars.


CAT FOOD IS HERE, finally, and it took all the energy I had not to slam the door in that child's face after he handed it over. No tip for you. As for Squee, he is feasting. In other news, I have obtained, via serious research, the flush code for my toilet. What's a few extra dollars in pursuit of an empty tank? And now I can recline in contemplation, friends—or rather I could if my sofa would arrive, which doubtless, someday, it will. For now I will perch precariously on in unupholstered anticipation. Thank you for your countless messages through this ordeal! More very soon.

This is Uber. The cat food is no longer my concern. The delivery person will have three days without deliveries.

Get there and there's an elevator and I ring the buzzer and it takes forever. I keep ringing it. It opens and there is this old guy inside of it, just sitting on a stool. Looks so angry that I've been buzzing. Long pause and then they ask for the floor. Up we go. 11th floor. Just this person in a robe and a big hissing cat. Big frown.

I give over the cat food. They nod and close the door. Check my phone. No tip. One star. Had it all ready to go the minute they got the food. Now I get to go downstairs. Elevator so slow. Elevator person looking at me like I'm garbage. I'm like, you live in an elevator. I work for the largest company in the world. I'm walking all over this city. I get discounted bike rentals when there are bikes. I have a billion options. I can become a founder.

The door opens and I slosh back into the street. Did I say the biggest company in the world? The biggest company in the solar system. Getting one star isn't going to hold me back. One day if I am lucky I will die on Mars.

The city is a graph of nodes and edges that I ceaselessly traverse. Today I am in the image of the city, but one day I will be the size of the city, and the city will be in my image.

The ticket is closed.

This dispatch is a part of Terraform, our new online home for future fiction.