- Maria Gavilano is a 53-year-old Peruvian immigrant who moved to New York City in 1993. She lives in Queens and has been a full-time Uber driver in New York City for nearly four years.
- She drives passengers to and from their destinations in all five boroughs, and is an essential worker who has helped people get where they need to go throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Gavilano's shifts usually last from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m., and she takes a few minutes between each ride to disinfect her car for every passenger.
- Here's her story, as told to freelance writer Lola Mendez.
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When the COVID-19 pandemic started I was scared and sad. I kept driving for Uber because I need to provide food and shelter for my 16-year-old son and help my family in Peru, including my 96-year-old mother. I became an Uber driver because I love to help people. So continuing to work was the only option. I owe the bank for the car and have a monthly payment and car insurance.
I was focused on making sure I could provide for my child and pay my bills. I wasn't thinking about any danger. I would've been sad to think about what could happen. I've gotten a few COVID-19 tests, luckily they've all been negative.
Before every shift, I get the car washed thoroughly inside and out at a professional car wash
I clean before and after every ride. This isn't required by Uber but I feel it's safer for me and my customers. I clean the seats, floor, seatbelts, everything. It takes a little more time, about three minutes, but I want my passengers to feel comfortable. It affects how much I earn because the delay adds up. Uber sent me masks, Clorox wipes, and disinfectant spray. I bought Lysol and hand sanitizer myself, and use a lot of it.
Passengers want to know if the car is clean and I want them to feel confident that it is clean, so I roll my window down and offer them Clorox wipes before they enter the car. They really appreciate it.
When they get into my car, I make eye contact as I greet them. The sooner you see a person's eyes, you can feel them. Often, I can tell they're afraid, sad, and confused. Sometimes they share they've lost their jobs. Lately, people want to talk more, they want to share their feelings. People are more open now.
I always ask if they want to open the window. Fresh air is very important, it's good to circulate the air. No one has ever said they'd rather keep the windows up.
After the passenger leaves, I disinfect everything again. Anywhere they've touched, I clean.
I always wear a mask and my passengers must wear masks too
One passenger refused to put on her mask (even though as required by Uber) because she didn't believe in the virus. So, I canceled the ride. I never do that because I'm polite, but I have a child and this virus is serious. If she doesn't care about her life, she doesn't care about others.
I've seen lots of creative masks. One lady had an amazing mask that looked like a diamond. A guy had a mask that looked like he was in Star Wars. Some cover their face with a scarf.
The first time I drove someone to the hospital during the pandemic, I was scared.
I had a customer who couldn't breathe. I picked up another older customer from the hospital. I don't know why the hospital let him go. He told me he had coronavirus. I opened the windows when he started coughing.
Lately, I've been picking up people coming and going from work or bars. People are getting back to normal.
I usually drive every day from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Every night is different; no night is the same. Things have been slow these last few months, and I've started driving earlier in the afternoon. Business was down in March, so I'd start in the morning. On any given day, I have up to 25 rides. When I get home, I take off my clothes right away and take a shower. If my son is awake, I don't hug him until I've showered.
Adapting hasn't been too challenging for me. I stay positive because life is all about changes. I have to adapt and be grateful for what I have. The pandemic is a tragedy, but I'm grateful to have a job. I know people who have had businesses close and are jobless.
I'm tired from everything we've been through. I've heard a lot of sad stories from my customers. I carry their pain. I'm taking care of myself and am healing from these very heavy months. I'm blessed to have a job; it keeps me going knowing that I can help people.