‘Captain Uber’ Turns Side Hustle Into Memorable Experiences

Aye aye, captain!

Local Uber driver Rustin Kreider has gone above and beyond to give his rides a unique experience that makes his car much more entertaining than a typical Uber. Every weekend when Kreider gets in his car, originally coined as “The Black Pearl,” and puts on his skipper hat, he takes on the persona of “Captain Uber” for the night.

With his minivan decked out from head to toe, Kreider provides more than just a quick ride from point A to point B, sitting around and twiddling your thumbs in awkward silence. Captain Uber transports you to a tropical island the second you hop into his car with LED lights, mini hula girls, leis, and, of course, skipper hats.

During weekdays, Kreider can be found at his home near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, working for a software company. However, on weekends, he takes the one-hour drive to State College to Uber students and locals around downtown and campus from Friday to Sunday afternoon.

Most weekends, rather than making the trek back to his home, Kreider will give as many rides as he can in one weekend — sometimes without stopping, depending on how many rides are requested and how tired he is.

“I give rides Friday through Sunday because that’s when [Uber’s] the busiest, and with the driving, it makes the most sense to spend most of my time during the busiest periods,” Kreider said. “Football gives a lot of volume… I might give four or five rides an hour and during the traffic times of a football game out to maybe two an hour. A real busy night is like six rides an hour. I give more rides to the hospitals than to the library and more to parties than classes.”

Kreider took on his side hustle in July 2018, hoping to make some extra cash. Little did he know, he would find himself taking on a new role in the Penn State community and entering his true calling. Although he knew he could stay local and give rides around the Harrisburg area, Kreider found that between the population of State College and the Happy Valley atmosphere, Penn State was the best spot to give rides.

“What I like about [Penn State] is just about everyone is out there having fun,” Kreider said. “They’re always nice rides, I feel safe. It’s not like the inner city, where you have to worry about a lot of crime. I’ve never really had an outright awful ride. I’ve never felt the need to kick anyone out, and I don’t think I’ve ever even refused to take someone. It’s just a nice atmosphere to give the rides.”

In the past six years, Kreider has accumulated roughly 14,700 rides, averaging 100 rides in a typical weekend. However, it wasn’t until the fall of 2022 that Kreider took on the “Captain Uber” persona.

After a rider wore a captain’s hat during one of his rides, a light bulb struck, suddenly giving Kreider the idea to spice things up a bit. At the time, Kreider already would wear a chauffeur’s hat and had LED lights set up, but he was inspired to enhance “The Black Pearl” even more. He bought a ship captain’s costume, coining the notorious name and forming a new brand for himself.

“Putting on that cap totally changed the experience,” Kreider said. “People started to have more fun with me. I’m always amused and tickled when someone gets into it… [Giving Uber rides] was nice before but that took it in a whole new direction. I’ve had people get in and say ‘I’ve heard about you.’ That didn’t happen before ‘The Captain’ was born.”

Courtesy of Rustin Kreider

Since the moment he took his side hustle to the next level, Kreider unknowingly changed the Uber game while also gaining attention from Penn State students. Through the grapevine, word got around about “Captain Uber,” making him a hot commodity when students request Uber rides.

“The rides are always fun, but a ride with me became an event,” Kreider said. “It became more than just another ride. I like creating memories and I feel that if being in my car creates a solid memory for you, then I’ve accomplished my mission to stand out and be different than the others. It makes my day if I make your day.”

On top of giving rides, Kreider has started purchasing sailor hats and coconut bras for Uber riders to buy, selling over 200 caps in just four semesters. Recently, he even upgraded the inside of his minivan with a karaoke microphone and a remote control horn underneath his hood that plays Penn State favorite “Zombie Nation.”

Over the years, Kreider has utilized Instagram to promote both students to get an Uber ride and the brand he’s created for himself. Kreider recently started to give his followers and riders behind-the-scenes stories about what goes on during his rides and also gives them shoutouts by posting what he calls “Uber Diaries.” He also promotes cash giveaways to some of the lucky students who get the chance to ride with him.

“I love being recognized,” Kreider said. “I thrive on the attention and the energy… I’ve had two people get in and say it’s been on their bucket list to ride with me, and it’s finally got to happen. It makes me feel like I am something. It makes me feel like I’m a part of the town and that I’m part of the fabric of the university life.”

With less than a week left of this semester, Kreider is estimated to reach 15,000 rides. However, he doesn’t plan to slow down there.

“I plan on doing this for the foreseeable future until Uber makes self-driving cars,” Kreider said. “I get such a joy out of it. I love bringing the happiness to people. I spend my week looking forward to driving Uber on the weekend. I joke that it’s the only way people get in my car willingly.”

Through giving rides around Penn State, Uber has become much more than a side hustle to Kreider. It’s become a passion, making the overall ride experience more of a priority than the money.

“The one thing I like about Uber is on a weekend, I’ll do between 25 to 30 hours of driving, and it does not feel like work,” Kreider said. “This feels almost like a hobby to me, and that’s what I love about it. I’m having fun, giving people a good time, and the bonus is I’m getting paid to do it.”

Kreider Captain Uber can be found giving rides around Penn State every weekend from around 8 p.m. on Fridays until Sunday afternoon.

“It’s such a natural high,” Kreider said. “The Captain persona just takes it to a new, great level. People see the hat and the lights and they’re like, ‘Oh, this isn’t just going to be another ho-hum ride.'”

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About the Author

Evan Halfen

Evan Halfen is a junior broadcast journalism major from Newark, DE, and is one of Onward State's associate editors. Evan loves all things Penn State, tailgating, being loud, just about any beach, and his puppies, Butterscotch and Wentzy. You can direct all your tips, roasts, and jokes to his Instagram: @evan.halfen or email: [email protected]

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