Monday, June 25, 2018

Drive Me Crazy

In these dank times, it's easy to forget some of the good stuff happening in the world.  Like how, in Saudi Arabia, women were finally allowed behind the wheel of a car.  This makes it legal, worldwide, for women to drive, and will lead to the creation of about 5,000 jobs in Saudi Arabia, according to the Arab News.

You go, girl!
No, literally go.
The light's green.
What are you doing?

I happen to like driving immensely so I'm pretty pleased to see this little token of equality.  As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."  

You might think this post is going to be about ladies in Saudi Arabia, but it's not.  It's actually about driving.

 Although, if any Saudi Arabian women are reading this, 
please acquaint yourself with this critically important hand gesture before getting on the road. 

 Also learn this face.

See, I have a lot of free time since I began freelance writing and one of my newest hobbies is actually driving Lyft.  Lyft is to Uber what Pepsi is to Coca-Cola.  They're fundamentally the same, although I would argue Lyft is a "friendlier" rideshare company, although, to be fair, I'm biased, as that's the one I drive for.

I have always enjoyed driving immensely and having a hobby that rakes in a little extra cash is nice.  This is also a hobby that forces me to have social contact and forces me to leave the house, both things that, as a writer, have become things I can go for days without doing if I choose.  According to my therapist, though, that's not healthy.

So today I'd like to tell a few of my Lyft stories and also dispense some wisdom as someone who uses Lyft as both a driver and a passenger.

Lyft is a rideshare service, available as an app on your phone, and it's cheaper than a taxi because, unlike a taxi company, it is made up of independent contractors using their own cars.

If you live in a big city (as I do) then Lyft is a fast, cheap option to get to where you're going.  Rideshares like Lyft and Uber have been instrumental in lowering drunk driving rates in some cities, which is definitely a good thing.

I got the idea to drive Lyft from two sources.  The first was from my maternal grandfather, who recently passed away... 

Old School Cool.

...and the second was from one of my favorite television shows, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

Kimmy actually drives Uber but tomato, tomahto.

Since I started, I have given about 300 rides and have calculated my average pay as about $20/hour.  That's in Los Angeles, of course, and includes tips and bonuses.  I am a five-star driver, probably because I take Lyft with a degree of seriousness usually reserved for Liam Neeson or giraffes.

Driving Lyft has put me in contact with some pretty crazy people.  This shouldn't surprise you; lots of people who use Lyft are drunks trying to get home, and in a big city, you're bound to find a couple of nuts in the trail mix.  (Side note: I have been asked on many occasions if I ever felt like I was in danger.  Maybe this is just my natural, reckless, optimistic nature, but no, I never have.  Even with the awareness that cab driving has the highest murder rate of any profession, or at least, it's always in the top ten, along with logging, fishing, and being a black Jurassic Park employee.)

As is typical, the stories that stand out to me are the worst ones, although the vast majority of my rides are fun.  Even if my passengers don't want to talk (they usually do, though), I've got my tunes on the radio and, since I drive stick, I can lose myself in a fantasy where I'm Rocket Raccoon piloting the Rack n' Ruin through an asteroid field.  This is a technique for handling traffic I have discussed before.

One of my most recent insane stories involves meeting an honest-to-God Flat Earther.  He was clearly tweaking and he asked me if I believe the world was round, to which I laughed and said yes, utterly failing to recognize the barrage of nonsense that was incoming.  For the rest of the 30-minute ride, I was told:
  • The only "evidence" we have of the earth being round is "CGI" images from NASA.  (I asked why the government would spend the resources to lie to us about whether the earth is round or flat; I was told to do my own research.)
  • My passenger is/was a sound engineer for major music labels and has collaborated with Snoop Dogg, and also is/was an armed guard for a marijuana dispensary.  (He "puts his life on the line" every day, he said, and felt they should buy him lunch.)
  • Gravity has never been proven.  There is only density and buoyancy.  (???)
  • If gravity exists, why aren't flies smushed?  How do clouds stay up?  Wake up, sheeple!

At one point he asked me if it felt like I was spinning.
Apparently Flat Earthers also don't believe the world spins, I don't know.

This was the closest I've ever come to really feeling "unsafe."  Most of my bad fares were not crazy or drunk; they were just jerks.

Jerk Story #1:  

I picked up a guy in downtown Los Angeles right after a Dodgers game. The time was 3:30 pm. He informed me that his plane left LAX at 5 pm.

For those who don't know, this ride would take about 90 minutes, typically.

He had ordered a Lyft Line (aka the shared route). I had to pick up another person. He spent the whole ride swearing in the back seat while I Mad Maxed him to the airport. It was incredibly stressful.

I got him there at 4:22. 

I bent space and time to get this guy to his terminal and give him a chance to actually catch his plane.  I took multiple short-cuts not available on the GPS, cutting through downtown to avoid the 110 freeway, and turning onto 27th St. to take a secret FasTrack-only merge lane onto the highway.  The guy, on his phone, kept yelling "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" while I yelled back "TRUST ME!"  He had the app open and was watching the Estimated Time of Arrival slowly ticking backwards, as I reversed time for him by using every trick up my sleeve. It was one of my proudest Lyft moments; the whole trip, including the pick up of a second person, was less than an hour.

No tip.  Not even a thank-you.

By the way, don't bitch at me that you're "in a hurry" if I've sat idling in the car for more than 5 minutes waiting for your late ass.  I'm gonna do my best but I'm only a minor miracle worker.

Jerk Story #2:  

I pick up this guy.  He's wearing a suit. He's holding a cup of Starbucks coffee. He immediately starts asking me how long I've been driving, how often I drive, if I make good money, et cetera. I'm friendly. I answer.

Then he starts saying how most Lyft drivers are stupid because don't I know that E V E R Y T H I N G is tax deductible? My phone! My car! Everything, because I use it for Lyft! And I'm a "business owner!"

(I tried to interject and say, no, I'm an independent contractor; I do not "own" Lyft. But he was on a roll.)

"That's the problem with millennials," he said. "They're all so entitled and ignorant. They could save so much money if they just did some research. And you grew up with the internet; it's all right there, at your fingertips, but you're too lazy to use it."

Again, at this point, I tried to interject again. I did not grow up with the internet. Not all millennials have had universal experiences. I was born in the 80's. Yes, I'm a millennial, but this guy kept talking about how "the reason millennial have such shitty attention spans is that they grew up with video games and it rotted their brains!" I never had a gaming console or the internet growing up, not until college; I got my first smart phone in 2013.

"That's such a millennial thing to say!" he said. "Why are all millennials so ashamed? They have no self-confidence. Just own it. A lot of great things came out of your generation and it's not your fault you're so lazy and entitled."

It was an hour-long ride into downtown Los Angeles. At some point, he complained that I didn't have a FasTrack so we could use the express lanes. ("It's a deductible! You'd know that if you did your research! Millennial don't take anything seriously, like, it's your business, why wouldn't you want to take that seriously, invest some time into learning how to be a business owner?") (Again. Lyft drivers are not business owners. Being an independent contractor does NOT automatically make you a business owner.)  (Also I had my FasTrack in the glove box that I simply hadn't installed in the car yet, but I was sure as hell not going to pull it out while I was being told what a stupid, lazy, entitled idiot I was.)

He literally called me entitled and stupid in the same breath as demanding to know why I didn't have a FasTrack, like I owed it to him; he also complained about how slow traffic was, which of course, I have no control over. (He did not see the irony.)

After a one-hour-long rant about how entitled I am, and me politely "mm-hm"ing and letting him insult and try to bait me... you guessed it.

No thank- you, and no tip.

Side note: I would like to pre-emptively reassure my readers that I do indeed deduct the mileage I accrue while driving Lyft.  The guy in my story just assumed I did not deduct anything. Nor did I feel the need to correct him, because it's not anyone's business how I do my taxes. Anyway, 90% of his ranting was about how stupid, lazy, and entitled millennials are, not about tax codes.

Bonus jerk story:  

Someone actually stuck a piece of chewed gum onto one of my cloth seats.  Like, you couldn't swallow it, or spit it out the window, or ask me for a napkin?  This is literally, from the viewpoint of the passenger, my livelihood, and you just left trash in it.  You know I have other fares to pick up, right?  Clearly, whoever did this was a psychopath.  I'm not even exaggerating.  That is literally psychopathic behavior from a person who utterly fails to give a shit about others.  The fact that they hid it from me means they knew what they were doing was wrong, but did it anyway, because of a literal incapacity for empathy.  


If you don't want to be a jerk, here's some tips for you, as a passenger:
  •  Don't eat, drink, paint your nails, do your make-up, or spray perfume in the car.  It's a public space and your driver doesn't want to have to clean up after you.  It's not only rude to the driver but to future passengers.  (Yes, I have had people painting their nails in my car before.)
  • Don't listen to music or watch YouTube videos on your phone without headphones.  Again, this is just plain obnoxious.
  • Don't rush your driver.  They're going to do their best, but telling them you're late and expect them to fix it only tends to stress them out.
  • Tip.  It's a goddamn service and you're expected to tip.  Drivers keep 100% of the tips; they do not go to the app.
  • Unless you have a legit complaint, give them a good rating.  The platform requires drivers to maintain above a 4.6 rating to remain drivers, so "four stars" is actually failing.
  • If you want your driver to shut up, tell them.  If you hate the radio station, tell them.  If you want more air conditioning, tell them.  I have only ever gotten 2 bad ratings and both were people complaining about my "talking too much."  If they'd only asked me, I would have happily acquised.  Again, most Lyft drivers are pretty desperate to maintain a good rating, so if you need anything, it's better to ask than to stay silent and bitch afterwards.
And if you're a driver who wants to know how to get that sweet, sweet 5-star rating, here's some brain hacks for you:

Lesson #1: have impeccable situational awareness.
  •  People will almost always sit in the back, so between rides, move the front seat back.  When they go to get in the car, move the seat forward for them.
  • Ask them if they're "getting enough air" back there.
  • Don't bother with having mints or water in the car.  Some drivers do this.  I think it's a cheap tactic to get a good rating.  Focus on the service, not the hand-outs.
  • Exception to the above rule: carry aspirin/ibuprofen and phone chargers.  People who have headaches appreciate this IMMENSELY.  As for phone chargers, I recommend using external battery packs, which will charge phones faster than the car will.  2/3rds of people who ask about phone chargers will be iPhone users, so when you hand them the battery pack with the cord, make sure it's an Android cord.  When they express dismay, say, "I got you, fam," and whip out the iPhone charger.  Like adjusting the seat, this is a subtle way to call attention to the service you are providing them, and makes tips more likely.
  • Drive manual.  People LOVE this.  If they comment on your driving manual, say something like, "Well, you're paying me to know how to drive a car, so...!"  This pretty much universally gets an appreciative laugh.
  • Wear a bangle or bracelet on your right hand to draw attention to the fact that you drive manual.
  • Wear a hat.  People like the idea of a "chauffeur."  Make sure it's a brimmed hat, not just a cap.  Seriously.  Nice clothes can up your tips because people feel like it's more "professional."
  • DON'T use an air freshener.  They are generally overpowering.  Just spray some air fresher in the car like, once.  Having some shit on the vents is going to make the car cloying.
  • When people exit, thank them for riding with you and wish them a great day.  If it's hot out, tell them to "stay cool!"  These tiny gestures of appreciation go a long way.

If they ask to go through a Drive-Thru, do it.  It's fun as hell.

In conclusion, if you like driving and socializing, Lyft is a fantastic way to supplement your income and sight-see your way through your city.  You get a few good stories out of it and, hey, it gets you out of the house.  (Side note: the best/weirdest tip I ever received was 2 brand-new, in-the-package sex toys.  The lady who was riding apparently owned a sex shop and that was her standard tip for drivers who seem "cool.")  But you have to be prepared to handle the occasional asshole; that being said, it's also spectacular training for becoming a master negotiator and people-person.  I definitely think I've become a better listener and more capable of handling whatever bullshit is thrown my way thanks to driving for Lyft.  If you've never tried a rideshare service, try it out next time you go drinking.  You might just love it.

Especially if you grew up playing driver simulators where the goal was to get 5 stars.

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