A night at the cinema, in three acts

 I start the shift in poor spirits for reasons, and the first half dozen rides respect and reflect my mood with quiet passengers and good for that. But the gods of rideshare / rules of math will not abide, and I get a fare to pick up a woman at a convenience store in a bad neighborhood. It's a guest ride, which is alays trouble but I find her with no real difficulty... as she spends several minutes stuffing  detritus into a trash bag from a vehicle that is literally being held together with duct tape, and is about to be abandoned in front of a sign that promises towing. Nope; not going to ask, nope, not in the mood... and fifteen minutes of fare commences with a constant shuffling of goods in the back seat, along with a low muttering. I see you, Rideshare Gods that are intent on getting me to connect with humanity for the sake of a narrative. No sale. I'm not buying. Drop, 3 stars just for a general sense that this story will continue and I don't want to be here for it, besides delays suck, and next.

The next fare is a highly cautious woman from a good restaurant in a dicey-adjacent neighborhood. I reassure, don't make eye contact, offer amenities that she's impressed by, and we're off. It turns out she's African-American, retired, used to teach second graders and shares my political science degree. Goddamit. Fine, Rideshare Gods, I'm not made of stone. The app takes me through a neighborhood that concerns her, but I reassure and distract with conversation, and since I'm winning on so many conversational levels, I prove my progressive bona fides with a name drop of "The 1619 Project" as it's now got a Hulu series (she hadn't heard of it, was instantly intrigued), then ask her professional opinion on "Abbott Elementary" (loves it). She calls me the best Uber driver ever and tips later. Fine, Rideshare Gods, I'm back in the saddle. Let's be available for people.

The very next ride, because the Rideshare Gods are absolutely ham-handed with the timing, is for a woman outside of a closed Starbucks who is having what seems to be the worst day of her life. Her father is having  a horrifying time with what may be a terminal disease, and her adult daughters are taking the opportunity to, seemingly, lash out at her. She's missed her train back to NYC, and I've got her for 20 minutes to a train station that she'll wait at for the next hour. There's absolutely nothing I can do for other than inadequate transportation (no, I'm not taking her to NYC, and it sounds like she doesn't have the money for it anyway), and the last 18 minutes of the ride is her alternating between talking and sobbing to a friend on her phone.

I go home, write an overly long email to the person that inspired the original bad mood, and contemplate this blog post. Goddamn Rideshare Gods.

Five Ask Me Anything questions on rideshare driving

A list of commonly asked questions with the answers I give, and the answers I want to give, because I am a smartass. I don't say the DA, because the first rule of rideshare driving is remain on the platform, and you remain on the platform by not saying terribly memorable and problematic things to your passengers. Even when you really wanna...

Q: Do you prefer Uber or Lyft?

Real Answer (RA): It depends on the week and passenger. Lyft passengers tend to be outliers -- the best and worst -- and the apps are a little different when it comes to how much control it gives to the driver. But generally, it's not too strong, one way or the other.

Desired Answer (DA): Like all drivers who are on both platforms, I am a bloodthirsty pirate with no allegiance to anything beyond the almighty dollar. You would be too, if you drove. Tip. Then tip more.

Alternate DA: I prefer more interesting questions than this one. Try harder.

Alternate DA: Is this the part where you blast away on your past grievance with the platform you are not using now, and I pretend to care?

Q: Has anyone ever had sex in your car while driving?

RA: Yes, because weight shifts and noises are not particularly hard to notice in a hatchback. Since they outnumbered me, and stopping them would have compromised safety, I pretended not to notice and completed the work. After they exited, I wiped down all surfaces, filed an incident report, made sure to rate them in a manner where I wouldn't get them again, and went about the rest of my shift. No, I'm not going to tell you if this has happened more than once.

DA: Are you offering?

Alternate DA: I'm doing it right now. Don't judge.

Alternate DA: Are you a cop? You have to tell me if you're a cop.

Q: How much do you make?

RA: It depends on the shift and varies a lot. We get paid a base, surge, promotion and tip. If you hit on just the base, it's not worth it. If you hit on all four, it's quite acceptable. I know how much I've made to date, and I've got a pretty good estimate on what I can achieve this week, but it's kind of like fishing. You don't really know how it's going to go.

DA: Not enough. Tip. Now.

Alternate DA: I make nothing. This is penance for my sins. So many sins.

Alternate DA: How much do *you* make?

Q: Do you prefer short rides or long rides?

RA: I prefer rides that end at the exact place of my next passenger, so that there's no inefficiency in my shift. Other than that, it depends on the week, if I'm chasing a high ride count bonus.

DA: Ask me again in a little while, when I see if you can hold a conversation.

Alternate DA: It's more about the thickness than the length.

Alternate DA: All rides are the same... under the sheets.

Q: Should I become a driver?

RA: If you have the right kind of car and personality for it, and can be different people for different people, sure. I've done this for 6+ years and 26K+ rides, and I think I've become a better person for doing it. There is also, well, money involved. Rideshare has helped me to avoid a lot of worse ideas when things weren't going well. But the reality is that 2 out of 3 drivers who try it don't stick with it past the intro period.

Alternate DA: No. All rides are mine. Not yours.

Alternate DA: It's something you're *born* with, man. If you need to ask the question, you'll never be a *real* rideshare driver.

DA: I get a bounty if you do it from my referral, so you should only do this if it makes me ..money. Or, shorter, YES. YES. DO IT. DO IT NOW. I NEED MONEY YOU CAN MAKE ME MONEY MAKE ME MONEY MONEY MONEY...

A ride with perspective

Stop 1
The pickup comes at a supermarket that’s hood-adjacent and is always a good source for quick trips. I’m chasing down a number of rides to qualify for a bonus. It’s a Sunday afternoon. I’m not on empathy auto-pilot, but it’s a near thing. Weekends are when I do the majority of the work now, and after 2-3 days of mostly full shifts, my body hurts and my outlook is not great. I’m just grinding through it.

My pickup also has a stop. Not for nothing but stops generally stink for the driver. We make about a third of the money for waiting as we do for moving, parking spots are not always available or legal, this does nothing to help me complete the rides completed bonus, and so on. Not a fan. But I can’t avoid rides with stops, at least not usually, and the total ride length estimate is within tolerance levels. Let’s do this.

My guy is ready when I get there, which is not always the case at this supermarket or this neighborhood, and a serious plus. He’s a high school student, chatty, and he’s got a small bouquet of flowers from the supermarket in his hands. Aw, sweet. Maybe the stop is for his beloved. He listens to my spiel about amenities, confirms the address, and we’re off.

I don’t recognize the address, but that’s not a big issue, until we get to it. It’s… the cemetery.

It turns out that he comes here every week to visit the grave of his younger brother, who died after a long fight with cancer, last year.

We creep along small paths until we get close, and he hops out of the car to have a conversation that I, mercifully, can not hear. He takes all the time he needs. I check my email and social media, as if this was just another ride with a stop, and don’t otherwise do anything, because the last thing I want to do is (a) hurry him along, or (b) make him feel self-conscious. He needs a ride, not an unrequested and ham-handed attempt at therapy.

He pops back in the car after a few more minutes. I take him to his next stop, close out the ride, and wish him well.

And go back to doing the job, having scratched off one more unique use of ride share off my card.

With a fresh understanding that the problem of getting enough rides to qualify for a bonus isn’t that big of a problem, really.

My iPod remains psychic and disturbing

Not listed: omniscience
The pick up is for a passenger with a relatively low rating. To be honest, I rarely pay much attention to customer ratings, because there usually isn't a ton of time or predictive measure to it... but if you make me wait, I'm checking. Hmm. Lower than usual. 

They get in and I immediately get why the rating is low; there's an out of state drop off address. An out of state address, unless it comes with a tip or surge price, is a loss for the driver. There's just dead time to get back to the home state, and if the passenger doesn't make up for it, there's a hard temptation to get 3-star them, especially if they are someone you might see again. The area that I'm going to also has bad lighting and roads; we are well on our way to a 3-star trip. My passenger also takes some time to get in the car, and we're off.

Conversation doesn't happen, but neither does playing their own audio without headphones, or a phone call, so I'm still on the fence about my star rating. Which is when my prophetic iPod chimes in with this little ditty.

I spend the next three minutes fighting back a giggle, the urge to check my rear view mirror to see if the song is having an impact, and the temptation to turn up the lyrics to give away the game. The passenger gets to their drop point, leaves without a word or sideways glance, and I wonder if they even heard the song. Probably not, and probably for the best...

Be very different people for very different people

The shift starts in daylight and drizzle, and my first pick up is a middle-aged guy who needs multiple stops. The first one is a liquor store, and he's apologetic for the delay and distraught... because he has just, well, lost his mother. Also, he's going to his girlfriend's place, who has also recently, well, lost her mother. 

I do what I can to provide comfort; this is not the first time that I've had a passenger who is vocal about this stage of their grief. My passenger is grateful, tips me with cash that was dearly won, and I do what I can to shake it off.

Next passenger is a post-graduate political science major who attends Princeton University, and needs a ride from the Trenton train station to their off-campus housing. So we have a 20-minute-plus conversation based on the possible incompatibility of social media and true representative democracy, the dangers posed by deepfake technology and artificial intelligence, and other than whiplash levels of cognitive dissonance, we're rolling, we're good.

The entire rest of the shift is like that, because that's how the Rideshare Gods roll sometimes. Chatty foreign national, funny blue-collar waitress, earnest and articulate boarding school student, retiring account executive on a long airport run, and so on, and so on. Shifts like these are rare, lucrative, and cinematic enough to seem more than a little unreal... but if you do the job often enough, they happen. Especially if you can get folks talking. 

A night at the cinema, in three acts

 I start the shift in poor spirits for reasons, and the first half dozen rides respect and reflect my mood with quiet passengers and good fo...