Night Bite

Part of what happens in rideshare is that you just occasionally see random nonsense on the streets. I seem to have a bit of  a gift for that.

In the past month, I've picked up a lot of consulting work, which means (a lot) less rideshare. So instead of having hundreds of rides to safeguard my rating, I've only got a few dozen... which means that if I decline or cancel, I lose visibility in the next ride.

Fast forward to a ride I wouldn't normally take on a weeknight, a full hour out of state without a surge price to Philadelphia. Not loving life, I turn on my map and head for home, going past the local prison on my route.

Which is when I see... some guy with a relatively decent pick up truck, parked on an overpass over the river, with three fishing poles and lines going down to whatever is trickling through a fairly industrial part of town.

At midnight, on a Wednesday. Near a prison.

Because your rideshare shift can, and will, become a South Korean horror short at a moment's notice, really...

My Codeswitch Reality

Or get 5 stars or tip
Rideshare passengers index to a much greater percentage of people for whom English fluency is not assumed or present. For the most part, this isn't a big problem. So long as the passenger got the address right and GPS doesn't lead me astray -- so +95% of rides -- we can do the transaction without any conversation at all. There will be some, of course, because I want people to feel welcome and I always try to confirm the address and let people know about a couple of free affinities, but if you want to talk the entire time in a language I don't understand, have at it. 

But the interesting thing about that conversation is... a significant portion of it is still going to be in English, because (a) the Internet, and (b) code switching

Now, the classic definition of the phrase talks about how words in a second language will slide in -- in my experience in rideshare, these usual gravitate to "OK" and various corporate, Web site or app names -- but the more colloquial use of code switch is when you change your speech patterns to match your audience.

We all do this on some level, whether we are aware and OK with it (talking to children), or unaware and trying to pass as One Of The Good Ones (i.e, talking to people of a very different demographic). When done badly, it's awkward and awful for all concerned, and makes my spine contract with embarrassment when it's part of cringe comedy. It's also adding to the mental energy that you exert in a conversation, so there are times when you just don't want to do it.

But when it's done well?

My tips go up. So do my ratings. My passengers have a better time. I'm more effective at communicating helpful information about why rideshare works the way it does for passengers, why taking a Covid-19 vaccine is something everyone should want to do, and so on. I don't feel as worn out by the end of my shift.

You could see it as manipulative, calculating, artificial. 

Or polite, engaging, and accommodating.

And if you never codeswitch, or would never?

You probably aren't a rideshare driver. (Or a waiter, bartender, live performer...)

Or a very highly rated rideshare passenger or beloved customer...

Indirectly Paid Vaccine Outreach

For the most part, conversations with my passengers have dropped like a stone during the pandemic for obvious reasons. The windows are down, the masks are on, fewer people are intoxicated and loose with their tongues, and the majority of riders are solo. 

I take warehouse workers to long shifts, grocery shoppers home with their goods, and folks who are having transportation issues who need to rely on rideshare. It's been a hard time, both personally and professionally, and the nearly 3K passengers that I've given service to since the start of the pandemic have mostly kept quiet. 

I'm fine with that. I'm here to make money because I have to.

But as the days get longer and the snow melts and the new case count goes down while vaccines go into arms, there are green shoots. And, also, community outreach.

Here's an odd thing about being a (white? obviously educated? older? try hard?) rideshare driver in lower income areas and to lower income passengers... they want your opinion on things, and seem to regard you as a credible source. More so than traditional or social media, at least. Maybe I'm just one of the few people outside of their community that they get to talk to during the pandemic, or maybe I just present well... but in any event, I get to do Vaccine Outreach on a routine basis.

"Are you going to get it?"

And my answer is always the same: yes. As soon as humanly possible. With bells on. To protect my family and my passengers and to hasten the day where we all don't have to wear masks, because I guarantee you that I wear a mask *many* more hours a week then you do, and that my three-layer mask can cause my glasses to fog, my face to hurt, and is downright annoying when there's variable temperatures or I have to yawn or sneeze. 

Also, that I'm well and truly tired of buying masks to give away to people who aren't wearing one. I'm also well and truly tired of stealing glances at people in the rear view mirror to see if they keep the damned thing on for the duration of the ride. 

And yes, some truly wonderful people do that. They get a rating that makes sure I don't ever give them service again, which is kind of a problem for them given that fewer drivers are working in the pandemic in the first place, but when people show you who they are, believe them. Also, if all rideshare drivers did this, then no rideshare drivers would have to check, because the riders would have corrected their behavior or walked.

Tonight, I had a woman in the car who actually works in vaccine distribution. She was exhausted but enthusiastic, and I had her in the car for 20+ minutes to brainstorm ideas on how to get lower accepting populations to join in later.

I told her that I didn't envy her task. That we needed to make sure things were multi-lingual, that there needed to be church outreach, that there would likely never be a stick that would match the carrot, and that with media fracturing and the previous Administration's spectacularly fail and salting of the political earth, that even hitting so many market segments would likely still leave us in the 30% asshat resistance group, and how those people are going to hurt the world even more than usual, because people who aren't learning are just the worst.

So what's the solution?

Well, one of my later rides was a home health aide, an older African-American woman who was going to get the shot, but was scared and just going along because it was a condition of employment. By the time she got out of the car, she was much more enthused about getting the shot. Or she was just telling me what I wanted to hear. But I don't think she was lying, because I kind of doubt she ever lies about anything.

One at a time, folks. Each one, help two. 

Or, well, more.

My Ratings Are Heating Up

Six weeks ago while unwrapping presents under the Christmas tree, I discovered an extremely thoughtful gift from my spouse.

It's a plug in black car seat cover -- one for my driver seat, and another that covers all three spots in the back seat. 

Which means that my modest little hybrid... has a spot of luxury and comfort that you almost never find in a car, let alone a model whose primary benefit is fuel economy.

My tip percentage for this year is up 27% (note: relatively small data sample size). My driver rating currently stands at 4.95 in Uber, the highest they have ever been. 

Only one passenger (out of 655 since the change -- I've been busy) has asked me to turn it off. More passengers are also lowering their windows or leaving them cracked open, which also means that my protection from the damned virus are also hopefully on the rise.

The right gift is everything, really. (And if you do this hustle yourself, consider an investment. It seems to be paying off.)

Snow, Snow, Go Away

A moment inside the hustle. Rideshare drivers are mostly paid in three ways.

1) Time spent driving the passenger. Simple, not all that high. Why we want rides to end where the next ride would begin.

2) Distance traveled during that time. Faster is better. Why your driver is not a big fan of you making them wait, and why your driver is usually a little more aggressive than the average driver. (Not me, particularly. I'm older and more risk-adverse, and a traffic ticket would ruin the hustle for a long time.)

3) Promotions. Most often, for completed rides during a short frame of time, but sometimes also for "streaks" of accepted rides, or rides during a time or place of high demand. 

We are also paid in some cases when a passenger cancels, reimbursed for damages incurred, and tipping. But that's not what I want to cover here. Promotions are the biggest swing moment in any rideshare driver's week, and what we're all hoping to match.

The number of rides completed is where an unexpected amount of Drama comes in, because the driver has no real control over how many ride requests they get, or how long those ride rides will take. We can influence these by the rides we accept, where and when we drive and activate the app, and so on -- but that control is tenuous at best. We also only can drive so many hours in the day, either from the app or reality restricting us.

We also, of course, have no control over the weather. Or when a massive snowstorm will make travel unsafe and uncommon. Which leads me to discuss my weekend, and why I'm writing this on a Sunday afternoon, rather than engaging in the hustle.

Currently for me and in my area, Uber lets drivers set a target for the number of rides they expect to complete over a time period. These periods are for weekdays and weekends, and have a direct relation to similar programs for Lyft. The majority of rideshare drivers work for both platforms, because it's not like these companies are paying us for exclusivity, health care benefits, or a dime more than what will get us in the car to provide service. It's a remarkably efficient / cutthroat operation, and tends to inspire similar behavior from drivers.

Knowing that my marketing clients were quiet at the moment, I committed to a *high* amount of work this weekend. At the 70 ride count, this would translate to one bonus rate. If I got to 90, it would be 15% more. 

I completed the 70 ride requirement this morning, just before the snow started. Had the snow not arrived for, say, another 8-10 hours, the 90 mark would have likely fell as well. So the timing of the snow has cost me hundreds of dollars. (Not going to disclose the exact amount, because it's an estimate and there's no guarantee I'd have gotten all the rides before the clock ran out, but, still -- hundreds of dollars.)

Not to mention the enforced 2-3 days off that's going to occur until the storm passes and the roads clear. Which, hopefully, will also coincide with work from the consulting clients filling my days. Or an unlikely weakening of the storm.

And as for the corollary of why not just drive in the snow, especially when the surge prices for such activity might spike and desperate passengers will pay...

Tempting, but no. I'm here to grind, not gamble.

And grind my teeth at weather forecasts.

Night Bite

Part of what happens in rideshare is that you just occasionally see random nonsense on the streets. I seem to have a bit of  a gift for that...