You think you’ve had a bad day? These folks may have had it worse

For me, the unexpected gift of working as a rideshare driver  — especially coming from my previous job as a senior corporate manager — is receiving a renewed sense of the lives of other people.

I went from being “the boss,” directing a staff of nearly 20 people, to suddenly stepping back into a customer-service role. It’s one I hadn’t experienced since I was in my early 20s.

It didn’t take long Lyft-ing before I realized that most people in today’s world are probably spending too much time with other people just like them. That’s right, we’re all living in some form of a self-imposed bubble. We just don’t realize it.

When you spend time picking up random people living in different types of neighborhoods, and providing them with an essential service, you quickly do realize it, break out of your comfort zone and get re-acquainted with a small bit of humility.

It’s been a refreshing, humbling and positive experience.

Here, in no particular order, are three recent passengers and their situations. All left me feeling fortunate. My short time with each helped improve my empathy quotient — something I probably needed to work on anyway:

— One afternoon I pulled into a grocery store lot to pick up a passenger. I assumed she was a customer shopping, so I parked near the front door and waited. Instead, she called me, somewhat frantic, asking me to stay where I was. She could see me, and she was coming up from the street. “Please wait,” she implored. Once she got to the car, I realized she worked at the grocery store. She normally takes the bus home, but this day it had arrived five minutes early. The bus driver didn’t wait (which I guess they are supposed to do if they start running ahead of schedule). Now, she was frantic. By the time she got to the car, she was hot, out of breath and completely distraught. This one incident had thrown a wrench into her entire routine. Now it was going to cost her an unexpected $20 to get home. And in her world, that was a lot. I spent the first five minutes reassuring her and letting her know that even though this had not been in her plans, she would get home faster and the ride would be cool (a big deal in Phoenix) and pleasant. By the time we arrived all was well and she was feeling good.

— I picked up a woman with a walker, which I had to help her fold and load into the trunk. In the first few minutes, I asked her how her day had been, and she responded, “Meh… don’t ask.” We did end up chatting since the ride was about 20 minutes on the freeway across town. Near the end, I found out why her day was “Meh.” Her apartment complex had been sold, and the new owner was not yet taking electronic rent payments like the previous one.  Her checks had just run out. So earlier that Saturday, the first of the month, she walked a half-mile to a nearby check-cashing place to buy a money order. When she got there, she went to fish out the envelope with her rent cash ($750) and discovered she had lost it somewhere along the way. She was on a fixed income, and she was devastated. I also learned that her husband had passed away two years ago and she was raising a 15-year-old while dealing with a disability. This horrible incident had left her feeling distraught, but not angry. “At least I woke up this morning, and I will wake up again tomorrow morning,” she said. “What more could I ask for?”

— Tonight, I picked up two women visiting Scottsdale from out of state. It was a standard Scottsdale ride, with this one involving a run to a grocery store to pick up a few things and return them to their hotel. On the way back, one of them shared that this Lyft ride was a lot smoother than one about two months ago. During that ride, she was in the back seat when all of a sudden they were hit by a drunk driver. She doesn’t remember the accident, just waking up three hours later in the hospital. She hadn’t been wearing her seat belt and the impact had driven her forward into the rear headrest of the front passenger seat. She broke 10 bones in her face. The Lyft driver was OK and … “Of course,” she said, “The drunk driver walked away …  ran, actually, but she was caught.” My passenger’s new mission: Remind everyone to wear their seat belt, even when riding in the back seat of a Lyft or Uber.

There. That includes you. You’ve been reminded.

Now that you’re belted in, do one more thing.

Break out of your bubble.

PS – If after reading, you’re inspired to give Lyft driving a try, make sure to use a driver referral bonus when you first fill out the applicationUse code MIKE17396 and we will both enjoy a bonus for rides you give during your first month. (You don’t need to drive in Phoenix for the code to work.)

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I'm a former corporate manager and journalist driving Lyft for fun ... and sharing these stories with anyone willing to play along.

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