I’m trapped in a sci-fi movie, and every time my phone pings the timeline shifts

Heading out to drive has the vague sense of being trapped in a sci-fi movie. One of the classic plot twists in sci-fi involves timelines that “shift,” where each decision determines what will occur next and how the story unfolds.

Which brings me to one of the common small-talk questions I get from passengers: “Do you drive this area often?” It’s a hard question to answer honestly. That’s because I don’t choose the drive. The drive chooses me.

Allow me to explain.

The No. 1 misconception Lyft and Uber riders have about how the service works is that their rideshare driver knows where the passenger is going. We do … but not until the moment we arrive to pick you up. We can’t pick and choose destinations. Our only choice is to accept or decline a generic ride request. And Lyft drivers need a 90% or better acceptance rate to qualify for any driver bonuses. So most of the time, the option is “accept.”

This past Saturday night, I picked up a trio of really fun, middle-aged women from an Italian restaurant and bar. They had been having a girls’ night out but were ready to head home. Between the giggles and jokes of friends who’ve had a few more drinks than they’re used to, they popped the proverbial, “So, do you drive this area often?” question.

True, I have certain areas I prefer to drive. Based on my home address (always the starting and ending point) and other preferences, I spend most of my time driving the east side of the Phoenix metro area. But the only control I have over that is to keep pointing the car east once I drop a passenger near my own imaginary, arbitrary line that divides east and west in this sprawling metropolis of some 4.7 million people.

While every day is filled with small random choices between passengers — turn left or right, park and wait — those pale compared with the biggest influence. That I ended up chatting with these three fun women was the result of every ride that had come before that Saturday evening. And it was a busy night. They were the 14th of my 18 rides.

In other words, the time we were spending together right now was almost entirely dictated by the person who sat in that same back seat just before they did, and where THEY were going.

Let’s take these women as an example. But to understand, first we have to take two steps back in the timeline.

In the previous hour, I had picked up two teenagers headed from their apartment in Tempe to go to the movies in Chandler, as mapped in the Lyft app below. (The blue dot is the beginning of the ride, the pink one the end):


After dropping off the teens, the next ride was a couple I picked up leaving a restaurant in downtown Chandler. I drove them home to  an area of Phoenix known as Ahwatukee, as seen below by the pink dot:


Next, while making my way back east from Ahwatukee, I got pinged for the ride of the three women leaving the Italian restaurant in Ahwatukee. They were heading home to Gilbert (another Phoenix suburb … we have a lot of them):


So if it wasn’t for the couple leaving the restaurant in downtown Chandler, I never would have met these three women (who, it turns out, were very interested in my wife’s romance novels).

But if it wasn’t for the two teenagers from Tempe headed to the movies in Chandler, I never would have met the tipsy couple who spent a few very silent minutes in the back seat really enjoying each others’ company.

And so on, and so on. Each piece of the timeline is dependent on the one that came immediately before it.

So yeah, I drive this area often. But I never know when.

In the immortal words of the character Morpheus from the sci-fi thriller “The Matrix,” a movie filled with multiple timelines:

“After this there is no turning back. You take the blue pill the story ends, you wake up in your bed and you believe whatever you want to. You take the red pill you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”


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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