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):

timeline1

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:

timeline2.png

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):

timeline3

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.”

redpill

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.)

Up-Lyfting: Denzel Washington gives bad dudes a wild ride in ‘Equalizer 2’

Rideshare has hit the big time. It’s now a plot element in a major movie, “Equalizer 2,” starring Denzel Washington as a retired CIA operative hiding in plain sight as a Lyft driver. It was the weekend’s top-grossing movie.

This isn’t the type of movie I would normally head out to see, especially since it’s a sequel to a flick I never saw. But a few weeks ago, Lyft began making references to it in its weekly promotional emails to drivers. It may be the first film to feature rideshare so prominently in its plot.

So…when the film opened Friday, I made a point to see it on opening weekend and drop a mini-review into this space, a place normally reserved for my own real-life stories of what happens when the car doors close.

Not having seen the original wasn’t really a problem. It’s an action flick. So what came before isn’t that important. But I have to admit it was a hoot to see Denzel behind the wheel, finger tapping the pink countdown circle on his phone, which indicates you’re accepting a new ride. lyftscreenBut, like any other movie trying to tease out reality, there were a few technical flaws. Actual names come up with the pink countdown circle, like in this image from the film—not the generic word “Passenger” that’s shown in another scene. And drivers don’t see their ratings from passengers after a ride (the only feedback comes in a fairly generic weekly email that may or may not include a single quoted passenger comment). I have to admit, that scene was a hoot and needed to be handled that way to get the laugh.

My favorite parts? A mashup sequence of Denzel listening to a variety of riders’ personal stories as they talked on their phones in the back seat, oblivious to the fact someone was in the front seat listening to everything.

Best of all was a scene where he realizes the passenger in the back seat (below) is actually an assassin trying to take him out. (The guy never complains when Denzel starts driving away from Boston’s Logan Airport, revealing he’s more interested in attacking our hero than making his flight on time).

equalizer2

The protracted knife fight struggle inside the car with this dude that follows may be channeling every Lyft driver who’s ever had a really difficult passenger. Suffice it to say our hero dispatches him effectively.

equalizer4.png

So Lyft is having its 15 minutes of fame. Even though in the movie, the Lyft scenes barely take up 15 minutes of time.

The majority of the film is boiler-plate action flick, heavy on hand-to-hand fight sequences, standard thriller memes and a protracted epic gun battle in the middle of a hurricane ravaging an evacuated beach town, something that would only seem plausible if executed by protagonist and black ops character Scot Harvath in a Brad Thor novel (Yeah, I’m a fan).

My takeaway: Lyft drivers will like it. Uber drivers will just be pissed they got passed up for the co-starring role. For everyone else, it’s a standard three-of-five star experience. Fine summer fare on the big screen if you don’t have big expectations, but just as good on the small screen when it makes its way to HBO or Netflix in a few months.


If you’re inspired to give Lyft driving a try, make sure to use a driver referral bonus when you first fill out the application. Use 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.

The top 5 reasons people say they choose Lyft over Uber

One of the most common questions passengers ask — right after “How long have you been driving for Lyft?” — is whether I drive only for Lyft, or both Uber and Lyft. (I only do the latter.)

However, being an inquisitive ex-journalist, it gives me the chance to turn the question around. Do they use both Uber and Lyft? And since they have a choice, why did they choose Lyft today?

After informally polling a few dozen riders on the topic, here are their top 5 reasons. It’s all subjective and unscientific, of course, but perception is reality.

  • Lyft is now cheaper than Uber. It wasn’t in the past, but people who compare both apps before making a ride request tell me it is.
  • Lyft drivers are nicer/more respectful and their cars are nicer. Totally subjective, of course, but I hear this one over and over. Do nicer drivers with better cars self-select themselves to drive for Lyft? Possibly … Hey, I certainly did!
  • Promotions get Uber users to download the Lyft app and give it a try, and then they stick with it out of habit. After having some good experiences with Lyft, getting familiar with the app and Lyft’s quick pick-up times, they keep coming back.
  • Once they come over to the Pink Side, Lyft frequently sends out discounts to its regular riders to build loyalty. By the way, if you use one of these promos it doesn’t affect the driver’s pay. Lyft absorbs any discount (thankfully).
  • Finally, Uber has been in the news A LOT in the past two years — and not for the right reasons. Their founder was ousted as CEO after questionable behaviors … the #DeleteUber campaign related to airport protests during Trump’s first Muslim ban was effective … accusations of a culture of sexual harassment at the company … accusations that Uber stole some of its self-driving car technology from Google-owned Waymo … and finally, a self-driving Uber SUV struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona. (When I drive past the exact spot with a Lyft passenger, which happens, I always like to drop that into the conversation. Call me morbid.)

You can read a nice roundup of Uber’s troubles here. The reputation thing got to the point where Uber recently launched a major public relations effort aimed at changing the negative perception, including this video.

Meanwhile, Lyft keeps quietly plugging away, working to steal market share. Don’t let the pink motif fool you. Like any good UFC fighter, Lyft knows when its competition is on the canvas. And it’s not afraid to engage in a little ground-and-pound.

groundandpound


If you’re inspired to give Lyft driving a try, make sure to use a driver referral bonus when you first fill out the application. Use 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.

Stoner dude, heal thyself

The Fourth of July was B-U-S-Y. Twenty rides over the course of the evening, which was a new personal record. But the best story of the night was from a guy I’ll call “Stoner Steve.”

I picked up Steve at a bar in Tempe. I made a casual comment that I was surprised he was heading away from the biggest fireworks display in the area that evening. That’s what got him started, and how it goes sometimes. One question leads a person to open up, and pretty soon you’re learning WAY more than you expected.

Steve’s opening line was that he was just starting to feel better after being hung over all day. Fireworks, he said, were not part of his game plan. Instead, he was heading to a friend’s house and planned to hit Netflix and relax.

Out of the blue, and without context, he tells me that he’s smoked pot pretty much every day for the past 30 years. I guess he thought that was something he needed to share.

When he asked how many more minutes until we would get to his destination, I told him and mentioned that the Lyft light on the dash also displays your ETA every few minutes so passengers can tell how long the ride has left.

“I wouldn’t be able to see it,” he said. “I’m going blind.”

Awkward silence.

Quickly he adds: “Well, probably not going blind. But I’ve got glaucoma.”

Steve tells me he’d been having trouble seeing so he finally made an appointment with an opthalmologist to get his eyes checked. As the doctor is examining him, she tells him he has all the classic signs of glaucoma — except one. His eye pressures were normal.

“Then she says, ‘I don’t understand it. Everything I’m seeing tells me you have glaucoma, but your pressure readings are normal. And the pressures are pretty much the definition of having glaucoma.’ ”

floydshirt“So here I am,” he says, “this long-haired hippie dude sitting in her chair, wearing a Pink Floyd T-shirt, and she doesn’t even think to ask me if I’m high. I mean, this is a medical marijuana state, after all.”

And glaucoma, of course, is one of the top conditions that marijuana can help treat.

Were you high during the exam, I asked?

“Of course.”

I followed up, already knowing the answer. Are you stoned right now?

“Of course.”

Stoner Steve then got quiet as his mind wandered to other topics (that tends to happen).  I broke the silence. So what happened, I asked?

“With what?”

The appointment. And your glaucoma.

At that point the ride was coming to an end, but from what I could gather in the last two minutes, the doctor followed up with an email, and then Stoner Steve revealed he had been high during the exam. The doctor wanted him to come back for another exam, this time NOT stoned.

They traded several emails, with Steve arguing that if he was already “treating” the condition himself, was there really any need to go back?

I dropped him off, and only at that point realized it wasn’t his own apartment complex, but one where he was meeting someone. He looked a bit confused, so I paused to make sure he was even at the right spot.

“Is this the address I put in?” he asked.

It was, I replied.

“Then I’m at the right place.”

As I turned the car around I passed him one last time before exiting the complex. Stoner Steve was looking around. Then down at his phone. Then looking around again.

He may not have been sure he was at the right place, but damn, his eye pressures were in good shape.


If you’re inspired to give Lyft driving a try, make sure to use a driver referral bonus when you first fill out the application. Use 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.

 

Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated (or at least end up waiting outside a drive-through liquor store)

Pulling up to a Top Golf entertainment complex about 10 p.m. on Saturday night, my soon-to-be passengers — a guy and a girl in their 30s — didn’t get in the car. Instead, they walked up to talk to me at the driver-side window.

“We’ve got a problem and hope you can help,” he says. “We just got dropped off by another Lyft driver a few minutes ago and she left her phone in his car. We didn’t know what to do so we requested another Lyft. That’s you.

“Can you call him?”

Apparently now, I am Lucutus. Of Borg. A member of “The Collective” of Lyft drivers, all secretly interconnected.

True, most of us do have identical glowing purple lanterns on our dashboards, and those are connected via bluetooth to a higher intelligence (our smartphones). What I didn’t realize is that some people therefore assume we are each similarly connected … TO EACH OTHER.

At the risk of revealing I’m a closeted Trek geek, fans of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” will recall that Capt. Jean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) once was famously temporarily “assimilated” into the deadly collective of dangerous hive aliens known as The Borg.

This giant spaceship, in the form of a massive cube, traversed the galaxy “assimilating” other species and operating with its captives droning along the corridors in a massive collective the way bees communicate in a hive.

Borginside

These passengers believed (at least the woman who lost her phone … her boyfriend appeared to be secretly amused by the entire scenario …) that now that they had summoned a second Lyft driver, I would logically lead them to the missing phone.

After explaining that I didn’t personally know “Marshall,” the other Lyft driver, in this fifth-largest metro area in the country, and assuring the increasingly agitated girlfriend that her phone would likely be quickly found and they would get it back, we decided I would go ahead and pick them up and drive them home. Then they could plot their next move.

In more than 400 rides so far, I’ve personally returned a lost credit card, pair of glasses and set of keys. Each was easy to return using the “lost item” feature in the Lyft app to make personal contact with a previous passenger. On the credit card, the passenger reached out to me. On the glasses and keys, my next passenger found the item, alerted me and I logged them as found items.

On the way to their house, Mr. Boyfriend tried again calling the missing phone, and this time Marshall answered. He was now at the airport on a subsequent ride, and would swing by her house to return the phone when he was done.

There was elation in the back seat, and the conversation now turned to how to convert the only cash Ms. Girlfriend had — a $100 bill — into five twenties so Marshall could snag one for his trouble of driving back to return the phone.

This final step happened while I waited outside a drive-though liquor store around the corner from her house. It was a place she frequented since it was walking distance from her house, so she knew the clerks.

As she went in to break the bill, Mr. Boyfriend wasted no time during our alone moment to share with me that he carries two phones and has never lost either. I slow-nodded a masculine approval.

You see, in that moment we had our own connection. A guy connection. And it was greater than any damn Borg thing.


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.)

Yes, ER nurses have the best stories to tell

A few weeks ago, I picked up a trio of nurses headed to an evening event. I didn’t realize they were nurses until some of the conversation coming from the back seat turned to treating patients who were restrained.

Being the casually nosy/inquisitive type, I dipped into the conversation to ask if they worked at a hospital. Two of the three did — a county hospital that occasionally treated people in custody.  Making small talk, I said, “Oh, I bet you have some interesting stories in that line of work.”

They did. But they weren’t about treating people sporting police escorts.

These women had already enjoyed a cocktail or two before getting into the car. They were loose, and immediately jumped right to their favorite topic: Men who arrive at the ER with foreign objects embedded in their … how shall I say? … last stop on the gastro-intestinal path.

“So this guy is in the exam area, and all his chart says is, ‘Butt hurts’,” one of them says.

Quickly, the medical pros assess and realize what they are dealing with. And while they have seen similar cases before, this one stood out.

“The guy has a 4-inch wide pool noodle wrapped in a condom stuck up his butt,” she says, watching my reaction as I’m driving down the freeway.

“I mean, why can’t these guys just go to Fascinations and get something made for this,” she mused.

Then, just to prove she’s not putting me on, she pulls up a photo on her phone and hands it to me for show and tell.

(Quick aside … aren’t there HIPPA privacy laws against snapping cell phone pics of stuff like this? Just wondering …)

Keep in mind, this happened a few weeks ago. I had given it some thought and specifically decided NOT to blog about it. Too bizarre, I thought. Too one-off. Too … creepy.

Then it happened again.

I picked up another pair of medical pros, two women leaving a Scottsdale nightclub just before midnight on a Saturday. They had been drinking — one of them was pretty toasted. Once I heard what they did for a living, I casually repeated my previous query.

“Oh, I bet you have some interesting stories in that line of work.”

Without missing a beat they … immediately … go … there: Guys who arrive at the ER with foreign objects stuck, causing severe Posterior Pain.

(Since most medical conditions these days advertised on Big Pharma TV commercials are given snappy acronyms, we’ll dub this ailment “P.P.”)

Apparently, this is a thing. And a fairly common one at that.

The Scottsdale clubbers told a tale of a guy with P.P. who arrived with an object so deeply embedded he needed immediate abdominal surgery to remove it.

“So the doctor has him opened up and is pushing, while a resident on the other end is pulling,” the more sober of the pair dutifully reported.

And then out came the cell phone picture. This one was an X-ray image. Yes, they had to show me. And took much delight in doing so.

“Can you imagine his friends asking about that abdominal scar and where he got it,” the sober-ish one said.

No I can’t.

(Note: at this moment, her drunk friend was fixated on yelling out the window at the AAA flatbed tow truck that was slowing our late night visit to a Taco Bell drive-through — actual image below)

flatbed.

Some of the best Lyft stories come to their climax, I have come to realize, in line at a drive-through.

And drunk friend, please stop yelling at the AAA tow driver. It’s late, and he’s got a right to order a Chalupa. And frankly, I realized I was pretty hungry too. I had been driving all evening, and clearly I now knew this was going to be my final ride of my night. So when they offered to get me something to eat, too, I took it.

Thanks for the Burrito Supreme, nurses. And by the way. You do have the best stories.


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.)

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.)