Time to swipe right and meet Tinder Ted and Metal Matt

Meeting interesting characters and getting a peek into their lives is what keeps the rideshare gig interesting. Case in point: Two dudes I picked up separately on the same day, each with their own interesting story.

The first passenger — I’m calling him Tinder Ted — was an airport drop-off. Ted was traveling light, just a backpack. He had a goatee and black rimmed glasses which, when paired with his tan backpack, gave him a vaguely hipster vibe.

As we cruised down the freeway in late morning traffic, he told me he was flying to Hawaii for the first time and asked if I’d ever been there.

After I shared a few stories and tips about the Big Island, where he was headed, he revealed that he was traveling there with a girl he met on the dating app Tinder. She was meeting him at the airport as soon as I dropped him off.

People heading to the airport on vacation are among the best types of passengers. They’re always in a great mood and usually provide great conversation. That Ted was traveling to Hawaii with a girl he met on Tinder probably wasn’t that surprising in today’s app-driven relationship world. But here’s the twist:

When Ted matched with this girl on Tinder, he thought he recognized her. It turns out he did. She was the newly single ex-girlfriend of one of his own good friends and co-workers.

Small world.

The friend wasn’t happy, but Ted admitted he had originally advised his friend she probably wasn’t the right girl for him, and in fact likely might be more like … the kind of girl Ted would date.

Tinder, leveraging its own algorithms, apparently agreed. And now they were heading out on their first real date — which just happened to be a bit more adventuresome than meeting for drinks.

Later that evening I picked up a slightly balding, long-haired 50-something guy sporting flared black pants and a black T-shirt emblazoned with a pair of skulls. Metal Matt, it turned out, was the lead singer of a heavy metal band, and he was on his way across town to a benefit gig his group was playing.

When he got in, Matt said, “Can I ask you a favor? Can you turn off the music for the ride?”

He was clutching a handful of papers.

“I just got the lyrics for this new song, I haven’t learned them yet and we’re playing it tonight.”

OK … silence it is.

“Oh, and if you hear me muttering under my breath back here, I’m not crazy,” he added. “That’s how I memorize.”

It was a long, 45-minute freeway ride to the other end of town. About 30 minutes in, Matt must have had enough of cramming for his musical test. When he started talking, the first thing he said was, “So, your wife writes romance novels?” (A common ice-breaker in the car, given my passenger candy tray features her business cards).

Given the creative connection, he quickly added, “I hope she makes more royalties than we do. We had the No. 6 song in Australia, and you know how much my last royalty check was? Twelve cents. That was my share. There’s four of us so actually it was 48 cents.”

Streaming services, he said, pay next to nothing, but have cannibalized record sales. So making money now is more about touring and playing live. He went on to tell me about a previous band he had been in when he was younger that had a record contract, and had received nice royalty advances and toured Europe.

“We thought we had made it and were rich,” he said. “But after you pay the manager, the tour bus, the food, the hotels … you pretty much ended up with nothing.”

img_7215.jpgHe asked a few more questions about my wife’s books, and after reminding him he probably wasn’t the target audience, he said he was going to take a few of her cards anyway “to help support another creative artist.”

As I dropped him off, he added, “I know a few ladies who might like these. Hey, I’m 54 years old. I’ll pop a couple of Viagras, give them these cards and see what happens!”

You can’t make this stuff up …

 

My long ride with an American refugee

The definition of refugee is “a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.” Substitute “city” for “country” and “man-made” for “natural” … and meet Terry.

I picked up Terry after he had just finished working a bruising 12-hour shift as a dump truck driver. He was Lyfting this day because his day started (at 4:30 a.m.) when he discovered, as he was about to leave for work, that his car had a flat tire. A surprise flat tire sucks … but not nearly as much as having to heat a case of water, bottle by bottle, just to take a bath.

Terry moved to Phoenix earlier this year from Flint, Michigan. “That city where the water’s all f—ed up,” he told me. Being the inquisitive type, and since our ride was going to take about 30 minutes, I asked him to tell me more about what it had been like living in a city where the entire treatment system had collapsed, rendering the water unsafe.

It not only “sucked” as much as any person simply reading about it could imagine, but it literally drove him from his home. After months of trying to deal with the slow-moving crisis, Terry finally packed up his family and moved to Arizona “to start over,” he told me.

It wasn’t a decision he made lightly. He owned his home in Flint, and repairing just the pipes in his own house would have run more than $20,000, he said — on a house that was rapidly losing value in a town where all the houses were facing similar problems. flint.jpg

Terry has two young daughters, and he couldn’t imagine putting them through more of the hell they were living through without safe water, so he walked away, letting the house fall into foreclosure. I can’t say I blame him.

While telling his story, he paused to show me this photo on his phone. It’s the washing machine in his house filled with the fine brown water that was coming out of his pipes.

He originally shared the photo on Facebook, where “it kind of went viral,” he said. The next thing he knew he was getting called for an interview by CNN. He never did do the interview, because back in Michigan he had been driving long-haul trucking routes and was on the road a lot. But CNN did use his photo in one of their reports, he said.

Terry said moving away was the right decision. He saw the situation wasn’t going to get any better, and thought about his kids.

“Not on my watch,” he said to himself.

In Phoenix Terry found a good job quickly, and said he’s looking forward to raising his family in a place where there are so many more options for his kids than back in Flint. He wants to get his daughters into gymnastics, and already has them in a school that’s teaching them a second language at the elementary level.

Terry probably doesn’t think of himself as an an American refugee. But in a way he is, and he made the best of a terrible situation.

I respect that. I’m glad I met him. And I wish him, and his family, all the best as they settle into their new city.


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.)

 

 

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.)