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.)

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.)

When you don’t care where you’re going, it’s easy to get there

Toonces, the famous driving cat from Saturday Night Live

Since I started driving for Lyft, I’ve become an Uber-mellow (pun intended) driver.

Most weekdays, I drive the morning AND afternoon rush hours — by choice.

One day I came to a simple truth: Driving in traffic is only stressful when YOU are the person trying to get somewhere. And that’s the reality for most people when they get behind the wheel. As soon as traffic gets in the way, your blood pressure goes up and you feel powerless. You’re gonna be late, and it’s someone else’s fault.

But when driving for Lyft, I’m not trying to get anywhere. And THAT makes all the difference.

A few observations from driving in this previously unnatural state:

  • Surface streets are amazingly efficient (at least in Phoenix, where they are wide and everything is laid out on a grid). I’m always shocked how quickly I can cover a lot of ground without ever getting on a freeway.
  • When you drive the speed limit you hit a lot more green lights. It’s also more relaxing.
  • Going easy on the gas and brake pretty much gets you where you’re going at the same time as the next guy who’s driving like a maniac.

Another observation, specific to spending so much time in this slow-motion motoring state of mind: Casino BaitBeing a rideshare driver feels like some twisted combination of gambling and fishing.

Like fishing, you’re always trolling for the best fishing holes. And when you find one, you want to keep it to yourself. One of mine is a Toyota dealership that I discovered where the service advisors call Lyft rides for any and all of their customers who need to get somewhere after dropping off their car. If I’m in that dealer’s area on a weekday morning, I simply pull in next to the service entrance and wait for the bite. And it always comes. Then I only have to drive 25 yards to reel them in.

Like gambling … especially on a slot machine or video poker … you keep winning (getting rides) just often enough to keep you playing. When things are going good, you’re on a streak. The rides are longer and the next pickup comes quickly. When things are bad, the rides are few, the length is short and no one is tipping.

Which reminds me …

… of the guy I picked up recently at one of our Indian casinos. He was literally coming off 24 hours straight of gambling, with no sleep. He admitted he had lost $5,000, but as we talked more, I realized he’d actually lost $15,000. The $5k was what he had lost on top of the $10k he had walked in with, which he wasn’t counting at first because they were winnings from his last bender the week before.

I think I’ll stick to my low-stakes version of fish-ambling. It’s just as fun … but not nearly as painful when it goes bad.

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.)