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.

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.)

Strippers gotta strip … but they’d better get to work on time

So far I’ve given two rides to strippers.

The first was uneventful, just a short ride for a girl working at Sonny’s Gentleman’s Club, a longtime stripper bar in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler, one known for its amusing phrases posted on the marquee out front.

sonnyssign

The second was a bit more interesting.

The ride request came at the end of one of those days where you get stuck on the opposite end of town and are desperately trying to work your way back home. I was partway there when I got pinged for a ride while cruising toward home on the freeway. I exited and pulled up to the pin location on the map, which appeared to be a yet-to-open-for-the-night strip club with no cars in the parking lot. Two doors down there was a U-haul rental facility. With the empty parking lot at the club, I assumed I had overshot the destination and flipped around to find my male passenger at the U-Haul.

Then the phone rang and it was the passenger who, it turns out, was at a small taxi company yard wedged in between those two businesses. I had assumed the pickup wasn’t AT the taxi spot because … well … why would someone at a taxi place call for a Lyft?

Here’s why:

As a I pulled in a tall woman in heels and tight cut-off jean shorts, sporting blue-dyed hair, came running up toward the car and hopped in. As we pulled away, she started spilling about the string of events that ended up uniting us for her 15-minute ride home.

Ava (her stage name) had been at the strip club for an audition. She had just been fired … from Sonny’s! Now she was in Tempe at this rival club doing a private dance for the manager, trying to get herself back in business.

She had been dropped off for her audition by a Lyft driver she knew personally because, she said, he was also a customer of hers.

“Well, a little more than a customer,” she volunteered.

Uh-huh.

Her driver/customer/more-than-a-friend didn’t answer when she called him for an off-the-books ride to get picked up after her audition. That’s when she noticed the taxi place next door and walked over, hoping to get a ride home. Alas, the taxi place just stored taxis, the guys working there told her. She couldn’t actually hire a taxi from them.

(Maybe this is one reason Lyft and Uber are killing that legacy business. But I digress.).

However, one of the taxi guys offered to call her a Lyft using his app if she could pony up $20. She did. And he did. And that’s how I came into the story.

Ava dove right into her tale about why she was auditioning. She had been fired, she said, because she had a transportation issue and couldn’t seem to make it to work on time. (And, honestly, how effective is a stripper with poor timing?)

She was still using an old flip phone, but now it wasn’t working well, thanks to recently dropping it in a toilet. So she needed to buy a new one, but now she wasn’t working and barely had enough cash to pay her rent.

As we headed toward her apartment, I couldn’t resist asking how she had gotten into this line of work. She had started at 18, during a time when she didn’t know what direction her life would take. Then she met and started dating a guy who was a bouncer at a strip club. Now, a dozen years later, that guy was long gone and it was just a job like any other. She had worked the local circuit, spending time dancing in a half-dozen clubs in the Phoenix metro area.

Ava was a sweet person, but one who seemed like she was always just one bad turn of luck away from things crashing down around her. And this had been one of those weeks.

As I dropped her off, she paused and said, “Can I ask you something?”

“Would you be open to giving me your number, so if I need a ride again i could just call you? You know, on the side. If you’re in the area.”

I thought about it. Ava needed something to go right. So I said sure. What the heck.

As I pulled away, tacking this story onto the end of another day on the road, I suddenly  wondered … Is this is how at other Lyft driver got involved?


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.)

Everybody needs to get to work … even when their office is a freeway offramp

I like driving weekday mornings. The customers are friendly and businesslike. They’re simply headed to school, work or an appointment. It’s all about getting from Point A to Point B.

That was the case for a passenger I’ll call Jay. It was the end of the morning rush, about 9:30 a.m. I was just down the street when the app pinged me to pick him up. While many riders haven’t bothered to upload Lyft profile photos, Jay had one. As I pointed the car toward the pickup point, I remember speculating when I saw his picture — a clean-cut looking guy in a suit and tie — that this might be an airport ride.

As I pulled up in front of his house, in an older but nicely kept section of a major Phoenix suburb, he was waiting outside. Jay wasn’t wearing a suit, or anything resembling business attire. He sported an old pair of jeans, T-shirt and a week-old stubble of beard. And he was holding a piece of cardboard and a can of Dr. Pepper.

Jay wasn’t headed to the airport. He was going to work, for his regular gig begging for spare change at a freeway offramp. He’d already set the drop-off location in the app and knew exactly where he was headed.

Confession: I’ve always had a fascination with the people who set up shop on street corners and freeway off-ramps. What’s their story? When did they realize that, as a result of whatever hand life had dealt them, the path forward was a hopeful phrase scrawled on a cardboard sign, pointed at a steady stream of strangers desperately trying to avoid eye contact?

Now, Jay was in my back seat. On his way to work. And I was lucky enough to have a few minutes to figure out his story.

There’s no way to know where the “truth” was exactly. But what follows was definitely Jay’s truth.

— He used to be a Lyft driver. He said his car had been totaled in an accident, he didn’t have enough insurance to replace it and he had decided begging (his words) would be a way to save money for a new down payment.

— His family was his No. 1 issue, and he blamed them for most of his problems. They were “horrible, awful people” who regularly called the cops on him because they didn’t want him begging at the off-ramp.

— He had been raised as part of an extreme offshoot sect of a major conservative religion, and his falling out with “The Church” had something to do with his current situation — and his issues with his family.

— He claimed he previously worked in the hotel industry, and had been very successful at one point. The hotel back-story seemed to intersect with family members, and as far as I could tell Jay’s issues with them seemed to have something to do with losing his job … the one he must have held when he first created that Lyft profile with the business suit.

— Despite his current situation, Jay was still a rule-follower. The spot we were headed was his favorite because it was one that wasn’t state property posted with No Trespassing signs. So he felt like he wasn’t breaking any laws.

— Is there competition for spots among freeway beggars? A little, he said, but the system seems to run more loosely on a first-come, first-squat basis. If his spot was taken when we got there, he’d simply walk down to the next exit.

— How much did he earn? It varied, he said. In any given hour he could pull in anything from a few quarters to $50. Bottles of water were a frequent offering from sympathetic drivers, even if they didn’t give any cash. Occasionally people would offer food.

On our way to the drop-off point, he asked me to stop at a Burger King so he could grab a straw for his drink and use the restroom (which made me silently question his relationship with the house where I picked him up). While I waited, I snapped a photo of his sign sitting on the car seat. It’s the real deal.

In hindsight, Jay was a little sketchy. But he was happy to have someone take an interest in his story. And I was happy to have him share it.

I let him out in a spot that he clearly had used before. I pulled away and flipped a U-turn to head home, knowing he’d be my last ride of the morning. As I turned  south onto the freeway on-ramp, I looked back in the mirror.

Jay had already clocked in, sign in hand … and was hard at work.


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.)

 

And THAT’S what happens when girls get crazy after a rave

One of my first rides … I think it was literally Day 1 behind the wheel … I pick up this young woman who had just emerged from a Dollar Tree Store with her bag of whatever people buy in the Dollar Tree Store.

She lets me know right off the bat that she’s adding a stop at a McDonald’s drive-through. (I refuse to spell it drive-thru BTW … I’m a former journalist after all).

A minute or two into the ride her phone rings. Inexplicably, she answers it in speaker mode. People, phone conversations during the ride are already potential minefields. But keeping your phone on speaker says you really need to work on your self-awareness, you just don’t care, or both.

My ride this day … we’ll call her Jasmine … answers the call and her friend on the other end immediately goes into gossip mode, trying to find out what happened to two of their mutual friends at a recent rave party they all had been at, where said friends were last seen leaving the club with some dudes they had just met that night.

Jasmine appears to be the one in the know, and she tries like hell during our short ride to Mickey D’s to deflect and not give Friend-on-the-Phone the full story. But she finally breaks down and spills.

“They all left and went back to their condo and had an orgy,” Jasmine confesses. We’re now at the drive-through speaker and she pauses to order what seems to be more chicken nuggets than a slim twentysomething could possibly put away. By the time we pull forward to pay and collect the order, I’m no longer the only one dipping into this conversation. The poor woman inside the window is now hearing it all too.

“They’re all worried now. They think they’ve caught something,” Jasmine continues. “They’re going to get tested. I think it’s chlamydia or something. I told them they HAVE to get tested.”

At this point, my ride in the little pink dress suddenly stops. “Oh my God,” she tells her friend, suddenly shaken back to reality by the scent of Big Macs and Quarter Pounders wafting through the sliding glass window. “I’m in an Uber and my driver is right here!”

First, miss, I don’t drive for Uber. I’m not a savage. Second, we’re at the drive-up window. McDonald’s lady is right here with us, too. You, me, her … and Barbie on the other end of the speakerphone. We’re all in this story together at this point.

After collecting her food, we pull away, knowing the four of us have shared something special.

Is there a test for that?


If 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.)