Essays

20 Rides in 30 Days: Road Wisdom from Lyft Drivers

Moving back to Seattle was interesting. I thought the move back would end up like I’d planned, but life doesn’t work that way. I had to make a lot of adjustments that I hadn’t expected. But sometimes when things don’t work out, life opens up new possibilities. It’s all about choosing your perspective. Here’s a small example. Lyft sent me a promotional email a few days ago; a deal for 20 rides for $59 in December. That’s about 3 bucks a ride.

Why not? It gives me a chance to talk to 20 new people; a better option than buying 20 cups of coffee for random strangers. My payoff? I get to hear someone else’s take on life, their stories, their wisdom. I decided to record this journey – 20 stories in 30 days.

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Jaymes
We met on a ride to Seattle Central Community College in late November. I was quite grumpy that day. When he asked me if I liked Christmas music, I immediately said no. A strong no. He asked me what I thought it would be like for him teaching English in China. I launched into a critical view about white supremacy and racism in China.

I felt awful right after the “rant”; I’m usually pretty friendly to all the Uber/Lyft drivers. I did tell him it was life-changing for a friend of mine who taught English in Chengdu for a year. We exchanged phone numbers at the end; I honestly wanted a chance for better conversation over a cup of coffee.

So we did. After the usual get to know you questions, he told me he went to Iowa State University – after graduation he ended up in Seattle, and worked as an engineer at Boeing. Later, he went to SoCal for work, and then NYC for a few months to explore. Now he’s back in Seattle on a completely different path – writing a novel, photography, dancing, creating poetry.

“I create art by writing down ideas. Everyday I have new observations, and I just keep putting them down and develop them in a holistic way. Do you believe human being have a third eye? With two eyes, we can only see what’s in front of us in this world: the mundane work, the uninteresting aspect of life, do what others expect us to do… but it is only when we open the third eye, we are able to see the creativity and the realness.”

Peter
He’s about 60 something – probably the oldest Lyft driver I’ve met. Peter’s new to Lyft; after losing his job at small ship company that closed down. His car was very nice, and he explained he wanted to give the passengers a good experience.

He has a 21-year-old daughter. I asked him what advice he would give her. Secretly, I hoped it might make sense to me, since I’m close to his daughter in age.

“Do not get married early. I know people who get married right after high school… but as for women, the later you get married, the better. You gotta have your own career, your house so that when you break out with him, you have a place to go instead he completely cuts you off from all the resources. You gotta provide for yourself.

 

Also, don’t get pregnant before 30. Well, my dad had me when he was 24, and it was too young… he was not mature. I had my daughter when I was 30, when I felt I was mature enough to take on the responsibilities.

 

She met a guy when she was doing study abroad in Netherlands. I had dinner with her last week, out of the blue she announced that she’s going to Cuba during Christmas. “Is the guy going with you?” I asked her. She said, maybe. I said, “If he is willing to make an effort to go, that means he really likes you.” Later on she told me he is going. If things work out, maybe she would do a master degree in Netherlands.

Jorge
Jorge drives for both Lyft and a local cab company. I kicked things off describing a recent get-together with a close friend; we had both been through a lot recently.

It is good to have someone. It is good to catch up with them… I have a friend in California, she is different from all my other friends. She disagrees with me, but she tells me the truth I need to hear. You know, some friends just tell you ‘It’s alright, it’s fine, you are doing great’, but she actually tells me what goes wrong and what I should do. I really appreciate it.

We exchanged upcoming travel plans. Jorge was going back home to Mexico. “Just to get away from the coldness and go to somewhere warm,” he said. The more he talked about it, it was obvious how excited he was. “I bought a ticket for my dad. My mom knows it, but my dad doesn’t. I want to do something for my old man.”

When he dropped my off, he pulled out his smartphone to show me the destination for this father/son trip. It’s a huge cavern they plan on exploring. Looks like a real adventure.

Sirak
It’s almost 9am on Saturday and I just came out of my own warm “cave.” Sirak was bright and energetic; he told me he just woke up an hour ago and started hustling. He asked me what I did yesterday. I told him that last night I discovered my ex-boyfriend got married and the couple just had their first child.

“I’ve been in similar situation before. I was dating a woman but she was never satisfied. With anything. She was constantly looking around, flirting with others… I tried everything I could. We broke up after two years – two years, you know it was quite serious. She told me straight up that she was going with someone that’s richer. I was single for four years after this relationship. I am not a play-around guy, I told myself unless it is the right one, or I won’t get involved in another relationship. ”

There was a happy ending to the story. “Now I’m engaged, he said. “This one’s way better in every single way. She is pretty, she has a good family… I have been with her for two years. Of course we have some arguments, but I know it is out of love, not out of jealousy. I’m very happy now.”

“How do you know you wanna marry her?” I love asking this question.

“She’s great. Even when I bought her two-dollar candy, she appreciates me big time. Two years in, I just know… I told myself I couldn’t pass up this woman. I wanted to hold on to her.”

When we reached my destination, he looked me in the eye and said:

“No matter what it is, relationship, work… if it’s the right thing, and you just keep doing the right thing, it’s going to come along. And it will be way better than you would expected it to be.”

Nick
This next ride took me by surprise. Nick is very good-looking. I even had the fantasy that we’d be a perfect OKCupid match. It’s been a while since he was at college, but he definitely had that frat boy appeal. I Imagined him hooking up with coeds.

“No, I’m not a student … people think so because I look so young. I’m doing Lyft full time now, and I want to go to a pilot school in North Carolina.”

“So that you can screw around with the fly attendants?” I teased him.

“Hahaha, no….. yeah.”

“Have you watched the movie Catch Me If You Can?”

“Yeah! That’s what made me want to be a pilot!”

“What did you do before Lyft?”

“I was a stand-up comedian.” What? That was unexpected.

“I was a stand-up comedian for about six years. After high school, I went to college for a year and it wasn’t for me. So I took the theater route. Some comedians might want to have a separate life. Not me. I like to hear the sound of laughter. I like to observe people.”

Andrew
He was in Seahawks gear and said he was going to see a game at 5:30. This sports fan had a surprising upbringing. “My father is a pastor. He talks a lot about religion and politics… everything at the end becomes religion and politics. I used to go to church when I was young, at some point I just didn’t go there anymore.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“I grew up,” he laughed, “I just believe in life… Some extremists just have really strict boundaries about what people should and should not do. They reject other people because they think they are not right, or because others don’t believe the same thing as they do. That’s not how it is. ”

I’ve investigated other religions over the past few years. What struck me was how much each religion’s fundamental principles overlap. His opinion struck a chord with me, and I wanted to find out more about him.

“Who’s the worst customer you’ve had?”

“The worst customer? I am lucky, nobody puke in my car so far. But the most annoying one was those when they just got out of the club. They were still in the clubbing mode, so when they got in the car, they just yelled at a very high volume. There were some just got in the front seat and put on their headphone, or look out of the window… ah, that’s awkward! ”

Mark
Mark picked me up downtown. He’s a wine merchant, selling American wine to local restaurants. And he’s doing it solo. His said his biggest challenge was to compete with all the foreign cheap wines (from France, Italy etc.).

“I didn’t really have a tough time in life. I just go through it and do whatever I have to do at hand. I also don’t let myself get anxious. I try to be calm. When you’re not calm, you just get nervous, you panic…Don’t let it get to you.”

He went on. “I’m a single parent. I have a daughter in her last her of nursing school. My biggest regret was…I wish I only got married once. I married twice, the first wife was mentally unstable – I found that out after we got married. She wouldn’t go to the doctor. The second one was my daughter’s mother. She didn’t like my business. We just grew apart. We still love each other, but we weren’t in love anymore.”

“What do you mean?” How can two people love each other, but aren’t in love with each other? I just didn’t get it.

“Love can happen between friends. But falling in love is a choice. It takes a lots of work; marriage takes lots of work. It takes tolerance, compromise, communication… it is not just a piece of paper. If I get the chance, I would get married again with the right person.”

Talal
“I have lived in Seattle and every summer I went back to Jordan to visit my families,” he said. “When I was 18 I went to LA, lived there for two years and got my certificate. I’m a sound engineer and do hip hop music. I lived in Qatar for two years too, also doing music. Now I’m back in Seattle and out on shows every now and then.”

“When I have long lay over, I just explore the airport. During a long layover, I just went to the bar, met new people, checked out luxury massage spots. I found some strange things, too. You know, there’s a coy fish pond in Dubai airport! I made a video of this nine-hour layover; each hour a different segment. At first, I was curious about everything, but then I got bored…Hold on, let me play a song for you.”

Not only is there a video, but a score. Against the footage of Talal smoking before he boards is his anthem, “Enjoy Your Flight”.

High heels in the hallway said they gotta go
No invitation ever made it to my home
I don’t pay attention I am emotionally broke
Oxygen and smoke in my throat that make me choke

Keenan
The ride kicks off with an unexpected confession. “I’m a jerk,” he said. “I don’t have many friends.”

“What friendship means to me is someone cares for you supports you when you need them. I always think communication is important, between friends and couples. It’s good to talk things out. I broke up with the first person I really fell for. I’ve dated a lot of people, but I was an asshole. We were together for three years, and she finally went to be with somebody else. We were living together, too, and I just moved out last month. So it’s still fresh. If there ever anyone I considered marrying, it was be her. I have never felt this way before – it’s a new experience.”

Ahmed

After a night of no sleep, Ahmed picked me up at 5 am to go to the airport. It was a rainy Seattle morning and I didn’t expect anybody upbeat. Ahmed was an exception.

I work day shift – up at 4am, take a shower, have breakfast and get on the road. I get off at 2:30 pm, go home and spend time with my family. I can’t do night shift.

 

When I was working in a warehouse, I worked 12 hours a day and I had to sit straight and stare at stuff the whole time … I was there for six years. My doctor told to change jobs, or else my health will get bad.

 

They asked if I can do night shift, I said no. Even though it paid ten times more, and it doesn’t take much skill…no. I am not going to do it. I want to have more time for my family and I gotta listen to the doctor.

 

When I felt tired, as soon as I yawn, I stop driving. I only need to earn $110 a day, as soon as I hit the number, I leave. When I finish, I say, ok, time to go. I have a four-year-old boy, two-year-old daughter and a two-month-old baby. I get off at 2:30 pm so I can go home. I have to be there for them.

Mahmut

“I am from Turkey. I came to the US for six years now. Lottery system gave me a green card. You should try! I worked in the casino as my first job for five years and I didn’t like it. I’ve been driving for Lyft about one year. Sometimes I get drunk customers, they are not good.

 

I like the U.S. So far so good. At the beginning it is hard. New environment, new everything…I believe it’s the same for you too!

 

I am a Muslim. I will pray for you… tonight I go home, I will pray. You will get a job, a good job, in a big company, that pays you good money, $12,000, next month, maybe in the next couple of days.”

Subeg

“There was one time a review said I am rude. I didn’t do anything and I didn’t understand… they are just people’s opinions. Why would I care? They get in my car, and I drop them off at the destination… how can I possibly be rude at any point? When people get mad at me, I prefer them to tell me. If I am rude, please tell me. I need to know what I did to make them think I am rude, I need to know why. The ‘why’ is important.

There was another time, a customer said I am not communicating. He got in the car, asked me questions and I answered. Then, all the sudden he said, why aren’t you asking me any questions? All the other drivers asked me questions. Then he said I am not communicating. There are people’s opinions… and I don’t take it too seriously.

 

I don’t get sad. There is nothing to be sad about. If you are sad… go talk to your boyfriend or something. What? You don’t have a boyfriend? You will find one good man.”

Jerrell

“If you are a gamer, try Super Mario or The Sims. It is very rare to find a girl interested in video games.”

Azor

“I am from Paris. I came here after winning a lottery green card. My family is still in Paris, I’ll be visiting them for 20 days next month… America is not what I thought it is. I thought it will be a lot better than this. Look at all these homeless people on the street! There are so many of them and the government is not doing anything about it. In Europe, you can’t see homeless people. None.

 

You always feel the closest to your own racial group. You feel close to the culture, the language, the skin color, no matter where you are from and what your background is.”

Rugabano

“GPS isn’t important to me. Google, Waze, I don’t really care. I know the road. I just drive.”

Lake
He’s got a set of drums in the car and a puppy under the driver’s seat!

“I prefer Lyft. They are more efficient than Uber. I applied for both, I got response from Lyft, every following step was easy. Also, Lyft books rides better than Uber. They have a program for the driver that they can pick up passengers on the way to work.

 

“Sometimes I like to look at people’s profile on Facebook. I add people even though I don’t know them. Maybe they are from other countries. I will be interested to see what they post.”

Yahya

“Nice to meet you, I am from Sudan. I came here as a refugee, the first stop was in Spokane – it was too cold! Snowing everywhere and there is not much to do….My first job was welding but it is bad for the eyes. Then I went to Maryville, you know, it is north of Everett. I was working in a flower shop. Then I went to Alaska for fishing … no, too cold.

 

Now I am in Seattle and doing Lyft full-time. I love the city. I love my life in America. People are nice. I have friends from everywhere, I have Sudanese friends, some European friends, American friends… they are very nice. People in the city are very diverse.”
“I sleep too much. I work till 2 am and wake up at 11 am, talk to my friends, do laundry, and come out and work again.”

Tadele

“Kids are expensive. I have two, 11 and 17. They are very expensive. The young one cost me so much, $500 last week for new shoes, and today he asked me for $20 again. I don’t know, maybe he wants to buy chips or something. Tonight I am going home and spend it with my family. We will eat, talk, and the kids will play video games.”

Stuart

“I grew up in Hawaii and moved to Seattle at 32. I went to community college in Hawaii. I like Seattle. There are more jobs here. My family is back family is in Hawaii, I’m out here to make some money….Lyft offers bonus in a certain time period… and I am about 6 rides away to meet the quota for this week. Maybe I can get more rides in Seattle. I picked up a lot of Indian customers tonight, they don’t do Christmas. Most of them are foreigners, just visiting here.”

Tomase

New Year’s Eve

“My biggest accomplishment this year… is be successful in life. I work hard, two jobs – one in Safeway and in mobile store, and I am doing Lyft to earn more. I want to have a house for my babies.

 

I don’t have any regrets really. I see it as learning from mistakes, regrets always make you stress out more, you know? Ah… I do have one regret. I didn’t finish college. I was a first year drop out. I got adopted and the school cancelled my financial aid because I am a green card holder. I also got married and had my first kid. So I really need a job. I wish I can get a business management degree.

 

Next year I want to open a mobile store, my boss is great nice people, but I am making money for him, I want to make money for myself.”
“For some reason this year has been a lot, a lot, in every aspect for me. All the ups and downs … but it is the end of the year now. Hopefully things will get better next year.”

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