For some time now I’ve been looking for ways to supplement my stellar Catholic school teacher income. My dreams of a principalship crushed by the man and hacked by the Russians (isn’t everything hacked by the Russians these days?) I lowered the bar and began searching for fruit hanging just a bit closer to the ground.
And that is how, this weekend, I began my new second job as a rideshare driver.
And in this effort I may have just stumbled upon the most lucrative fruit of all. Rather than “hanging low to the ground” this baby was just lying there, somewhat trampled underfoot by the masses. I was deliberately cautious in whom I confided my plans to “drive”. Wouldn’t want people picking their mouths off the floor while mouthing “why on earth?” almost under their breath. I’ll tell you why. It’s certainly not because someone I know is turning 2(5×4) in the next few months. 1/2(80)? It wouldn’t have anything to do with wanting a few new firearms to add to my collection. It could never be that I’ve been looking for a new source of writing material and knew I’d struck gold with this one.
But here I am, the first of my hopefully long series of rides under my belt, and I’m happy to relay my experiences to you.
The sign up process was incredibly easy. Using this particular company’s app I was able to tell them I am a safe driver, have insurance, am witty, have a chiseled body, and am generally a nice man all of the time. And they bought it. Within a day my documentation, which consisted of a few uploaded photos of my license and registration stickers, had been approved. Almost immediately I started getting texts from the company gently urging me to get started.
“Hey schmuck, you gonna’ do this thing or what?” was my favorite.
As if the texts weren’t enough, my lovely wife who still has no idea why I’m doing this in earnest would drop helpful hints. “Honey,” she’d say in a gentle tone, “Time is money and I don’t see your butt behind the wheel right now…”
I stand on the shoulders of giants. Photo Credit
I, however, was waiting for the most opportune moment. I was ready, just not mentally ready. But the moment did strike. On Friday afternoon I got home from my real job early after proctoring some end-of-term exams. I took the car to the carwash and got her bathed. I snagged a can of something called Ozium from an acquaintance with a prodigious weed habit to air out the scent of legal tobacco from the carpet fibers. It worked too! I even anticipated that my passengers – riders they’re called – might get thirsty and neatly placed two fresh bottles of water in the cupholders in the back. I thought of getting totally festive and stringing candy canes from the seatbacks but ultimately thought better of myself.
That Awkward First Time
When 7:00 came (not sure why I chose that time other than having finished my workout) I switched the app on. I was a little nervous. I had never let complete strangers into my vehicle and wasn’t sure exactly who would be riding with me tonight. I envisioned a raucous run of drunken partiers needing rides home after a night on the town. Then again, I figured, it’s only 7. They’re probably still sober and just heading out.
Within 30 seconds I got my first ping. It was a woman (judging by the name though you never can tell these days) calling for a ride from about two miles away. The thing with this service is that you don’t know where that rider wants to go until you get there. I followed the app’s GPS practically to her front door – an apartment complex where I’d have to sneak past the gate on someone else’s code. Sent her a text from the app so my real number didn’t show on her phone.
This is your rideshare. I’m in the lot with my hazards on. Take your time.
Moments later a young couple came to the car and got in. I looked down at the app and noticed that, having accepted the fare, I could now see their destination. It was an upscale shopping mall about twenty miles away. I had been warned by a nephew who also drives for this company not to speak much. Apparently when one is so broke she can’t afford a car and needs a high school teacher to drive her to Nieman’s to buy Christmas gifts, one doesn’t want to not keep decorous custom. I said simply “heading to the mall tonight?” and got an affirmative response. For the next thirty minutes I said nothing.
The funny thing is that the couple in my back seat did have a bit to say. However, they said it in hushed whispers. Oh I sure heard what they said though not every detail. Something about what they were going to get Marisol (they settled on a bike), what they’d get Julio (an X Box), and something about how Rafael, who I gather is a toddler, has suddenly gained an interest in Jesus. That’s Jesus as in the Savior of the human race, not Jesus the Spanish boy’s name after the other Jesus.
I dropped them at the mall, switched the app off and headed home. I had only wanted tonight to get my first ride out of the way in much the same way a young man just wants to snag that first kiss and then suddenly loses interest in actually dating the girl. Wait, no. Forget that. I drove home, remembered that I had not actually done a workout, and so I did a workout. I did say that I’m chiseled. Once showered, my wife turned to me and said in a tender way “Babe, clock’s tickin’.”
Love Will Keep Us Together
I switched the app back on and got a call. This time it was a couple of guys in their early 20’s. They lived nearby and were heading to the same area as that mall to see a movie. I was feeling more confident. When they got in I turned around and said “Welcome, gentlemen. Help yourself to a bottle of water. If you need the temperature adjusted just let me know. If there’s anything else I can help you with just say so.” That last sentence almost proved to be my undoing. “How ’bout some tunes, man?” the one guy said. “Anything in particular?” I asked. “You got any hip hop?” I hit a few presets. Immediately came blaring from my speakers Captain and Tenille’s Love Will Keep Us Together. I laughed. “Clearly, that ain’t hip hop,” I said. They laughed, yet strangely agreed that they liked the song and said I should let it play. I dropped them off and decided to wait it out in the parking lot until the next call came in. It was now about 9PM on a Friday night. The club-goers were already at their clubs. The movie-goers were in the theaters. Five minutes of waiting and I figured my luck had run out. I would head home.
How’s That for Irony?
As I was about to head up the ramp to the interstate I got pinged. OK, I thought. Let’s see what this one is. I accepted and followed the navigator to another apartment complex. It was a bit sketchy but whatever. A woman came out to the car and asked me if I could give her a few minutes. She wanted to say good bye to her kids. When she came back out we started our drive. I could see she was headed downtown, a fifteen mile drive. All of this so far was great for me. These three trips are all longer by far than the average rideshare journey. More money for my birthday party fund, I mean, for our household budget. Who am I kidding? That person stopped reading this blog long ago so I’m safe.
Sticking to my “no-talkie” rule I only spoke to my fare when she spoke up telling me to ignore the navigator in favor of a route that would have less traffic. Seemed logical. If she didn’t know what she was talking about it would take longer and I’d get paid more. About five minutes in and we were on the highway. And she spoke up again. “How long have you been doing this?” “Actually,” I said, “It’s my first night.” “Wow, I’d never know,” she said. I took that as a compliment. I wonder if it was my ability to drive my own car that belied my skill as a driver of my own car. “I’m a cabbie myself on my way to work tonight. You guys are cheaper than our cabs so that’s how I get to work.” Holy shit. How’s that for irony? She proceeded to tell me her life story. She’s eight month’s pregnant, has three other little girls at home and, as mentioned, works as a cabbie overnight. She did give me some tips of the trade, telling me where the best locations and times for maximal payout are.
She also asked if she could use my phone to call work and tell them she was running late. Here’s where my inexperience kicked in. “Sure,” I said, without thinking. And the moment the phone passed into her hands I thought of something. What if this chick is simply going to swipe “cancel” on my app, let me drive her to work, and I won’t get paid and not even know it? I envisioned her dancing a jig atop a yellow cab in a seedy garage as she regaled her co-workers. “I fooled that gringo! Tryin’ to steal our jobs and cut in on our turf! Death to rideshare!” Fortunately, she actually called work and then handed me my phone. Won’t make that mistake again. She even politely asked if she could take an extra bottle of water on her departure.
The Downtown Party Girls
Fully in the swing of things as a hack I responded to a few more calls downtown. It was now about 11PM. The early bar-goers were wrapping things up, the “lightweights” as I call them. A woman in her mid-20’s got in. She was dressed like a lumberjack. “Office Christmas party,” she explained, “and the theme was plaid.” Good to know. I was beginning to think I had stumbled into some alternate universe.
I had earlier decided to drive until midnight or until the first whiff of hard liquor came oozing out of pores. At 11:45 a woman got in outside a small boutique bar, a trendy spot. When she opened her mouth to thank me for picking her up I caught the scent of tequila and knew she’d be my coda. And a “fun” passenger she was too! She went on and on about how she “loved my car”. She used to have one just like it. She sold it to a man who had just gotten rid of his Porsche. I couldn’t have gotten a word in edgewise if I tried but I would have asked “He sold a Porsche for an Accord?” Turns out the sports car had been totaled and the man was decapitated. “Run that by me again?” I said. “Wait, what?” she replied. “Oh, I guess he couldn’t have been completely decapitated.” No, I’d say probably not completely. She was sad to let go of her car but signed it over for the right price. She’d heard four months later that he totaled that car too. “Sounds like God’s trying to tell him something,” I muttered. “I don’t know…” she said, her voice nostalgically trailing off and a tear welling up in her non-Botoxed left eye. I wonder if I could get that car back, like if I could track it down and have it fixed up.” Mercifully it was time for her to get out.
My quiver full of stories I shut that app off as fast as my thumb could swipe left to right and headed home. On the ride I thought about the pregnant cabbie and wondered how much she’d be taking home in the morning. I had worked a total of two hours and pulled in about a hundred bucks. She’d be striving for tips. Then I thought about the gentle and lovable drunks I’d shuttled and I felt good that I spared them and the world from a few drunk drivers this night. I thought about the guys going to the movie and the moment we shared laughing at my disco preset. I thought about the shoppers and wondered if Jesus would get his Red Rider air rifle.
I walked in to the love of my life sitting at the counter looking at her laptop. She had waited up for me. Aw, she does care. “How’d it go?” she asked. “Just another Friday night, dear,” came my response and we headed off to bed.
The real answer to that question will come in a few months when we see if she gets a piñata and paper cups or a trip to Australia.