Happy Anniversary, Uber and Lyft

Yesterday marked one year since the last time I drove a car.

But, you live in LA. Why? How? Isn’t it expensive?!

Let’s rewind and start with why.

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

I had the pleasure of spending Valentine’s Day with someone very special. No, not a significant other, but one of my neurosurgeons. I usually hang out with seven or eight of them at a time, but we were just reviewing my annual MRI results, so only one this time.

“Good news,” he said. “No sign at all of the tumor or any kind of growth coming back. The ventricles look healthy and your shunts are working properly. There is some scar tissue here (points to screen) from the first surgery, but overall this looks really good and it’s what we hope for. We’ll see you in another year.”

That was the condensed version of our talk, but it’s another day of fantastic medical results. I couldn’t ask for more after the rollercoasters began a few years ago (story for another time).

Saturday, February 18th, 2017 (4 days later)

Although it kills my Saturdays and Sundays between 9 and 6, my weekend job has minimal responsibilities. I’m in a quiet office a mile from my house, can access limitless caffeine, and have high-speed Internet. It’s the best “job” I’ve ever had because I get paid to do whatever I want for eight hours, which means I’m usually reading, digging into company financials, watching TED Talks, thinking up random businesses, or occasionally doing homework/studying. If I’m feeling extra nerdy, I’ll stay in late. But not that Saturday. My friend called around 7 and says, “We’re all going out tonight. Go home, get ready, and meet at my place soon.”

I shut it down, locked up, and started driving (for the very last time) home. I laid out my attire for the evening and hopped in the shower. Feeling fresh and clean after a few minutes, I turned off the water, stepped out of the shower into my bathroom, grabbed my towel, and began drying off.

And then I woke up.

I’m on my back. My head is on fire. Wherever I am is slightly shaking. A figure towers over me and is repeatedly snapping his fingers in my dazed face.

“Hey Daniel, you awake?!” he asks loudly while snapping faster and louder. “You’re in an ambulance! We’re taking you to Northridge Hospital! You had a seizure in the bathroom and……”

I wake up again. Head pain is ridiculous. My inner lip hurts like hell, and now I can taste blood. But there’s no more rocking. I see a doctor, nurses, and my parents. As the familiarity of a hospital sets in, my fried brain resets and starts wondering, “What the fuck is going on?”

Remember those nights in college? You know, the ones when you challenged your liver and brain at the Alcohol Olympics, and lost? You woke up the next morning on a bed/couch/floor/roof you don’t recall falling asleep on. You’d laugh a bit, feel the raging hangover, look around inquisitively, and with a mix of excitement and uncertainty ask your friends “Soooo what happened last night?” All while praying your good decisions outweighed the bad. Well — of course you don’t remember these! YOU BLACKED OUT! (Also an epic story for another time). Point is, I blacked out during the seizure, so this next part is my take of my parents’ account, as I have absolutely no recollection.

Parents — About 40 minutes before I arrived at the hospital, my parents were in the dining room and heard a loud noise on the opposite side of the house — as if something collapsed. They walked over and didn’t notice any fallen paintings or bookshelves. Then came the knock on the bathroom door to no reassuring response from yours truly. The door opens, and there I am on the ground in my birthday suit, having a seizure. (Thank you, Big Man Upstairs for putting the hamper between my head and tile floor).

They call 9–1–1, the fire department shows up, and even though the firefighters were able to have me sit up and open my eyes, I’m unable to focus or respond because I “wasn’t there.” I’m told they got me dressed and helped me walk outside, at which point I broke free and strolled over unassisted to the ambulance (I actually laughed at this, and still do — take note, Hiring Managers, I’m clearly a motivated individual who can independently reach his goals when seeing them).

Me again — The CT scan looked fine, the doctors gave me some meds and set up appointments with my doctors at USC. Then they explained when patients are brought in due to seizures, the incident is reported to the city government, which then reports it to the DMV, which then suspends your license indefinitely.

A few days later, I did an EEG scan. My neurologist and neurosurgeons concluded that the aforementioned surgical scar behaved like a traffic jam for electrical activity in the region, and I was told that anytime electrical activity in the brain dramatically speeds up or slows down, a seizure occurs.This event was entirely unpredictable, and they diagnosed me with epilepsy.

My neurologist then explained I wouldn’t be driving for at least a year. If there weren’t any more seizures during that time frame, I’d be allowed to go through the process of relicensing — yes, that means all of the written stuff and the driving exam. GREATTTT!!

All things considered, I was incredibly lucky. My head could have hit the tile floor during the fall and I may not even be writing this. But when you live in LA and have been driving almost daily since 2008, being told you cannot drive for at least a year provides for quite the spike in anxiety. Thankfully, I’ve learned to look at the whiskey glass as always half full, and quickly figured out the solutions to my transit troubles.

Enter Uber, Lyft, public transportation, (and friends and family).

At this point, I hadn’t been a frequent user of either Lyft or Uber, as there was never a need for individual rides, just social outings when we’d all drink. I suddenly went from being the seldom weekend rider to an almost daily one. Let’s jump right into the questions you probably have.

Which company is better? — I don’t know, and it doesn’t really matter to me. I don’t care about their legal battles, who the CEO is, or the most recent obnoxious EBITDA-multiple valuation— I’m just trying to get from A to B safely, quickly, and for the lowest price. That being said, your experience depends on the driver, not the flag they’re under that hour. And since most drivers work with both, placing more value on one brand over another is absolutely meaningless.

Which one is cheaper? — Depends on the city you’re in, trip distance, time of day, and other factors that their algorithms crunch. To my knowledge, there aren’t any apps that give real-time side-by-side price comparisons. Google Maps just gives estimates. Now before you try and make that app, it’s been tried before and failed because the API access was pulled. These tech giants aren’t stupid.

But doesn’t the cost add up? — I’ve spent exactly $2,917.33 since February 18th, 2017. This includes a combination of Uber X, Uber Pool, Lyft, Lyft Line, and I also used Via and Juno while in New York City last October and November, along with the subways in NYC and LA. If not for the kindness of my family and friends providing rides, I would have surely spent more, HOWEVER, let’s take a look at what my vehicle costs would be.

  • Assuming $50/week on gas because I drive a lot: $50 x 52 weeks = $2,600
  • My insurance was ~$120/month: $120 x 12 months = ~$1,440
  • I own my car, so thankfully I paid nothing for that
  • Premium oil changes every few months (~3/year) = ~$300
  • Annual registration or whatever that sticker is = ? (I don’t remember, say $50)
  • Valet parking or street parking = how often you go out and where
  • God forbid you have a car accident, need other repairs, or get a ticket
  • In my case, I would have paid at least $4,390. Instead, I paid $2,917.33. I saved 33%. That’s a lot of wiggle room for more rides without bothering friends and family, and I haven’t even factored in the bonuses.
  • BONUS1: I’m an independent contractor and can deduct a percentage of business transit from my income.
  • BONUS2: All of my rides are charged to credit cards that offer cash-back or airline points.

Any tips and tricks?

I’m glad you asked!

  • Do not, I REPEAT, DO NOT use Uber Pool or Lyft Line if you need to be somewhere by a certain time. Being punctual is attractive in social atmospheres, and necessary in professional ones. The phrase “time is money” rings true here. If you’re genuinely not in a rush and want to save a few bucks, go for it. Otherwise, don’t be cheap and just be on time!
  • Don’t be afraid to give your driver a shitty rating when they deserve it and don’t hesitate to ask the companies for refunds if you feel you actually deserve one. Yes, I do have horror stories for your amusement.

— One driver was watching YouTube videos…on an iPad. This was one of my first rides and I was too intimidated to say a word. Thankful I made it out.

— One driver would not shut up and was driving 25mph in a 40 zone, until I finally told him, “Hey, you need to speed up! You’re unsafely holding up a line of cars behind you, and you’re wasting my f*cking time.”

— One driver thought she was a race car driver and almost killed us 30 seconds into the ride, and then we almost died again two minutes later.

— One driver was angrily complaining the entire ride, and behaving as though the world owed him something. I thought he’d run us into a wall and try to end it with me as his witness.

Did you meet any cool drivers?

Tons. Some of the best conversations I had in 2017 took place during these rides. I met immigrants trying to live the American Dream, a day trader “trying to have one source of steady income,” tons of software developers and designers, a bunch of people who told me about their newfound Bitcoin and crypto wealth, retired men and women who are bored of sitting at home, musicians and actors trying to “make it,” students, and so many more.

— One guy was wearing a suit and playing classical music. It felt like I was in a movie.

— One woman picked me up in a BMW and had a German accent. She only drives at night because she’s used to the Autobahn speed, not LA traffic.

— One man was a former chemical engineer who worked in the wine industry, but then became a mortgage broker and made a killing before the recession.

— One driver saw my scars and told me he’s a retired engineer from Accuray, the company that built the CyberKnife surgery system. That was a fun talk.

So, it’s been a year, and you haven’t had a seizure. Time to drive?

No. I’m done. I absolutely love Uber, Lyft, and future companies that enter this space. I use them for work, school, dating, seeing friends, and everything else I can’t walk to. Try it out, it’s kind of addicting. But really, there’s zero reason for me to sit behind the wheel. Sure, I’m on anti-seizure meds every day, but the first seizure was unpredictable after the MRI showed “all clear.” If it happened 15 minutes later, it would have been while I was driving, meaning I or someone else, or both of us, would be horribly injured, or worse. Think about it — would you want to be a passenger when I’m behind the wheel? I hope you said no, because God-honest truth, that’s how I’d feel about you. The risk just isn’t worth it. Additionally, I LOVE that I don’t have to deal with the stress of traffic anymore. Extra sleep? Hell yes. Podcasts? Emails? Texting? Phone calls? You bet! I guess it also helps that I’m trying to move to a place like NYC, Chicago, London, SF, or wherever I get a big finance gig (i.e. places that also have fantastic subway systems).

Anyways, that’s it for my first blog post or whatever you want to call this. If you read this far, I’ll happily take any feedback.

Thank you, I appreciate your time — Daniel Sigal

SONG PICK OF THE WEEK: http://bit.ly/2C1sRQb