Wear and tear on my own car and driving strangers around didn’t really appeal to me. Plus, I had never used Uber or Lyft; I always used Via.
On the other hand, I have always enjoyed driving back and forth to my alma mater in Missouri. I am the road warrior who will volunteer to drive during anybody’s road trip. All I need is sunflower seeds and pink lemonade, and I’m ready to drive wherever you want me to.
Why I chose to try Lyft and Uber
I made the decision in September 2018 that I was going to go at least one year as a full-time freelancer. I resigned from my job. I wanted to explore all the private projects and Upwork clients that I’d worked with here and there but never been able to really focus on. I did the math and realized I could make enough to survive.
However, I remember the days of freelancing by force (due to a company layoff back in 2013), As a freelance writer and editor, you can become a bit of a recluse. Sitting on your butt while eating junk food and takeout, trying to meet a deadline, is a recipe for suspiciously tight jeans. And if you’re not careful, you’ll never step outside your place other than to do laundry or grocery shop. So I had to find a reason to get away from my desk and couch.
Recommended Read: “Opting out of ‘Quiet Mode’ in Uber”
Going to the gym four to five days a week was an absolute requirement. But yoga, pilates and occasional kickboxing don’t pay my bills. I remembered all the stories I heard from my peers about Uber and Lyft driving, and thought, “Well, it won’t physically get me out of a chair but at least it’ll make sure I get out of the house and meet new people I’m not interviewing.”
The Uber and Lyft driver stories
Uber and I did not last long. The training process left much to be desired. And there were an abundance of side-seat drivers and frustrating passengers. And if you had a bad passenger, it didn’t seem like Uber really cared.
Lyft, on the other hand, went all out with a background check, a full inspection of my car, and for some strange reason the passengers were way more pleasant or at least left me with a fun story to tell. If I had a passenger who I wan’t thrilled with, a three-star review (or lower) would assure me that I’d never have to ride with this person again. I rated three stars or less very rarely.
Some of my favorite Lyft people included:
- The two priests I picked up outside of a church who cracked up laughing at how mortified I was when my Spotify playlist played Teyana Taylor’s “W.T.P.” The more I apologized, the more amused they were. At one point, they told me to “turn it up” while I wrestled to change to my “Uber/Lyft friendly” playlist.
- The aspiring actor who was a wrestler and bouncer to pay for his dreams.
- The veteran who loves Halloween and gave me a $10 tip because he thought I was “freaking hot.”
- The college students who pondered on why one ex-boyfriend wanted her to take an AIDS test.
- The parents who hadn’t been out on date nights in weeks and were ecstatic to go to a hamburger extravaganza.
- The beer exhibit visitors who wanted to go to another restaurant to drink some more.
- The college professors who pondered on why they don’t build quality conversations while riding CTA.
- The moms taking their kids to school so they could go to yoga, which started a Yoga Appreciation moment.
- The vegan/vegetarian passengers who I traded recipes and animal-friendly tips.
The unfortunate lows of Lyft — passengers, that is
Of course I dealt with a few who had way too much to drink. I was particularly entertained by one group of girls who were drunk out of their minds at noon. But overall, Lyft was a lot of fun. That is, until it wasn’t.
I could usually ignore the occasional passenger who wanted to compare her GPS to mine. I gritted my teeth and fought my way around Lower Wacker Drive. I understood when people were late for something and tried to get them there as quickly as possible. (And I got no speeding tickets, thank you very much!)
The final straw with Lyft
I would probably still be dedicating an hour to Lyft right now. But one particular group of people got in my car and ruined my optimism for ride-sharing altogether. I should’ve known something was off when the girl got in the backseat and said, “I don’t want to sit next to it.” I shrugged and just ignored it. The other two guys in the group greeted me.
While they sang along to a Justin Bieber song (my playlist clearly got more G-rated), my nose caught a whiff of this God awful smell. I wanted to hang my head out the window. My mother raised me with an annoying amount of manners, so I just dealt with the smell. I was not going to ask if the smell was one of them; that’s just not my style. I breathed through my mouth and drove on.
The garbage bag in one guy’s lap caught my attention. But because I took people to the airport with a variety of luggage, initially I thought nothing of it.
But the heat made the smell stronger. And finally they stopped singing “Love Yourself” long enough to mumble something from the backseat about how they couldn’t wait to get home to “skin and clean it.” That is when it hit me that this group had the audacity to get in my car with a dead animal and never bother to warn me.
I dropped them off, aired out my car, zoomed home to clean it before I picked up anyone else, and checked the seat to make sure no blood was on my light gray seats. I was pissed. They got a one-star review.
Final words as a Lyft driver
Out of more than 100 rides, this is the only time this happened. And to be fair, it’s a very unique (and unfortunate) situation. I could end this blog by lecturing people to let Lyft drivers know if you need to bring home a dead animal in a garbage bag, but my guess is most of you have more couth. What I will say is in that 100-plus rides as an Uber and Lyft driver, I developed a much deeper appreciation and respect for all taxi drivers, limousine chauffeurs, full-time ride-sharing drivers, and anyone else in the travel field.
It takes a special kind of patience, and consistently good customer service, to keep your ratings high and the tips coming. And now that I’ve been on the other side of a ride-sharing app, all I can say to my fellow drivers is “thank you.”
This post was originally published on March 21, 2019 on Chicago Now’s “Message from Montie” blog.