On the way to SFO last Thursday, a far too expensive Uber quote made me call a Lyft. Drenched in the rain, I ran inside Zia’s car, itching only to get to the airport in time to make my flight. Luckily, I’d set out early, as an 18 wheeler fell over on the Bay Bridge (everyone forgets how to drive on the West Coast when it rains, seriously) and everything was delayed by an hour. The LyftLine picked up another South Korean woman, whose name I never learned but a recent Penn graduate who worked at a gaming company. Zia was chatty, asking us about where we were going, what we did.
As we approached the Bay Bridge, Zia paused to ask if we’d like to learn about a project he was working on. After our enthusiastic response, he pulled out a well-worn notebook and a pen and told us that we have a message to read from previous riders! We flipped to the last page and read out loud the page that was written; there was a paragraph on life being too short for bullshit, and another about the guilt this person felt from his overconsumption of material things.
Zia explained that he collects stories of his riders — not things that are cliche, but advice and personal experiences that everyone can learn from, and to understand the humanity of the people surrounding us. He himself went through the Silicon Valley craze, having a Master’s degree from a top university and having worked at multiple startups. He quit his job after finding lots of money and little satisfaction, and currently is working on this project. He screens his riders, and if he deems them to be valuable of contributing, he shows them the project and ask them to write a little.
What developed was a really deep conversation between three strangers of three different backgrounds about life, and a main topic was whether its worth pursuing meaningless work just to conform to someone else’s idea of success or their expectations. This notebook also gave us a tangible way of thinking about how everyone surrounding us going through the same types of struggles.
The woman with me was dropped off first, and I took the opportunity to read her story before writing mine. She described how she had no idea what she was doing with her life, and she’d never learned about struggling till her father’s business went bankrupt. Although she’d expressed in conversation that she was struggling, the depth of her situation had not come through in conversation as it did in her writing, which is why this project is so valuable. We hear real experiences of people, rather than cliche quotes with no backing as to why people relate to them.
I won’t share the story I wrote down as I believe in the objective of anonymity, but sharing this experience was important to me. Zia has compiled the first anthology of stories into a book called LyftMeUp SF, and has an Instagram account of the same handle, where he posts shorter stories. Definitely check it out!