I’m reviving stories from 2015 during the spectacle that is Coachella 2016. Just for old times sake.
Without a doubt, my biggest motivation in driving for Uber is the variety of people I meet. I’m not making a ton of vacation money with this gig anymore, the Uber gold rush seems to be over. But I still have fun meeting people. Does this define me as an extrovert? Would I rather drive strangers around town for little pay than sit on the couch? Yep. I’m an extrovert.
The two weekends of the Coachella Music and Arts Festival are the most fun for this reason. One ride request after another all day long, and late into the night if Red Bull does it’s job. The personalities I see, and watch and listen to! People, don’t you realize your Uber driver is listening to you? I list a few of the most outstanding personality types I saw this year. This year I include photos.
In the interest of protecting the guilty, photos and stories do not necessarily match. But they might. And yes, I asked permission to take and publish the photos. Chill out.
The Fun People
Coachella brings out the happy-giddy kid in just about everyone. A car full of young girls, flower garlands in their hair, texting and laughing non-stop in my car? Nothing could be more enjoyable. I feel like the favorite uncle taking the kids to a show. The only downside is that they can’t agree on what music to listen to, and it’s always a bit too loud. But I smile with them as they sing. You can’t go wrong with this group.
The Grumpy People
Perhaps a more correct term would be the hung-over people. This group is common on the second night of the festival. They didn’t take advice to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. They stayed up too late. They aren’t 21 anymore, and they refuse to admit it. They suffer. They complain. They are mostly quiet in the car. Not my favorite group. They make me nervous. I’m afraid they will get sick in my new car.
Ride requests from The Parker Hotel during Coachella are usually for people in “the industry”. One group was led by a British manager for a performing act (he wouldn’t tell me which one so I’m guessing it was someone major). His three LA friends were along for the ride.
The manager had an artist vip car pass and wrist band. He put the band on me so I could sneak him and his entourage close to the back stage. He didn’t ask me if I would do this for him, he told me to put the wrist band on. Yes sir.
The friends that were with him, how do I describe them? They impressed me in the worst possible way. So bad that I felt compelled to make a Facebook post commenting about the rudeness of some (many?) Los Angeles residents. I regret that post, it’s wrong to paint an entire region of millions of people with one bad characteristic. But these three entourage members from LA were absolutely horrible. Demanding. Dismissive. Privileged. Rude. I didn’t converse with them much to avoid possible confrontation. I was probably hungry.
I found some schadenfreude joy when I reached our destination. The manager could not remove the artist wrist band pass from my overly large hands. He was visibly nervous as he struggled, but he eventually succeeded. I had broken several rules and given great service to these people. I don’t expect a tip, but I do expect a simple “thank you.” Not from this group.
Later the next day, I reflected on why I disliked this group so much. I felt bad for my harsh judgement. Then I recalled a comment from one of the most exceptionally rude women. It shed some light on the situation for me.
“Remember when you were a kid and your parents were taking you to Disneyland for the first time? You were so excited, but you didn’t know what you were excited about. You knew something amazing was waiting for you, but it was a complete unknown. I’m feeling like that kid right now. I don’t know what I’m going to see, but I know it’s going to be freaking awesome!”
These folks weren’t being rude to me. They were in that hyper excited kid mode. Their minds were racing. The only thing that mattered at that moment was getting to the festival asap. I can relate to that feeling. The drive to Disneyland is absolute torture for me, even as an adult.
I need to cut people more slack.
A group of three massively muscular young guys jumped into my car. They were in their mid-20’s, but with the excessive steroid use it was hard to be sure.
They each carried a half gallon jug of water. I thought that odd. Then the guy in the front seat made an announcement that helped it make sense:
“Okay, we all just popped our ecstasy. We should be rolling by the time we get there so let’s hit the road now!”
Uber drivers have become the new bartenders. People tell us the most intimate details. I took his comment as an opening to my favorite Coachella joke:
“The Altoids in the blue tin are mollies. They cost $20 each and will be billed to your Uber account.”
It was impossible to convince these jug-heads that I was joking. They were reaching for their wallets. Seriously guys, I’m not that kind of Uber driver.
My joke opened the door for extended personal revelations. They started to detail their previous night’s activity. The guy in front was exceptionally proud of his sexual exploits. He delivered details about the girl he picked up, what he did, how she responded, how many times they repeated. Graphic details of body parts, body fluids, and pubic hair in unexpected locations. I didn’t need to hear it all, but he was convinced that I was enthralled.
I considered revealing to him that I bat for the other team as a way to shut him up. But I was afraid this would only encourage more graphic discussion, so I kept quiet.
When we arrived at the Uber Coachella lot, I maintained the theme of the drive. I asked them all to look me in the eyes for a dilated pupil check. They took me seriously and each stared at me. I told them they were all good. The police won’t be spotting them. They thought I was serious.
Oh, to be a dumb jock.
The Uber driver app said my rider’s name was Dre. I called out “Uber for Dre” to the two men walking my way. I pronounced the name “dree.” One of the men corrected me, “It’s Doctor Dre” and he pronounced it “dray.” The name sounded familiar to me, but I didn’t think much of it. I smiled as I held the door open for them.
It was a long ride from Palm Springs to a rented home at PGA West. The man going by Dr Dre asked for my auxiliary audio cable so he could practice his set.
“Are you preforming at Coachella?” I asked him.
“No, a friend is having a private party. It’s a last minute thing that I’m going to perform tomorrow night. My photographer is with me”
The photographer-dude waved, but I didn’t want to get into the discussion of “hey, I’m a photographer as well!” These two guys seemed tired. Later I realized they were just stoned.
The Dr. Dre dude played his set, asking his photographer friend what he thought at each song. I’m glad he didn’t ask me. I’ve never listened to rap music before. I could hear it all too well thanks to my awesome car stereo. It’s nasty stuff. Foul language, misogynistic lyrics, just plain nasty! But after a while I found myself wanting to giggle. The lyrics were so clever in their nastiness. I felt bad giggling. It was like laughing at a dirty joke in Sunday School.
It took quite a while to find the rented home. The guys were confused. Conversation with a stoned person is difficult, even more so if they are trying to give directions. I think their fare grew by about $20 from all the wrong turns.
I dropped them off a few minutes before midnight. It was the magic moment when the Apple Watch was going on sale. I had promised my partner David that he would get an Apple Watch for his birthday. So, I sat in my car waiting to place my order at the stroke of midnight. Perfect time to google this Dr. Dre dude.
The photos looked like him, at least I think so. It was dark so couldn’t really see his face and if I say more I will sound racist. Then I read about him. Holy smokes! That’s the guy who sold Beats to Apple for 3 billion! What the heck is he doing taking an UberX to Coachella? He did say it was a last minute trip, but wouldn’t he have an entire entourage of people managing his personal details?
I began to doubt myself. Did he say “My name is Dr Dre, or my name is like Dr Dre?” I’m not sure. But my alarm clock said it was time to order the Apple Watch and that’s all that mattered.
That, and airing the pot stench out of my car.
The Truly Famous
I’m not much for reality TV shows, that’s more of my partner David’s thing. When he heard that I would have a pre-arranged Uber ride for Collins Key, he almost fainted. Collins was in America’s Got Talent as a magician. I try to play cool when rubbing elbows with celebrities. Besides, who could compare with Dr Dre, even if it was an imposter?
The ride with Collins and his younger brother Devan was completely ordinary. Except for one thing: listening to one side of Collins’ phone call with his father. (Sorry Collins, I didn’t intend to eavesdrop. It’s an occupational hazard as an Uber driver).
“Yes, we saw AC/DC last night…. no, we stayed away from the crowd…… the crowd got crazy a few times…. don’t worry, we stayed clear of that…”
It sounded like a father, probably my age, had a vision of a concert by AC/DC as being less than appropriate for his sons. When AC/DC was first big, they were the subject of many warnings by my church youth pastor. Satan influenced this group, and we needed to avoid them. Now, I think of them as aging rockers. I think they are ridiculous. But I could imagine their fans continuing in their hedonistic ways. I could also understand this father’s concern.
“Don’t worry Dad, we are being careful…..”
“I know, we are being careful….”
More long silence.
“Yes, Devan is staying with me. We are being careful…”
How many times did he say “we are being careful”?
Coachella is not Woodstock. The event is held in a beautiful venue attended by upper-class people from all over the world. A father my age could easily imagine the rock concerts from our era. Those concerts were not family friendly. I don’t know if Coachella is considered family friendly, but it’s certainly not Burning Man. And even that event is more family friendly than the rock concerts of my youth.
Why does this ride stand out to me? Why was it my favorite ride of the two weekends? Because I found it comforting. I could imagine the concern of a father for his two sons. These two young guys were exploring the world of a massive music festival all on their own. As in much of life, there are dangers lurking in corners, and their father needed to warn them.
Is there anything more wonderful than the concern of a father for his sons? I think not. I wanted to grab the phone and tell Collins’ father “good for you dad, you’re doing a great job!”
I didn’t. But I did drive with a nice big smile and a happy heart.
When I first started driving for Uber, I did my best to assume the role they described in the minimal Uber Driver training. Looking back I now realize that their training was based on what they now call Uber Black, a high-end driver service.
They wanted us to wear a suit, maybe even white gloves. Always open the door for the rider. Car should be fresh smelling but not too strong, well stocked with mints, candy, water and in the summer a wet towel for the rider to freshen up. I didn’t do the suit or gloves, but I did my best to project a professional image.
Those days are long gone.
UberX is not that kind of service. It’s really not much different from a regular cab. The one big difference is the car is someone’s personal vehicle. A certain pride of ownership comes into play. Besides my vehicle, my projected personae has changed slightly. I still wish to be professional, but I don’t go out of my way to be helpful.
Friendly, but reserved. That’s how I would describe myself. I don’t talk if they don’t talk. I don’t offer anything, but if they happen to notice the phone charger and gum, they can have at it. People seem to prefer this slightly detached, yet available for questions attitude. It also helps me concentrate on safe driving.
Once in a while, I feel a need to project a different sort of personality. I play a part that I think the riders want me to play. A little role-play never hurt anyone.
One Sunday evening I was requested by three men leaving the Oscar’s afternoon Tea Dance in downtown Palm Springs. It’s the place to go if you are a middle-aged gay man and want to be social, perhaps even dance to some classic disco music. It’s a happy place. These men were happy when they got into my car.
Since they were carrying on a conversation, I remained silent other than to assure them I know where Toucan’s Tiki Lounge is located. That is where one would see a campy drag show on Sunday nights. These men were in the mood for more fun. I listened in while projecting my most detached attitude.
What would this demographic talk about? Their friend’s clothes, their vacations and their real estate investments. One man was quite adamant that Palm Springs is not his ideal place.
“There just isn’t enough for someone my age to enjoy here. I want a big city with culture,” complained the man seated behind me.
“Wait until you are closer to our age. How old are you? Thirty Five? In about ten years you will be here with your partner looking for an investment property,” replied his friend. He was almost pleading with him to consider the benefits of my quiet vacation town.
The first man said, “we are looking at properties in Barcelona and Ibiza.” That settled it. I gave the man behind me his Uber name, Mister Pretentious. It was well earned.
The conversation took a sharp turn back to the other important point of discussion. “Did you see those shoes Mark was wearing? What was she thinking?” They spent some time dishing the style choices of their friends. I drove in silence.
Right in mid-sentence Mister Pretentious tapped me on the shoulder and asked, “excuse me, driver. Are you gay?”
A simple answer could have served the purpose. But I felt the need to play a part. After all, they were on their way to a drag show, some of the performers are from Ru Paul’s Drag Race.
“I am a proud homo-sexical!” I replied as I snapped my fingers in the air three times for accent. They laughed.
“Good, because I feel better with you listening in to our conversation now.” How did he know I was listening? I blushed a little as they continued talking.
We pulled into the parking lot at Toucan’s. I could hear music and laughter from the first drag show. Using my best dramatic voice I said, “Time to go now. You can get out. I’m done with you. Be gone with you.” I even waved them off with the back of my hand. The front seat passenger got my humor and laughed as he exited my car.
Mister Pretentious got out of the back, then tapped on my side window. He asked, “did you just dismiss me with a wave of your hand?”
My reply was very simple, “next fare, next fare, next fare” snapping my fingers for emphasis. His friend laughed. Mister Pretentious approved of my humor with the perfect reply as a reward, “best Uber driver ever! I’ll give you six stars!”
“Eight and a half stars is more appropriate for me, honey.” My farewell reply might have over-stepped professional boundaries, but my audience approved with applause. I drove away and logged out of the Uber Driver app.
No more driving for me tonight. It’s hard work to remain in character.
Palm Springs has been my home town my entire life. This means that I’m accustomed to a certain demographic: retired folk. When I was younger, the town was a bit older than it is now. We used to refer to the typical retired local as “q-tips”. That’s what you could see peering over the steering wheel of a classic Cadillac in the 1960s. Be warned if you are riding your bike and a Q-Tip is headed your way. They will run you over!
The average age in town has dropped slightly. Enough so that after always being the young one, I’m right at the average age of 55. I’m not sure I like being average, but I am living among my people.
When I drive for Uber I’m usually driving people in the mid forties to late fifties who are visiting our town for a quiet weekend. Vegas, we are not. But there still is a small amount of night life to be found here. That’s when I have fun Ubering.
The average age of an Uber rider may dip into the late-thirties during the season. But the people are rarely in serious party mode. Palm Springs simply is not that town.
The two weekends of Splash House stand out in contrast with their house music pool parties. They have done a good job marketing to the college age crowd. These are people who are normally non-existent in our town. It’s a different experience to Uber for this crowd. Young, scantily clad, excited, pretty. Who are these strange and beautiful creatures? What planet do the come from?
Each afternoon the Splash House pool parties end with enough time for folks enjoy a disco nap before the large and quite impressive after-party. I say impressive because I was invited by a (much younger) friend to go with him the first night of Splash House. Twenty bucks was not too much to check this thing out. And since my friend showed up 2 hours late (2 friggin hours late!) I had plenty of time to observe.
It was definitely not my scene.
The following day was pretty solid Ubering for Splash House. I felt like I could understand my riders. It’s simple: they want to have fun. And for the most part, I would call them good riders. Polite and happy. Occasionally they would show their age, and they certainly recognized mine. I’m of the same age (and have the look) of their dad.
Now, the idea of being a dad is strange to me. Maybe because I’m surrounded by other men my age, I don’t think of myself as being “a man of a certain age.” But my mostly salt and less pepper hair with beard tell a different story. Once in a while a car full of tipsy, young latino men will say, “hello daddy” when I pick them up. Correction, when I arrive to give them a ride. That’s not much better. When they realize that their Uber driver fits their image of a daddy, they react in a flirtatious manner. I find it amusing, but I don’t own the identity of being “a daddy.”
Splash House told me otherwise.
Best example was the mass exodus from the Saguaro Hotel after the headliner DJ had performed. What a zoo. Everyone was requesting an Uber, nobody knew which car was theirs. The scene was annoying. Several times I cancelled a rider after waiting too long. Finally a group started piling into my car. They didn’t ask if I was their car, they just jumped in. I find that rude.
I turned around to see two people sitting in the passenger seat and five people squeezed into the back seat. Using new math, I counted eight people in a car that legally seats five. Nobody said anything, they just just piled in as if it was the most natural thing. I also find that rude.
Me: who is going to pay for my ticket if the cops pull me over?
I said this with a smile, thinking it was a fun way to say that three people needed to get their own Uber. They did not appreciate my humor. Everyone looked away. I remember that look. It was the look I would give my own dad when I was scolded. Oh, the power I had on this group! Everyone was pretending that I was not addressing them. I thought I was smiling but I probably had my relaxed bitch face on. They couldn’t see that I was playing with them.
One of the double-decker guys in the back seat gave a remorseful, “I’ll pay for it”. He avoided my eye contact.
I reached my hand out to him, but instead of asking him to shake on it I offered my pinky finger.
“Pinky swear?” I asked him.
Have gave the most annoyed sigh possible, then reluctantly linked his pinky with mine and replied, “pinky swear.”
I nearly burst out laughing. These kids, and they really are kids, were treating me like their father. Okay, I did laugh. But they didn’t laugh along. It was a mostly silent ride. The kids had been shamed.
Note to anyone at Uber HQ reading this: my story is from a parallel universe. Of course in this universe I kicked them out, demanding that they order another Uber. Of course I did.
Later that night was spent driving the kids from their cheap motels to theafter-party at the Air Museum. The early evening of driving was what I expected, nothing noteworthy.
But then the calls started coming in for the rides home, way earlier than expected. Staring around 10pm it was non-stop requests to get the heck out of that place. Quite often it was an elegantly dressed woman in her mid to late thirties. They were all disgusted by the scene. “Packs of bros, prowling for their next conquest. Disgusting.” It was a unanimous vote from the more sophisticated women.
One exceptionally beautiful woman stands in my memory. Besides being disgusted, she was sad. It was not the evening she was hoping for. Now all she wanted was to go to her hotel room, get in her car and drive home to San Diego. She wanted to wake up in her own bed.
This is when I willingly donned my Daddy cap. There was no way I wanted her to hit the road at 12:30am, then drive 3 hours to get home. I started to reason with her that it was not safe, it’s a dangerous drive late at night, she would be better off getting good rest then leaving in the morning. I was genuinely worried for her.
“But I miss my dog. This party made me feel lonely. I need to hug my dog.”
I thought about this for a second, then gave her my reply.
“I think there is an all-night Starbucks, or maybe we can get you a large Red Bull.” That was the most appropriate response. I could fix her up with some heaping dose of caffeine so she could find comfort from her best friend at home. I could relate.
This dad approved and I gave her my blessing to go home.
“Drive safe tonight, and give your pup a hug for me.” That’s the sort of thing a dad would say.
Yes, I do.
(Originally posted in February 2014)
Usually when I arrive at a pickup location I call the client, but sometimes I text. This time I felt like texting, there was a good song on the radio. I was pecking a message to Brittany who requested the ride, when a guy jumped into the passenger seat. I gave him a smile and said, “you don’t look like Brittany.” Often times a friend gets in the car before the person who requested the ride.
He replied, “Brittany is my code name.” Okay. Is anyone else joining us? Nope, just the skinny guy. Where to? Anyplace.
If I only had a brain, I would have realized something was wrong. I might have noticed the way he kept his hand in the satchel in his lap. But I’m not that observant. I just wanted to take this weirdo downtown and dump him on some street corner. He smelled like something strange, not tobacco. Something burned and sour.
He started talking, more to himself than to me. I’m not sure if he was asking me questions, or talking to his invisible friend. A few times he arched his back and hissed thru his teeth, “I really need a cigarette!” The guy was creeping me out.
I tried not to pay him much attention as I was making a left turn in a dangerous location. When I finished the turn I saw that my Uber phone showed that the drive was completed. Must be my mistake. Apologizing, I pulled over.
“You will need to use your cell phone to make a new request,” I told the guy seated next to me.
“Oh, I don’t use a cell phone. None of us will soon. We will all use our brains.” Then he added, “are you using your brain tonight?” He reached over to caress my head. Please don’t do that. I’m busy trying to figure out how to send a message to the Uber HQ about my mistake.
“You will need to make a new ride request on the Uber app on your phone,” I told him. I was feeling patient because I felt like I had made a mistake. When I make a mistake, I feel responsible to fix it. He stared at me blankly.
“What is Uber?” he asked me. I pointed to my Uber phone and said it’s like a taxi service. “Did you request a ride?” I asked him.
“I called a stud service. I was expecting a stud to pick me up,” he replied. I didn’t quite register what he was saying because my lightening-quick mind was telling me that this is not Brittany, nor her friend. The real Brittany is a few blocks away expecting a ride. Dang it! This is my second time doing this!
He reached over to start caressing my arms and chest, and he asked if I wanted to be his stud tonight. Please don’t touch me. I’ve heard that there is a problem with meth in our little resort town and I’m thinking that this is a close encounter of the third kind. I don’t want to have another encounter like this. He’s really creeping me out.
I hung a u-turn, feeling really bad about this situation. For a brief second Fake Brittany seemed coherent and said, “I bet Brittany is wondering where you are.” Yep, there she was with a few of her friends in the hotel driveway.
I flashed my headlights at them, they looked happy to see me but confused. I jumped out of my car and yelled, “I’m sorry” while pointing to the person in the passenger seat, waving as if to say, “step away from the freak.” But I wasn’t fast enough. Fake Brittany got out of the car and began shaking the hands of the four women. They looked puzzled. I cut between them to direct him away.
He turned to the open car door and told them that this is their ride, but he was very sorry for the mess in the car. Real Brittany looked horrified, thinking he had vomited in the car. Then he waved the air around the seat saying, “I left many of my neutrons here.” That’s not all he left, he was stinky. I directed him to leave, and as he moved his satchel opened enough for me to see that he was carrying a hand gun in the bag. He had been pointing his gun at me while I drove him around. My blood began to drain from my head.
The ladies all quickly piled into the car and I couldn’t stop apologizing. We sped off as quickly as I could.
Real Brittany and her friends could not have been more gracious and kind and pretty and pleasant and, well, just what I needed after that little encounter. I told them what happened and they were horrified by the story. They kept saying how sorry they were. They were sorry! Wait a minute, they should be upset with me for my mistake but instead they all wanted to comfort me. I guess I looked pretty freaked out. I’m good at projecting a freaked out face. They kept trying to comfort me on the way to The Saguaro Hotel. Very nice people. Brittany, if you read this, I owe you and your friends a free ride next time you are in town.
After I delivered these kind angels to their dinner, I took off to the store. I knew exactly what I needed. Some delicious gluten-free lemon cream wafer cookies. I ate the entire box on the way home. Sugar and carbohydrates, especially lemon flavored are my preferred substances to abuse. Soon I was calmed by a blissful sugar coma.
Later that night I reflected on the experience. A strange man jumped into my car. He seemed to be tweaked out on drugs. He kept his hand in his satchel. He was holding something metallic pointed my direction. He did not request, but ordered me to “drive anywhere.” A quick-minded person might have seen a dangerous situation. I am not known to be quick-minded. Perhaps Brittany was not the only angel that took care of me tonight.
Seriously, Brittany. Next time you visit I will share a box of cream wafer cookies with you. We can enjoy the bliss of a lemon-flavored sugar coma together.
The ride request was very close to my home, a quiet neighborhood of well landscaped yards maintained by part-time residents. It’s a typical Palm Springs neighborhood.
My rider met me in the middle of his street. He was a large man dressed for an fancy evening, looking dapper in a bow-tie. He was jolly, and sighed that he had “one last charity function” then he could take a break for a few months. I wondered if he was obligated to attend the Evening Under The Stars charity fundraiser for work reasons, or if he was just tired from being socially active. I didn’t ask.
He told me with some glee that this was his first Uber ride. That news brings out the host in me. I reached for my discount coupon card. If it’s his first ride, it will be free with my driver code. I’m not completely altruistic, my hope is that he will take my card and share with his friends. I get paid every time my code is used. Not a lot. I refer to it as my “iced grande caramel macchiato with extra caramel” bonus.
I was happy to help a neighbor, and a jolly one at that. He gave me his iPhone to enter the code for him. I should have paid attention to the position of my car in the middle of the street.
The people in the car behind us laid on their horn, not in a gentle “toot-toot” fashion. More of a “get the hell out of the way” style. I looked in my rear view mirror to see two retired gentlemen, also dressed up for a fancy evening. Their two pairs of eyes were swords framed by bushy grey eyebrows. They were slicing me with their angry eyes. I was humiliated. I should have moved over to the side.
Never mind that this was a quiet residential road. Never mind that they could have easily driven around me. I blushed, waved an apology and moved my car a few feet over so they could more easily move past me.
They glared as they slowly drove by. Both men were sporting bow ties.
I’m so glad I had an Uber rider in my car. My reaction might have been different if I wasn’t “on stage.” I do have a temper, but I chuckled with my rider and commented, “you sure have some grumpy neighbors.”
He sighed and replied, “my neighborhood is full of pissy queens.”
We both laughed as I entered my discount code into his iPhone. Bingo! This ride was going to be free, and I was reminded of a basic driving school lesson: road rage is never helpful.
I wish I could say that I never exhibit road rage, but that’s not true of me. I have an explosive temper. There have been times when another driver has triggered my righteous anger and I have done something incredibly stupid. And illegal. I’m not saying more. But I have brought dishonor to my family name more than once.
Tim, a more experienced Uber driver has reminded to “practice forgiveness” as I drive. Uber has been great for me in that way. I get to practice this a lot. Pretty much with every ride.
After this encounter I found a new motivation to keep an eye on my anger while behind the wheel. I’m sure I’ve been called a fool, or a jerk or some other bad name when I let my anger get away from me. Someday, someone might refer to me as a “pissy queen.”
No insult could be worse than that.
It’s no secret that many Uber drivers also drive for the competitor Lyft. Time for me to come out: I’m a traitor. I drive for both companies. To the Uber staff reading this, please don’t hate me. A guy’s gotta do what a guy’s gotta do.
And why does this guy gotta drive for both? There are so many Uber drivers in my area that I’m not making much dinero. Uber feeds my vacation fund, and that fund is getting hungry.
Driving for both companies gives me a chance to make a bit more money and practice my favorite exercise from history class: compare and contrast.
No doubt the two companies have different images. Uber’s is that of the fast-growing tech startup. They are known to be the bad-boys in the industry. It’s a reputation that might be deserved. Lyft plays the part of the good-guy. They are helping people make friends.
Uber typically shows a photo of a middle-aged man in a suit wearing gloves (until recently, now they show hipsters standing next to a new car). Lyft shows photos of younger women chatting in a car.
Uber encourages drivers to get out of the car and open the door for a rider. Lyft encourages drivers to invite riders into the front seat and give a fist-bump. I refuse to fist-bump.
I’ve asked all Lyft riders why they choose Lyft rather than Uber. None of them mention that Lyft is cheaper. Most say they hate Uber. I would say that Uber has an image problem.
When I signed up for Uber I received confusing emails for a few weeks, them my Uber phone showed up in a Fedex pack. It looked like someone had tossed stuff into a bag and shipped it out without much thought. Signing up for Lyft I received a phone call from a real person in less than an hour. He chatted and laughed with me. Then Lyft sent a “mentor” to drive with me for 60 minutes.
The difference between the two companies is striking.
The Driver App
The Uber driver app gives off a terrifying alarm when a ride is requested. Lyft plays harp music then a gentle metronome ticking sound. The Uber app shows a shadow of a person standing on the street waiting for a ride. Lyft shows a pink balloon floating above the street. A pink balloon.
If a driver misses an Uber ride request, there is no notification but a driver’s rating goes down. If a driver misses a Lyft request, a pink balloon with a sad face shows on the screen.
The difference is striking.
My Lyft mentor was an experienced Uber driver that I’ve known since I started driving. He warned me that the Lyft riders are a different caliber. He didn’t elaborate. He was so correct.
The typical Uber ride in Palm Springs is for a gaggle of smartly-dressed, middle aged gay men headed out to a fabulous cocktail party. The same group later at night would be chatty and flirtatious, rarely crossing personal boundaries with their driver. But sometimes they do.
The typical Lyft rider in Palm Springs is a McDonald’s employee late for their shift. I’m not making this up.
I’ve never felt unsafe with an Uber rider. I have felt unsafe with my Lyft customers.
The Lyft ride request was from the Spa Casino. Three young men had given all of their wages to the local tribe. They were not happy. The guy requesting the ride could have been a typical Uber rider. He was smartly dressed, well spoken, polite. His two friends were different. One of them looked like Jayfrom Kevin Smith’s movies. Long dirty hair, skull cap, sloppy clothes, stoner attitude. I didn’t get a close look a the third guy. The two in the back seat were loud and rowdy.
Something about young men shouting and cursing in my car makes me feel uncomfortable. Even more so late at night. I regretted accepting “one last” ride request.
The destination was an apartment building in Palm Desert, a good 20 minute ride away. At least it was a long enough ride to make it worth while, but it was not a pleasant drive. They wanted me to turn up the music, which made them curse and shout even louder. Rather than saying anything, I discreetly turned the music down using the steering wheel button. They didn’t notice. They continued shouting and cursing.
I’ve grown accustomed to the behavior of people who have too much to drink. These guys were not acting that way. They were talking in fast, staccato speech, always talking over each other. If alcohol is a depressant, these guys were surely riding high on some sort of stimulant. Something that makes them aggressive and angry. I didn’t want to know. I just wanted this ride over.
An observant person might have noticed that they weren’t cursing at each other. It was merely the way they spoke. Perhaps because it was so loud, I couldn’t see their possible innocence. All I saw was a group of gang-bangers planning their next move. I wanted them out of my car.
The Palm Desert apartments turned out to be a disappointment for me. It was the quiet front-seat guy’s destination. The two loud guys needed to be taken home on the same fare. Could I please do that? Of course. Where? Desert Hot Springs.
For those who do not live in the Palm Springs area, Desert Hot Springs (or DHS as it is affectionately known) is at the other end of the valley. DHS is the home of convicts, crack whores and meth labs with a minimal police department. Apologies to my friends who live there, but it’s not someplace to drive to late at night. Not with two loud young men. Off I went, determined to finish this ride quickly.
The long-haired guy jumped into the front seat. Maybe he was afraid I couldn’t hear him. The shouting continued for several miles, until a certain song came on the radio. All Of Me, by John Legend. The long-haired guy in the front seat reached to turn up the music.
“Oh man, this song is so my life right now!”
The guy in the back offered some support, “she doesn’t know what she is doing. She dumped you bad.”
Mister Long-Hair sang along to the song, “give your all to me, I give my all to you…”
I think he was crying. I didn’t turn to look. It might be a ruse to distract me before they pull out their switch blades and stick me in the ribs. What would that feel like? I was convinced these guys intended to do me harm, no singing to a love song would change my mind.
The two guys talked (shouted) about how wrong it was the way she dumped the long-haired guy. She didn’t know what she gave up. They fell quiet as the song continued.
A mile of blessed, musical silence. Long-haired guy in the front quietly said something to me.
“Thank you for the ride. It’s great to get a safe ride home after a night like this. We really appreciate it.”
I wasn’t taking the bite, but I told him they were welcome.
The guy in the back started a story about how much they hate taxis. They frequently get ripped off but they always stick it back to the drivers. His voice got louder and louder as he relayed his technique to me. He was no fool, no cab driver would stick it to him without regretting it.
His story of revenge didn’t make me feel much love. Seventy miles an hour on the freeway, I gripped the steering wheel and concentrated on driving. I needed to get rid of these guys. One second shouting and cursing, the next second singing a love song, then back to angry shouting. It was very disturbing.
I completely ignored them as I drove, but I did become aware that they were trying to converse with me until they fell silent again.
The guy in the back seat spoke softly to me, “we aren’t gang bangers. We gave that life up in LA and are living clean now.”
“That’s right, we are good guys now,” chimed in the long-haired guy. He began to give directions to his home.
“I’m a bit drunk. Okay, I’m really drunk but I’m not totally shit-faced yet. I just want to get home safe. Take this exit to the right.” His voice was low and almost normal sounding.
He directed me to his destination just outside of Desert Hot Springs. Both guys turned to me and gave me the most polite thanks possible. They patted me on the back then gave me fist bumps. I watched as they hopped the fence to their delapidated trailer park before I drove away.
A few miles later my bladder insisted that I pull over on a side road. The sky is very clear in Desert Hot Springs. It makes peeing by the side of the road a real pleasure. I thought about things. DHS has the best view of the mountains. Better than any city in the Palm Springs area. I’m told it can be a nice place to live. Not everyone is a crack whore.
These Lyft riders are just working-class folks who don’t want to risk a DUI or a crooked cab driver.
Perhaps the line about books and covers applies here.
Uber isn’t an evil corporation. Lyft isn’t my best friend. The riders are different, but at their core they are just people. It’s all just people.
The ride request was for three young girls at the Westin Mission Hills Resort. They had probably been playing in the family pool all day. They were sunburned, wearing swimsuit cover-ups and carrying pool toys.
“Do you know where the Riviera is?”
Their destination request was more of a challenge than a question. I replied that I did and asked them to all buckle up. Uncle Rand was in charge. Young girls must buckle up in my car.
I thought the girls were all teenagers. They were at that age where it’s so difficult to tell, and I didn’t want to look closely at them. That would be creepy. I assumed the oldest in the front seat might be seventeen.
When we cleared the hotel, my SiriusXM station began to play, so I asked them if they had a station preference.
The girl in the front seat gave me a curt reply, “I need an aux cable.”
Of course, mine is the Best Uber Car Ever, I handed her my auxiliary audio cable so she could play her own music. It’s always a scary thing to do, there is some pretty strange “music” out there.
She seemed to be struggling with the music, cursing quietly at her iPhone. The music would start then stop, then start again.
I asked her, “are you trying to stream music?”
She replied in a most dismissive manner, “I’ve got it.” She even waved me off with her left hand as if she was swatting a fly.
Sometimes, especially before dinner, I can have an explosive temper. This was one of those times. Uncle Rand was in the mood to give her a scolding. One does not talk like this to a stranger, especially not to this hungry and slightly grumpy stranger who is doing a favor, young lady!
She needed to learn about some manners, right then and there. I even considered pulling into the Walgreens parking lot to have a little chat like I would if they were my nieces. I’m grateful that traffic prevented me from making the turn, and my tongue was numb. I didn’t say anything. But I did take a deep breath, slowly turned down the volume and quietly spoke to the little brat.
“Cell phone data is very bad in this area. If you are trying to stream music, it won’t work well for another mile, then it should work just fine.”
Evidently she only knew one response: she waved me off like a fly and said “I’ve got it.”
That’s when I noticed the clue: her breath stank like an old liquor closet.
This was no teenager, it’s a young lady of legal age. She had been in the sun, drinking all day, but not drinking water. She’s probably in a world of hurt. I wouldn’t say that I forgave her so much as it began to make sense.
She reached for the volume knob and turned the music up very loud. Too loud. I reached over and told her it was too loud for me.
Her reply was a very simple, “whatever.” I let her attitude slide. The three girls were furiously texting as we drove.
Suddenly the girl in the front seat exclaimed, “this group text is bullshit!”
The girls in the back chimed in to agree. One started giving advice on how to be removed from the group text.
“I’ve got it” was the front seat girl’s reply. I guess it’s her standard reply. She should improve her vocabulary, if not her attitude. That reply set off a bit of a firestorm in my car.
Back seat girl #1: it’s just bullshit. This is all bullshit!
Back seat girl #2: you are both being so mean to me!
Front seat girl: maybe if you weren’t such a stupid bitch!
Back seat girl #2: why are you so mean? I just want to have fun, but you are always so mean to me.
Back seat girl #1: just shut up, you are such a bitch.
Front seat girl: I’m just trying to be nice, but you both are such bitches. Why can’t we get along?
Back seat girl #2: (crying now) this is a terrible trip. I want to go home!
All of this was happening while sitting at a stop light at Dinah Shore and Cathedral Canyon. I wanted to become invisible. The best I could do was look out the side window and watch the homeless man shuffle down the street.
The firestorm of yelling and crying stopped as quickly as it started. We drove the remainder of the trip in silence.
This experience served as a reminder: it’s not always about me. It’s not even about Uncle Rand. Sometimes it’s best to simply be silent.
“Be careful what you wish for.” Good theme for a movie, yes? A corollary could be “be careful what you brag about.” That would apply to me. I’ve been fairly open about my new-found tolerance for drunken behavior.
I thank Uber for that new attitude. Driving people around I get to see them for what they really are: ordinary people living life. Sometimes they are having a bit too much fun, but no harm is intended. I’ve learned to let them be.
Or so I thought. One evening I was sorely tested.
It was early on Saturday night, the first weekend of the BNP Indian Wells Tennis Tournament. I expected an evening of well-heeled tennis fans in my car. My first ride did not match my expectations.
The request came from downtown Indio. Not a place I would normally venture, but I didn’t notice the location when I accepted the ride request. I just kept driving further and further east, until I found the dingy bar.
A middle-aged man dressed in Costco Country Club clothes met me outside. He asked me to wait while he fetched his friend. It took quite a bit of effort for him rouse his friend who was sleeping on the bench. The sleeping man was probably in his late 70’s. At first glance I thought he was a stroke victim from the way he walked. Wrong guess. He was so drunk he couldn’t walk.
I got out to help him into my brand new car. It still has that new car smell. Such a pretty car. I figured I could at least buckle him in so he wouldn’t lay down and pass out.
The younger man gave me the address and I headed back to the nicer part ofLa Quinta. I learned that the younger man was the son-in-law to the older man. I could tell from his mannerisms that he was doing his best to keep the older man awake and well. Maybe I could give him credit for trying, but I wanted to deduct any points for allowing his father-in-law to get to such a state of drunkenness. It was not pretty.
The older man began to cough. The sound was a mixture of smokers hack and a cat coughing up a fur ball. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end. This was it. After 15 months of Uber driving without an incident, I was about to experience vomit in my car. My brand new car. The one that smells so good.
I did my best not to grip the steering wheel, but I had no control over my imagination. What would his vomit be like? Would it smell? Would it be projectile? He was sitting to the right side of the back seat, so if he did have projectile vomit there was a good chance it would hit me in the right side of my face. That could be disastrous. I took deep breaths. This might be my last clean air to breathe for a while. I was surprisingly calm about it. Resignation took over.
The son-in-law gently asked the older man if he was okay.
Note: At this point in the story telling I have a decision to make. Quote the older man word-for-word or use code? Duck sounds very similar to the primary word he used. I shall use that word as code.
The older man replied to his son-in-law, “Duuuuuuuuuk you!”
Younger man: you don’t sound good.
Older man: Duck off, you prick
Younger man: I thought your generation didn’t use such language. Did you talk like this growing up in South Dakota?
Older man: Duuuuuuuk you!
Younger man: Are you going to be okay? Do we need to stop?
Older man: Duuuuuuuuuk you!
It went on like this for several miles. Duck this. Duck that. Duck. Duck. Duck.
I didn’t mind the older man’s foul language. It was much better than the prospect of my vomiting in response to his vomit. A chain reaction of vomit was guaranteed to happen. They could keep on talking and cursing for all I cared.
A few miles into the ride the older man asked, “who’s ducking car is this? I want to get out.”
I could hear him fumbling with the door as I drove down the highway. I was glad I buckled him in.
The younger man tried to calm him down, only to hear more ducking comments.
“Who is that fat duck face driving this car? Hey duck-face, let me out! I want out of this ducking car.”
He said this a few times before I realized he was talking to me. Duck-face, that’s my new name. Then he elaborated.
“What is that ducking pumpkin head doing driving this car? He’s fat and has a pumpkin head. I want out of this ducking car. Now!”
The remainder of the ride was like this. Duck face. Ducking pumpkin head. Ducking car. Let me out. Duuuuuuuk you.
I’m glad I didn’t feel offended, there was nothing I could do about it. Sure, I could have kicked them out of my car. But how would that help matters? Instead I felt curious about the older man. What was going on in his life that he drank to such excess? Was he aware of his rants? Maybe this was a silly joke he was playing?
And what about the younger man? He was in the care-taker role. He did his best to humor his father-in-law, but he didn’t try to reel him in. Occasionally he would ask why he was calling his driver a Duck Face.
“Because he’s fat and has a ducking pumpkin head,” was his repeated reply.
I guess my receding hairline makes my head look large. I have a pumpkin head. And a duck face. It’s my curse in life.
We reached the destination and I turned in my seat to look at them both. The younger man quickly hopped out of the car, the older man remained in his seat asking me, “what the duck are you looking at, duck-face?” I replied with silence, watching him struggle with the seat belt.
The younger man came and helped with the seat belt. He met my eyes, then looked away. Was he going to thank me? Would he apologize for his father-in-laws behavior? Would he offer me a tip? I was going to judge him based on what he did.
He did nothing. He shut the door and the two walked away. Correction: one walked the other stumbled away.
I looked at my Uber phone and pondered my next move. I needed to give them a rating. There was no way in heck that I was going to give them the typical 5-star rating.
I could give them a 1 or 2 star rating, but that would kick the younger man off the Uber system. Did he deserve that? A 4-star rating would be like kissing my assailant. I settled on a wishy-washy 3-star rating. Being cursed at for 20 minutes is not an acceptable standard. But I didn’t want to punish anyone.
What if the younger man had given me a tip? Would I rate him differently? I had to admit that a decent tip would have bought a degree of forgiveness. What if he apologized? That, without a doubt would have covered all offenses. The younger man did neither. He simply walked away into the dark.
I wasn’t angry, but I did have some pity for the younger man. Imagine having that for a father in law.
Four middle-aged men jostled each other as they piled into my car. Watching them I saw men who likely work in sales, their social skills honed in their fraternity glory days. They were adult frat bros. My mind wandered to my days at UCLA.
I chose to live most of my years at UCLA in the student cooperative housing, also known as the Co-op. A big benefit was I could walk to campus. The cost of my room and meals were also reduced by working on the gardening team. A disadvantage was that I had to walk thru fraternity row, right past the most rowdy houses.
Friday afternoons the bros hung out on the balconies. They would yell various insults to the international students and skinny nerds who made the Co-op their home. Sometimes they would toss beer bottles at us. I learned to dodge well. I’m sure this is why I have a visceral reaction to a group of bros, even this many years later. Their herd mentality is not humankind at it’s best.
But I have changed since I was a twenty year old, skinny, nervous nerd. I’m still a bit nervous, but I weigh a lot more. I’m told that my inherited natural scowl, coupled with my beard can make me look intimidating. False appearances, to be sure. Yet, I’ve learned to use this for my advantage.
The guys in my car were engaging in some serious horseplay as they settled in. I shifted in my seat to give an annoyed posture. It worked. One of the guys warned, “settle down, or our Uber driver will give me a bad rating.”
The Nest is a good place to go cougar hunting. That is what my riders had been doing. They were trying to get picked up by a lonely, wealthy widow. Listening to their chatter, I learned that one of the guys was getting pretty close to his goal.
“I would be naked in the hot tub with that lady if Jason had not blown it for me.” Jason, the younger of the four somehow got the group tossed out by security. I looked in my rear view mirror to see Jason, sitting in the middle of the back seat, objecting to this version of the story.
“That lady was into me more than you, admit it! I’m the younger one, she was looking for a young stud, not an old fart like you.”
Ahhh, frat bros. They can insult each other all night long and still remain friends.
For several miles I listened to various versions of the story. I thought it was ironic that they had lowered their sights from hooking up with a wealthy widow, to going to a strip club.
“Jason, did you drop bass?”
One of the guys was accusing Jason of perpetrating a foul act. The other guy added, “your ass stinks, dude!” Both rear windows rolled down. The guy next to me yelled something at Jason. I started to giggle, but held it back. My projected attitude was serving me well with this group.
Jason protested. If he was going to rip one, he would announce it first. I could see from the twinkle in his eye that he was guilty. Watching Jason took me back to a much younger version of myself.
I was eight when the full portion of my Scandinavian curse descended upon me. Celiac disease (aka gluten intolerance) is extremely painful. When I was not suffering from intolerable pain, I was gassy. I learned to use my gassiness to my advantage in my large family. If my older siblings were accusing me of something that I didn’t do, I fought back with my super powers. I timed my revenge for the dinner table.
Silent but deadly is the perfect term. I loved to silently giggle as the invisible cloud moved down the table. The reaction started with my sister Wendy and ended with my dad and older brother, Drake. Revenge was sweet, if not a bit stinky. I spent much of that year eating alone in another room. Even the dogs avoided me. Mine is a potent force.
I listened to Jason protest without success, so I came to his aid. I raised my hand and announced, “I did it.”
The car fell silent.
The guy next to me turned and asked me if I did let a stinker. His voice was a mixture of disbelief and awe. I smiled and shook my head no.
“Buddy, I would so give you props if you did. That would be awesome.”
Be careful what you wish for. I could render them all unconscious if I so desired, but I was feeling merciful. My passengers announced that mine was a clever joke.
“We need to give you a good rating for that one. Awesome Uber driver!”
For the next few miles the guys discussed the anatomy of a fart. Each man convinced that their air biscuit was a gift from the gods, everyone else’s was rank. What is it about boys and farts? We can discuss and laugh about them for many, many miles.
As I slowed to a stop light at Frank Sinatra Drive, the guy behind me announced that they should do a Chinese Fire Drill. I didn’t hesitate.
I tossed my car into park, unlocked my seat belt and yelled “Chinese Fire Drill!” as I stepped out of my car door. I only stuck one leg out the door. It was just enough for my car to erupt in laughter.
The guys were laughing and slapping me on the back. “Best Uber driver ever!” I love that title.
They continued to laugh as we drove off. I maintained my aloof posture, but smiled. They accepted me into their tribe and I was glad for it. Finally, after all these years (decades) I was one of the bros.
As we pulled into the parking lot for Showgirls, the guys became excited to see so many cars. Why would that be? Do they want a room full of horny straight men? I’m guessing they liked the competition.
They all congratulated me on being the best Uber driver as they tried to get out of my car. They were drunk. One of the back seat guys extended his closed hand to me. I assumed he was giving me a tip. I’ve long since given up declining tips. I have no shame.
I cupped my open hand under his closed hand and saw him hesitate. He looked at me with a sly smile then made an explosion gesture with his fist. He wanted to fist-bump me, not give me a tip.
He yelled at the others, “Hey! I psyched out the Uber driver. He thought he was getting a tip!”
They all laughed at me. Stupid Uber driver expecting a tip. I was no longer one of them, instead I was dodging verbal beer bottles. After a moment of embarrassment, I heard the voice of the Prophet Swift reminding me to shake it off.
And shake it off I did. I don’t need their approval. It was fun making them laugh. I had fun. My Uber phone immediately sounded it’s panic alarm, some other riders were waiting for me. Away I went down the street, smiling to myself at my antics. I like to smile, it’s much better than scowling or acting cool.