Lyft Me Higher

The following essay is NOT an endorsement for Lyft.

With the internet being so damn good at knowing what we want, I typically get ads for three things: motivational speakers who can help you start your business and sell books, devices to help your poor posture, and ways to make extra money.

For the last one, I usually get targeted by Uber and Lyft ads the most - promising the likes of an $800 bonus if I drove a certain number of rides.  It always piqued my curiosity to do this sort of thing.  I own a Prius (and no, I don’t act smug about it) so I certainly get good gas mileage.

In all honesty, I needed the money.  Being an independent writer means being a broke ass artist for a while.  And, previously, I wrote an essay on how my rental property got hit with a $3k bill.  I had to take this money out of my book publishing funds.  

I wrote about the possibility of doing a kickstarter for the book, but I’ve since changed my mind.  While I support the idea of doing Kickstarters, I think the concept of crowdfunding has gotten a bit soiled with people starting GoFundMe accounts so they can take that fancy trip to Europe.

Anyway, in mid-August, Lyft ran a new kind of promotion - one where they would guarantee you $2,000 in your first month of driving.  That guarantee had me drooling slightly out of the corner of my mouth.  Once I got my saliva in order, I clicked the link to get more info.

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In order to get your $2k guarantee, you’d have to have the driver app turned on for a minimum of 25 hours a week and give a minimum 45 rides for the week.  If you did this, they would pay the difference of what you made to equal $500 for that week (for the first four weeks).

Our basement renter, Eric, who is so phenomenally awesome that I might occasionally guilt him into living with us forever (Hi, Eric!), has driven for Lyft for a couple years.  I decided to ask him if he thought it would be worth it.

“Forty-five rides is a lot,” he said.  “Lyft is banking on the idea that you’ll get close to $500 anyway.”

“Yeah, but I’m sure I won’t be driving ALL of those 25 hours that I’m logged into the app,” I tried justifying my interest.  “I can write in between drives.”

Eric was still skeptical saying that writing in between rides would probably be more disruptive than anything.  He made a good point.  It was hard enough staying up on my writing as it is.  

But I couldn’t think of any other way to get that much money in a month’s time.  It might be an additional distraction to my writing, but it will get me focused on rebuilding my finances.  Plus, it would get me out of the house.  So, I went ahead and signed up.

Before I could even get to making that sweet, sweet road dough, Lyft inspected my car and said that my tire tread was under the legal limit for car share services.  If I wanted to do this, I’d have to get new tires.  Next thing I know, I’m dropping $350 on new tires at Costco.  So, financially, this already blew chunks.

On that first day of driving, I packed up my car, put my shoes on, locked up the house, and began writing - ready to bolt out the door any minute.  It took an hour for my first ride to ping me, and I didn’t get all that much writing done.  I frantically bolted out the door as to not take too long.

When I pulled up to the location, I wasn’t quite sure if I got it right on the GPS.  I went into mini-panic mode.  I don’t know what the rider looks like.  I don’t see anyone looking for a car.  Am I the right place?  Maybe I should call him.  How do I do that on this app again? 

Before I could figure it out, an African-American gentleman with an afro-man-bun suddenly opened the back door.  He seemed very uninterested in me.  But, per Lyft’s suggestion, I told him he was my very ride.  This was a good move.  He perked up and got a lot more patient with me.

His request was quite the distance - over half an hour all the way to the south suburbs of Denver.  The drive was very awkward.  He had no desire to talk and stayed glued to his cellphone - something I have done to most of my drivers as well.

When I dropped him off, I was shocked to see that I had only gotten $16.76 for such a long distance.  Before, I had always been so grateful that these rides could be more on the affordable side.  Now, being in the driver’s seat.  I was a little discouraged.  

As I drove home, a girl pinged me for a ride.  I began swerving on the road trying to get to the app in time to accept it.  You ONLY have 15 seconds to do this!  I can’t even put on my shirt in 15 seconds.  And my phone is so slow that I missed it.

The Lyft app sent me a message telling me what a naughty thing I had just done - that if I don’t accept rides I should just close the app, forget about the whole thing, and go home and shove my head under a pillow.  It’s not my fault, I thought.  Fifteen seconds isn’t enough time.

I decided I would give this another try after the gym.  I turned the app back on and it took twenty minutes before I got my next ride - a disheveled tourist who had me drive all the way across town to a marijuana dispensary (to where I waited 15 minutes for him to make his purchase) and then back to his AirBnB.

By hour five that day, I had only given four rides.  They just kept taking so long to do.  THIS SUCKED!!!  Getting 25 hours of app time wouldn’t be a problem.  Getting 45 rides for the week was going to be impossible!

When I got home, I let out my frustrations with Luke.  “At this rate, I’ll be driving like 40 hours a week,” I said.  “This is NEVER going to work!”

“You don’t know that yet,” he tried calming me down by saying reasonable things (how dare he).  “You still have the rest of the week.”

I continued to be overdramatic - talking about how I either have to quit writing for the month or skip out on the $2k.  In my defense, it really did look impossible.  Currently, each week, I:

  • Work on and manage the blog and newsletter

  • Write and edit the book

  • Maintain social media

  • Turnover our AirBnB room (almost daily)

  • Be my own accountant/business manager

  • Go to the gym

  • Try to get time in with Luke

  • Try to get time with even just one friend (which is already hard enough as it is)

And now,  I was going to add this Lyft thing into the mix.  There was just no way it could work.  I was completely convinced.  But I needed the money andI had to keep trying.

The next day, I decided to skip the gym and just do Lyft all day.  My goal was to get 16 rides to make it a nice even 20 for the two days.  It took 10 hours!  THIS IS NEVER GOING TO WORK!!!

On Thursday, I figured I’d do another five hour stint after the gym (finishing up around 10 p.m.).  It started off good - getting pinged for my third ride in that first hour.  Unfortunately, that third ride was a prostitute who needed to go all the way out past the airport.

I assumed she was a prostitute because she was pretty, but not too pretty.  And she was dressed kind of slutty, but not too slutty.  Also, I picked her up in the middle of a park downtown, and dropped her off at an obviously really wealthy home.  The ride took me almost an hour and a half and I resented her for it the whole time.

If I could just get a bunch of little rides, I’d be able to meet that 45 ride goal.  But it was these big rides that kept screwing me up.  Here’s the thing about these driving apps, it doesn’t tell you where the person is going when they ping you for a ride.  Therefore, you just have to blindly accept the request.

As I got back to the central part of the city, things started to pick up.  I began to get more rides that weren’t so huge.  Then it happened again.  A drunk couple who came downtown for a fancy dinner needed to go all the way to the northwest suburbs.   

This whole thing was giving me so much anxiety: not knowing which area you should be in to get rides, not knowing who is even gonna step in your car, not knowing where they want to go… all wrapped up in this pressure to get that minimum number of rides.  I hated this.

I decided to give up and drive home.  On my way, I got pinged by two people for a shared ride heading back to downtown.  As I dropped them off, I got pinged right away for another guy heading even further into downtown.  It happened again and again and again - all of these little rides.

At this hour, I noticed a lot of these new rides were women who were clearly out to get white-girl-wasted for the night.  

“What is going on tonight?” I asked one of them.

“It’s Thirsty Thursday,” she said.

“I don’t know what that is.”

She rolled her eyes, “It’s ladies night.”

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LADIES NIGHT!!!! I never even thought of this - probably because I’m gay and would never even go to a ladies night.  But by driving a couple more hours than planned, I ended up with a whopping 17 rides!  This meant I only needed eight more rides and three hours of app time.  THIS WAS TOTALLY GOING TO WORK!!!

Before I hit the road that Friday afternoon, I found Eric and Luke talking in the kitchen about a recent AirBnB guest we had.  She was an elderly Asian woman who had immigrated from Beijing and was now touring the country.  She had been absolutely hilarious and we loved having her.

“I know some of the guests are annoying,” Eric said.  “But it’s just so cool because we get to meet these other great people who we would have never met otherwise.”

I immediately thought back to the moment I posted about driving for Lyft on Instagram.  Three people wrote in saying they were doing the same and were having so much fun.  I thought they were nuts for thinking it as “fun.”

Now, I realized something.  I had been focusing so much on what made driving for Lyft stressful that I completely ignored what made it awesome.  I got to meet really great people and to have wonderful genuine human connection for this brief moment.

I also thought about another mistake I made.  When Luke said, “You don’t know yet that it won’t work”, he was right (again).  I judged what the entire experience would be like on that first lousy day.  Seriously, I should just rename this blog and call it “Luke Was Right.”

I have a habit of “predicting the future” - thinking I know what something will be like before it happens.  When I do this, I rarely predict that something will be good.  I always go to the negative - catastrophizing it all.  Doing this never serves me well.  It is, in fact, what contributes to the stress as we go into those experiences.  

If I hadn’t deemed the whole thing impossible, then I probably wouldn’t have had all that anxiety in those initial days of driving.  In order to avoid all that anxiety and stress, I need to do a better job of living in the present moment and remembering the future is a mystery - one potentially filled with great opportunities.

When I drove that evening, I met these adorable young parents getting out for “date night.”  After mentioning having a “partner” over a girlfriend or wife, they asked about our relationship and whether or not we wanted to adopt.  I told them “absolutely not” - no offense to children.

Then there was the young girl I picked up at the mall.  She had just started her first day at Nordstroms and we talked about first-day-on-the-job jitters.  By the end of the night, I picked up a drag queen who, like me, had lived in this city her entire life and somehow we hadn’t ever crossed paths.  

Even though it took me four hours to get those eight rides in, I felt like I had a fun night.  I didn’t particularly love all the mileage I was putting on my car.  But the fun of meeting these people didn’t leave me feeling so stressed about it.

By the end of the week, I ended up making $378.42.  It looked like Lyft owed me another $121.58.  While this probably wasn’t the best promotion in the world, it was nothing to sneeze at either.  We shouldn’t be sneezing on money anyway.

 

Edited by Glen Trupp

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