This week’s road observations: I spy a man washing his car on a dark cold night. Which wasn’t as weird as seeing another man do yoga poses in the middle of the sidewalk later that (still dark, now rainy) night.
#Lyft Line: The Quiet Meet Cute
A girl with long black hair gets into my car and sits down in the back seat. With her black cello case at her side, she is headed to her evening class at Skyline College.
Soon after, a guy in a red hoodie joins our Lyft Line. Smooth strands of fudge-colored hair spill down across his forehead, stopping just above his eyebrows. He too is headed to Skyline College.
Locking eyes with the girl in the rearview mirror, Spencer* asks her if she needs more leg room. The girl responds no, that she’s okay—but thanks him. After that we ride mostly in quiet while winding upwards through the hills of San Bruno. Christmas music plays on 96.5 (Thanksgiving was a few days ago).
As I drive away after dropping them off in the parking lot though, I see the two of them—Maria, cello case on one arm, and Spencer, pulling at the drawstrings of his hoodie—walking side by side.
It’s a pretty little sight to see. I try to identify the feeling that witnessing it gives me. Is it the low-level narcissistic pride one might feel after introducing two friends who end up dating? Or does it resemble the satisfaction that follows the combining of two obscure colors, finding that they make a pretty shade you weren’t expecting?
Maybe it’s similar to the unexpected delight that confronted me that time I added soy chorizo to portobello mushrooms (the only two items left in my fridge)—and what emerged from the oven turned out surprisingly delicious.
…Umm, but wait a minute. You had no control over picking your passengers. They were assigned to you randomly. So let’s tone it down a bit with those comparisons.
I think it’s more that seeing them walking together gets me thinking about the role that luck and chance play in our lives—when it comes to the opportunities we find ourselves in, the people we date, the individuals we become close to, the roads we end up taking.
What if those passengers end up married some day? What if I had clicked “No” to one of their requests, and they’d never met?
Random people whom we forget about within minutes sometimes make choices that influence the rest of our lives, and we never even know the role they played.
A higher power doesn’t fill in the specific details, contours, or ridges on our life maps; strangers do.
Maybe that’s the profound lesson that sums up my Lyft driving experience; or maybe it’s hogwash.
# Lyft Thoughts: Idealization of the rideshare “profession”
Especially in the beginning, I would romanticize the job— the (perceived) freedom it gave me; the flexibility of my work schedule; how I could stop whenever I wanted, taking breaks at parks or beaches or cafes to complete freelance translations (my other source of income at the time)— all entirely on my own schedule.
I relished in these perks as I drove by tall office buildings, inside which, I imagined, traditional nine to five entrapped office workers sat enchained, clacking away on their computers and growing ever more bleary-eyed from screens.
Why don’t more people do it? I wondered. And: Why would I ever want to give this up? I could’ve almost been a spokesperson for Lyft— the enthusiastic recruiter touting the benefits of gig economy, encouraging others to climb on board.
Flash ahead to moments of heavy traffic in San Francisco. The light has turned red for the fourth time, yet I’m still in the same place. A car to my left honks at me for reasons I’m unaware of— did I even do anything to warrant it? Maybe he’s just frustrated with the situation—like I and everyone else probably is as well— and I happen to be the closest target.
Where’s my scapegoat? I wonder (looking to my right, I see a woman inching her way down the sidewalk, guided by a walker. The way she looks is the way I feel: tired, frail, and resigned. No, it definitely can’t be her).
I decide to resist following the lead of the guy who just honked at me. I won’t scapegoat. I’ll just wait it out.
A few more minutes of remaining stalled in the exact same spot, I want out. But twelve minutes still remain of my trip (even though 18 minutes ago my GPS said that only eight did—so who really knows what’s true?).
A few days later, I receive a ticket in the mail, retroactively fining me for pulling over illegally.
A passenger cancels just as I’ve arrived at their destination—barely dodging the five-minute cancelation fee that would have at least partially reimbursed me for the time I spent driving to them and waiting.
An Uber Eats passenger sways me into bringing his food to the 14th floor by telling a story that I later discover to be embellished.
It’s during moments like these that I say to my idealizing, romanticizing past self: This feels like FREEDOM to you??
…Maybe not so much. But it had its pleasant moments.
“Just because you’re able to compliment me in a really intelligent way doesn’t mean I’m planning to let my guard down with you.”
–Woman to the man she is riding with
The Good Samaritans
A group of passengers stood out to me. Where they easily could have sucuumbed to impatience and apathy at the end of a long day, they instead chose kindness and pro-sociality.
Throughout the remainder of that night I would return to the memory of them, re-playing the moment each time I found myself feeling tired, downtrodden, or annoyed with a passenger’s entitlement. The encounter got me thinking about goodness in general.
I thought about this quote from Jamil Zaki: “recently, those of us who study empathy have started to feel like climatologists studying the polar ice. Each year we discover more about how valuable empathy is, only to watch it receding all around us. According to one study, the average American college students in 2009 was less caring than three quarters of students in 1979.”
When it comes to altruistic behavior, we each exist along a continuum. Depending on the the day we’ve had, how tired we are, whether or not we’re running late for something, etcetera, we may show more or less generosity at different moments.
I’ve witnessed people, though, who are exhausted themselves or may not be in a particularly good place, display remarkable generosity regardless.
What accounts for this behavior in certain individuals and not in others? I wondered. Is the explanation as simple as, some people are inherently kinder?
Author and researcher Robert Sapolksy posits, in his book Behave, that we’re generally more likely to help people we see as more similar to us—people who fit into the “us” group.
I wondered, then, if generous people’s “Us” mental categories simply encompass a far wider range of people than those within the minds of the less generous. Maybe they include almost every human. The people they help aren’t “Others” to them; they’re but one of many within their extremely large category of ‘Us.’
Regardless, I don’t have to understand the origins of, or reasons for kind behavior to know that when I witness or am recipient to moments of it, I’d like not to take them for granted. I want to pay attention; want to store the moments away and pull them up when I find myself at low bandwidth, or about to lose my patience.
A car doesn’t let me in, or neglects to use their signal. A customer acts rude or entitled. Next time they do, I’d summon one from my mental rolodex.
As phrased on theattachmentproject.com: “Research shows that thinking about times when you performed or were the target of a kind, compassionate action can help decrease anxiety and make you feel more relaxed.”
And as Lane Moore put it in How to Be Alone: “I remember everyone who has ever been kind to me. I keep them all with me, so I know exactly where they are at all times.”
#Lyft Dream: vulture puts the kibosh on my time as a Lyft driver
To preface this: earlier that day, when outside reading on my parents’ balcony, I’d made eye contact with a crow, who’d just landed on the railing. We maintained that eye contact as he hopped from the rail to my table; then from the table to the chair across from me.
I watched as his head dropped down. I watched as it submerged itself in the wasabi green seat cushion. I watched as it shot back up with clumps of cotton and torn cloth spilling from his beak.
“Did you just…?” I began to ask him. The crow flew away as I processed the fact that he’d just taken a hefty bite from my parents’ balcony seats.
Bold, Man. BOLD, I marveled.
Later that night, my night-time cinema played me the following dream:
“You’ve got to come see this,” my sister insists, with urgency in her voice as she wakes me. “Something’s happened to your car. Something weird.”
I race outside, my sister trailing behind me. Once there I take in the sight of my half-demolished Toyota Corolla, from which it looks as if a creature has taken a massive bite, treating the metal like meat from a stick.
“I’ve never seen anything like that before,” my sister comments, mouth agape.
“Neither have I,” I reply. “I…I didn’t even know it was possible.”
There’d been a bike in the back seat, as well as a computer, a bag of groceries, and headphones—but none of them had been taken. All were left untouched. The only evidence of burglary are the missing bumpers, the stripped hubcaps, and the fact that my car’s entire back side is no longer present.
Surveillance cameras reveal this “beast eating meat off a stick” metaphor to be not so far off from the reality. A park ranger witnesses my sister’s and my confusion and pulls us into his booth. Once there, to explain what had happened he shows us video footage that had captured the incident.
“They’re giant car-eating vultures,” he explains in a calm but somber voice, “Who use vehicle materials to build their nests.”
Turning specifically to me: “You were one of the unlucky ones. I’m sorry.”
“Well,” I say to my sister after the ranger walks away, “I guess I can’t drive Lyft anymore.”
**That concludes Lyft Tales. Thank you all for reading, it’s been a pleasure to write for you! If you like my writing you can check out my author’s website for any and all future work: https://esteph42190.wixsite.com/eleni-writes . You can also follow the IG @lyft_tales which will still be updated periodically.