Rideshare

I drive a couple of days per week for a rideshare service. It’s an interesting way to make money, though I’m sure it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. For example, if you have an aversion to driving this is definitely not the gig for you. That said, there are definite advantages. Enough advantages that I’ve decided to continue doing the rideshare gig for awhile instead of getting a regular job.

For me, the biggest advantage is flexibility. Rideshare drivers do not actually work for Uber or Lyft. They are independent and as such are free to drive as much or as little as they want, during days and times of their choosing. I only drive when I feel like it, which fosters a positive attitude. If my mood changes for the worse while I’m driving I just turn off the driver app and head home. So I never have a “bad day” like people with regular jobs do from time to time. My experience in this regard is not shared by all drivers, though. I have a separate source of income, so I’m not reliant on driving as my primary source of income. For drivers who need the income to support themselves I imagine the experience is quite different. For me, the extra money goes toward savings or things like vacations and entertainment. If I had to rely on it for my primary source of income then rideshare driving would be a compulsory, full-time job.

Another cool thing about rideshare driving is that I encounter places and neighborhoods that I would never come across if I weren’t driving around randomly. The randomness happens because the driver doesn’t know the destination of the ride until after they pick up the passengers. The driver can control the randomness by cancelling the ride, but that is an inconvenience to the passengers and is discouraged by the rideshare service platforms. It also lowers what is referred to as the driver’s “acceptance rate,” which can make the driver ineligible for number-of-ride bonuses. I choose to accept every ride request and never cancel a ride based on the destination. Thus, the randomness. I roll around the region at the behest of strangers, surrendering to the randomness. Each time is like a little adventure. I also see plenty of cool sunsets, rainbows, and weather events. I drive in the San Francisco bay area, so there’s great scenery, too. Some of my favorite rides are ones that cross the Golden Gate Bridge, especially when fog is rolling in through the Golden Gate. The fog is wispy and ethereal when it wraps the towers; beautiful.

The most interesting thing about rideshare driving is experiencing the passengers. There are three basic experiences: 1) the passenger(s) are quiet and don’t interact with the driver; 2) the passengers (e.g., two in the back seat) talk to each other but not to the driver; 3) the passenger(s) engage the driver in conversation. I usually sort out these categories by observing for the first minute or two. If the passenger(s) are in the back interacting with their smartphone I might provide an opening by asking them how their day is going so far. You can tell by the brevity of their response if they want to talk. If they engage by talking about their day instead of just saying, “Good,” then they usually are open to small talk. Sometimes a passenger will ask how I like rideshare driving, and that’s a sure sign they want to talk. This happens most often when I pick people up at an airport (don’t know why).

The trickier situation is when the passengers are talking with each other. In these cases you can hear what they are talking about, even if you’re not focused on listening to them. You can’t not hear them. But the passengers often converse as though they are alone. In these situations it is difficult for me to know if and when to break into a conversation. For example, one passenger says to the other: “What’s the name of that actor? You know, the guy in the Doogie Howser TV show? Oh, man. Now this is going to bug me.” And you know that the actor’s name is Neil Patrick Harris. But if I say, “Neil Patrick Harris,” the passengers know that I’ve been hearing their conversation. In those situations I usually keep quiet.

As a writer, rideshare driving has a side benefit. While I would never write about a particular passenger or situation that comes up in a conversation, it is interesting to note speech patterns and how they differ between, say, two women talking to each other as opposed to two men, or a man and a woman. It’s also helpful in the sense that I have more confidence when writing dialogue. Sometimes a writer thinks, “people don’t talk like that,” or, “no one would ever say that.” Not true! I know from my experience that a writer can formulate dialogue without fear, because every time I think I’ve heard it all, a passenger will surprise me.

I also came up with a cool story idea that involves rideshare driving. Once I was in an Uber car and the driver was a clean cut, clean shaven young man who spoke perfect English, but was playing what sounded like middle eastern music on the car stereo. It turns out he is from Afghanistan and was an interpreter for the U.S. Government. He speaks six languages, other than English. The story idea is that one day such a rideshare driver hears his passengers talking in foreign languages, plotting a terror attack. The driver was granted legal residency in the U.S. because the Taliban found out he was helping the U.S. Government and were going to kill him. Having just arrived to safety in the U.S. he wants to avoid being targeted by a sleeper cell here, so the conflict is what he should do with the information. He contacts a member of the military unit he was embedded with and they advise him to contact the CIA and offer to become a confidential informant. That way he doesn’t have the burden of not sharing the important information while also not having to testify against the suspects and be exposed. I think this is a pretty good story idea, but it’s on the back burner until I complete my second novel, which should be in the middle of next year. The working title of this story is Ubercia.

Burlington, Vermont

My daughter and I spent five days in Burlington, Vermont, during our July 2018 vacation.  We’d been to Vermont before a couple of years ago, but this was our first time in Burlington. It’s a great place to visit and I’d consider moving there except for the Vermont winters.

Burlington is unique because although it’s the largest city in Vermont, it has a population of only 43,000 people. This makes it the smallest, largest city in any state. As a result, the city’s culture is condensed and concentrated. The downtown area is centered around Church Street, with several blocks closed to vehicular traffic, creating a pedestrian thoroughfare. Church Street is full of restaurants, bars, clubs, and shops, with many of the service establishments offering outdoor seating. Lights are strung across the street and provide a inviting atmosphere in the evening. Here’s a photo I took.

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You can walk down the street and hear music from bands and DJ’s. One spot I liked is called Red Square. Everyone was dancing to the DJ’s mix and drinking up a storm. Walk down a few doors and there’s a band playing. On Friday nights there might be a stage set up in the pedestrian thoroughfare with a band playing, as there was the Friday night I was there. You don’t have to get in a car and drive anywhere; everything is concentrated into this one, vibrant area, and it’s a lot of fun. It reminded me a little bit of Bourbon Street and Magazine Street in New Orleans, except neat and tidy. There’s also a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream shop that shows outdoor movies for the kids. The eating establishments are varied and the food was pretty good wherever we ate. In particular, there’s a very good ramen operation. My daughter is a ramen fan and she rated the ramen there as the best she’s had.

Another cool thing about Burlington is that it sits on Lake Champlain and there is a very beautiful beach, called North Beach, right there in town. North Beach is staffed with lifeguards, has bath/changing rooms, a snack bar, and a concession that rents out stuff like canoes and stand-up paddle boards. During the summertime the water temperature is doable for swimming; about 72 degrees. So, not warm, but doable. Definitely warmer than summertime in Lake Tahoe, if you know what that’s like. Here’s a photo looking across Lake Champlain from North Beach.

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As you can see, there’s a boat there on the right, which probably docks at the marina a mile or so down the coast, a few blocks below Church Street. I was surprised that many of the people I heard talking at North Beach were speaking French, which added a somewhat exotic, European flavor to the experience. The Canadian province of Quebec shares a border with Vermont, and the people there speak French, so that explains it.

The people I met in Burlington were, for the most part, service/wait staff, and were very friendly. I asked if they were Vermont natives and found that many were not. It seems that some of them stumbled across Burlington during travel and decided to stay. One guy in particular said he was working with a traveling carnival and when the carnival hit Burlington he quit and has been living there ever since. So, Burlington has sort of an “island of misfit toys” feel to it, as regards the residents.

There is also a unique museum close by in the town of Shelburne, Vermont, which also sits on Lake Champlain. The Shelburne Museum is about a fifteen minute drive from Burlington and is a must-do activity if you’re visiting the area. It’s unique because it houses a wide variety of Americana art and artifacts in several buildings that were mostly relocated from other parts of Vermont. For example, one building houses a collection of circus artifacts, including a miniature circus. Here’s a photo I took.

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Another building houses what must be the world’s largest collection of decoy ducks. OK, so maybe decoy ducks aren’t your thing. You might like this steamboat, which is parked there on the museum property.

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Another building houses my favorite collection: an authentic general store from the period just after the American Civil War. Every item in the store is genuine and period-specific, so when you walk in it’s like being transported back in time. Here’s a photo.

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There are collections of glassware, fabric, fine art (including a beautiful painting by Andrew Wyeth), and even cigar-store Indians. Almost everyone will find something that will be of interest. You might be wondering where they got this odd collection of so much different stuff. Well, it turns out that most of the stuff was collected by a lady named Electra Havemeyer Webb. This lady was a wealthy New York socialite and world-class pack-rat, er, collector. There was always the question of what would become of all her stuff when she passed away. The answer is the Shelburne Museum.

Another recommendation is to visit the Inn at Shelburne Farm for dinner. It’s a working farm so all the food served at the restaurant is raised or grown right there. Truly “farm to table.” The Inn and restaurant are housed in a mansion that served as a summer home for the Vanderbilt family. It’s situated in a beautiful location on the shore of the lake. Here’s a photo from the lawn at sunset.

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I highly recommend a visit to Burlington and the surrounding area. Hopefully this post will pique the interest of people who never would have considered it as a destination. The next time I go will be during the fall so I can see the trees in autumn.

 

Holy Human

Holy Human is a band from Daytona Beach, Florida. About a month ago they were far away from home, in Burlington, Vermont, having driven there to start a mini-tour celebrating their new album, titled “Epiphany.”

Our paths crossed briefly because I was in Burlington on vacation (great town; more on that in a separate post). A friend of mine who grew up near Burlington told me to check out this bar called Radio Bean. When I got there, Holy Human was just about to start their set. Seeing them was a complete fluke; pure serendipity.

Have you ever gone to a show and there’s an opening band you’ve never heard of, and you’re unfamiliar with their material? The experience of seeing Holy Human was kind of like that, because they write and perform their own songs (except, in this instance, for one cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Under my Thumb.”) The cool thing was that they were quite entertaining, even though I was hearing all of their stuff for the first time. I stayed for the whole set. Radio Bean is an intimate setting and I was thus able to interact with the band members afterward. I even bought their CD.

So now I’ve been listening to the CD for a couple of weeks. It sounds better in my car than in the house, especially if I’m in the car with someone else and we’re talking, with the CD playing in the background. I’ve thought a bit about how to describe Holy Human’s style of music, and I came up with psychedelic surf rock, although the songs on the CD are somewhat eclectic. One thing I appreciate about this band and that sets them apart is that four of the five members sing, and they have worked out cool harmonies for most of the songs. The harmonies are somewhat evocative of The Byrds, or the Beach Boys, or the Mama’s and Papa’s; even, at times, The Monkees, though less pop-oriented and more psychedelic. I guess that’s part of why they sound like surf rock, to me.

The first song is “Scary Girl,” which is a heavy tune about a stalker-like acquaintance. Holy Human started their set with that song, and I have a good memory of it. It’s good live material. Other songs that stand out for me are “Tower Hour,” “God Damaged,” and, especially, “The Sunshine Conspiracy.” But I enjoy all the songs, actually. I’ve taken to leaving the CD in the car and playing it as an alternative to the crappy Bay Area rock radio stations.

I don’t know if Holy Human will get out to the west coast, but I’d go see them again if they did. I don’t have any plans to visit Florida in the near future, either, but I would seek them out if I was anywhere near Daytona Beach.

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Here’s a photo of the band in front of Radio Bean. From left to right: Matthew Wall, Woody Moore, Mark Murray, Matthew Aubertin, and Anthony Santisi.