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.