I actually rather enjoy driving — I find driving to be relaxing and is an activity that helps me gather my thoughts and clear my head. During long car rides, I like to catch up on podcasts, listen to music, and just work through questions or ideas that I’ve been toying with but haven’t fully resolved or completed. And as I figure out my future career and what life has in store for me, the idea of getting paid to drive made immediate sense.
Since starting, ride-share driving is easily one of the most edifying experiences I’ve had in my life. The common theme to many of my life experiences are the interactions and stories I’ve taken away from those I came into contact with and those I worked with — ride-share driving is no different. And although I’ve only been driving for a short time, the stories I’ve been able to collect, the experiences of the passengers I’ve driven, and the universality of the human condition seems to be reinforced with every new passenger I encounter.
And it’s their stories that I find so compelling and so powerful. The particular facts, circumstances, and events of our lives — experiences that can be good or bad — are interpreted by and made sense with stories. The story of our lives is how we fit the past events of life with the experiences of the present moment and how those patterns and themes help to guide and determine our choices and path into the future. The particular things that happen to any one of us is usually beyond our control, but the meaning we take away from those particular events and how we fit what we’ve learned and gained from those experiences into the principles and themes that define the our lives is the function of story.
And sharing this universal experience of the human condition with each other is a function of storytelling. So here are the stories that were shared with me. Here are the stories that taught me something about the universality of humanity. Here are stories of the human condition as told by a ride-share driver.
A Young Father’s Story:
Easily my favorite story from my short time as a ride-share driver actually came on my first night of taking rides.
During one of my first rides as a driver, I had the opportunity to take a young father, who was 25-years old, with his 4-year old daughter to the bowling alley. This young father was a man of means who worked at the airport handling luggage and doing manual labor. And though his daughter had expressed to him that she wanted to go to a water park, he couldn’t afford the time off work to take her nor did he have the means to own his own pool. But despite this, he still wanted to have a valuable experience with his daughter and he still wanted to create an important moment and memory with his daughter. So what he did was he checked out a room at a motel so that he could take his daughter swimming at the motel pool. Afterwards they watched movies on the motel cinema channels before leaving to have pizza and go bowling, which is when I encountered this man — while he was attempting to create a meaningful memory and bond with his daughter.
Someone told me recently that children are watching their parents grow at the same time as parents are watching their children grow. As children grow and develop as people, they are watching their mothers/fathers grow and develop as parents. Hearing this young man tell this story of going to such creative lengths and demonstrating such a resilient ingenuity struck me as so deeply and incredibly profound. Here was a young man growing as a father, doing all that he could to share a meaningful moment with his daughter as she was growing as a person. Here was someone who was 5 years younger than me, who couldn’t take the time off work to go to a water park or afford a pool, doing everything he possibly could to create a memorable experience for his daughter.
Even if only for 10 minutes, that I was able to be a part of that experience — that I was able to drive this father with his daughter to go bowling and have pizza — is something that I couldn’t be anything but grateful for. Here was someone who was doing everything he could to make it work; to do as much as he could with the little that he had for someone he cared so deeply for.
An Economic Story:
Valuable Work Everywhere
Although I am no economist, my understanding of the value of labor is that it increases the value of the material that is being worked on. In short, you start with some material/object, into which someone puts labor, and as a consequence, a product is produced that is more valuable than the original material/object. In this framing of the economic value of labor, manufacturing and construction can easily be thought of as productive and valuable because the materials/objects that manufacturers and construction workers labor over are tangible and the final product sold to consumers is often far more complex and possesses greater utility than the original starting materials/objects. And hearing stories from a variety of individuals in a wide array of fields, it seems to me that nearly all labor and nearly all work can be understood as valuable and worthwhile in this framing.
Among the variety of reasons why passengers use the ride-sharing service, as a ride-share driver I have brought passengers from their home to work, from the air port to their project site, or from their hotel to their training site. In the course of these rides, I am bringing them from a location where they are less effective to a location where they can use their skills to be more effective and more productive. And in doing so, I am making a contribution to creating economic value — I am bringing someone from a place where their skills are not being utilized to a place where their skills are being utilized to create value. In a similar way, long haul truckers are creating value when they transport goods because they are bringing goods from where those goods are stored to a new location where they can be sold or utilized in creating value. The mere act of transportation has created value because without that act of transportation, skilled workers couldn’t perform their tasks, products couldn’t be sold to consumers, and equipment couldn’t be utilized in labor.
And during the short time I have been ride-share driving, picking up and dropping off passengers, and milling around at gas stations and convenience stores during breaks, I began to wonder in how many other ways can this same idea be applied? If someone cleans a dirty glass, wouldn’t you pay more for the clean glass than the dirty glass? Hasn’t that clean glass been made more valuable? Isn’t the meal that the chef/cook worked to make worth more than the cost of the individual ingredients that went into the meal? Aren’t you willing to pay more for a cold drink from a well-stocked cooler than for the same drink at room temperature sitting on the shelf? And would you even be able to purchase a product at all if that product wasn’t intentionally shelved, stocked, and directly presentable to you?
And even beyond the initial framing — where labor is put into some material to create a more valuable product — what about all of the effort made to ensure that skilled workers can provide that labor, the fulfilled duties and responsibilities that make creating a more valuable product possible, and the work rendered to maintain the value of those products? When police officers enforce safe driving practices on the roads and respond to emergencies and accidents, aren’t they making the value of transportation possible? When teachers, coaches, and mentors take the time, care, effort, and patience to impart knowledge and wisdom onto students, doesn’t that increase the skills and value of the labor of those students? Doesn’t that diversify those students skill sets and make them more capable and competent? When law enforcement partners with the members and leaders of the community, aren’t they ensuring the safety of the persons and making those persons’ education, training, and work possible? When doctors, nurses, paramedics, and health care professionals treat a patient, isn’t the labor of improving a person’s health make that person’s life more valuable by allowing that person to continue to use their skills and experience in a meaningful way? Wouldn’t protecting people’s well-being as the person defines it allow them to better live productive, valuable, and meaningful lives? When officers, first responders, service members, and fire fighters collaborate with their community, doesn’t that ensure the protection of the productive services and goods for whom the livelihood of the community members and stakeholders depend on? As imperfect as all human endeavors can be and with our shared and constant pursuit of better justice in mind, aren’t all of these necessary in making what we as individuals consider valuable a possibility?
Because the effort involved in all of these tasks across all of these fields added value or ensured/made that additional value possible, aren’t all of these tasks valuable? And if the task is valuable — even if only in a small way — why can’t someone attain some form of meaning and purpose through these tasks — large or small, transiently or in the long term, as a transition or as a destination? And if someone does attain some measure of meaning, why can’t that also be worthy of recognition? And if it is worthy of recognition here, isn’t it worthy of recognition anywhere? Even in a small way, isn’t it enough to be worthy of acknowledgment and appreciation for someone to do something that they find some measure of meaning in that also creates economic value?
Whether the impact of my work was large or small, I cherished all of my experiences. And knowing how difficult it can be to find any sense of meaningful satisfaction, I can’t help but notice valuable work everywhere if the person finds value in their own efforts.
My Schadenfreude Story:
Smelly Roses and Rainbows
Not all of my experiences as a ride-share driver are profound; many are casual and light, though this story I look back at and laugh at myself (I hope it makes you laugh as well).
On Friday night, many passengers I take are heading to bars, clubs, or parties. For one ride, I picked up 2 absolutely gorgeous young women who were clearly heading out to do just that. These young women were dressed to the nines and absolute stunners. However, as a driver, I knew better than to expect to ever run into them again and after giving my typical opening greeting (Welcome, I am going to try to bring you to your destination as quickly and safely as I can, I’m listening to a podcast but we can listen to music, blah blah blah), I begin to drive them to their destination — a short drive of only about 4 minutes. After a brief acknowledgment of my opening welcome spiel, the 2 young women entered into their own conversation about the night — who they expected to meet, what they expected to do, their thoughts on acquaintances they might right in to.
As the women talk, I direct my attention towards the road and the route to their destination. However, during the course of the ride, I started to notice a smell. And as time went on, the smell became stronger and stronger, and more and more pungent, and worse and worse, until I realized what had occurred … One of the girls in the back had farted! And my God, though their was no audible noise, the stench of the gas from one of these women’s bowels was anything but silent.
I know that everyone likes to think that women only have rainbows and roses coming out of their butts, but this ride quickly taught me that those rainbows and roses can be really smelly no matter whose butt it was coming out of and how attractive they were. But here’s the rub: I had no idea which one of the girls had farted. One of them had decided that my night as a driver needed a good hotboxing, but I didn’t know who had done it. And as I was contemplating whether or not to roll down the windows, the 2 women sitting in the back of my car continued going on about their night like the dutch oven that one of these ladies had made for us wasn’t becoming noticeably warmer and heavier. Whoever was the one that passed gas, the other friend was covering for her by pretending to not notice the smell of freshly cut cheese and just continue on with their conversation as if this crop dusting never took place.
Not wanting to be rude, I elected to ignore it too and endure the hotbox experience and embrace the illusion that, yeah, these ladies could only emanate the scent of flowers, vanilla, and honey. That meant windows stayed rolled up, the car fan stayed off, and I just kept my eyes on the route and the road. At the end of a ride that felt far longer than the actual 4 minutes it took, we reached our destination and I wished the ladies (still absolute stunners if not also smelly) a good evening. After these women had left the car, I sat parked for a few moments to enjoy the salvation of the fresh night air, and I couldn’t help but wonder: why couldn’t they have waited until they got out of the car to do that? Did I give off the impression that I needed/enjoy a good hotboxing? Clearly, in lieu of a tip, I received an experience and a story that I’ll never forget (and that always seems to get a laugh when I tell it).
When people go out (myself included) to bars or when friends get together during social outings, the image that we want to present of ourselves to other can often act as a barrier to honest, genuine, and authentic communication. Maybe we leave the less flattering details unsaid; maybe we withhold our own interests for the sake of fitting in with the group; maybe we choose not to share our secrets because of the uncertainty of how others will receive what lies within our hearts; maybe we’re not ready to confront certain facts about our own lives, let alone presenting those facts to other people. Whatever the reason, I’ve often times found that social interactions in public can be less satisfying and less meaningful and more superficial — something that can leave me feeling disappointed and empty when I am lying in my bed at the end of the night.
And it’s likely for this reason that my favorite part of being a ride-share driver is easily the social interactions that I have with the riders. The conversations I’ve been able to have with my passengers have been just profoundly intimate, honest, meaningful, and genuine. Never in my life have I experienced so many people with such regularity share with me such honest opinions and insight. And I think the reason for this is that there is something deeply liberating for people when they’re having a conversation with someone that they’ll likely never see again and who is in no way connected to their social or professional circle. The consequences of a bad interaction are incredibly low — sitting in awkward silence for the rest of a 10 minute car ride. And knowing that they’ll never see me again, riders don’t have to worry about whether or not I am offended by their beliefs/opinions, whether or not I accept who they are in the interior of their hearts, whether or not what they have to say comes off as silly or unimportant.
In this low stakes setting and the near anonymity of never seeing each other again, I find that riders feel so much more freedom in expressing their strongest and most deeply held convictions and experiences. And in a way, even though I am meeting strangers in passing for short periods of time, I walk away feeling as if I have a far more profound and deeper understanding of who they actually are. And what’s so ironic yet so immensely gratifying about this experience is what it has caused me to realize: People are hesitant to be their most genuine and authentic self because they are afraid of how it will be perceived — perceived as ugly, unwanted, or abnormal. But the truth that I’ve come to experience meeting countless strangers is that being able to see the heart of hearts they’ve concealed from the world is easily the most beautiful thing they have to offer. -GP