I love the concept of ride sharing services like Lyft or Uber, and I use them all the time when I travel or feel the urge to paint the town red. But it's not just because they're convenient; I like to talk to the drivers! And I wouldn't trade all the stories, advice and near head-on collisions for anything.
Image via NBC.
It's the Perfect Time to Practise Talking to Strangers
Talking to somebody you don't know seems like the most awkward, difficult thing in the world — until it isn't. You open your mouth, say hello, spout off a few pleasantries and before you know it, you're having one of the most interesting conversations of your life. Chatting with strangers is good for you: It improves your conversational skills, can boost your mood and, best of all, it pops that bubble you're floating around in.
We're told from a young age to not talk to strangers. While that's great advice in many circumstances, it's not a perfect rule. Sometimes, talking with the occasional stranger can have surprising benefits to your well-being. Let's take a look at some of them.
During various Lyft and Uber rides, I've chatted with an ex-police officer in Salt Lake City who was on the scene during the LA riots, been regaled with tales of lavish parties from a professional dancer in Hollywood who does background for pop music videos, and talked to a Seattle man about the difficulties of raising four daughters in the heart of the city. It was rewarding to share tips with a young auto mechanic who had a love for writing but no outlet. I'll never forget the talk I had about diversity and storytelling in film with an independent filmmaker from Mexico. And I was blown away the other night when my driver said they were a huge Lifehacker fan and wanted my autograph.
Conversations like these let me turn a mundane practice into something memorable and useful. You see, all of these people gave me something: Perspective. A different outlook on life and why we do the silly things we do in our brief time here. And that's something that's more valuable to me than an $18 ride to the bar. But you have to want that to happen. I find I can get conversations going with the simplest of questions:
- Busy so far?
- How long have you lived here?
- Been driving for [service] long?
- Have you heard of [place I'm headed]?
That's all it takes. Most drivers will be fully engaged by the time I ask one or two of these questions because they're probably bored and tired of all the jerks they usually have to deal with. That said, I'm well aware that it's easier for me as a benign-looking, 1.8m tall, white male who looks capable of defending himself. I know there are creepy, horrible people out there, and that some of them are drivers you may encounter. But if someone seems nice, give it a shot. Ask how their day is going. Besides, what else are you going to do? Stare at your phone? Neat. Plus, it's an easy way to improve your passenger rating or keep it looking pristine.
You probably check your Uber drivers' ratings before you hop in their car, but those drivers pay attention to your rating as well. And a bad rating can make grabbing a ride a lot harder in the future. To keep your passenger rating as high as possible, you need to know what drivers look for in passengers, too.
It's a Great Way to Find Hidden Hotspots Around Town
Not only is good conversation up for grabs during these car rides, but so is valuable information. In this age of Yelp! and blogs, it might seem like all the cool local spots are all known and catalogued, but that isn't always the case. There will always be places that fly under the radar, and word of mouth is the only way to receive an invitation.
After one night of libations and vocal cord destruction in a karaoke booth I spoke with a private chef who drives in his spare time. During that enlightening ride he told me about a ton of amazing restaurants and hole-in-the-wall bars I never would have spotted on a digital map littered with red pins. Then, on a longer-than-usual ride I took across town, I spoke with a woman from Kentucky who had a penchant for visiting historical places. As we headed to my destination, she noted points of interest along the way that I should check out later. I don't remember much of what I did with my friends that night, but I do remember driving by the spot where N.W.A put on their first live show, hearing bizarre stories about old Hollywood locales and complaining about the cost of rent together.
It Can Make for a Great Story
As I mentioned earlier, drivers come in all shapes and sizes. Some are rude, some are inexplicably odd, some don't want to talk at all and should be left alone (don't be obnoxious and force things) and some need your help picking out a movie to go see with their mum. Enter "Enzo".
Enzo picked up my friends and I outside of a restaurant in what I can only describe as a Fast and the Furious prop car. It looked cool, and so did he (think Lucio from Overwatch.) Almost immediately we realised Enzo liked to go fast and held little respect for stop signs. It was frightening as we wove through traffic and blasted through intersections, but also fun in a "well, I won't be the one in trouble" kind of way. After the usual pleasantries, I asked him about movies and video games, but soon, Enzo's phone rang over the speakers. It was his girlfriend, and he was in trouble because he hadn't picked out a movie. It was incredibly uncomfortable to listen to their conversation — all while living life a quarter mile at a time — but eventually Enzo wrangled us into their conversation because we seemed to know about the movies playing at the time. It was his mother's birthday and he and his girlfriend weren't sure what to take her to see. After about 20 minutes of surprisingly deep discussion on film, we resolved that they should go see The Martian. As far as I know, they did, and Enzo's mother had a wonderful birthday.
Sometimes, though, drivers will be so overly nice and talkative you'll wish a car would come careening into your lane. After my 12-hour flight from Tokyo I was exhausted and in no mood for anything, but my driver, an elderly Chinese man, was intent on convincing me to travel to China. So much so it seemed like he wanted me to go back in time, undo my trip to Japan and go to China instead. He rattled off countless facts about the country, and almost force fed me his private stash of homemade cookies (which I didn't partake — and neither should you, ever), but all I could do was nod and say "wow", "cool" and "yeah, maybe". As I got out of the car and closed the door, he shouted "Go to China!" before driving away.
These were uncomfortable experiences, to say the least, but I now relish them because they're great stories. I can bust them out whenever a chat heads in that direction, or if there's a lull in conversation. Enzo didn't almost get me killed, he gave me a fun memory, and finally answered my question of "What's it like to be both fast and furious?" And the kind Chinese man may have annoyed me in my tired, post-travel state, but I'll never forget how nice it was of him to try and share his personal snack with me. Also, I kinda want to go to China now. Well played, sir.
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