Wildcat

Normally, I change the passenger’s name for anonymity, but in this story, the username in Lyft was really Wildcat. Of course there was no picture, so I drove to the destination in Hermosa Beach not knowing what to expect. I hit the “arrive” button and waited. 

Bounding up to the car was a petite, blonde girl dressed in one of those Halloween M&M costumes… except she wasn’t an M&M. She was a green shamrock, which is fitting because this was on St Patrick’s Day. She was followed by three other female friends about the same age and also festively garbed for the daylong drinking party. 

“Wildcat?” I asked as she entered the car. Her friends started laughing hysterically. 

“I forgot you did that!” One of her companions said between laughs. 

Wildcat looked at me, smiling and said, “Yup!  Be honest, what did you think a Wildcat would look like?” 

I gave her green M&M-like attire a once over and said, “…not this, I have to admit.” She was rocking a pair of attention-grabbing, extra-long green eyelashes along with shamrock head boppers, and shamrock henna face tattoos. Plus, there was glitter all around. She looked stunning. 

“Most people I talk to expect a tall, intimidating black guy, and then I roll up saying, ‘It me!'”

Off we drove, to a nearby bar in Redondo Beach. She pulled at the edges of her shamrock costume and said, “You know what, this outfit is kinda great… I could be 8 months pregnant and nobody would know. It hides everything!  This is rad.” She continued to chat as if we had known each other for 20 years. 

Turns out she was a nurse, and she recommended I get out and stretch regularly, as opposed to sitting in a car all day. She was worried I would get blood clots from doing that… such a thoughtful Wildcat!  She ended the ride saying she wished they would get me for the ride back home, and I wished the same, but alas it didn’t happen. Fellow Lyft drivers, if you come across Wildcat in your travels, treat her well, and remember to stretch regularly! 

Let’s talk underwear…

One of my more memorable Lyft Line stories occurred a few months ago. First passenger was a Latina woman with a 2 year old. Thankfully, she had a car seat with her and strapped her child in safely. The next passenger was an Asian man who sat up front. The third passenger was the stereotypical young Asian female who was petite, quiet, and demure. All passengers were in their 20’s, and the ride was in rush hour afternoon traffic, so we weren’t going very fast. The majority of the ride was filled with silence as everyone stayed in their world.  

I dropped off the mother first.  As we drove to the Asian guy’s stop, he fielded a personal call on his cell phone. I lowered the music volume so he could speak… and he did… for a long time, out loud… very loudly. 

“Yeah, so I’m adamantly against Mike and his idea of doing women’s lingerie. I mean, he’s a guy. Why does he think women would want to buy lingerie made by a man? Don’t get me wrong, I’ll sell it. I can sell anything, but I just think it’s going to be a very tough sell. I think our best bet is going to be a company like meundies. Even then, I think the volume we would need to make this new company profitable would be too much. I don’t think it makes business sense, you know what I mean?”

That was the gist of the conversation, and it went on for like 10 mins. He was also one of those people who was yelling into his phone even though he didn’t need to. So there he is, screaming into his phone about non-profitable women’s underwear being designed by his male friend while I sat there thinking, “Man, I really dislike this carpool feature…”

We arrived at his destination and he exited. I can’t see my final passenger (the quiet Asian woman) because she’s directly behind me, so I asked her, “You doing alright back there?” She acknowledged she was still alive. “That whole conversation about his friend’s underwear brand using his outside voice was weird right?”

“Yup…” she said. “I Snapchatted the whole thing. It was glorious!”  It’s always the quiet ones you have to watch out for. 😉

He lifts, Bro

I was in the middle of a Lyft Line in West LA when a new rider was added to the queue. Glancing at the picture, I commented, “This guy looks like a Greek God…” Naturally, I picked up Mike at the gym. 

As we continued the drive and dropped off the original passenger, I started talking to Mike, who’s very down to earth and friendly. “So what do you do, Mike?”

“I’m a personal trainer.”

Of course he is… We pull up to his destination, and I look at him confused. “Wait, I’m not dropping you off at McDonalds, am I?!” 

“No, I live right next to the McDonalds…” His voice grow distant as he trails off in thought. “Bro, you don’t know how hard it is living next to McDonalds…” he says wistfully. 

I’m cracking up as he continues with a straight face. “Bro, this McDonalds never closes, man. It’s open 24 hours… it’s even open on Christmas and New Years when everything else is closed.” At this point I’m laughing so hard I’m worried we’re going to crash. 

So if you’re ever craving a McDonalds fix at an odd hour of the day or night, head on over to the McDonalds on Pico Blvd in Santa Monica. And if you see a Greek God on the sidewalk staring at your french fries longingly, wave “Hi” to Mike for me!

The Big Day

There are two major milestones in the career of a Lyft driver. After 250 rides, Lyft sends you a free Amp, an illuminated sign that sits in the middle of your dashboard and glows custom colors so passengers can easily find your car in a sea of drivers at a crowded venue. 

After 1000 rides, you receive a special Lyft jacket as proof you’ve joined the 1000 ride club. As I neared this milestone, I knew I wanted to do something special for passenger 1000. A couple weeks earlier, I went to an ice cream social for LA drivers and spoke to Carlos, who handles social media for Lyft in the area. He gave me some ideas and items to use to celebrate the milestone. 

After ride 999, I went to LAX, hoping to get a long-distance non-carpool ride so I would not be rushed or interrupted by other passengers. After waiting 30 mins for the ride, the ping arrives… a Lyft Line (carpool) passenger with a 4.6 rating. That’s a low rating for a passenger, who typically are 4.8 or higher, so I said, “Not today, Satan…” and let another driver field that request. 

Sadly, this puts me at the back of the line for the airport queue, so I wait another 30 minutes for the next ping. This time it’s a Lyft Line again, but a 5.0 rating, so I accept it. I pick up Emily at the terminal and no other passengers are in the carpool, so I drive away from the airport content with my moderate length ride. Of course as soon as I leave airport property, my phone chirps,

“New Lyft Line added.”

“New Lyft Line added.”

Feeling like I’m running out of time, I quickly tell her about the 1000 rides and give her some gifts: a $3 scratcher lottery ticket, a Lyft bag, and a Lyft inflatable beach ball. She’s blown away and ecstatic, happily scratching away at her lottery ticket as I pick up our two other passengers back at the airport. 

John is a non-descript brainiac who sits in the back next to Emily. David is a down-to-earth former Lyft driver who sits in the front seat. David is looking around confused… “What is that sounds?!”  It’s Emily blowing up her Lyft beach ball. 

“Umm… sorry, guys. I should’ve asked. I’m just excited, so I’m gonna go for it…” as she dutifully returns to inflating her beach ball. I explain to the other passengers why Emily is sitting back there with a Lyft beach ball, and we find out she won $5 with the scratcher. Woo hoo! 

Unlike most Lyft Lines which are either awkward silence or a cacophony of people on the phone while multiple conversations go on, this ride was like a family having dinner and catching up with each other. It was awesome and the mood was celebratory. Emily signed my guestbook, posed for a selfie, and said she was going to write an email to Lyft recommending me for Driver of the Year. Here’s the selfie:

My life is a TV show

Lyft Line is Lyft’s version of a carpool. It’s also like Forest Gump’s box of chocolates… you never know what you’re going to get when you pack a group of strangers into a car during a long ride in rush hour traffic.

Yesterday, I received a Line request in Santa Monica from Kathy. As soon as she opened the door, I had a huge grin on my face and involuntarily blurted out, “OMG!  Kathy, you sound like an anime character!”  She was a grown ass woman, mind you, but her voice sounded like Minnie Mouse. 

“I know!” She exclaimed. “I’m a voice actress!”

“Well, get in. I can tell this is going to be a great ride.” And so we began our cross-town journey engaged in pleasant conversation about voice acting and video games. Working in video games, I’d met a few voice actresses/directors and sat in on a couple recording sessions.  We were deep in conversation about her work when a chime sounded that a new rider had been added to the queue. 

I turned down a street to pick up Joe, a suited up businessman standing outside a dry cleaner holding a week’s worth of pressed suits. He was cordial enough, but he seemed serious compared to our previously light-hearted conversation about voice actors slipping in and out of character while you’re trying to talk to them. 

After a couple moments of indecision, I said screw it and resumed the conversation with Kathy, and we subjected Joe to our discourse about how nutty voice actors are. Then we heard another chime, signaling another rider. 

We picked up Thomas in front of the CAA building on Avenue of the Stars. As soon as he got in the car, it was all about Thomas. He was a real estate agent who just came from a pitch meeting with executives at a major TV network. Thomas was a wheel and deal, “I’m always right,” Hollywood guy who immediately started engaging with Kathy. He wanted to know about her upbringing and then tried to convince her to woo him so he could be her agent in charge of her career. Needless to say, she wasn’t taking the bait. Even though she sounded like an adolescent Japanese girl, Kathy was a smart cookie who’d worked in the corporate world and answered all of his questions effortlessly.  While driving, all I could do was share knowing looks with Kathy from the rear view mirror as she continued to deflect Thomas’ advances. 

As we drove to the first drop off, I marveled at the cast of characters in the car. A bubbly smart protagonist who sounded like she escaped from a Disney movie, a sleazy Hollywood agent antagonist, the serious “I just want to get home to my boring life” businessman, and a token minority comic relief character. I guarantee this motley crew is more entertaining than any script on AMC’s desk that doesn’t involve zombies right now. 

We dropped off Joe, then Thomas, and Kathy looked at me in disbelief. “That guy was such a douche!”  That’s when I learned she also cussed like a sailor as she went off on him. This was a million times more entertaining with her voice. I could listen to that all day. And so the ride ended with as much laughter and pleasantry  as it started with. This is why I love what I do. 

Car-eoke Premiere

A week ago a guy posted in one of the Facebook driver groups that he had a full karaoke setup in his car, and it’s stupidly simple: a tablet with the Red Karaoke app, a $40 wired microphone, an auxiliary cord, and a monthly subscription to the app to have access to the entire catalog of songs.

I assembled the necessary pieces for my own setup, but then was having doubts about how to pitch the idea to passengers.  It seemed so random to start talking about busting out in song when people are expecting only a ride.  While it was still in the planning phase, one passenger asked, “Will people want to do karaoke while sober?”  That gave me pause…

Then today, I was stuck in rush hour traffic, moving 5 mph.  I had an Asian passenger in the back, so I pitched the idea to her.  She seemed intrigued and asked to see the mic.  When she saw it was a full-sized mic, she got excited… and then I realized I left the tablet at home.  😦 With the enthusiasm for the prospect of car-eoke dying, I downloaded the app on my phone, and we tried it out.

The maiden voyage of car-eoke was a success!  She had a great time, and I enjoyed the spontaneous concert in the middle of rush hour traffic at 5pm.  See for yourself!  If you want to be a passenger and belt out some tunes, here is my Uzurv link so you can schedule a reservation: https://uzurv.app.link/9iVpybaQZC

Update: I uploaded the careoke video to the Red Karaoke app’s servers, and it was placed in a “Rising Stars” section of the app, causing more people to see and engage with it. The video went viral, so now she’s app-famous!  I wonder if I should have a bowl of green M&M’s ready for our next recording session?

Inside the mind of a casting director

I picked up Michelle at LAX and drove her to a hotel in Hollywood, giving us plenty of time for conversation. She worked as a casting director for TV shows on a major television channel. 

“So what is casting for a show like? Are you looking for people who have unique personalities?”

“Well, if its reality TV, you know… we go for stereotypes: the hunky guy, the ditzy blonde, the nerd, the flamboyant gay guy, the spicy Latina, and the token guy/girl. Depending how the rest of the casting goes, sometimes that token character has to be a white person instead of a person of color.”

“Oh, so you can’t have it looking like The Wire up in there?”

“Exactly.  Sometimes you need to throw a white guy in there.”

Since I know there’s a lot of aspiring actors/actresses in Los Angeles, I asked, “What are some of the more common mistakes people make when auditioning?”

“You need to be yourself. If you’re playing a character and it’s not really you, we’ll figure that out quickly. We’ll ask questions to piss you off to see how you react… and if you hesitate – and don’t have that spontaneous natural response – it’s over.”

I followed up with, “So for example, if a guy is playing the flamboyant gay guy, but it’s a character, you’ll spot it because he’s acting. You want… no acting… like Keanu Reeves.”

“100 percent. Or like Denzel Washington. Play the same character in everything because it’s real. That’s what we want is real.”

Again, I asked what other mistakes people make when auditioning for a part. 

“Sometimes you get a person who’s really reserved, and it’s like pulling teeth to get them to say something. To those people I just want to ask, ‘Why are you here?'”

My final question for her was does she target someone who’s… a villain? “Oh, the star?  Of course. If someone makes me want to punch them in the face in the audition tape, that’s when I think, ‘Ohh! That’s the one.'”

“Why do you think that is, that reality TV needs a bad person/heel?”

“I think it’s because if someone can provoke strong emotions out of the audience, it makes them memorable and then people get attached and have to tune in.”

So there you have it, folks. If you’re auditioning for a part in a reality TV show, embrace your inner Joffrey from Game of Thrones, but only if that person is your true self, and not a character you’re playing. Otherwise, work on refining your character stereotype. Good luck!