“You Know Planes Go There, Too. Right?”

One of the biggest drawbacks of driving for a rideshare platform is that you have no control over where you go throughout the day.  Every ride is a roll of the dice.  Some cities are compact, so this doesn’t matter much to those drivers, but in Los Angeles, you can really get yourself fucked over if you get stuck somewhere far away from the city.

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After a particularly busy weekday morning rush hour, I was dropping off at LAX.  Now, let me start by saying that I *DO NOT* pick up at LAX because of a real rolling of the dice.  These people can be going hours away, or they can be going five minutes away.  Both are equally annoying, as with one you can spend the rest of your day trying to get back to civilization, and with the other you can sit in the airport traffic loop for 40 minutes at a time, only to make $3 if they’re going close by.

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Now that being said, I get a request coming from the airport loop.  I was prepared to ignore it, but I saw that it was surging.  In a split-second decision, I figured it could be worth it.  If the passenger is going to the middle of nowhere, at least I’ll make better money doing it.  Sure, it sucks that I’d have to drive back to civilization with nobody in the car, but whatever.  I said it was a split-second decision!  I didn’t have time to rationalize my thoughts on a blog at the moment.

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So I go to pick the girl up, and she’s this teeny little frail Asian woman.  Probably early 30s.  She comes barreling into the car and yells that me she just got off of a long flight from China and has to teach a class and that I need to hurry.

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While I definitely don’t care, my real thought is more along the lines of, “Hello!  How are you?  Please remember that your driver is a human being.  I mean, we don’t have to be best friends or anything, but a little ‘Hello, how are you?’ goes a long way.  Also you are clearly human garbage.”

I was way more polite than that, cheerfully starting the trip and saying, “Let’s see where we’re going today.”  This is the point where I, as the driver, get to see the destination.

Her destination?  SANTA BARBARA.  As in 2.5 hours away with no traffic.  And 3 hours back, minimum.  Yeah.  That Santa Barbara.

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Hey lady… Santa Barbara in an Uber?  You know planes go to Santa Barbara right?  And you’re in an EXCELLENT place to catch a plane!

Keep in mind a few things.  I am required by Uber’s Terms of Service to take her wherever she needs to go, be in downtown or Santa Barbara.  Beverly Hills or Rhode Island.  If I refuse the ride, she can complain to Uber and I can be deactivated permanently.

Also, keep in mind that when I drop her off, I have to drive back by myself.  So by agreeing to take her, I’m locking myself into a 6 hour commitment, minimum.  Is this worth it?

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Uber’s navigation system is telling me to take the 101, which is a straight shot.  But I remember that NPR said the 101 was shut down near Santa Barbara because of the mudslides.  This was in January 2018, when the mudslides following the devastating wildfires killed over 20 people in the Santa Barbara / Montecito areas.  They 101 and surrounding area surface level streets were shut down because they were still doing search and rescue missions.  I told her this trip likely can’t be completed by car.

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She insisted that she needed to teach and that she really needs me to take her there, and I explained myself a little better.  “Perhaps I haven’t been clear.  I’m not doubting your need to be there.  I’m saying that this is not a helicopter.”  But she keeps begging, so I pull over and work some cross-platform GPS magic.  “I’m gonna check out some GPS info here, in the meantime you can research some flights out of Burbank.”  Here we go.

Uber navigation:  Take the 101.  …This system is fucking useless.

Waze:  No route available.  Things aren’t looking good, lady.

Apple Maps:  Hahaha, I’m totally joking.  Apple Maps is as useful as an asshole on my elbow.

Google Maps: WE HAVE A WINNER!

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Google Maps found a route, but instead of the straight shot up the 101, it was all the way up the 405 to the 5, all the way up until you meet the 166, take that for another 90 miles until you hit the 101, then go South to Santa Barbara.  In Layman’s terms, that is almost 300 miles, quoted as just over 6 hours at that time of day.

What is worse than that?  Is that I’ll be driving the same route on the way back, and it will definitely take longer.  So if I take her, I’m committing to at least 13 hours in the car after an already busy rush hour morning.  Do I do it?

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I hate myself, of course I did it.  I did the math and realized that while the hours would be insane and so would my exhaustion and my fuel costs, I would still make over $400 on the ride.  So I took it.  Did I hate myself every single step of the way?

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I was hoping she’d at least be chatty, because otherwise that’s 13 hours of me not talking or interacting at all, just driving.  So of course, she lies down in the back seat immediately and goes to sleep.  13 hours of me, just… gettin’ to know my brain.  Yawn.

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I definitely cried on the way home, but whatever.  I think the best part of it all was that as I’m leaving her behind in Santa Barbara, literally three minutes away, I see a sign for the Santa Barbara airport.  Whatever.  I hope she got fired for being late to her class.  Idiot.

RIDESHARE TIP #13.5:  If you can take a plane, take a plane.  If you can’t take a plane, be fun and chatty with your driver.  He’s tired too.

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Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

I almost never pick up at the airport.  “Why,” you ask?  Drivers often can wait for a long time to get a ride and it can be going a very short distance.  I once waited over two hours for a ride at LAX, only to have the passenger get in my car and head less than 2 miles from the airport itself.  I won’t lie to you, I cried in my car that day.  Then again, I cry in my car most days.

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Bigger than the risk of a short ride, is the wildcard of a very long ride… to the middle of nowhere.  While any rideshare trip can take you anywhere without you knowing it ahead of time, the airport is a true rolling of the dice.  Often times it takes you to Orange County, which is the kiss of death.  You can make a good 30-50 dollars on the way there, and then have to suck it up and drive the 60-90 minutes back to civilization in your car by yourself, burning both your gas and your time for nothing.

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But one morning recently I was dropping off at a hotel near the airport and they sent me a request inside the airport.  There was a surge happening, so I quickly thought to myself, “Hmm.  Even if it is going to the middle of nowhere, I stand to make pretty decent money off of it.  Let’s roll the goddamn dice.”  So I accept it, and drive into the airport.

An Asian woman gets in and says, “Please!  You have to hurry!”

Yes, this was the actual greeting that I received from a stranger who was getting into my car.

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So I politely said, “Sure, just let me start the trip and see where we’re going…”

“Please!  I have to teach a class!”

“Okayyyy…. Santa Barbara?  Really?”  Apparently she didn’t realize that she was at the airport, and that planes also go to Santa Barbara.

Now this is normally a 2.5+ hour ride, and Uber’s app is telling me about that much time, except it’s telling me to take the 101.  That would be perfectly fine, but this was literally a week after a deadly mudslide that killed over 20 people in the Santa Barbara area.  The 101 was shut down in that area, as were the surface level streets.  They were still doing search and rescue.

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I told her that I’m going to try my best to find a route here, but that Santa Barbara is sort of stranded at the moment.  They keep saying on NPR that people can’t get in or out for the meantime, and she says “No!  You have to take me!  I have to teach a class!”

Look, honey.  I’m not debating your need to be there.  I’m debating our ability to get there by car.

“I’m going to check a few different GPS apps, and in the meantime, you start looking up flights out of Burbank.  It’ll be faster and probably cheaper for you.”  Also, I hate you and want to drive the car into the ocean with the child locks on.  #worthit

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Uber’s app is telling me to take the 101, which is literally not an option (Glad I’m an informed citizen.  That would’ve been a fun thing to stumble upon two hours later, trying to do a U-turn on the standstill freeway).  I check the Waze app, and it literally tells me “No route available,” so I’m starting to sweat a little.  I download Google Maps and lo and behold, it’s found a route!

But instead of the usual 2 and a half hours, it’s a little more like…. 6 and a half hours.  I told her this and she said, “Please! Let’s go!”  Sure, you’re in a hurry.  But your trip just got four hours longer.  Who the fuck cares if we dawdle?

So we get started.  If you live in LA, I’ll speak your language for a sentence or two:  Instead of the 101, we took the 405 up to the 5, all the way up to the 166, 100 more miles till it hits the 101 then back down 60 miles until we reach Santa Barbara.  This is the equivalent of driving from Philadelphia to New York, but stopping through Chicago.

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Now, as hellishly long as this trip was, keep in mind that I have to take that same route back home.  So multiple my time by two.  I was praying that she would at least be chatty, considering that we’d be spending half her waking day together in the car.  But instead she laid down and went to sleep in the back seat.  So this solidifies my fate:  12-14 hours in my car, not talking, not engaging, not doing anything but silently driving.  Reeeeeeallllly getting to know myself.

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I dropped her off just over six hours later.  Less than a mile from the Santa Barbara airport.  Started crying.  Drove for seven more hours, crying several times, both out of exhaustion and existential questioning.  When I got home that night, I collapsed in bed and slept HARD.  It could’ve been emotional exhaustion, or a possible diabetic coma (I hadn’t eaten yet that day).  All I know is that for one very rare day, I made very good money in a day.  But my average was cut down because I slept the entire next day.

RIDESHARE TIP #451:  Airplanes are faster than cars!  I’ll see you in Hell.