Have you ever seen a taxi driver and thought, “That’s the life for me?” Sure you have. Who wouldn’t want to let total strangers into their car in the dead of night? Or deal with wasted people vomiting all over their carpets? Or spend hours a day stuck in traffic? Now you’re probably saying to yourself, “That all sounds great, Jonathan. But isn’t there some way I can have all the fun of being a cabby, without having to make as much money?”
Yes, hypothetical person that I made up for the sake of that sentence. Yes there is.
In the last couple years, three major apps have emerged offering to connect people with cars to people who need rides. The drivers takes the passengers wherever they’re going for a fee that gets split between the app developers and the driver. Now I’m sure you have some questions about this, so let’s stick with this already-introduced, mildly contrived narrative structure of questions asked by a fictional person followed by my answers…
Jonathan, isn’t that dangerous? Letting a total stranger into your car?
Of course not. Every rider is given a star rating based on how good a passenger they are. If someone is a serial killer, there’s a good chance they’ll only have one or two stars.
I don’t understand. Doesn’t the average cab in Boston pay the government hundreds of thousands of dollars for the right to charge people for rides? How can these guys enter the marketplace for free?
Yes, the average cab does get charged a fortune, because the government will take as much money as possible from private entities every chance they get, but—
Actually, is there a way you can answer my question without forcing your political belief structure on me?
Sorry. Basically, if the passenger pays a “suggested donation” instead of a “fare,” their ride isn’t covered by the same laws as taxi rides.
Fascinating. Okay, so do you spend the rest of this blog post detailing your adventures giving rides to whackjobs and drunks?
Well, no. All three apps rejected me. But I was thinking that since I applied for the jobs, I could still write about the experience.
What experience? Getting rejected? Dude, if we wanted to hear about your experience getting rejected we’d just ask about your recent dating life. Ay-oh!
Come on. It’s only been one week since I texted that girl. She still might respond. Look, can we just stay on topic?
Which topic, the one where you didn’t get a job but still feel you can justify writing about it on a website that is supposedly about the jobs you work?
Yeah, I mean, the website is about the things I try to do to save or earn money, even if they fail. I’ve written posts before about jobs I didn’t get.
I know, I wasn’t crazy about those either. Like that one where you answered a bunch of questions on an application about pants. How was that a column?
Okay, you know what? Q&A over. Here’s what happened when I applied for a job turning my car into a not-quite-cab.
By all outward appearances, Sidecar is desperate for drivers. Every few days, I see a new job listing detailing how you can make $18/hour driving for them. But my application has been pending for weeks now. Here they are, begging for attention, and I can’t even get a response from them.
I thought we weren’t talking about your dating life.
I said Q&A over!
Of the three companies, Uber is the fancy one. Its website is black-and-white shots of hot people with fancy wardrobes slipping out of cars, presumably on their way to runway shoots in Paris. This is a problem since I have a hard time picturing a company like that hiring me to pick people up in my banged-up 2002 Mazda, with two years worth of junk clogging the back seats. Even their step-down option, called UberX, was too uber for me. When I applied, they didn’t take anyone with a car made before 2006.
I was ready to move on, but, for some reason, Uber started hounding me. They sent me a text a few days later telling me I had been scheduled for my onboarding Thursday at 6pm, followed by an eager “See you then!” I texted back that I had been told my car was too old and that I wasn’t free Thursday anyway. They didn’t respond.
Uber kept sending messages, first about the upcoming session, then about how they were sorry I couldn’t make it but there was another session later that week. I think, going forward, this will be my new approach to dating. If a girl says no when I ask her out, I’ll just send her a text that says, “Our date has been scheduled for Thursday at 8. See you then!” And if she no-shows I’ll just send another text saying, “I’m sorry you missed our first date, but don’t worry, another one has been scheduled for Friday.”
Might as well try something different.
I started to wonder if I had misunderstood my rejection. I called Uber and explained that I had been told my car was too old, yet I keep getting messages about an upcoming hiring session. The man on the other end of the phone checked my application and promptly told me that indeed my car was too old and I was unfit to work for them. Somehow, they had gotten me to ask, rejected me, then gotten me to ask again, just so they could reject me again. If you’ve ever dated in the 21st century, then you are properly prepared for what it’s like applying to Uber.
Lyft is like the teacher with a ponytail who turns his chair around and says, “Let’s rap” when he talks to his students. As if spelling lift with a ‘y’ wasn’t enough, their drivers are required to wear giant pink mustaches on their cars and to give new passengers fist bumps. Meanwhile, their promo video plays like a new-agey, we-are-the-world yoga session:
I felt like I needed a bottle of coconut water after I finished watching this. An attitude of zen and self-righteousness permeates the film, as though the drivers view their work as altruism. Like the guy who says, “Using my car for good, it’s made me a better person.” Using it for good? You’re not giving homeless people free rides to shelters, you’re getting paid to drive drunks home from Rhianna concerts at 2:00AM.
But I decided to drop my criticisms when Lyft became the first company to pass me through the application phase and onto the test drive. I was told that on Saturday morning, I would get a request for a ride from my “Lyft Mentor.” I would drive to him, pick him up and give him a ride as though he were a typical Lyft customer, while he would decide if I was qualified to wear the pink mustache.
Suddenly, I had a shot at this gig. Saturday morning, when I got the request, I raced to my car, turned the ignition, and… nothing. The car wouldn’t start. It didn’t even make that asthmatic I’m-trying sound. It just sat there.
All ready to go on a Saturday, and then nothing ended up happening? Sounds familiar…
I’m just ignoring you now.
I called my mentor and explained the situation, fearful this would lead to automatic rejection. But he told me it was okay, that he would drive to me.
“So, the fact that my car won’t start isn’t an obstacle to getting hired?” I asked.
“Nah,” he said. Lyft was clearly a top-notch organization.
He arrived and started filling out forms about my car, putting in the proper lies to make it seem like I had given him the test drive. We chatted about the job, the money, the hours, the convenience. He explained how you only drove when you wanted, as long as you wanted. It all sounded great. Lyft could really be a good fit. Currently, I work several jobs I love but that have unpredictable daytime hours and a lot of nighttime hours. Some weeks I’m super busy, other weeks I’m not, and most weeks I’m not left with a lot of free nights for hanging out with friends or dating.
Yeah, that’s your problem, not enough free nights.
Still ignoring. If I had this, I could work a bit more during the slow weeks and cut back on the number of night shifts. In my head, I was already a fist-bumping, mustachioed driver.
Of course, it didn’t work out that way. A few days later, I was rejected. I was so shocked that I called a representative from Lyft to figure out what happened.
“I just don’t understand,” I told him. “I thought I had the job.”
“Well, your mentor said you were a great driver,” I listened to the clear lies the mentor had listed to get around the fact that my car wouldn’t start. I wonder if he got paid for each test ride he took. “But he also said there were stains on the carpet, a dent in the back of the car and another on the hood, as well as worn out tires.” Yeah, but I mean other than that, it’s a nice car right?
“I guess I’m just confused because he acted like I was such a great fit.”
“Well, you may be. But we admittedly have very high aesthetic standards for the quality of cars that represent us.” High aesthetic standards?! Your company instructs its drivers to put giant mustaches on the grills of their cars!
“I guess that makes sense,” I said, defeated.
“Look, if you get a new car, let us know, we’d love to…” but I wasn’t listening anymore. I hung up the phone, another “no” added to the pile. In person, it had seemed like everything was going great, but I guess he was just waiting until he got home to reject me.
Sounds a lot like…
Odd Job: Applying for jobs with various ride-sharing companies
-  I am constantly amazed that a) this star system, despite being incredibly flawed, is every company’s answer to the question, “Is this safe?” and even more amazed that b) it actually works. That most people, if given the choice between losing their child and seeing their rating drop on a major website, would probably choose to let their rating drop, but not before at least asking, “Wait, which child?” ↩
In some but not all articles, names or identifying characteristics or individual lines of dialogue have been changed to protect identities or because remembering exactly how things happened is hard. But in every case, an effort was made to maintain the integrity of these events that did indeed actually happen.
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