By John Rice
I used to think we were supposed to enjoy life. Now I believe my calling is to help others enjoy life by driving them to their desired destinations.
I've been driving for a ride-sharing company for three months and met many wonderful people. Of my 329 trips, only a handful were unpleasant. The passengers have given me high ratings and even post compliments. I've gotten kudos for "great conversation," "excellent service" and "entertaining driver."
I haven't gotten compliments for "awesome music" because I only listen to classical, but a teenage boy once asked me to crank up the opera. I also don't get compliments for a "cool car." My Kia is comfortable but far from cool. I keep it "neat and tidy" but no one has commented.
I don't provide "great amenities" — not even a bottle of water. I'm definitely not a "late-night hero" because I have no interest in driving drunks around. As for "expert navigation," I've been doing detective work for 30 years, so my human GPS can be better than the directions given by the app. That app doesn't grasp the realities of Chicago traffic. It often directs me to expressways that are anything but "express." On trips to and from O'Hare, my average speed can be 12 mph. In downtown traffic, it's 7 mph.
Once I activate that app, I'm climbing on a merry-go-around. I don't know where a passenger is going until they settle in the backseat. I can end up in faraway places like McHenry or St. John, Indiana. It's not unusual to have a stranger in my back seat for over an hour.
My daily goal is to make a hundred bucks. It usually takes 4-5 hours, depending on tips. These tips are for smooth driving and engaging conversation. My car can serve as a classroom if they're interested in Chicago history. It can be a confessional if they have a personal problem. It turns into the corner bar if they've been drinking.
I don't force the conversation. If they prefer listening to headphones, or staring at their phone, it's OK with me. But to avoid uncomfortable silence, I like a little easy banter. I've learned some good conversational openers to draw them out. They also ask me questions. One of the common is, "Have you lived in Chicago your whole life?"
This gives me an opening to say, "My family has been in Chicago since 1859, when there were only 100,000 people living here." I can tell them how my great-grandfather was fire marshall and became a legendary figure in Chicago history.
History is one thing, but they may be more interested in the best pizza, nightclub, or sightseeing tour. It's fun to play tourist guide. There are days I have great conversations with everyone I drive. We discuss meaningful topics or just share some laughs.
Language barriers don't keep me from trying. I recently drove a Spanish-speaking woman, and she said it was the most English she had spoken in one sitting. Though she was probably my poorest passenger that day, she gave me my biggest tip.
One of the smartest passengers I had was an economics major, who used the word "colloquialism" in a sentence. He warned that I was actually losing six cents a mile due to the wear and tear on my car. Other statistics show that driving and performing other tasks in our gig economy are not necessarily money makers.
I would never want to live "app-to-mouth," but I do enjoy connecting with strangers and helping at least one of us enjoy life.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries. Jrice1038@aol.com