No Exit: Lyft Line Edition

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If there is one experience in San Francisco that provides an inordinate amount of potential writing material it is this: the Lyft Line. If you are not familiar with Lyft Line, it is a variation of your traditional ridesharing service, only with a carpool element that makes the fares cheaper for everyone. Naturally when you put yourself at the will of fate, (ie the Lyft app) chaos and absurdity will ensue.

During a recent ride, I was sitting in the front with the driver (a young Asian woman around my age) while an adult father-son duo sat in the back. They proceeded to bicker the entire way to our destination in a manner that can only be described as, “a perfectly written, Woody Allen-esque, family therapy session.” The father would make a comment and the son would instantly reply with a snarky quip, something along the lines of, “God, this is just so like you.” The driver and I sat quietly in the front until we’d dropped off the back seat passengers, at which point we laughed at the ridiculous lack of social awareness in San Francisco.

I had a driver who was visiting from Los Angeles entertain me with the stories of her Lyft line passengers in SoCal (after we dropped off our other passenger who had managed to cram an entire massage table into the back seat of the compact sedan, of course). These stories were always quite involved, given that taking a Lyft line in LA means you might be driving around with the same people for over an hour, sitting in all kinds of traffic. My driver recounted tales ranging from the time she picked up a man who immediately confessed to having just cheated on his wife, to the time she picked up a young woman in the wee hours of the morning from the home of a well known NBA player, only to have the passenger burst out in tears realizing she had forgotten her underwear in the house. That driver claimed she should be paid overtime for all the pro-bono therapy hours she was providing. Maybe this is the next million dollar startup- rideshares driven by professional therapists- god knows this city needs it.

Some of my Lines have been perfectly lovely and entertaining. I had a Lyft line driver who was a retired arborist, who gave us the English and Latin names of every tree lining Oak Street. There was the driver who recounted having three unrelated passengers assigned to her, all named Laura. The passengers celebrated the coincidental pairing by taking group selfies of the “Laura Lyft Line” and then sending the photo out to friends via snapchat. This is San Francisco after all. That same driver also told me about how she has had couples get into her car and proceed to have very serious arguments in her backseat, going so far as to ask for her opinion on their fight, the fact that she had met them ten minutes earlier not mattering whatsoever. This is one story I’ve heard over and over again from drivers, and I find it both curious and entertaining that a ridesharing app can turn unsuspecting Lyft drivers into marital counselors. And you thought you were just signing up to drive people to their destinations. As if.

The combination of these experiences has brought me back to my eleventh grade English class, when we read No Exit, by Jean-Paul Sartre. While clearly Sartre got a lot of it right about hell being other people, I think in modern day San Francisco one could argue that hell is being trapped in a bad Lyft Line. I joked about this with one driver, picturing what the most perfectly hellish Lyft Line would entail. We decided it would look something like this:

You’ve gotten into a full Lyft line where there are already three other passengers. The single rider in the back seat is talking obnoxiously on the phone while intermittently pausing to ask the driver if couldn’t they please just be dropped off first since they are running so incredibly late. The couple also sitting in the backseat is in the middle of an argument about something that you can’t totally make out, but it does seem to be extremely personal. They’re both close to tears. You quietly make a comment to the driver about how absurd this situation is, to which they laugh, and immediately ask if you’ve got a boyfriend. You’re going the furthest across the city out of any of them, and consequently will be the last to exit the vehicle. The next twenty-five minutes proceed to feel like eternity. *

On Learning to Drive Stick in San Francisco

Learning to drive stick in San Francisco is like learning to swim at Ocean Beach. It’s theoretically possible, but the reality of it is somewhat dangerous, mentally intimidating, and more than a little bit stressful. Word to the wise: if you don’t know how to drive stick, and aren’t excited about the idea of the lives of your seven passengers riding (pun intended) on your ability to do a successful hill start, maybe don’t take a job that relies heavily on both of those requirements.

Let me back up to the beginning of this story.

In September of 2015 I was finally accepting that the day-to-day reality of my startup job was not doing it for me. I wanted to be doing something different, but had never encountered a job in San Francisco that combined not sitting in front of a computer all day with earning above minimum wage. As luck would have it, my roommate was in the early stages of planning an eight-month road trip with her boyfriend that involved quitting their day jobs and living in a van. Consequently, a solid amount of time was spent looking at beautiful vans and #vanlife accounts on Instagram. When I came across Vantigo’s account (and a post that they were hiring) I was intrigued. I corresponded with Erik, the owner, and within the week I’d been offered a job doing content, social media, community management, and most of all, learning to be a tour guide. This was regardless of the fact that I did not know how to drive a stick shift, which all three of the Vantigo vans required. Challenge accepted.

Fast-forward about two and a half months, one bicycle accident induced elbow fracture, and enough Vantigo employees being in the US at the same time for the tour schedule to be covered, and you will arrive at the time when my stick shift training began. I started at the Marina Green parking lot, moved on to the back roads of West Marin, and eventually began practicing the tour route around San Francisco over the course of three weeks.

Learning to drive stick proved to be one of those things you just had to learn by doing- and learn by screwing up on. Luckily for me, stalling while trying to do a hill start at a four-way stop seems to be much less irritating to other drivers when you are in acanary yellow VW van. Unfortunately for me, other drivers don’t seem to realize that when I’m stalling out trying to do a hill start at a four-way stop it might not be the best time to pull up next to me to chat about their VW nostalgia. I would have figured that the sweat pouring down my face combined with the stressed out facial expression would be a dead give away of, “this is maybe not the best time to chat with this person,” but VW vans just really bring out the dreamy, chatty side of people. C’est la vie.

My biggest lesson from learning to drive stick in a 1971 VW van was really one about science. In a van with four gears, gravity is gear number five. Gravity can be used to your benefit in many scenarios including but not limited to: backing out of a parking space, coasting down a large hill, and getting up to speeds not otherwise attainable by a VW van (slow is really all we know). Sir Isaac take the wheel. (Shout out to Erik, Eddie, and Justin for pulling the e-brake for me at exactly the right times).

The last three weeks have seen me driving tours to wine country, Highway 1, and all around San Francisco. I’ve been having recurring dreams where I’m driving stick, and I hope this counts as additional practice. I’ve also decided that our yellow van, Jerry, who followed the Grateful Dead for ten years during the 70s, is definitely my spirit van. There is really something to cruising around in these vans, whether you’re driving down Haight Street or coasting down Highway 1. It just feels so right. Well, so long as you don’t accidentally go from third gear to second when looking for fourth, or try to leave a stop sign in third when you think you’re in first, that is.

When in doubt, grind it till you find it.

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What’s in a culture?

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I read somewhere recently that the best company culture is still a work in progress. What I’ve come to believe is that company culture, on a fundamental level, is simply about relationships. The relationships that employees have to their jobs and to the mission of the company. Relationships that exist within the organizational structure, between managers and associates, between members of the leadership team. And of course, the bonds and friendships that exist between coworkers. Without those relationships there is only work from 8:30AM to 6PM, Monday through Friday, 261 days a year (give or a take a few evenings and weekends thrown in).

Like any other relationship then, the relationships which make up company culture require continual investment and maintenance. A good (married) friend of mine once told me that the thing about marriage is that every day you wake up and you choose to be in your marriage. Every day you wake up and you choose the person you married to be your partner and your friend. In the same vein, I believe that growing a great company culture means choosing to be the culture you wish to see, so to speak, every day. Fostering community and happiness, trust and positivity, I believe culture is the key to a successful company.

With the requisite amount of Kombucha and yogurt jokes, of course.