Harry here. It’s easy to get caught up in the minutia of driving and dealing with drunk passengers but sometimes it’s good to take a step back once in a while. Today, senior RSG contributor John Ince shares the story of his treasure chest and how he uses it to reflect on his experiences as an Uber driver.
For most rideshare drivers, the income is the main show. It’s the primary reason we’re doing it and we define our success by how much we pull in at the end of the day, week or month.
But this can quickly become a grind. Whenever something bad happens on a ride, it will be blamed on us, and we sometimes take a hit in ratings. Traffic is in gridlock, it’s our fault. We swerve to avoid an errant vehicle, it’s our fault. We’re caught in a horrendous traffic jam, it’s our fault.
In the midst of all this bad stuff, it’s easy to become jaded and forget the more precious moments – the moments that provide rich connections with complete strangers. It’s nice to have a reminder of that now and then of the underlying humanity that unites us.
There’s definitely is another side to this gig that hasn’t got a lot of attention lately in the midst of all the negative news about Uber and the ridesharing industry. It’s the side that comes from the positive interaction with passengers and the stories that come out of it.
Okay, that softer stuff doesn’t pay the rent. But it does provide something more lasting – and it keeps us going when everything else seems to be going against us. It reminds us that we are providing a valuable service and that some people really do appreciate us.
I’ve always been one for building goodwill. When I first started driving for Uber and Lyft, I used to roll out the red carpet for passengers. I carried the obligatory bottled water and sweetened the ride by offering cookies and treats.
It created a lot of goodwill, and I suspect it also boosted my ratings, but after awhile the cookies got stale, literally and figuratively. I discovered that not many passengers really wanted sweets – they just wanted to get where there were going fast and without all the frills. So I canned the cookies and just buckled down, focusing on the basics: navigation, friendliness, safety. But along the way, I stumbled upon an article about a driver who invited his passengers to leave notes.
Interesting idea, I thought and left it at that. A few weeks later, I chanced upon a garage sale, where I spotted a small but intriguing Treasure Chest. An idea popped into my head. Why not use that Treasure Chest for passenger notes?
It’s now been over two years since I put that Treasure Chest in the back seat of my car, and I’ve now accumulated hundreds of spontaneous, heartfelt, funny, profound personal notes from passengers. Whenever I get depressed about this gig, I pull them out and read a few. It never fails to lift my spirits.
While I can’t be sure, my intuition is telling me that the process of engaging passengers through this Treasure Chest/passenger notes idea has also boosted my ratings. It was not uncommon for passengers to tell me that this Treasure Chest is the best thing they’ve seen as a passenger and that I’m definitely getting five stars. Even if they’re lying, it’s been a lot of fun.
The Treasure Chest pretty much sells itself. I place it conspicuously on the back seat.
“What this?” they’ll ask.
“That’s the famous Treasure Chest. It’s for passenger notes.” I reply. “You can read the notes of other passengers, and if you’re so moved, you can add your two cents to the Treasure Chest.”
It’s not for everybody, and I never push it on people. But I do let them know about it. “Feel free to ignore it, I say, “but you might find something in there that speaks to you. Some passengers have found something in there much more valuable than money.”
The fact that it’s inside an intriguing box helps. Some ask, “What do I write?”
“Anything you want.” I’ll say, “Write what’s on your mind, or what you’re feeling, or what you’re thankful for, or angry about, or what you’ve been doing, write anything at all, there’s no right and wrong when you’re expressing yourself.”
During the rides, it’s become one of the most enjoyable and engaging aspects of this gig for me. I’m sharing it because I suspect other drivers might like to try it themselves. The investment is minimal. For the few bucks I paid for the Treasure Chest, the cost of a few packages of 3×5 index cards and a few pens, I’ve gotten an incalculable return of my investment.
All drivers know that the first moments of a ride can be awkward. The passenger is sizing up the driver and vice-versa. Having that Treasure Chest is a way to break the ice with the passenger. It lets them know you’re an okay person. When they start reading others’ notes, they get a feeling like they’re a part of conversation, both with the driver and with the other passengers who have ridden in this car.
It didn’t take long for the Treasure Chest to become an item of conversation. Some of the notes were profound, some were silly or stupid, some were x-rated, some heartfelt, some complimentary; all were honest.
On several instances, passengers have heard about the treasure chest from other passengers, but I tend to drive mostly in the same vicinity. “This is the guy I was telling you about,” one guy said excitedly to his girlfriend as they opened the box and started reading notes – looking for the one he’d written several weeks before.
Solo passengers especially seem to appreciate it. It helps break the ice.
In some sense, many of the notes are an endorsement of me as a driver and many passengers use it as a way to compliment or thank me.
When they’re several passengers, it’s more difficult to get them to notice it. But if I do break through, the experience can be almost electric. Usually one passenger will start reading the notes aloud, and the others react often raucously. Check out the only below – I sometimes warn passengers that some of the notes are kind of raunchy.
One guy, just wrote on word on the card “Titties,” and I think I know who it was. I remember two guys I picked up at a bar spent the entire ride talking about women’s tits.
If I’ve got a bunch of guys in the car, I’ll sometimes call their attention to that card. It’s never failed to elicit howls of laughter.
Numerous passengers have told me this is the coolest thing they’ve encountered as a passenger.
Although I haven’t tried it, I suspect the Treasure Chest could become a very subtle way of soliciting tips. All you’d need to do is put a few five dollar bills in the chest to remind passengers that tips are appreciated. The message comes at the passenger obliquely but would be difficult to miss.
Memories are fleeting, but the cards in the Treasure Chest are tangible and lasting. They can lift you our of your funk. For me some of those cards are like jewels. Or in the words of someone much wiser than I,
My treasure chest is filled with gold.
Gold . . . gold . . . gold . . .
Vagabond’s gold and drifter’s gold . . .
Worthless, priceless, dreamer’s gold . . .
Gold of the sunset . . . gold of the dawn . . .Gold of the showertrees on my lawn . . .
Poet’s gold and artist’s gold . . .
Gold that can not be bought or sold –
Readers, what do you think of the Treasure Chest idea? Do you do something similar?
-John @ RSG