Our very own RSG senior contributor John Ince has written a new book, Travels with Vanessa: An Uber and Lyft Driver Tries to Make Sense of it All. The book is one in a series of four upcoming books, which chronicle passenger stories, John’s personal recollections and societal observations. You can purchase the book here, and for our review and an exclusive interview with John Ince by RSG contributor Melissa Berry, continue reading below.
When you first start reading Travels with Vanessa by John Ince, the title leads you to believe this will be a story about a rideshare driver and, presumably, a passenger named Vanessa. This is both true and not quite true, as Vanessa actually ends up being the name of John’s GPS. Her voice is at first jarring to John, but becomes a tether for him while he drives all around San Francisco as an Uber and Lyft driver.
While Travels is a long book, it’s really a collection of stories. It’s easy to pause after a story and return without losing your place. The first in a four-part series, Book One begins with John’s start as a rideshare driver. His description of starting as a rideshare driver, without any guidance from the companies on what that looks like, is very familiar to anyone who remembers their first few weeks of rideshare driving.
If you’re familiar with John’s writing, particularly his Treasure Chest article, you’ll know that John has been collecting stories from passengers for a long time. Travels is the first book where John shares these stories, plus other societal and personal observations. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be a rideshare driver, you should check out this book and read about some of the strange encounters John has had. As he mentions in the book, “sometimes real life is stranger than fiction.”
Review of Travels with Vanessa
Don’t let the page number deter you: while Travels: Book One is a long read, it’s easily digestible and broken into shorter stories. A little less than half the book is personal and societal observations by John, everything from how technology is changing our lives to how Uber manipulates drivers (and investors). If you’re familiar with John’s weekly updates, you’ll notice John is sometimes merciless when it comes to Uber, particularly Travis Kalanick, and he doesn’t hold back in Travels either.
The larger section of the book is passenger observations, and here is where it gets fun and juicy. In one chapter of the book, John’s is introduced to Tinder… with hilarious results, as the passenger tries to explain Tinder and “hook up culture” to John. In another chapter, John soberly describes his ride to the emergency room with a woman who has injured herself and a friend who just wants to make sure she’s okay.
Between these funny and heartwarming stories are also the stories almost all drivers are familiar with: the weirdos, the passengers who think they’re better than you, teens who spend more on coffee than they will on your tip and… naked guys. Of course John has stories about naked guys, one in particular, and how John handles this situation is masterful.
That’s one of the best parts of Travels: reading it will make you a better driver if you pay attention to how John handles these situations. Almost everything that can happen to a driver has happened to John. As I read Travels, I thought about how I would respond to some of these rude or creepy passengers, and I realized John’s approach was almost always better than mine.
A lot of this has to do with what John refers to as “serendipity”, or things that happen for a reason in his life. John’s had a varied and extensive career, and his stories in Travels are just a tiny slice of the adventurous life he had. To get a better understanding of John, why he wrote this book and what drivers can get out of it, I interviewed John. Our edited interview is below.
Interview with John Ince, Author of Travels with Vanessa
Tell readers a little about your background – you wrote you worked in journalism before becoming a rideshare driver and even interviewed the founders of Google at one point.
My path has been anything but direct – I got started writing forty years ago as a researcher / reporter for Fortune Magazine. I’ve also worked in gardening, lacrosse refereeing, Wall Street banking and more. I prefer the accumulation of stories and the wealth they impart.
When did you first decide you wanted to write about rideshare driving?
I never made that decision. It was made for me. I started putting my recollections, thoughts and feelings down on paper to process it all psychologically, and one day I realized I was writing a book. I have nearly total recall of conversations, details and events … the sooner I get it down the more is preserved for posterity. I’ve been writing all this down for 40 years.
Travels provides me with the opportunity to synthesize it all. A passenger conversation sparks a flashback, and suddenly I’ve got a story.
Can you share with readers why you decided to name your GPS Vanessa?
The evening I was focused on selecting a name for my GPS, I was being served by a waitress at Sweetwater Music Hall. I asked her her name. She said Vanessa.
When I got home I researched the name, and it was perfect. It translates into “butterfly” and transformation is the overriding theme of book series. The fact that Van Ness Avenue goes through the heart of San Francisco was a bonus.
In one of the passages in the book, you write about meeting “Andrew”, a somewhat condescending passenger who immediately assumes you must be uneducated or need money. Why do you think rideshare driving has a negative connotation in our society?
Economic stereotypes are pervasive throughout society, that’s why people cultivate their public images. Being an Uber / Lyft driver puts you in a category and some people can’t get beyond that. Others are able to view me as a unique person … I like those people better.
Are you still encouraging people to write in the Treasure Chest?
Where appropriate yes, but the book generally takes over the conversation before I get to the Treasure Chest.
You mentioned there will be a few more books of Travels with Vanessa – can you give us a hint about what these books will cover?
All books are essentially a mash up of passenger stories, personal recollections and societal observations – I have identified broad themes in the Book Outline at the beginning [of Travels with Vanessa].
Is there anything else readers should know about you or the book?
[The book] will soon become a podcast, entitled You Never Know, which is an abbreviation of my longer philosophy of life in 10 words: I know I know, but you never know.
Readers, is there anything you’d like to ask John as a rideshare driver or author?
-Melissa @ RSG
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