Who Dinged Me?

Today we have a “who did it?” mystery for you that all drivers face: who dinged me? It’s a conundrum all regular drivers face after a while on the road. We did a great job navigating, made our passengers laugh, gave them space – everything was perfect. Yet our rating dropped from 4.81 to 4.79. Why? Today, senior RSG contributor John Ince lays out the clues, and you identify the culprit. 

Saturday night. It’s 2 a.m. and I’m feeling good after six hours of driving nonstop. The rides have all gone well enough, which is often the most you can expect from an evening. Surely the ratings will be good… but they’re not.

My star average has plunged from 4.81 to 4.79. How could that be? There’s only one possible explanation: someone dinged me and gave me a 1 star rating.

Since a passenger can rate you months after the ride, it could have been almost anyone: tonight, a week ago, a month ago. I do a mental scan trying to figure out who might be the offending party.

Help me out here folks.  This is a who-done-it and you’re the sleuth.  We’ve got to figure out who dinged me? Here are the clues, the possible motives, and the suspects.

Today we have a "who did it?" mystery for you that all drivers face: who dinged me? We lay out the clues, you identify the dinger.

Suspect #1 – The Novice

The Clues: Passenger is 5.0 and the surge is 2.8. Doesn’t get any better than this.  I cruise into the parking lot and three men get in.  The one sitting next to me is Aswar, who requested the ride. I promptly give him the good news: “Did you know you’re a 5.0?”

He doesn’t understand. He explains in broken English that this is his first Uber. I attempt to explain what ratings are all about, but he can’t understand. The guy in the back seat translates.

The ride went smoothly.  I navigate perfectly down 101 into San Francisco. He loves the country music on the radio and for anyone who might have been there it was definitely a five star ride… except for one thing: it cost the passenger $120 on his first ride.

The Possible Motive:  Pure and simple – surge shock. First time rider who doesn’t understand that drivers have absolutely no control over fares. When he opened the app and saw a charge for $120 he figured I was to blame – and rated me one star. He’s taking a shot at Uber, but I get caught in the crossfire. Happens all the time in ratings.

Suspect #2 – The Scorned Woman 

The Clues: Ashley’s ride request comes at 10:30 on a Friday night, from MLK at Shattuck Avenue. I’m on my best behavior as I eye them out of the corner of my eye. I arrive within two minutes and spot Ashley running behind my car. She gets in the back seat, without a word. As I tap the app to begin the ride, I spot another guy coming towards us. He gets into the back seat beside her. They sit there without speaking.

He fills in the silence with directions as I learn he works for Airbnb and loves it. Ashley hasn’t said a word the entire trip. When we arrive she bolts from the car and up the path to the house. The guy stays behind as I tap to finish the ride.  “What’s with her?” I ask.

“She’s had a bad day.” he says and then gives the clincher. “We just had a big fight.”

I get the picture as he gets out and follows her wake up the path.

Possible Motive:  Many passengers have things they’re carrying with them into the ride. Sometimes, you’re just there at the wrong time.  Ashley felt scorned or ditched or mischaracterized by her boyfriend and I just happen to be the target for her misdirected anger.

Suspect #3 – The Witch 

The Clues: Wanda is standing outside the Silver Peso, a popular Larkspur watering hole.  It’s 6 p.m. and she’s puffing on a cigarette as I take a left on Cane Street off of Magnolia. I notice her Giants jacket as she  hops in the front seat – good energy.

We commiserate over the Giants rally that fizzled. Hunter Pence struck out leaving the bases loaded.  We’ve establishing a connection.  It’s a short ride – she’s up a mile on the right.

Somehow this chick is different and I can feel it. We went from the Giants to the weather to the smoke cloud to the strange feel to the day. Suddenly she starts talking about energy flows. Then she comes right out with it, “I’m a Wiccan, you know?”

We spend the next 15 minutes talking about amazing stuff.  She tells me about energy flows and bringing her father back to life and not being able to bring her boyfriend back to life.  I tap the app to end the ride so she knows she’s not being charged.

Then she points up to the window in the back of the apartments.  “I can see my boyfriend up there.  He’s watching you. He doesn’t like you, and I don’t like him for that. I’m having a premonition.” As she gets out of the car, she says, “This witch is gonna go crazy tonight.  I gonna show him my power.”

Possible Motive: She’s a witch and who knows what a witch will do.  Maybe her boyfriend got a hold of her phone first and rated me a one star as an act of revenge. Anything possible with a witch.

Suspect #4 – The Stoners 

The Clues: With stoners you never know what kind of mental images might be rattling around their brain and what might trigger a combustible reaction. I picked up three of them at Terrapin Crossroads, in San Rafael. It’s 11:30 p.m. and I’m cruising into the parking lot, where small groups of people in clusters  are getting stoned.

I’m now in the middle of ground zero for deadheads and stoners in Marin.  Three guys, with glazed eyes get in the car. Passengers 1 and 2 engage in largely incoherent conversation totally oblivious to the fact that I’m in the car.  The third is together enough to give me the essentials of the ride. Troy, who requested the ride, is pax 2, and I’m dropping him off second in Tiburon.  Pax 1 goes first to San Rafael, or is he second?  Whatever? There will be three separate drops, someplace.

The first two go fine, but the third is a disaster. Traffic is backed up on 101 for miles before the bridge. We’re looking a 40 minutes at least for the few miles to the bridge. It hadn’t shown on Waze and they’re rerouting all traffic back onto 101 North, just where we started 20 minutes ago. 90 minutes for a 30 minute ride.

Possible Motive:  During this ordeal, pax 2 is at home watching my car movements on his Uber app.  He’s still mega-stoned.  He just stares at the screen and becomes mesmerized by the little moving cars. After staring at the screen for an hour, he sees the app flicker. When the rating screen appears, he can’t figure out what all the stars mean and taps one star because one is such a beautiful number. 

Suspect #5 – The Coder 

The Clues: Danny pings me from Oxford Street just across from the Cal Berkeley campus. They need a ride over to Oakland. Danny is a a startup entrepreneur and a coder and he’s starting a company.

“What’s the idea behind your startup?”  I ask.

“Well, I’m completely re-imagining a relatively old device and writing new code for it.  It’s very exciting actually.”

“Are you in stealth or can you tell me what the device is?” I ask.

“No, we’re not in stealth.  It’s a pedometer.”  he says.

“Guess what?” I say, “Two weeks ago, I got a Google pedometer at a garage sale in Marin. I offered the guy a dollar and he said, ‘Just take it.” I invested 10 bucks in a battery, but I could never find any use for it. After two weeks I threw it away and concluded pedometers have absolutely no utility.”

His buddy in the back piles on my comment, “Yep, Dan is wasting his time. That’s the problem with coders in general. They get lost in the bytes without really knowing if the product has any utility or market potential.  You see it all over San Francisco and Silicon Valley.”

Possible Motive:  Danny had invested his hopes, dreams, time and capital in an idea, but with my true story about a useless Google pedometer, I’d crushed him. He feels like an idiot for spending all his time on a stupid idea. I’m the messenger he didn’t want to hear. By dinging me he’s shooting the messenger.  The ride had been a reality check for him. The tipoff was the look on his face when his friend piled on my story. He looked like there had been a death in the family. Maybe there was.  Perhaps I had just smothered his infant idea.

Suspect #6 – The Lost Soul

The Clues: I get a ping for a pickup on D street about 5 minutes away. When I arrive, I call but no response. I’m getting ready to cancel as a “No Show” when, at 4:40 on the stopwatch, the pax calls.  “Where are you?  We’re waiting in the middle of the street.”

“In the middle of what street?” I ask. After a long pause, he calls out to his friend, “What street is this we’re on?” Seems, there’s a lot of debate about there location in the background. “We don’t know what street we’re on but we’ve just come out of the Mayflower Pub?”

“Okay, wait right there I’ll be there in 3 minutes.”  I should have cancelled.  People who don’t know where they are trouble. I hang a left on Fourth Street and spot them two blocks down – right in the middle of a moderately busy street waiving their arms. I quickly get the essentials on them. Two guys and a girl – the guys flew in from Chicago for the weekend of Grateful Dead shows at Levis Stadium in Santa Clara and have probably been stoned for the whole week. It shows.

I ask the question of the hour: “What percentage of people at the Dead shows would you say were stoned?” I ask.

“110%”  he says. “Maybe more. You want to get stoned with us?”

“Nah, it’s my birthday tomorrow and I want to be there to enjoy it.”

“Aw come on … it’s your birthday.” he says as I pull into the parking lot in front their apartment. Then the trouble begins – all three of them all start patting me – on the head … on the shoulders … on the arms.  I don’t know if I’m being assaulted or invited inside.  They all think it’s hilarious.  I don’t.  I just go with the flow till they’re gone.

Possible Motive:  Blamed me for their mistake on the pin or more likely felt rejected when I passed on their offer to to come inside and smoke a joint with them. 

Suspect #7 – The Digital Butler Did It

The Clues: Okay there’s no butler in this mystery. But wait: Uber has has digital butlers writing code into all hours of the night. Who’s to say that they never suffer a technological glitch?

Uber’s technology, according to media reports, is hanging by a thread.  They started the app with one coding language, but grafted it all onto another. The system is overloaded. Now they’re using a patchwork quilt of coding systems.  The data they process is increasing exponentially and every time they think they’re close to catching up, traffic doubles again. Often the app doesn’t make sense – lots of anomalies in the system – sometimes things just don’t add up.

Possible Motive: There might not be an insidious motive here – just human frailty. Some coder has been working for 20 hours and can’t think straight – and the system hiccups, leaving a driver like me wondering “wtf?”

Your Turn Now

Okay, it’s your turn now. In the comments let us know who you think dinged me.

-John @ RSG