SIANO: Rides, conversations: two things that should be shared

Lyft+and+Uber+are+common+ride-hailing+companies.+Photo+via+Flickr

Lyft and Uber are common ride-hailing companies. Photo via Flickr

Well, here you are again. In the back of an ’07 Corolla, uncomfortably packed into a musty seat and on your way to wherever you may find yourself in the nightlife of Milwaukee, or maybe even on your trek home after a long night.

You’ve confirmed to the driver that “Yes! That’s me,” and “Yep, that’s where we’re headed.” Despite the pleasantries, there remains an air of awkwardness in the cabin settled in between the sirens in the distance and the low vibrations of FM radio from the speakers around you.

Well, guess what? You’re not the only one feeling awkward. There is a person who’s more exhausted and dreading another awkward ride down Wisconsin Avenue, and they’re in the driver’s seat. If you ever find yourself complaining about a silent, awkward ride, just remember that the driver about eight inches from your cramped legs has been doing this for hours.

It’s easy to settle into the awkwardness. You can go on your phone — they don’t (or if they do, you could be in for quite an interesting ride but not in a fun way). You can easily hold a conversation between you and your friends, and ignore the fact that there is a living, breathing and tired human sitting in the same dimly lit airspace as you.

I’ve done it, and I’m sure you have too.

The best rides of my life, however, happened when I engaged with the driver. I’ve learned that it doesn’t take much to turn a whirring of wheels on pavement into a joyful 10 minutes filled with laughs and stories.

The two phrases that proceeded the best ride-hail experiences of my life were “how’s your night going?” and “how long have you been driving?” — and I can promise you the ensuing conversation was more vibrant than that.

On the way to a Chicago Bulls game over fall break, my friends and I crawled into the seats of a dingy blue minivan, filling into the cabin like a game of sweaty human Tetris. We were in a new city and living a ‘we’re-not-in-Kansas-anymore’ moment, all of us hailing from various cities across the Midwest and Northeast (none of them being Chicago or Milwaukee).

Figuring we could use some advice from a local, we began to ask the driver about his time in Chicago. Our driver, however, was not from the city at all. As a matter of fact, he had been a teacher in the Middle East for about a decade before moving to Chicago. He didn’t just teach, either. He lived in a beautiful waterside condo where he would go and spearfish — wetsuit, harpoon and all — during lunch hour while teaching online school. We nodded along in amazement as he both reminisced and even pulled up a few pictures (safely… somewhat) to show us.

He returned our politeness after that and asked about us — where we were from, why we were here —although our answers were quite bland following up his own. However, we were rewarded for our kindness. When he found out we were en route to the United Center for a game that began in 15 minutes, he put pedal to the metal for his now-companions. We assured him that being late was not an issue, giving glances to each other that said, “getting there alive would be nice” after he started to aggressively weave along the crowded highway.

Nevertheless, he showed us more gorgeous underwater photos from his old home as he continued to use lanes that were evidently not for driving in as he flew through downtown Chicago doing his best Dom Toretto impression. And I say Dom Toretto, because our ride’s end had the same conclusion as every “Fast and Furious” film, we felt like family.

During that ride we laughed, learned about each other and even exchanged a few winces in response to the orchestra of horns blaring at us that were dismissed by our driver, or maybe he was just having too much fun to notice.

As a part-time retail worker, I feel for ride-hail drivers. The best parts of my day at work were always when a customer took the time and courtesy to treat me like a little bit more than an item search device with a mop of dirty blonde hair and a pair of legs. It gets pretty stale out there, so when you’re bored, they’re bored too.

And sure, there are those who are introverted, both passengers and drivers, and it’s pretty easy to read the situation when that’s the case. There’s nothing wrong with a silent ride, but from experience, I can confirm that the best ones are the ones that get maybe a little too rowdy.

Whether it’s spearfishing stories, career advice or a much-needed venting session about their daughter’s new fiance, most ride-hail drivers have something they’d love to share with you if you care to ask.

So, I strongly suggest that you do. You’ll almost always make someone else’s day, and maybe even arrive to your next location with a heck of a story in your back pocket.

This story was written by RJ Siano. He can be reached at ryan.siano@marquette.edu