Friday, May 6, 2016

Stagecoach or Bust? Bust! Big Bust – My life as an Uber driver #6

Big events like the Coachella Music Festival a few weekends ago, and Stagecoach Music Festival last weekend usually mean high demand for Uber/Lyft drivers.  Because of that, Uber sends out mass texts to its drivers throughout Southern California to converge on the Coachella Valley for the expected surge.  That usually works out pretty well for passengers and drivers (case in point, Coachella), but not always (case in point, Stagecoach).


I figured this would be another good weekend for driving, so Friday afternoon, I clicked on the app and headed out. And sure enough, the calls were steady and by mid-afternoon, surge pricing was underway.  It was a good afternoon. 

Among my first passengers were Kelsey and her friend from here in Southern California.  Funs girls who I thought would set the stage (no pun intended) for a good Stagecoach weekend.  In fact, I figured that  Saturday and Sunday would be even better since more music lovers would be in town and heading to the festivities in Indio.

While that may have been true, what also happened was a flood of Uber drivers descended on our small valley.  I went online about 10:00 Saturday morning and within five minutes had a call to take two ladies from a condo they were renting to a restaurant nearby.  And … that was it for Saturday morning.  I went to the areas where I have learned demand is high on weekends … trendy hotels where Gen-Xers stay.   Nothing.   I went to downtown Palm Springs and hung there for a while.  Nothing.  After an hour of no calls, I went to the gym, then home for lunch.  I looked at the rider app (which is different from the driver app), and there were so many Uber cars waiting for calls from passengers who never materialized, the little car icons were stacked on top of each other on the map.

The Coachella rock crowd apparently is more tuned into ride sharing than the Stagecoach country crowd, and as a result, the market was saturated with drivers with a lack of passengers. Eventually, I did get one ride to the festival, and once down there, I had a few local pick-ups in the Indio area.  But not a lot.  It was a different audience than the previous weekend for Coachella.

To totally generalize (which admittedly isn’t really fair), the Coachella crowd was more drug oriented, laid back.  Better educated.  Happy hippy type people.  Accepting. The Stagecoach group (again, not all but a lot), are boozers.  Drunk early in the day, loud, foul mouthed, demanding. 

Saturday afternoon about 3:00PM, after a fairly dismal day, I got a call for a pick up at the Motel 6 in Indio.  When I arrived, there was no sign of the passenger.  I called his number, but got no answer.  Just as I was ready to cancel the ride and move on, this drunk guy (well dressed in cowboy clothing, early 30s) stumbles up to the passenger door with a beer can in hand.  “Hey man,” he mumbles, “no need to call.  I’m here.”  And I’m thinking, why didn’t I cancel the ride when I had a chance?

I tell him he can hop in, but no open containers allowed. So he tosses the beer in the bushes.  Classy.  Just then, I see three others emerge from the side of the motel, another guy and two girls, one who is being helped to the car because she is so drunk. All have beer cans in hand.  When I tell them “no open containers,” the drunkest girl starts swearing.  I should have left then, but the guy who first showed up apologizes and says there will be no problem.  I tell him I don’t want her puking in the car, and he says she won’t.  The other three toss their cans into the Motel 6 parking lot, and we take off for the festival.  The guy was actually cool, but the two skanky girls were nasty, totally wasted, and every other slurred word that comes out of drunkest girl’s mouth is the F-bomb.   The guy in the back seat kept telling them to shut up.  At one time I looked in the mirror and saw the drunkest one is taking a swig from a plastic flask.  I get them to the festival grounds, get them out of the car, give them the lowest one-star rating (which they did the same to me).  That was my last ride for Stagecoach.  Next year I’ll pass on that festival. 

The good news …. This week I started driving for Lyft as my ride share experiment continues. And so far, Lyft is a superior experience.  Cooler riders, better pay. Nicer company.  More later.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

An Uber Coachella Fest - My Life as an Uber Driver #5

I had been out of town visiting my mom for nearly a couple of weeks, so Ubering for the big Coachella Music Festival was not an option for weekend #1, even though Uber incessantly texted that they need me (and the hundreds of other drivers they have here in the valley).

Even when I got back to town in time for weekend #2, I was reluctant to drive, mainly because it is a long trek from Palm Springs to Indio where the festival is held (and once you take somewhere there from Palm Springs, I figured you were stuck there with hundreds of other Uber drivers waiting for passengers who wouldn’t materialize until the festival ended late at night). 

Plus, there were reports of drivers getting stuck in one hour lines just waiting to get into the dusty Uber drop off spot, and the fares Uber was paying were pretty low.  There were many street closures, and reports that police were writing tickets to anyone (Uber or not) for dropping people off along the street.

So, I passed on driving Saturday, but Sunday morning I decided to give it a try.  I’m glad I did.

The first few rides Sunday morning were from music fans recovering from the night before … searching for a cool breakfast place or coffee house.   Cheeky’s and Lulu were the places I recommended to them and they, not being from these parts, were happy with the recommendations.

It wasn’t until about 11:30 that I got my first real festival call.  The ping on the app went off, and I was on my way to meet Royce at a nice home that likely was the root of much frustration for the neighbors.  It was a Coachella crash pad.  There were no less than a half dozen cars crammed into the driveway, and more parked on the street.  This is a nice Palm Springs neighborhood with upscale homes, and while the city has tried to crack down on the home rental business because of overcrowding and big parties, the endeavor obviously isn’t 100% successful. 

So, I pull up on the street behind the cars that are choking the driveway.  Uber notifies Royce that I am waiting.  And I wait.  And I wait.  And I wait.  After five minutes with no activity.  I see two women on the side of the house, spraying what I assume is sunscreen all over each other … enough that they could have walked on the sun and not gotten a burn.  But still, no Royce.  So, I call him.   And he tells me he’ll be right out.

Number one, if you’re calling for an Uber, be ready to go when they arrive.  You think your time is more important than mine, well that doesn’t work for me.  And just as I am ready to push the cancel button on the app, Royce spills out the front door, juggling a hat, red bandana, cell phone, can of Red Bull, and some papers.  He gets to the car and says, he’s ready, but we have to wait for “the girls.”  Another minute or two, and the sunscreen drenched ladies emerge from the home, clueless that anyone has been waiting for them. 

They are all friendly enough, and are happy that I have the Coachella channel on the radio, and they entertain themselves for the 40 minute ride down valley.  Now, I am following the Uber app map which supposedly has been programmed to take you right to the Uber drop off spot.  Well, as is a frequent problem with Uber, the app took me to streets that were closed, and others that were so jammed with traffic, you couldn’t get through.  Royce, and friends, who I waited a good 10-15 minutes to pick up are now getting antsy because they aren’t at the festival yet, and a band they want to see they can now only listen to live on Dan’s car radio.  The irony.

Ah, but there is a silver lining in giving these clueless Coachella fans a ride to the festival.  Toward the end of the ride, one of the girls in the back seat pulls out a twenty dollar bill and gives it to Royce to cover the girls’ share of the Uber ride.  No mention of a tip for their most excellent driver.  They get out and leave.  I give them a three star rating, they give me the same or lower since my rating went down after they got out of the car.  And I go on my way.  By now, it is lunch time, so I head home to make a sandwich before the afternoon session.  As I do frequently, I check the car when I get back to see if anyone had left anything behind and to pick up the trash passengers throw in the back seat (passengers can be pigs).  I found a candy wrapper, an empty water bottle, an empty Red Bull can that Royce figured he would dump in the car.  And …. I found the $20 bill that the girl had given Royce for her share of the ride.  It may have fallen out of his pocket and onto the seat.  Nice unintended tip. Karma. 

The afternoon resulted in three more rides to the festival grounds, but by then, the demand was way up.  Uber fares were surging, 2-3 times normal.  But the fans didn't care ... many seemed to be on a company expense account. 

Case in point … Tim.  About 3:00PM I get a ping to pick up Tim.  He has no address.  It’s one of those where it says to follow the map to the little icon of the man.  That is extremely frustrating for the driver, because the app map rarely works the way it should.  It can be off by as much as two city blocks.  It is even more frustrating when the app takes you to a gated community where all you have is the person’s first name, and in this case, no address.   

When I get this gated community where there is no guard on duty, but simply a call box. I am stuck.  Tim has not given me the gate code.  So, I call Tim.  He says he doesn’t know the gate code because he was visiting a friend who had already left.  He says just follow another car in when the gate is open.  So, I loiter out in front, getting the evil eye from security people roaming around in little golf carts, just about ready to cancel the ride, when someone pulls up to the gate.  I follow them in and wind through this huge complex to the spot where, if the Uber app was correct, I would have just run over Tim.  But you guessed it … no Tim.

I call him again, and he says he is a block away, but sees my car and he will head to me (a block away from where the app says he was … that’s about right).  In my rear view mirror, I see Tim, another guy, and a girl.  As he opens the passenger door, we say hi, and I see that he and his two pals all have big beer cans they are chugging away on.  “You got any problem with us drinking in your car,” asks Tim.  To which I say, “Yep, sorry, but it is illegal in California.”  Not to mention the fact that the place is crawling with cops just looking to find something to do.  So, they set their open containers in the parking lot of the complex at the exact same moment one of the rent-a-cops on the golf cart comes around the corner.

“Hey, what are doing?  You can’t put those there.”  So, another delay as Tim’s pals grab up the cans and have to search for garbage.

Finally, we are underway, and I find that all three are actually very interesting people.  They all currently live in Hong Kong and came to the desert just for Coachella.  Tim is originally from Florida, his pal in the back is Scottish, and his girlfriend is from China.  They are well educated, successful, and worldly.  They talk politics and current affairs, and they also know their music, spouting off names of bands that are as foreign to me as The Animals, Byrds, and Stones were to my parents.  They make me feel old.  But my passengers are good entertainment, and very nice.  Good thing, because we were stuck in the car for more than an hour. 

The traffic leading into Coachella by this time is dreadful.  Fifteen minutes to go two blocks.   The wind is strong, dust is blowing across the road.  That dissuades Tim and friends from bailing and walking the rest of the way, so they hung in there.  As we finally arrive to the giant Uber lot where an endless stream of vehicles are entering and exiting in an endless loop, Tim and friends say how much they enjoyed the time they spent with me.  I did too.  As he’s leaving, Tim says “Five stars?”  I say, “Yes, for sure.”  He smiles and says, “I’m giving you five stars and a comment.” Cool.  Later, I looked at my comments.   “XOXOXO” from Tim.  Go figure.  Right back at ya, Tim.

My last ride of the day was for Mike from San Diego and his friend visiting from Phoenix.  Again, two really nice guys.  Happy.  Engaging.  A real pleasure.  As we get ready to pull into the Uber staging area, Mike looks at the adjacent staging spot set aside for taxis.  While the Uber lot was jammed with cars moving through, one solo taxi car was waiting in the taxi area.  "Wow," he says, "Guess no one is taking taxis much anymore."

For working Coachella, I made the best money yet (about $150 for the day), but it could have been much better had I worked late.  One group I took to the festival said they had to pay $385 the night before to get back to Palm Springs because the demand was so high.  I said to them that’s so extreme.  Their response was, “Oh we’re on a company expense account.”  I remember those days.

Finally, some observations about the Coachella crowd.  Trends are cyclical.  I listened to Coachella radio all day.  The music I heard reminded me a lot of the cutting edge stuff we were listening to in the mid-60s, less raw, more refined.  I just don’t know the names of a lot of the groups.  But the ones that seemed to have the biggest buzz among my passengers were The Chainsmokers, Chvrches, Calvin Harris, and James Bay.  Most thought Guns n Roses were dismal. 

As for fashions, many of those I gave rides to could have been cast members in “Rowan and Martins Laugh In” or the “Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour” from the 60’s and 70’s.  Big floppy hats, tie died shirts, beads, worn out jeans, vests.  If only I would have saved my clothes from high school!  I have hope for the next generation.

Tomorrow, I meet with the local manager of Lyft, Uber's competitor, and I hope to be driving for both by this weekend ...  just in time for the Stagecoach Country Music Festival in Indio.  I’ll tune to the C&W radio channel and get behind the wheel.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

A break from Uber Blogs to honor some veterans

As most of you know, I spent virtually my entire reporting career at KXTV, Channel 10, in Sacramento ... 27 years.  There were a couple of shorter jobs before at KHSL-TV (CBS12) in Chico, CA and KPCO Radio (AM1370, now defunct) in Quincy, CA, but KXTV was my life, my family. 

We built a news product that, at its peak, could not be beat … even by the number one station in town, KCRA.  As the appetite for news has shifted to online sources over the past few years, mainstream news outlets, TV, radio, newspapers, have suffered a serious decline. Revenues dropped.  Cuts have had to be made.  Journalism has suffered tremendously.

Facing the reality, Tegna, which owns 42 stations in the U.S. including KXTV, offered a very generous retirement package to its most senior employees.  As a result, the once powerful KXTV today is suffering the worst loss in any single day in the history of Sacramento TV news.  Four veterans are leaving in one day.

George Warren (reporter/anchor 35 years); Mark Pepper (Stockton photographer/bureau chief for 33 years); Tim Daly (Stockton reporter/bureau chief for 25 years); Dave Marquis (reporter 23 years) all wisely accepted the Tegna buyout.  Today, more than a century of news experience walks out the door at 400 Broadway, Sacramento for the last time.  KXTV will never be the same.

I worked with all these guys for most of my career.  In fact, George, Mark, and I worked together at Channel 12 in Chico since 1979 before we came to Sacramento.  They are all the most respected, honored, award winning broadcast journalists that any TV news operation could hope for.  

                                         But the time is right to move on.
I write this simply to honor the best in the industry.  I grieve for the loss at KXTV which has become a mere shadow of the station I used to work for.  I celebrate the careers and the futures for my former colleagues.  Nice run, you guys.  Thanks for helping make News10/KXTV the station that it was.

And, best of luck to KXTV, as it and most other broadcast stations in the country try to find a path to profitability and at the same time serve the public with a respectable news product. 

Tim & Mark photo: Courtesy Stockton Record

Monday, April 18, 2016

A lady, lesbians, and a lot of laughs - My Life as an Uber Driver #4

 Uber sent out an email to Palm Springs drivers a couple of weeks ago saying they realized they had been short changing us.  In essence, paying us just pennies on the dollar while they took a good chunk of the fare.  I’m learning it is not a really good company.  On a $10 fare, drivers can end up getting only $6.  So, they said, they will increase the pay Uber drivers in Palm Springs get by 25%.  We’ll see how that works.

They also said that the upcoming weekend should be really good because the lesbians are in town.  They were more diplomatic than that, but if you read between the lines they said a lot of women will be in town for the Dinah Shore golf classic …. And those of us who live here know that means it’s lesbian weekend in town.  Come on ladies, I’m ready to give you a ride in my car.

But the first lady I got that day was not of the “L” persuasion.  After a few “regular” rides (one trip to the airport, another back to a gay bar downtown where the drunk guy had left his car the night before and let his more sober friends take him home, thank God), I got a call for the Eisenhower Medical Center Clinic in Palm Springs.  As I pull up, an impeccably dressed elderly woman using a walker with a miniature poodle in a basket in the front of the walker comes out of the clinic.  You got the picture.

She is not your typical Uber passenger, so I did not think she was my passenger …. but for some reason I reach out to her.  And she is indeed the person waiting for me.  She obviously is in discomfort and having difficulty walking.  I help her into the passenger seat, and she asks if it is OK if her little dog sits on her lap.  It is her child, so of course it is OK.  The walker goes into the back of the car, and as I take her back to her assisted living center, I learn she has lived in Rancho Mirage for 36 years.  Her husband died a few years back, and she could no longer live in her home alone. 

We talk about the changes in the community, and as we drive past the street leading to Bob Hope’s house (on the market now for $29 million) I ask her if she has ever been there.  “Oh, yes, dear, many times,” she replies.  She admits that in her day, she loved to sip martinis with the locals. She doesn't say who that included, but she is a classy lady, and I can see her tipping one with Sinatra, Martin, Hope, Ball.

92 years old, she can no longer drive, but she kind of knows how to use the Uber app on her phone (she admits the “girls” at the doctor’s office help her sometimes).  Her body is failing, her vision is blurry, but her mind is sharp.  I help her when we get back to her assisted living center.  Her dog licks my hand as I take him from her lap.  She shuffles into the lobby, and I kick myself for not giving her my card.  I’d be her personal driver if she wanted.  She was a gem.

Now, back to the lesbians.  A very fun crowd and they all enjoyed the free mints I now give to passengers.  I did three trips with three groups to the Hilton Hotel in downtown Palm Springs where the women’s pool party was underway (and where I found out later, Lady Gaga was hanging out).  Unlike my many other lesbian friends that I know, these women were not real chatty with the Uber guy driver (they just didn’t know me), but they were all gracious, and they all apparently gave me five stars because my stupid Uber rating soared, all the way from 4.85 to 4.87.  I won gold.  Thank you lesbians.  I love you.

So the day is drawing to a close, it is 4:30 and I’m heading home, and just about when I am ready to turn off the app, I get this “ding.”  Eight minutes away, Curtis wants a ride from Golf Club Drive in Palm Springs.  I almost deleted the request, but then I think, what the hell, one more for the day. Maybe Curtis is heading in the same direction I am, closer to home (which rarely happens).  So I turn around, head back toward central Palm Springs to meet Curtis.  It’s Friday afternoon, traffic sucks, but the Uber app finally steers me to the Tahquitz Creek Golf Resort entrance where the little stickman image of Curtis hangs on my phone. 

As I approach the club house, I see a guy emerge, looks at his phone, and Curtis waves at me.  I’m at the right spot.  As Curtis ambles down the walkway, golf bag bulging with freshly used clubs swung over his shoulder, he is joined by two other guys … both similarly outfitted with bags and clubs.  One kind of stumbles as he walks (I mistakenly think it’s from the weight of the bag).  We say hello, I open the back, they thrown the clubs in, the back goes down and the fun begins.

Curtis and his pals have had at least a couple of beers (maybe more than a couple) on the course.  They are in a jolly mood, and the party isn’t about to stop now.  Fortunately for them, they got the right Uber driver. 

Curtis (before we get into the car):  “Ummmmm, we have kind of a favor to ask.”
His pals (laughing and poking each other):  “Uh, yeah, we need to get some food and some more beers.”
Me:  “Sure, not a problem.”
Curtis:  “So, what we’re really asking is, other than the place we are staying, we don’t really know where we’re going.  Can you take us to a place to buy beer, then to a place called Babes to pick up some barbecue, and then take us back to our house in Rancho Mirage?  Like, several different places.”
Me:  “Whatever you guys want, I am your driver, I’ll take you wherever you want.”
Curtis:  “Well, we kind of don’t know where we want to go, except to Babes and the house.  But before then, we need beer.  Do you know where we can get beer?”
Me:  “Hop on in guys, we’re in for an adventure.  I know right where to go.”
Curtis (and pals):  “But like what if it takes an hour or longer?”
Me: “Not a problem, let’s go.”

Smiles wash over their faces.

Now had I been a taxi driver with dollar signs flashing in my eyes as they do when strangers enter their car and say “We don’t know where we’re going,” I could have taken them to Indio to buy beer.  I’m not a taxi driver.  Instead, I head toward to the nearby Vons Supermarket.  My passengers are elated. 

As I am heading to the grocery store to let them get beer (as I discovered, I should have called Vons to make sure they had enough), I find out that Curtis’ pals are Doug and Taylor.  They are from the LA area and they are in Palm Springs for the weekend for Taylor’s bachelor party.  Thus, the need for beer.  As we’re heading to Vons, from the back seat Doug asks if the window is on child lock because it won’t go down.  He said he may have to throw up.  I quickly flipped the switch that had mistakenly been locked.  He didn’t throw up.  But I asked him to give me a warning if he was about to.  He just laughed.

At Vons, the boys head into the store, saying they are going to buy me something also.  I insist that they don’t.  They ask if I want to go shopping with them.  I tell them I don't want to do that either.  So, I wait at the car, and about ten minutes later, as they exit, they have a Vons shopping cart (one of the big ones) literally overflowing with cases of beer … and a carton of Parliament cigarettes for me, they say.  I thank them but tell them I don’t smoke, so they said they would go ahead and smoke ‘em. Thanks, guys.

The beer and smokes are tossed into the back of the Edge, and we are quickly running out of room.

Me:  “OK guys, you say you want to go to Babes?”
All three:  “YES!!! We’re starved. Do you know where it is?”

Again, here’s the opportunity to take a long scenic Coachella Valley route where I would proudly point out the many fine amenities of the community where I live, as the Uber meter clicks away, racking up a nice fee. Instead, I drive directly to Babes in Rancho Mirage.

We talked a lot.  They are all professional guys with good jobs, intelligent, the type of people that I would hang with if I was thirty years younger.  Some are married, others about to get married, and they are just in the desert to have a good time with their buds (which I later discover is a group of about 20 guys).

At Babes, the boys (who reportedly had ordered a pile of ribs and chicken before they got into the car), asked me to wait for them as they went in to pick up the food.  Thirty minutes later, they come stumbling out of Babes, loaded with bags full of food.

Doug:  “Hey. Sorry, Dan it took so long but they didn’t start cooking until we got there.  So, while we waited, they bought us more beers and shots at the bar.”  The pain level had decreased even more so in the past half hour.
Curtis:  “OK, to the house.” 

Now, they had an address for the place, but Curtis said he would guide me there.
Me:  “You guys sure got a lot of food and beer for one night.”
Doug:  “Oh man, we’re not alone.  We’ve got a bunch of our friends waiting back at the mansion.”
Me, thinking, mansion?  Really.
Curtis:  “Yeah, when we get there, you’ve got to come in and meet everyone.”
I drive for about ten more minutes, following Curtis’ instructions, until I enter this small street where the entrance to the gated community awaits us.  Except, it’s not an entrance to a gated community.  It’s the private gated entrance to “the mansion.”

As the gate opens, I see what they are talking about.  The place is amazing.  Huge.  Like what you see in the movies.  “Come on in with us,” my new friends say.

So, I grab three twelve packs (leaving about a dozen more in the car) and follow them inside.  For this weekend, “the mansion” has been converted into a mix between Dynasty and Animal House … you can tell it’s an amazing place with fine touches like beer filled coolers and sleeping bags tossed in.

“Let’s go outside,” they say.  And there, I find, the rest of the bachelor party.  “Hey guys, this is our super cool Uber driver, Dan.”  “Hey, Dan, have a beer.”  “Thanks, I’d love to, but I’m still driving.”

They carry on the party, which is taking place in a huge hot tub, multi-layer swimming pool and ponds, basketball court, putting green, all on about 4-5 acres.  It’s an adult Disneyland.  They are good people having a good time.

With the car unloaded, the mansion tour finished, and time for me to head out, Curtis says to me that he’s concerned the Uber drive, since it lasted 70 minutes, was going to cost a fortune.  I tell him I'll check my app.  I discover my salary for the adventure … just a tad over $18.  Curtis couldn’t believe how little it was.  He looks at his app and finds the charge to him is $26.  He is amazed at how little he had to pay, and of that, I only got $18.  So, he, Doug, and Taylor say that's not fair.  They dig into their pockets and give me a $25 tip.  The best I’ve ever received.  They didn’t have to do that, because they actually provided great entertainment for my last ride of the day.  But they did.  I thanked them, wished them a great weekend, and I think they realized that as lucky as they were that they got me for a driver, I was lucky too that I got the coolest passengers to be had that afternoon in the Coachella Valley.
I’m taking a couple of weeks off driving because I’m out of town helping my mom.  But I’ll be back this next weekend … and still debating if I want to drive for Coachella.  If I do, you’ll hear about the adventures.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Nicer Passengers - My life as an Uber driver #3

It was a Saturday morning a couple of weeks back, and I noticed there was a “surge” underway where the demand for rides was greater than the number of drivers.  Driving during surge periods is really the only way you can make much money, since driving during regular times pays very little. However, I don’t drive much during surge hours, mostly because normally surge hours tend to come late at night, and I have no desire to service the bar crowd.

This Saturday morning there was a lot going on in town, including the Indian Wells Tennis tournament, so when I turned on the Uber driver app, I saw the entire region was in red.  I told Kurt I was leaving early “to make us some big bucks.” And by the time I got to the car, the first “ding” came through.  A pick-up at the Ritz-Carlton.  The Ritz-Carlton is a cool place.  Like other higher end hotels in town, the clientele tends to be more friendly, and the concierges outside treat me well.  The Parker, the Riviera, and The Arrive are also favorites in Palm Springs because of their ease to work with.

This Saturday morning, I was summoned by a traveling salesman who needed a ride to the airport to head back to Chicago.  Nice guy.  I’m not sure, but I think his name was Del and he was selling shower curtain rings or something like that (on second thought if it was Del from Chicago selling shower curtain rings, he would have been at the Braidwood Inn, not the Ritz-Carlton).  No tip, but he gave me five stars, and as soon as I cleared the airport, I got my next “ding.”  This time at the JW Marriott Resort in Rancho Mirage.

The JW Marriott is also a great hotel for an Uber driver.  It is a very impressive resort, and the guests there tend to be higher class. There is a grand entrance with easy access and the guests are usually waiting out in front. As I pull up to the front of the complex, I see a group of four very stylish young people, two men, two women.  One of the women looks up from her phone where she has been tracking my progress, sees that I have arrived, grabs her pals and comes to the car as the concierge opens the door for them. 

This good looking blond sits in the passenger seat, while the equally attractive brunette and two very handsome guys get in the back.  They are friendly and chatty and on their way to the tennis tournament.  As I pull out of the resort, I ask where they are from.  All are from L.A. and in town just for the tennis tournament.  Now, I’ve learned that when there are three or more passengers, they tend to want to talk amongst themselves.  So I keep my mouth shut … and in this case, I get ready to be entertained for the 20 minute ride to the tennis gardens.

It soon becomes apparent that they are Hollywood types. The guy sitting behind me (who I can’t see) had just been on the Ellen show and had signed a new deal for a Fox show.  One of the other passengers talked about that show called New Girl (I had never heard of it, but again, I kept my mouth shut).  I figured I had celebs in the car, but no idea who they were.  They talked about different people in Hollywood (by first name only) and amused themselves (and me) by telling hilarious stories involving misadventures while going around LA … restaurants, shopping, in the studio (who’s boinking who, who did what to who, and who embarrassed themselves while out in public) … funny stuff, especially the way they were so engaged in reliving the stories.

What surprised me was how open they were, and at the same time, how disconnected they seemed from the functioning of TV and Hollywood, even though they knew a lot about the players.  At one point, the guy behind said he didn’t know what time his show would air on Fox.  He wondered if it would be at 10:00PM.  One of the others said they didn’t think so, because Fox stations might do news at 10:00.  One of the others asked, “Well when is their scripted programming then, 7:00 to 10:00?”  When no one knew, I told them Fox network programs only 8:00 to 10:00 PM, and goes local at 10:00.  Not really insider stuff, but certainly something you’d think they would know being in the biz.  Their response when I told them, “Oh cool, that makes sense then.  Thanks.”

As we approached the tennis gardens, I told them that I had to drop them off at the Uber spot, not right in front of the main gate.  They all said no problem.  The girl sitting next to me said, “You’re a fun Uber driver.”  They made me happy.

As I pulled over, and they started getting out of the car, I thanked them and said, “You guys are the most entertaining people I’ve ever given a ride to.  It’s like I had a Seinfeld episode unfold in my car during the last twenty minutes.”  They all laughed, said thanks again, and were on their way.  A few moments later, my Uber rating increased again to 4.85 as they gave me the full five stars (it had gone down significantly after Princess Taye).

After I got home that night, I started chatting with a Hollywood friend of mine, and told him what had happened.  He did some research and putting together the pieces of the puzzle, determined that it was likely Max Greenfield who I gave a ride to.  When I looked at his photo online, I determined that yeah, it probably was him, though he was wearing a cap and sunglasses. And when I saw the photos of his wife, Tess Sanchez, she sure looked like the one in the back seat with him.  If it was Max Greenfield, and if by chance he ever reads my blog (yeah right), just know that you guys were some of the nicest passengers I’ve ever had in my car while
Ubering. You made my day (without even knowing who you were at the time). People like you make me want to continue to drive (because God knows, it is not for the money).

This is the ANA Golf Tournament weekend here in the desert.  It's the old Dinah Shore/Nabisco classic.  Uber has already informed us drivers that we'll need to be out on the road early and late in the day to service the tournament.  Who knows what celebs might show up this time.  I can only hope it is Max Greenfield and his pals again, because those types of rides don't come along often enough.