I don’t know what it is about me that makes strangers seek my advice when they get into my car when I’m driving rideshare. Maybe it’s my sage appearance or the wise tone in my voice. Or maybe it’s because they are already used to asking unqualified strangers for crucial relationship, legal, and medical advice over the Internet. I’m guessing they just want to bounce ideas off someone who may or may not judge them but they’ll never have to see again.
Lately, passengers have been seeking career advice from me. It started late one night when I picked up an Uber passenger at 11:30 p.m. Turns out she was a nanny and was being summoned on a 45-mile journey from Mesa to Carefree by her rich employer. The nanny was dressed rather comfortably in sweats. Apparently, the lady who employed her was drunk and wanted the nanny to come hang with her and her four-year-old who was still running around at that late hour.
“She’s nice when she’s drunk. Otherwise, she’s mean. Do you think I should quit and get another job?” the nanny asked me suddenly.
I told her I didn’t feel I really had enough info to make a solid recommendation at that point in our ten-minute-old relationship, thinking she’d drop it, but she didn’t. Instead, she began telling me all the details of her life and how much she was paid under the table and the crazy circumstances of her employment and then again began probing me for my opinions. Her employer seemed somewhat unbalanced, but then again, the nanny didn’t seem to be a bedrock of stability herself.
I recommended that it couldn’t hurt to explore her options and see what was out there before she made any rash decisions, though having to drive out to your employer’s house at midnight seemed a little excessive. What I couldn’t get straight was whether she was going to be having cocktails with her employer or watching the kid. Or both.
“Maybe I should just be mean to her. What do you think? She’s mean to me when she’s not drinking.”
“Uhhhhh, probably not until you line up another job would be my recommendation.”
Switching gears, she wondered how much she could make driving for Uber — I gave her rough averages and told her it depended on a lot of variables, but she wasn’t satisfied. She wanted hard numbers and seemed to think I was hiding secrets known only to those initiates of the Uber inner circle. Apparently, her employer’s husband had given the nanny a car to drive though for some reason she wasn’t using it that night. I didn’t think her employer would take kindly to her using their car to Uber, particularly if she quit. Anyway, she was making good, tax-free money already and I told her she would be sadly disappointed with the change in pay.
It was a very odd trip. I dropped her off at 12:30 a.m. at a huge house in the middle of the desert and wished her good luck.
Take this job and shove it!
Next night, I was on a Lyft run when I pulled up to the Red Lobster near Superstition Springs Mall around 7:45 p.m. and this kid, maybe nineteen, wearing the all black outfit that is the defacto uniform of the restaurant world, climbed in. Turns out he was a dishwasher, which would explain the overpowering smell of seafood. I immediately started worrying about him leaving a pungent funk in my car. I speak from experience because when I worked at Kentucky Fried Chicken in high school, my polyester work uniform was saturated with grease and smelled so rank after a shift of frying chicken and washing dishes that my mom wouldn’t let me take it off in the house and made me go change on the back patio.
Anyway, suddenly the kid asked me if I’d ever quit a job before and I told him I had. He asked me why and I recounted how I was once working as a valet at a fancy hotel when I hurt my knee. Since I could no longer valet until it healed, I was given a job folding towels. Do you know how slow an 8-hour shift goes by when you’re folding goddamned towels? It’s a lot of fucking towels. Trust me, you get a good sense of how long eternity is because I’m pretty sure I was in one of Dante’s circles of hell. After two days, I wanted to kill myself, so when they offered me a temporary job in the hotel’s communication and copy center, I jumped at it (figuratively that is — I did have a bum knee after all). Anyway, that job sucked even worse but in a totally different way. I mean, I was busy from the moment I walked in until I clocked out. However, the couple of days I was in there, I was dealing with a bunch of finance guys from Deutsche Bank. I don’t know what kind of banker powwow was going on but these Deutsche guys were everywhere like fleas on a dog. And bankers are kind of a demanding lot and these guys had paperwork being faxed in from all over the world and were faxing documents out (Yes, this was in the early days of the Internet). Anyway, the communications center was a rolling ball of nightmares bouncing off one disaster after another. Documents weren’t going through, we were losing pages, jobs were lost, it was a complete horror show for someone like me who likes things to run smoothly especially because I hate giving condescending people a reason to further belittle me. It was so insanely stressful and poorly managed that after two days I was like ‘Fuck this’. I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I even went to HR and told them I was even willing to go back to folding towels with the Spanish-speaking housekeeping ladies. HR had some terrible news for me — the communications center wanted me transferred on a permanent basis even after my knee healed. I looked at the HR person and essentially said “fuck that” though phrased in a slightly more polite way. But she could read between the lines and picked up my subtext and her eyes narrowed in suppressed anger because I was being a dick. Now I can be a wishy-washy bastard, but this time I dug my heels in and I told her when my knee was healed, I was going back to being a valet. She told me it wasn’t my decision and decided to see if I was bluffing. She gave me the choice of agreeing to the hypothetical move if it came about or quitting. So even though it hadn’t been decided 100 percent that I was going to the copy center, we had entered into a game of chicken. And nobody blinked — so I walked out. And afterward, I was like “WTF just happened?”
The kid listened to my story and confessed that he’d just quit his job and walked out. I guess the restaurant was crazy busy and he was the only dishwasher who showed up and the new manager did nothing but stare at her phone while he was being overwhelmed. He asked me whether I thought he’d done the right thing.
I told him I sympathized with him, however, next time I suggested he should voice his concerns to his boss, see what the response was and then go from there. I asked him if he was still in high school and he said he’d graduated last year.
“Well, what do you want to do with your life?” I asked. “Obviously, you don’t want to be a dishwasher forever. Or maybe you do. I’m just making an assumption.”
Direct films he told me. Being good at spotting wide-eyed dreamers who sit on their asses because I’ve been one, I wanted to help him out, so I asked him what steps he was taking to realize his goal. From the prolonged silence, I guessed he hadn’t actually thought about the nitty-gritty of what would be involved. I was getting the sense it was more of a nebulous dream than a plan, so I decided to give him a quick reality check.
“Look, if you’re serious, you’re going to have to make it happen. Because trust me, no one shows up to your door out of the blue to offer you a cool job unless you’re the next reincarnation of the Dalai Lama.”
I told him Scottsdale Community College’s film program could be a good starting point, and how my buddy Dean had gone there and now had a career making local commercials.
“Those guys make tons of money, huh?”
I think the kid assumed everyone starts out shooting national Bud Light commercials. I gently explained that most people worked on local projects and had more modest salaries, but talent and dedication could lead to success and big earnings for some people.
I asked him if he was reading any books or blogs about filmmaking or watching Youtube videos about it. He wasn’t, so I told him he better get on it and start learning about the available technology and software, editing, and the principles of directing among other things. One thing I suggested was trying to join local groups interested in filmmaking and try to volunteer with their local productions. He thanked me, told me he’d look into it, and got out.
Whether he took any of it to heart, who knows. But I really need to start charging by the hour.