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The Perks and Woes of Being a Sidecar Driver

Photo via metro.us

I’ve been driving to work here at 7x7 every day for the past nine years. Having a car on hand is a requirement of the job. Sometimes I’m out and about all week, but a majority of the time my car sits on alert (I was once stationed on a aircraft carrier) in the company garage.

I’m no eco-nut by any stretch, but I’ve always been conscious of the amount of gas I use and waste driving to and fro by myself. The 5-Fulton stops just outside my apartment and one day, a few years back, I got it in my head to see if any of those who were soon to enjoy their daily dose of MUNIsery wanted a free lift downtown. I parked my vehicle a few feet away and asked them. I went from Good Samaritan to Scary Maniac in an instant, and my clean Volkswagen Vanagon became a dirty VW (very weird?) weirdo-wagon in just a few short words. Needless to say, I never tried that again. I later listed my daily commute on Zimride and got no takers.

Fast forward to October 2012. As my date and I start to get in the back of one the ubiquitous pink-mustachioed Lyft cars, the driver asks if one of us wants to get in the front with him. I assure him that we’ll be fine in the back and our trip begins. Before our driver can say another word, my date says, “You should put Sidecar in your phone.”

As simple as that, I became a loyal Sidecar customer. A couple of months later I was ordering a ride from Sidecar and the app asked if I wanted to become a driver. I clicked yes and filled out the online application and supplied the registration and proof of insurance for my late model BMW (a post-divorce ego-gift to myself). The next day I was called by someone at Sidecar and interviewed over the phone. I asked if there was a minimum amount of drive time required, and when the interviewer said that there wasn’t, I agreed to sign on. A few days later, on the Friday before Christmas, I was in my driver orientation meeting. An hour later I had been photographed and was on the road.

The aforementioned "Weirdo Wagon"

It’s now about five months since I hit the road and I have to say that the experience has been 99.9% (save one unjustified then rectified complaint) positive. The passengers, mostly tech industry people, have all (even the complainers and the cheapos) been genial. Some passengers are quite chatty, which makes for a fun and sometimes informative ride, while others are completely silent, as I usually am when I am a (relatively sober) passenger. Some even tip (tips are NOT included in the suggested donation and Sidecar takes 20% of the final amount paid). It doesn’t make a difference to me whether a passenger wants to ride up front or in the backseat either.  One attractive young programmer ended up texting me some very naughty photos and videos of her, and we hung out for a short while.

I’ve had a number of trips where good laughs were had by all, but the most memorable and comical trip occurred just a few weeks ago, when I picked up a couple of youngish, attractive girls who were on their way to AT&T park for a day game. One of the girls mentioned that a guy, with whom she had only moments before finished a date with, had just then sent her a text that said something like, “Let’s make this work.” My kneejerk response was an audible “Eew!” to which the victim laughed and responded, “I know, right?!”

For the rest of the drive the girls explained, much to my incredulity and nonstop laughter, how they both often went on two to four online dates a day. And get this: They were both en route to a second date with an older man, whom they met online. A stipulation of this date, however, was that the guy was required to buy tickets for both girls! We had more laughs about the randomness of online dating and its positives and negatives before I dropped the two dating fiends at their destination.

Sidecar passengers and drivers are required to rate each other prior to closing out the trip. I am proud to say that I am at 4.9 stars after 400-plus rides. There have been a few passengers who’ve taken long rides from me and donated far below the suggested donation. Those cheapos are usually then blocked by the drivers and will eventually be kicked out of the system, forced to fist-bump with the mustache people. Most make at least the suggested donation, while many others generously slide the button to the right to give a few bucks more.

I made an Excel spreadsheet to calculate just how many trips I would need to make to cover my gas (Sidecar and leisure) and insurance on my gas guzzling ego mobile (a 2010 BMW 528i) and the aforementioned Weirdo Wagon, which I still proudly own. I only have to make an average of fourteen trips per week (I’m well ahead of that) to cover my nut and show a decent pre-tax profit.

The bottom line? Sidecar=awesome side job.

Side note: You may have noticed Sidecar's new answer to the pink mustache, the MOX, which stands for mirror sox. It's an orange cover for the mirrors on our cars. It is an article of clothing I am loathe to don, as are 70% of the passengers I polled when I was apprised of the abomination. On a recent ride I picked up Sidecar's new CRO (chief revenue officer). We had a nice talk about branding and the competition. I said that our service needs to be the anti-Lyft. No phony, fist-bumping enthusiasm, no markings, or anything. Apparently he did not agree.