It takes a certain level of guts to willingly drive around and pick total strangers up for money. You have no idea who is going to be standing on the curb, tapping their foot while staring at their phone. Will they be nice? Rude? Demanding? Will they share way too much? Will I be the one to say something dumb, or rude, or intrusive? It is a gamble, but the nature of the ride is usually established the second the person gets into your car.
I should describe my social anxiety. I often say things that are super weird and then cringe, thinking the other person is judging me based on what I said. I also find it difficult to talk about off-color or controversial subjects with strangers. Silence also makes me nervous.
In my second week driving, I picked up a young man on his way to work. From the moment he opened the door, I knew it was going to be a one-way conversation. He did not stop talking the entire ride. And when people don’t stop talking, they usually talk about things you may or may not want to hear.
He began by telling me about his issues with a few co-workers he had, especially one that was taking advantage of some of the rules of the store (he worked at a commissary on a military base). He mentioned something about alcohol and drinking, and then when right into a story about a time he got drunk and had his first bisexual experience.
I’ll spare the details, but he did get relatively graphic. All the while, he peppered in hints that he seemed to prefer larger men. I am a larger man. He complimented me and asked if I was into such things. I told him I was straight as an arrow. He accepted my answer and pretty much changed the subject back to his work before I dropped him off.
The entire time he was talking, I could feel my skin crawl. I wasn’t reacting to the subject he was talking about, I was reacting to the fact that he was willing to divulge such information to a total stranger. This horrified me. I had no idea how to react or respond.
On another ride, I picked up four female college students. They were all Asian. When I pulled up, they were all chatting in their native language. As soon as they got into the car, they all fell silent. Only one of them seemed to know English, and she was in the front seat. The ride was 45 minutes of silence, save for the radio. Immediately, I thought that I said or did something when they first got in the car that made them stop talking.
I have found that the majority of my passengers were friendly and often talked about interesting things, for which I was glad to discuss. It was the ones that fell back on small talk, or stayed silent, that made me think that I did something wrong. I always greet my passengers, ask them how they are doing and how their day has been. Most people are glad to share, but some simply say, “Fine,” and say nothing else.
It was a big step in overcoming social anxiety by actually doing the job of ridesharing. I’ve found that I’m more attentive to strangers instead of tuning them out. I’ve even managed to spark some conversations with a comment about someone in traffic, or make a joke about current events. But each time I stop, my heart pounds until the person is in my car and starts talking. The lack of knowing how this person will act is the biggest anxiety trigger for me. I avoid conflict even if I would benefit and have the upper hand.
On a carpool ride, I picked up three people. As I was driving to the first destination, the first woman I picked up started talking on her phone to a friend and trying to give me directions. I had to explain to her that she wasn’t the first one to be dropped off, and that I was to follow the GPS to make sure I was going the optimum route.
She proceeded to call me names and bad mouth me. To her friend on the phone. In my back seat. The other two passengers both looked at me, wondering what I would do. I could feel my face getting hot with rage, because I knew I was right. But I didn’t want to confront her. So I let her rant.
After dropping off the other two passengers, I took a deep breath and calmly explained to her why I didn’t take her directions. She accepted my explanation but did not apologize. I took it as a win drove her home. Even though she spent ten minutes complaining about me, I still gave her five stars.
Over the course of time, my anxiety has lessened a bit. I still get anxious when people fall silent, or start complaining. Making sure the passenger has a good ride is fundamental to keeping my job. Their ratings and opinions directly affect whether I keep my job. This is the biggest source of anxiety for me. But it is the nature of the industry.