Sean describes the 24-hour Starbucks on the corner of California and Spruce as a “rideshare rest stop.” Lyft drivers like himself mingle with a mix of cabbies, other rideshare drivers, and police officers from the city precinct across the street.
For all the rumored tension across parties, there’s an unspoken truce on these grounds. They gather under the mermaid’s neon glow to talk, exchange stories, and — perhaps most importantly — caffinate for the hours ahead. Driving nights has proven to be a great equalizer. Sean admits there have been moments of misunderstanding, but that overall, “We unite together. We’re all trying to make a living, all trying to have a good time.”
Sean’s been driving for Lyft in San Francisco for over a year, and drives almost exclusively at night. He formerly worked the graveyard shift, as a police dispatcher — an experience that makes it easy to drive for Lyft.
“I’m very used to dealing with life and death calls, so when I Lyft very few things bother me,” he says. I don't know what I would or wouldn't do.
On a weekend night, he starts by waiting for requests in his apartment off Union Square. It’s always busy for the pre-dinner rush, between 4-7 p.m., then again from 8 p.m. to midnight. He takes a break, getting a quick bite to eat before the flood of requests at last call. After a few hours devoted to getting people home safely, the early morning airport requests start coming in, and don’t stop ’till sunrise.
Every SF driver will get pulled into the chaos of Polk Street at some point during a Friday or Saturday night. It can be hard to find a safe place to stop, and with a mess of people flooding out of bars, it’s tough to find not only your passenger, but the right passenger.
To avoid confusion, Sean calls when he pulls up, and always double checks that the right person is in his front seat. It doesn’t hurt to double check — at 3 a.m., when people are desperate to get home, a football player named “Chuck” will gladly respond in the affirmative when asked if his name is “Jenny.”
Despite the closing-time chaos, Sean prefers working nights because “everyone is in a more enjoyable mood, going to bars and clubs or out to dinner. There’s a certain energy about driving nights, and it’s cool to be a part of that.”
After giving hundreds of rides, he now has a collection of stories that range from fun adventures to tough situations. Each is filled with generosity — like a few weeks ago, when he picked up a couple in the Outer Mission.
The streets were falling asleep when he pulled in front of the only open taqueria. The three sat in the car, eating burritos (they’d kindly bought his dinner) and exchanging stories. Suddenly, a stray dog ran in front of the car, and down the sidewalk. Without saying a word, they all jumped out, chased down the dog, and eventually found its owner.
“It’s refreshing to know that there are still good people in the world,” Sean says. “Lyft does that. That’s why I keep coming back.”
Most night rides run in this positive vein, often involving party-going, burrito-eating passengers, but it’s the harder requests that have become most important to Sean. About a year ago, he pulled up to a group of people out near Sea Cliff, and rolled down his window to ask if anyone had requested a Lyft. They pointed to a girl halfway down the street, standing alone. Pacing outside the car, she looked over at the group walking away. He could tell she was distressed, so he got out, and sat with her for a few minutes before offering to drive her home.
As they drove, he listened as she opened up. She told him that she was having trouble fitting in with the group who had left her at the beach. They were all from wealthier families, and never included her. Nothing seemed to be working. He remembers telling her, “If they don’t like you for you, they aren’t worth hanging out with.” She hugged him, and smiled before getting out of the car. “I won’t ever forget that,” he says.
The one thing Sean doesn’t like about Lyft is there’s no way of knowing how the story ends.
“I just want to know how it all works out for people like that girl,” he says. “I want to know what happens.”