Living in a high-tech urban area like Seattle is living in a bubble. Turns out there’s nothing like trying to use a ride service in Southwestern Florida to get you out of your cultural cocoon.
My 100-year-old mother, who lives in Southwestern Florida, still drives. People are always nagging me to “take away her keys.” These are people who have never met my mother. I’d rather try to take away a fresh antelope from a hungry lioness.
Since my mom (wisely) does not drive at night, I thought a proactive way to wean her away from driving would be introduce her to a ride service like Lyft — pointing out that it would make it possible for her to attend evening events in town. My mom is fiercely independent and would not ask anyone for a ride (and, since many of her friends are nearly as old as she is, most of them don’t drive at night, either — or shouldn’t).
Given that back story, you’ll understand why I was delighted when my mother agreed to install the Lyft app on her iPhone and give it a try, with me along to coach her. We decided to test the system with a non-critical, non-time-dependent errand: coffee and donuts at the local Dunkin’, a mere three miles from her building.
I’m still shaking my head over what ensued.
At 2:30 p.m. we went out to the shaded portico in front of her condo building and my mom tapped her way through the process of summoning a Lyft driver. She is somewhat impatient, and it was difficult to get her to stop pushing buttons while we waited for Lyft to assign the driver — a fellow with the rather fantastical name “Neotis.”
I will have to wonder what Neotis was like, because we never actually met the fellow. He arrived at the far back entrance of her condominium complex and parked. I (having seized the phone) set about trying to explain to him how to get to the large, clearly marked, high-rise front entrance. I texted him three times, while Lyft sent me a series of threatening messages that he was leaving. Finally, I called Neotis.
“No English,” Neotis grunted.
“Come…to…the…FRONT,” I tried.
The accent was Russian, but, figuring “this is Florida,” I tried my weak Spanish. “Conducir al frente.”
All this while my mother was asking me what on Earth was going on.
I cancelled the ride, for which Lyft assessed my mom $5, and put in a new request. It was now 3 p.m. The next driver, Jose, arrived and off we went to Dunkin’. He told us this was his second day driving for Lyft. I could understand him only because I speak a little Spanish. My mother, who does not speak Spanish and is slightly deaf, had no idea what he was saying.
After our coffee, my mother pulled out her phone and gamely put in the request for the ride home. She was getting the hang of it! And the driver was just two minutes away! We dashed out of the Dunkin’ and Georgio pulled up — in a white Silverado. My mother, who is five feet tall, went over to the car, opened the door, and stared. The floor of the Silverado truck was at her waist level.
“How am I supposed to get in?” she asked.
Georgio looked embarrassed. “I guess I need to get steps,” he said.
He told us to cancel the ride and call another driver. Again, Lyft required that we accept a $5 cancellation fee. I had, by this time, commandeered the phone. If my mother had seen the screen she would have spent the next 30 minutes in the Dunkin’ parking lot, refusing to agree to the cancellation fee and trying to figure out how she could dial Lyft directly and give them hell about the Silverado.
I paid, cancelled, and then we called another driver, who showed up in a normal sized-SUV. We were able to get in and get home. This driver, with a year of local Lyft driving experience, was actually familiar with the location of my mother’s building.
My mom, who is a former data systems analyst with a decent grip on user interface design, somehow came away from our ordeal with a good impression of Lyft. “All they need to do,” she said, “is just let me put on my account profile that I need a regular car and not a truck and that I’d like a driver who understands English.”
Well, wouldn’t that be nice.
I don’t have the heart to tell her that Lyft has no way to let you customize your profile for these, or any other, needs. And for that reason, it’s a complete disaster in terms of meeting the requirements of the elderly (and, gee, they do seem to have a few of those in Southwestern Florida). It’s also problem for anyone not tall or athletic enough to vault into a monster truck.
As soon as we got into her condo, my mother handed me her iPhone. “Put on the Uber app, too,” she said. “This is an adventure.”