Rachel Ocasio, 25, has been driving for Lyft in Chicago since 2014. She considers herself an “original driver” and feels empowered by her job. As a mostly overnight driver, Ocasio has seen it all. Like that one time, a woman passenger got into her car wearing a face mask with chambers. Or that other time her passengers were so drunk that they didn’t realize they weren’t her passengers.
But not everything is fun when you’re a woman Lyft driver picking up passengers overnight all across Chicago. Ocasio discusses how she keeps herself safe during the job and why she believes it’s necessary to carry these objects for protection.
What is it like to be a woman Lyft driver in Chicago?
Driving in the city as a female driver is absolutely empowering. It makes me feel really strong. When people get in the car and they’re like ‘Aren’t you scared?’ I’m like ‘There’s really nothing to be scared of.’ Any city that you go to, there’s going to be carjackings, crazy drivers and all [of] those things that you hear. It can happen anywhere.I love being a female [driver] in Chicago.
As a woman Lyft driver in Chicago, do you worry about driving overnight?
I don’t really worry about that. I do catch the bar crowd, but I kind of prefer them. A lot of people think that they’re reckless and belligerent, but most of the time they’re hungry, tired and they’re just like ‘Thank you for picking me up.’ I’ve had great experiences with the bar crowd and they’re great tippers usually because they’re drunk.
The only thing that I do worry about is carpool at night. I know that I’m good with people, but I don’t know how other people are with other drunk people or people in general….
I can’t control other people. If you have two strangers in the car that don’t get along, you don’t know what’s going to happen.
Why do you believe you have to take all these measurements to keep yourself safe as a woman Lyft driver?
Honestly, it’s just because I’m working with the public. I don’t necessarily feel like I have to have extra protection because I’m a female. It’s just because I’m picking up a stranger, we’re in a small space and I don’t know what they have on them.
Can you share one of those times when a Lyft ride went wrong?
I picked up two people from carpool and it was the wrong people. They were so drunk that they did not realize they were in the wrong car and they were being dropped off at the place that they were picked up because I had to pick up the customer that actually ordered the ride. They wouldn’t get out. They weren’t understanding so I was just like ‘Look! Get out!’ That was probably my most scary experience because when I got back to the bar that I picked them up from, the person that I was actually supposed to pick up was the bouncer [of] the club.
He had already had a very particularly terrible night with these two people that were not being good patrons to the bar. He opens the door and he’s like ‘You guys gotta get the fuck out of my Lyft!’ and I was like ‘Oh my God! It’s escalating!’ Thankfully, [the passengers] just got out of the car and it was done.
What’s the funniest thing that you’ve ever witnessed as a Lyft driver during one of your rides?
I had a woman get into the car, and every driver has some sort of freshener, a pine cone, something. She’s like ‘I’m so sorry. I’m allergic to fresheners. I have to wear this…’ Usually, I try not to look back there too much, but I looked back and she had this full fireman-like gas mask with chambers. I was like ‘Oh my God! The people that are passing next to my car probably think that it’s like nuclear waste in here.’ That was strange.
What have you learned about yourself and your passengers as a Lyft driver?
It’s taught me how to talk about different types of personalities. Sometimes, you can have a really fun, bubbly conversation with somebody and sometimes you kind of have to match who they are. It took me a while to learn that you mold yourself to your customer.