The ex, the three friends, the grilled cheese closer, and other Year End clients

The ex, the three friends, the grilled cheese closer, and other Year End clients.

The weeks around the holidays haven’t produced memorable rideshare experiences. Until he said, “My ex-fiance and I put the cat down Christmas Eve.” Suddenly, I had an opening to pursue the conversation.

I have my theories about the lull in client conversations. Tourist season slowed down and I had more local riders. They weren’t on vacation or excited to experience Nashville’s nightlife. Getting to the Christmas party with a spouse who wasn’t excited to attend was the goal. You could feel the stress of the holiday season in the car. They just wanted to get from point A to point B…quietly.

why the breakup?

“So, I’m sorry about you losing the cat, but let’s start with why she’s the ex-fiance,” I said to client Brad. Don’t leave it hangin’. Close the deal. He was more than willing to talk about the failed relationship and why his current state of life was the reason it wasn’t working. This went on for five minutes and all I had to do was throw in the occasional, “Tell me more about that.”

Then the line that caused me to make notes of this ride. “I decided marriage wasn’t going to fix our problems,” he said. Although he shared more with me than I would’ve been comfortable sharing with a stranger, I had a positive vibe for him. “You made a wise decision, Brad. Marriage doesn’t fix problems. It gives you the gift of sharing those problems with someone who loves you.” Then I thought about putting that line on a kitchen towel and selling it at a mall kiosk.

the silent pain

The nights leading up to New Year’s Eve produced more “talkers.” Ricardo works at a retail store in the mall. It was his partner’s idea to pursue a dream in Nashville so he came along.

I asked the obvious questions about the difference between pre-Christmas and post-Christmas clientele. He didn’t explain the before and after experiences, but he delivered a strong observation about his relationship with the shopping season. “It’s a silent pain.” Yeah, let that one sink in for a moment.

hold on to that hate

Terra was from a Central American country. It became one of my favorite short rides because the conversation immediately went to the Missouri vs Ohio State Cotton Bowl game that was playing in the bar when I arrived. She had her opinions about the College Football Playoffs and was very passionate about her disdain for the Washington Huskies because of her graduate studies in Oregon.

I shared my Seattle connection with her and my love of the UW campus and Husky Stadium. She immediately started back-peddling. I looked in the rearview mirror and said, “Don’t back down. If you’re a real fan, you hold tight to your hatred of U-dub.”

We followed up on the graduate degrees. She has several but works as a golf pro because, she claimed, the degrees don’t have much application in her home country. I wasn’t buying it. Not the marketability of her degrees in a country that has greater needs for fighting corruption and feeding its people than the specialty of her chosen field. It made sense. No, I thought she was staying for other reasons.

One word explained it. “Family,” she said. She felt needed at home and she didn’t want to miss out on her niece’s and nephew’s lives. Who was she sharing the New Year’s experience with in Nashville? Her parents. As we pulled up to her next destination, I said something like, “Be proud of your commitment to family. Oh, and can you help me with my slice?” She laughed and said, “Go Longhorns!” as she closed the back door.

“I’m not emotionally ready”

The three friends were next. I’m fascinated by riders who don’t want to talk with their companions because of the stranger in the car (me). Compare those people to the group willing to continue their current stream of conversation as if I’m not there. I like the confidence of transparency with the latter group. Plus, it’s less work for me.

Typically, I can deduce what’s going on in the conversations in my car if I’m not involved. However, the three friends stumped me for the 12-minute ride. They weren’t talking in code. They knew the storyline and didn’t need to explain it to their invisible driver.

There was small talk about the restaurant experience. Nothing dramatic, but I don’t think they will pick this place again. “Not special,” was the verdict. Then, the most vocal rider expressed how she wasn’t ready to return to work after the holiday break. Her words, “I’m not emotionally ready.”

I never learned what they did for work, and I wasn’t going to ask unless I was brought into the conversation. Stumped. However, the “emotionally ready” line opened up the observations from her dinner companions. The remainder of the ride included time-off queries, co-worker analysis, and a return to the original theme: No return to work on Tuesday.

By the conclusion of the ride, all three decided to take Tuesday off. The power of suggestion and persuasion. As we renew our family, career, personal, or spiritual focus in 2024, let’s not underestimate our gifts to create and nurture ideas.

New Year's Eve, downtown Nashville

the closer

I made a last-minute decision to drive on New Year’s Eve to “see what’s out there.” I’m glad I did for no other reason than to have a few hours of generally happy clients. Life is an emotionally, physically, and spiritually mixed bag of salad. I was reminded why there are times when I need the benefits of a simple spinach salad. Ok, that was a terrible metaphor. But you get the idea. Let’s make sure we have a person or place to turn to when our life needs a shot of goodness.

One of those happy people was Dave the college student. He was the leader of the group. He had the swagger, created the conversation in the car, and changed someone else’s storyline if he didn’t like where it was going. The night was planned for Lower Broadway, and he had connections for free access to VIP areas and drinks.

He was concerned he overdressed and would get too hot in his sweater. Dave was working on a second college degree. His first degree? Communications. Or, in his words, “It’s like a psychology degree with honors.” He wanted to be the next Ron Burgundy, but he realized the future of that career would be played out on TikTok.

I asked him about the next degree pursuit. Business Finance. “I figured out I can sell,” he said. No brainer. Based on my 22 minutes in the car with this Bradley Cooper character from Hangover, I would’ve suggested something where he could influence decision-makers with his natural charisma.

“this is why you need to sell”

He proved his selling abilities when he told us the questionable sweater was acquired in a deal he made with a roommate. “I bought this sweater for eight dollars…and a leftover grilled cheese sandwich from Panera Bread,” he said. “He was hungry.”

We all laughed as we crawled along Broadway to the dropoff at Bridgestone Arena. “This is why you need to sell,” I said. “Your focus was on the needs of the buyer.” Fistbumps and Happy New Year’s salutes were exchanged as another Gen-Z superstar went into the night happy, confident, and unaware.

The new year goals and disciplines typically want us to add something or do more. Fine. You may have the bandwidth for more. Can I use this space to show my eye-roll reaction to the overuse of the word “bandwidth?” But maybe the goal should be to make the plate smaller and focus on the food that produces results. Like Dave’s example of meeting the needs of his client with a grilled cheese sandwich.

Happy New Year, happy driving, happy reading, and happy leading in 2024!

(This post originally appeared on LinkedIn on January 1, 2024)

Ron Harrell

Ron Harrell

Ron Harrell is a contemporary media consultant specializing in brand analysis, strategy, execution, and talent coaching for radio and audio mediums. Connect for a No Cut & Paste review.

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