If it’s true that small talk is a lost art, then Bryan Yniguez is one of the last true artists of his kind. Among all the drivers on the Lyft platform, Yniguez has been most highly praised by riders for his conversational skills. Indeed, of the 4,438 rides that Bryan has given, his passengers have explicitly complimented his gift of gab about 800 times (that’s a compliment given almost one in every five rides).
We caught up with the Vegas-based Yniguez to get his tips on how to start a conversation and talk to just about anyone.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
Rev: Let me start by asking, when someone gets in your car, what’s your opening line?
Of course, be polite, put their luggage in your car. But it’s always the whaddup.
[Rev Note: “Whaddup” does not do Bryan justice. Watch the video below.]
Are people more or less willing to talk to you at certain times of night?
Always more after midnight. That’s how it works out here in Vegas. We’re all vampires and werewolves after midnight, right? And that’s the shift I’m out there. I know my wife is with the children home safe, and I’m gonna go out there to pick up the vampires. That’s when I get the chill rides, the cool rides, the funny ones. You can get into that friendly interaction with them. They tell you their life story after that.
And maybe they need to tell you something. Something deep. Like about an infidelity or gambling problem. And you’re like, all right, all right. Maybe you change the music a little bit, turn it a little down.
Like, you’re in my office for that couple minutes, why not?
It’s almost like a confession…
You know what I notice too? My wife bought me a camera for my car. I put it up for a half day, and then I took it down while I was driving because I noticed that nobody was talking to me. Everybody’s silent. I’m doing my same greeting, and they’re just hiding.
Totally. People don’t want to feel observed. What happens in Vegas…
You get it.
Any conversations that stick out in your mind?
I’ve had so many personal interactions with my passengers. I think the most memorable one is when I got invited to a wedding.
These people were here for a bachelor party. I brought them to the liquor stores. All the cheap ones. I said, “This is where locals go.”
He goes, “All right. You do this job legit.” So every time he would order a Lyft, he would keep canceling until we matched up. At least 11 rides, I remember. A couple months later, I get an invitation. They’re getting married at the Bellagio on Las Vegas Boulevard. So I bring my wife with me, and my wife was like, “Where did you meet these people?” Lyft.
Wow. Are you still in contact?
We’re still friends. My wife actually does social media for his wife.
That’s fantastic. Do you have any other stories like that?
Hey, what goes on in my Lyft ride stays in my Lyft ride. [Laughs]
Have you ever had any bad interactions? What are your strategies to de-escalate?
You just put up the finger real quick. Hold up. We’re gonna pause. And we’re gonna pull over. And we’re gonna look at each other face to face real quick. And we’re gonna ask each other what’s the problem. Seriousness, that’s how you de-escalate things. My parents raised me, you know, to be respectful, no matter who you meet. In bad situations, just always be respectful.
Do you have a group of riders you most connect with? People coming from concerts or younger riders?
Everybody, older ladies that are out here, having fun, they’re like, “Bryan, you’re young enough to be my son.” Then they find out my real age, and they are like, “Oh my god, I can marry you.” And I say, “Well, I’m married already, but if I wasn’t, we could go to the drive-through chapel right now.” You know, you joke with them.
But yeah, there’s no demographic for me. I can have a connection with anybody.
I pick up students from the university. School is stressing them out; they talk about giving up. I tell them, “Don’t worry. You’re gonna find your way. Life gets easier. It’s only the beginning.”
What happens when you can tell someone doesn’t want to talk?
You know, if they’re staring into the mountains or something, I give them the “heyo, ’sup, you good back there? You tired? You wanna stop at 7-Eleven or something?”
They’re like, “Yeah, can I stop by a 7-Eleven?” “Sure! Go grab whatever you need.” Boom. They get back, and they’re like, “Yeah, I had a tough day today, man.” All of a sudden. You’re like, where was that a while ago! Because they were thinking about what happened. But I tell ’em: “Tomorrow’s a brand-new day.”
Has a rider ever made you cry?
I think I’ve made them cry more. Sometimes my wife, she’s serious. So I give her the wassup too. Take a breath, let’s talk for five seconds. Let’s make you a Lyft passenger right now.
I’m a Lyft therapist; that’s how I look at it. Especially the ones that go to the airport. The trip to the airport is just seven minutes at the most, but it happens right away. They’re telling you where they’re from and where they’re going, and then they jump into it. I’m their therapist for the seven-minute ride.
You know, the best therapy is to let everything out. You can feel your chest open up a little bit when you just start talking. And all of a sudden, they are leaning on the headrest, right next to you. Saying, “Yeah, Bryan, man. So you think what I’m doing is good?” When they call you by your first name — Bryan — that’s how you know you touched them. You got them to open up; everything is going to be all right after this.
When you get out of my car, you get out with at least a little positivity, a little bit of a lift.
OK, I asked how you begin a ride. How do you end it?
It’s different every time, depending on the feeling of the person. Sometimes it is like: “Go get that money today,” because some people are on a mission in Vegas. Sometimes it is: “Don’t worry, whatever we talked about, it will never leave this car.” But it’s always a different goodbye.
At the airport, when you get out of the car to pick up luggage, I’ve gotten hugs, I’ve gotten pounds. The hugs mean a lot. They’re like: “You are doing great here. Keep doing what you are doing. You brightened somebody’s day.”
Those airport rides are really my favorite because you learn each other’s life stories.
In seven minutes.
And it goes both ways. They got four minutes; I got three.