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It’s carpool karaoke (and free Tylenol) with this Seattle night driver

caption: Melinda Miner drives for Uber at 8:36 p.m. on Tuesday, September 10, 2019. She works for Lyft, too.
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Melinda Miner drives for Uber at 8:36 p.m. on Tuesday, September 10, 2019. She works for Lyft, too.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

When I open the door of Melinda Miner's Toyota Camry, there's a basket of water bottles and candy on the seat. And that's not all.

"I always keep a basket of beads and blow horns and hats,” she said.

Also: little packets of Tylenol. They go quick, she said.

"It's a very small investment for people to have a little bit of joy, right?” said Miner. “Doesn't cost much to be kind."

Miner was this motherly for our entire drive. Just listen to how she greets her riders (0:14):

Melinda Miner greets Aziz.

Miner never loses her cool, no matter what — even when a rider thinks she's driving the wrong way.

She learned how to drive from her own mom back in Utah. Her mom would load Miner and her two siblings into their ’59 Chevy station wagon — a tank of a car.

[Read the rest of the Night Shift series.]

"She would take us out, and she was like, 'One of the most important skills you'll ever learn is how to drive!'” Miner said. She was 10 years old and had to sit on a stuffed animal to reach the wheel.

Miner moved to Seattle almost 20 years ago. "Driving was really an escape for me to get out of the small town,” she said. “It's always meant freedom in my mind to get behind the wheel of a car. It's just liberating to me."

Five years ago, Miner was managing a Walgreens when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and had to find a job with more flexibility. For a self-described night owl, driving at night was the perfect solution.

She's been driving the night shift for four years, hitting the road at 11 p.m. and driving until 6 or 7 a.m.

Intoxicated riders don’t bother her; she lets them play whatever music they want. “I love my drunks!” she said. “I appreciate the fact that they're not driving."

Once, though, she picked up two girls who reached over her — while she was driving — to change the radio. “They wanted to touch my dash,” Miner said.

Bad idea.

“Now you're going to hear what Grandma listens to,” she said.

Miner said passengers try to drink in her car all the time. She has a regular who carries a plastic tumbler that smells of vodka. And Miner gets a lot of eaters. Once someone even brought an entire bowl of pho soup into her car.

"They're putting in their noodles, they're putting in the basil, they're like mixing up their soup in my back seat,” she said.

But most nights she basically hosts a nightly carpool karaoke. On the night I rode with her, two people got in after deejaying for the first time.

Listen to what it sounded like (0:15):

"Don't turn around"

Miner's biggest priority driving at night: providing safety, especially for women.

"Female passengers have just absolutely told me horror stories,” she said. “Shocking stories."

There are stories, for example, of unwanted advances from male drivers. "A girl will get in a car and he'll offer to turn the app off,” she said. “He'll say, ‘Oh let me take you home for free. Stop and have some food with me. Let me take you out.’"

She also heard about a male driver who started showing up at a passenger’s work after a trip.

Miner had her own bad experience. Two months into driving, she was attacked by a male passenger.

"I debated about not driving at all,” she said. “I wasn't physically harmed as much as … it was demoralizing and it was really upsetting."

But she kept driving, because it makes her feel connected to the world around her.

“When I first became unemployed, that was something that was really hard for me to accept, like society's passing me by,” she said. “Life is going by and I'm not part of it anymore. So being a rideshare driver allows me to feel like I'm a valuable part of a community."

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