After 20,000 passengers, this five-star Lyft driver has met more Atlantans than you know

Jackee White used to style the hair of Atlanta rappers. But driving changed her life.

Jackee White, five-star Lyft driver

Photograph by Patrick Kolts

Atlantans is a first-person account of the familiar strangers who make the city tick. This month’s is Jackee White, a driver for Lyft, as told to Sonam Vashi.

Before driving, I was a hairstylist—I did André 3000, Tiny from Xscape—and used to own a salon in College Park. But I had to give it up about five years ago: My heel got caught in a sidewalk, and I broke my ankle. I had to get a plate and seven screws, and I couldn’t stand for long anymore. Around the same time, I went through a bad divorce; I lost custody of my daughters and was living with my mom—basically homeless. I was depressed. I’d seen ads for Lyft but didn’t know what it was. It seemed too good to be real. One night at 3 a.m., I clicked on a Lyft ad and read about the company and the pay. The flexibility caught my attention, since I’ve always been self-employed, and I decided to try it out.

Growing up in Cascade in the ’70s and ’80s—I’m a Grady baby!—I’d always had a thing for cars. As a child, I’d play a driving game in an arcade nearby. I was always the designated driver for my friends; I don’t really smoke or drink, and I’d pick them up in my red Cutlass Supreme and take them to Skate Towne roller rink in College Park. I’ve always liked driving because I like being in control, feeling safe and being aware of what’s going on in my surroundings.

Eventually, I went to pick up my first passenger, and there was a guy standing on the corner where the app said the pin was. “You called a Lyft?” I asked him. He hesitated—“Uh . . . Yeah.”—and moved to get in the car, and, at that moment, I knew it wasn’t him. I drove past him and found the real passenger around the corner. I knew from dealing with customers all my life that his body language wasn’t right; that intuition is what made me feel like, Maybe I can do this. I took one ride after another and been doing it ever since.

“You get all kinds [of passengers]: people cheating on their partners, college students stressed about finals. It’s like Taxicab Confessions.”

I drive about 60 hours a week in my white Hyundai Elantra, usually listening to V-103, though I always ask what my passengers want to listen to. I’ll put on jazz or something else if a passenger might be insulted by lewd lyrics. My goal is to be the first female driver to make $100,000. I drive a lot: I’ve hit 20,000 passengers, and I’ve got a five-star rating! I’m just very friendly—I always fist-bump passengers, ask how they’re doing.

At night, I get a lot of corporate types looking to party at the Ivy, Johnny’s Hideaway. I’ll have Krispy Kreme donuts ready in the car for drunk club-goers. Sometimes, I make recommendations: I’ve never been to most strip clubs, but I’ve picked up so many guys from them that I can look at a passenger and tell them where they’ll want to go. White guys in suits love the Cheetah.

I’ve had challenging days—backseat drivers, annoying customers. Mostly, I’m like a bartender. People tell me their business, just like when I was a hairstylist. You get all kinds: people cheating on their partners, college students stressed about finals. It’s like Taxicab Confessions. Once, a man told me he was thinking about committing suicide; he felt like life was too hard and he didn’t have anything to live for. I just talked to him, told him to hold on, that you can’t stop in the middle of the storm. He told me that talking to me let him know there’s still good people in the world. That’s my passion. Driving’s a lot like therapy sometimes. I’ve been through a lot, but I took that pain I was feeling and put my energy into other people’s needs and wants. I got to mentor new drivers, teaching them the dos and don’ts. The company even flew me out to celebrate its IPO launch on the stock market in March. I met the Lyft founders and told them how it changed my life, gave me hope, opened the door to make a bigger income. Only thing I have to do now is just keep going, going, going. I’m gonna be driving until my wheels fall off.

This article appears in our September 2019 issue.