With a price war between Uber and Lyft driving down rates, and people flocking to become rideshare drivers, some entrepreneurial L.A. types have taken Lyft's idea of providing unique, fun rides to the next level: nostalgia-driven '80s Lyft, undead-friendly ZombieLyft, gamer's delight Bobomb Lyft, and the ukulele-strumming Fairy Lyft.
One of the most ambitious of these is Driving Is a Drag, featuring a Prius decked out in beads and teddy bears, plus novelty headbands replete with springy plastic penises for the riders. It's all piloted by your friendly neighborhood drag queen, Erika Simone, the alter ego of 38-year-old L.A. native Erik Koral.
Koral describes Driving Is a Drag as part Cash Cab, part Taxicab Confessions and part Borat in drag. He sees every ride as an opportunity to disrupt the stress of L.A. life with joy.
“When I arrive, the app sends the passenger a message with my picture — a picture of a guy. Most of the time they walk right by because they see a girl sitting in the car. At that point, I hop out dressed in my taxi outfit and slutty fishnets and say, 'Hey babe, I heard you needed a Lyft!'
“I've had people drop their groceries because they're laughing so hard. So many people are shocked because they've never seen a themed Lyft driver before, but then they're like, 'Fuck yeah, let's get in!'”
Despite its lighthearted mission, Driving Is a Drag was born out of a difficult time in Koral's life that landed the longtime marketing professional in rehab. “Last year was a tough one for me,” Koral concedes. During a three-month program, Koral got clean, and after a lot of soul-searching made the decision to come out as bisexual and began experimenting with cross-dressing.
“I figured, if I'm going to come out, I'm going to fricking come out! It's such a fun and creative thing,” Koral says. “Now I understand why people go to anime and comic conventions or furry conventions and dress up, because they want to be someone else for a day.”
After rehab, Koral was in search of a low-stress job. A friend suggested becoming a rideshare driver. Koral did some research and chose Lyft for its quirky, friendly vibe embodied by its pink mustache logo.
“I was thinking to myself, 'Wouldn't it be funny if I showed up in drag to give people rides?' It was my Dirk Diggler moment,” Koral jokes. “I saw it in my head, 'Driving Is a Drag,' in big pink neon letters!”
At that point he reached out to widely known makeup artist Jodie Lynn to help transform him into his new alter ego, and Erika Simone was born.
Initially, Koral was concerned about the kind of response he was going to get, so he had a friend accompany him on his first few rides.
“I didn't know if I was going to get beaten up, harassed, raped or killed,” he says. The public's reaction was the opposite of Koral's worst fears.
“Everyone loved it! Thank God I live in L.A., where's there's such an open and accepting culture,” he says. “I have to credit RuPaul and thank him a million times over for making drag much more mainstream.”
Koral put his 15 years of marketing experience in the music industry to work promoting Erika Simone the same way he would Lady Gaga. He has a professional-looking website, takes selfies with passengers that get posted across his numerous social media accounts, and has released three episodes of The Drag Car Sessions on YouTube, featuring bands performing in the back of his car.
Since rideshare apps don't allow you to request a driver, Koral hands out business cards, which have led to work as a private driver for bachelorette parties, bar crawls and birthdays. Erika even has a profile on the gay dating app Grindr.
“I figured GPS is GPS. If I'm driving around WeHo, someone will see me and they can call for a ride,” he says.
Driving Is a Drag's visibility recently landed Koral a meeting with Lyft CEO John Zimmer in San Francisco, during which Koral made a presentation about how to solve some of the problems with the Lyft platform — including how to address the ongoing price war with Uber.
The lower rideshare rates, along with an oversaturation of drivers, have led many Lyft drivers to sign up with Uber in exchange for a $500 bonus. Koral began driving for Uber as well in December, mainly to see firsthand the difference between the companies, but insists he's still loyal to the pink mustache.
“I know Lyft is the underdog right now, but I want them to win,” Koral says.
At this point, Koral is fully devoted to his passion project. “Things are going in a very positive direction and I want to see how far I can take it.”
In the coming weeks, he plans to launch a Kickstarter to fund a 22-minute TV pilot about the Driving Is a Drag experience. “I absolutely believe that this could work as a reality show on Bravo, Logo or MTV,” Koral says.
Other aspirations include getting on Ellen, providing celebrity rides, landing a MAC cosmetics endorsement and partnering with LGBT organizations to provide safe rides. Eventually, Koral wants to turn Driving Is a Drag into a franchise, giving drag queens jobs around the country.
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Now eight months in, business is booming and Koral is clean and sober. “The combination of finding drag as a new outlet for expressing myself creatively, and coming from a really dark place last year, I feel like I've really reinvented myself,” Koral reflects. “For the first time in my life I feel comfortable in my own skin — in and out of the costume — and it's a great feeling!"
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