October 24, 2020
car

How the customers gave Chey Car a lift

When an underinsured driver took Chey Eisenman off the road, her customers were there to give her a lift.

It had been a rough 2020 for Chey Car, the beloved Twin Cities car service Eisenman founded during one recession and kept running through a pandemic, recession and the rise of ride-shares.

Business was down as much as 90% as the pandemic cratered corporate travel. But Eisenman, a former cabdriver, had a loyal customer base who knew they could rely on her for a ride to the airport at 6 a.m., or a ride home from a concert at midnight, or for the long drive down to Mayo Clinic. Even when corporate accounts dried up, her customers booked enough rides to pay the bills.

Until last month, when the accident that wrecked Chey’s car nearly wrecked Chey Car.

“Already, it’s been sort of a traumatizing year,” Eisenman said. “Fast-forward to some guy blowing through a light and hitting me.”

Her vehicle, a sleek SUV affectionately dubbed the Big Black Rig, was totaled. Her bank refused to loan her the money for a replacement; Chey Car might be solvent, but the rest of the travel industry was so underwater, a loan seemed like a bad risk. And the other driver was carrying Minnesota’s laughably low minimum $10,000 coverage for property damage — a fraction of what she needed.

“It was just too much,” Eisenman said. “It’s almost like that pushed me off the cliff. And then, right before I hit the rocks, the net of my community and my customers grabbed me.”

Eisenman’s sister, Debb Dorsey, launched a GoFundMe. Donations poured in, along with recommendations for a new bank.

If you’ve ever wondered whether the few bucks you chip in to a good cause make a difference, ask Eisenman.

“I think people a lot of times get really discouraged that they can’t change anything or help, this is just a perfect example,” she said. “People acted [and] six days later, I was back in business.”

Since Sept. 24, 227 people have donated a total of $17,610 to help Eisenman get back on the road, and almost every name on the list was someone she recognized or remembered. Her new bank, Drake Bank in St. Paul, was happy to underwrite an equipment loan.

She has her new vehicle, a 2021 Yukon XL SLT, and she’ll be back behind the wheel soon, just in time for the election.

Chey Car has a national reputation for calling presidential elections with eerie accuracy.

Four years ago, she predicted that Donald J. Trump would be America’s next president.

“I want to know how a cabdriver from the middle of America had a better idea how this election would go than the New York Times,” an irritated New York Times editor told her in an early morning postelection call.

“I don’t know what to tell you, sir,” she says she told him. “I just talk to my people.”

She talks and, more importantly, she listens. In the quiet comfort of the Big Black Rig, passengers open up about things they might not tell a pollster.

She listens to Minneapolis liberals so frustrated by the unrest in the city this summer and the hit their businesses took from the shutdown, they’re leaning toward Trump. She listens to Trump voters so appalled by his bungled pandemic response, they’re ready to switch to Biden.

The pandemic cut into her sample size and added to the uncertainty, but Eisenman’s latest prediction, based on conversations with her customers, is that Vice President Joe Biden will win the election — but President Donald Trump could flip Minnesota. Minnesotans are not happy with the state of Minnesota right now.

But in the middle of all the terrible things happening right now, here’s one not-terrible truth: 227 people and one bank teamed up to make a bad day in a bad year a bit better for someone.

The only thing that’s going to get us through this year is us.

Chey Car will be back on the road soon. Long may she ride.

“It took me a number of years to figure out what I love most about what I do,” Eisenman said. It turns out, it’s those quiet conversations in the car. “I like hearing where people are coming from and what they’re seeing and feeling.”

You can follow along on her latest insights, and any updated election predictions, on Twitter @CheyCab.

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