A Few Words About Where We Are Now

Portrait of the writer/driver as a young Plague Doctor
Editor's Note: Yeah, this really isn't about ride sharing, other than I can't do that anymore without the risk of death or the certainty of squat money.

Enjoy the rant in a place that I guess I can write; Zuck's Money Grab seemed to choke on it when I tried to post it there tonight.

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Warning: I'm wearing the politically cranky pants today, assuming the pants are dipped in acid and practice a kind of reverse Iron Maiden thing.

You should go vote on music or take pictures of your pets or decorate your sidewalk with something uplifting.

This could go on for a while. I'm not going to make any friends with it.

Seriously, go look at some cats or something. I should just delete and lead a better example.

Practice safe social media distancing and bail before the asterisks.

Ok then. Here we go.

* * * * *

TL/DR? Sure.

After watching the news and thinking things over for an evening, I want a lot of people to do the right thing and kill themselves.

Preferably in places where they won't be found for a while, where animals can get some protein out of them, and no one wastes a hospital bed, ambulance or anyone else's time.


Step back from the current nightmare, and the fact that people still report on business statistics, as if this wasn't the moral equivalent of haggling over the coffin and flowers during the service, as New York City rings up more medical 911 calls in a day since, um, 911.

Step back from the We're Number One moment of taking the title of Most Ill Nation from Italy, Spain and China.

Step back from the idea that we are spending time and money on the idea that cruise ships - CRUISE SHIPS - are in some way deserving of YOUR MONEY (because that's what Tax Dollars are, folks) in a bailout, despite never paying taxes here, and despite being floating petri dishes of environmental horror that helped make all of this worse.

Step back from the idea that blaming a broken system (that wasn't broken) for something that happened three f****** years after That Party took the reins and commenced with all the winning is a sentence that can be said in English, and heard by Americans, without an immediate response involving torches, pitchforks, and multiple forms of fire.

And because life comes in groups of five, step back from the idea that unemployment at 5X any previous bad week, and the ever-growing number of sick and dead, somehow translates into Political Win because lying on camera works, especially when you allow it to be shown without interruption.

Old German joke: What do you get when 11 Germans sit down to dinner with 1 Nazi? 12 Nazis. No idea why that joke comes to mind, really. Great job, as always, Media Enablers.

No, right now, I want you to imagine how this pandemic could be worse.

Imagine that the United States had been the place where COVID-19 launched, rather than one that had a 2-month head start. (That it did next to nothing with, but I digress.)

Imagine that the United States had a supply chain system that meant that after people go to the stores to stock up for weeks to months of house arrest for crimes they did not commit, the stores don't get restocked.

That happens in lots of places, by the way. Makes for a certain energy in the checkout line.

Imagine that our country didn't have a vast and reliable communications system, and a well-established media to spread the word about the virus, and the meagre steps you can take to make yourself slightly safer from it.

Imagine that we weren't, you know, the country where many of the world's richest people live, allowing the rest of us to think that we live in a prosperous and capitalistic nation that functions as a meritocracy. One that should be able to, I don't know, have some goddamned surgical masks and gloves and gowns in stock Just In Case.

Imagine that our borders were dramatically more complicated than two secure lines and two big goddamned oceans.

In other words, imagine that the United States weren't, with the possible exception of being recently smashed into single-mind obedience through the crucible of war (nice timing, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan! Your past horrors saved you the current one!), not the best possible place to prevent, prepare for, and endure a pandemic in 2020.

Or would be, if we weren't ruled by a minority government that is a cheap facade for thieves.

Remember how Ebola ravaged the nation in 2014? No, you don't, because it didn't. That's when we had a functioning Executive Branch and bureaucracy.

Remember when H1N1 caused the stock market to dump off years of gains in weeks and made us all go into lockdown while we racked up the worst response in the world? No, you don't, because again, 2009. Different people in charge. Competent ones.

And remember the time when health workers ran out of gloves, gowns and masks that in non-Plague times cost less than a per item goddamn dollar in bulk, causing untold numbers of them to pay with their health and possibly lives for taking their Hippocratic Oath seriously?

No, you don't, because that didn't happen in the time before Now.

This is where I should talk about the tests that the rest of the world runs that weren't good enough for Donald, probably because they didn't wet his beak. Or where we talk about how a modicum of cheap tests (mass thermometers to detect fevers might have, you know, kept us from having our lives ruined) or... Yeah, sorry, I'm yelling at bricks again.

That because it doesn't make sense to yell at the President or his spiritual eunuchs. They've long since plugged into the alternate reality where this is all a conspiracy or someone else's fault and why can't we have Game again because I Likes Game and Obama Did Worse Even Though Nothing's Ever Been Worse. (Apologies, people of 1918. Don't think I'm apologizing to very many of you.)

Rather, I'd like to direct this to the people who got paid through all of this, and continue to get paid.

Yup, it's time to well and truly s***can my college major of choice (Journalism!), or at least whatever the crap that's in front of us now is.

You people put him on for unchecked hours.

You gave him free air time, because heaven knows he wasn't dumb or flush enough to buy it.

You cashed all of those checks from all of that cheap programming for the train wreck of the day.

You made him. Even before he turned political, you made him.

And you are still doing it.

So do us all a favor at his next spike the ball in his own end zone while the other players on his team are sick and dying victory dance.

Ask any of the following questions.

But only these.

How do you sleep at night?

Have you ever killed anyone with your own hands, or has it always been outsourced?

What made you like this?

When you wipe your ass after you take a dump, how do you know when one thing begins and the other ends?

Would you kill everyone in this room if you had the chance, rather than admit that you've ever been wrong about anything?

Would you kill anyone who ever voted against, opposed, or in any way showed less than total fawning stoogedom in your presence, if it only weren't so messy and beneath your Rich Boy Dignity?

You've been impeached for manifest corruption, you've helped to trash the planet through climate change acceleration, and you've ruined America's standing in the world, while being the caretaker to a preventable plague that will kill more of us than 9/11. What are you going to do for an encore?

How does it feel to know that you will go down in history, assuming there is any after you, as the worst public figure in the United States, and for that matter, the goddamn Confederacy? (Somewhere, we presume, Charlie Manson and Jim Jones are feeling better about things.)

Does it make you laugh to know how many rubes you are still fooling with this bulls***?

Since this question lasted more than five words and didn't involve anyone performing the verbal equivalent of sucking you off, are you still listening?

And finally...

Why haven't you stuck a gun in your mouth and improved the ambiance, rather than continuing to draw oxygen that would be better served by literally any other purpose in life?

Yes, I know, I know. Howling into the wind and wearing the cranky pants and ooh, tough guy middle school sized leftist in his basement. Put your money where your words are and engage a zombie instead of performing for the choir.

But, well, this.

Doctors and nurses are dying for the lack of cheap and disposable protection that they should toss aside like tissues. Instead, they are washing and reusing them, and getting the disease and dying.

People like you and me, assuming we're all Americans, are carrying the disease without knowing it, and helping to kill their loved ones. Because they can't get tested, because our government effed up the tests when they might have done some good.

A clear number of people will die a horrible death. Others will die preventable ones, because the hospitals will be overwhelmed.

And all because this unspeakable asshat "won" an election, and because an unconscionable number of my fellow countrymen and women think (or, with the barest of charity, thought) this was all OK.

To put the country in the hands of theives who don't give a damn about anyone but themselves.

Who couldn't prepare for a pandemic with months of spare time and a goddamned playbook left for them by the competent nerds that bounced.

The country is theirs.

And hey, if you take my suggestion about the gun?

It's a quicker death than the plague.

And your last act will actually be in the public interest.

You Brave

No caption needed. Move along, you.
Thoughts from a ride share during the early stages of a pandemic...

I'm doing the hustle on a weeknight in Trenton, the struggling capital of New Jersey that's only a few property value busting miles away from my home. It's where you find short rides, poor ratings and no tips, and the occasional incredulous look from a passenger when they realize the driver doesn't share their skin color. Or much else beyond the transaction. I'm there fairly often, because short rides frequently serve my purpose of trying to qualify for bonuses.

The hustle these days is part time (nights and weekends), when there isn't something more pressing going on. The reason why is that I'm working in my field again for a reasonable salary, but one that hasn't gone up since... gulp, 2013. So if I want to make more, I either need to consult or, in the last 3 years and 15K+ rides, this.

This has been here all that time. And now, suddenly, it might not. I get a fair number of rides from college kids, and that's done now. I get more from people going to train stations and yeah, not so much now. Still more go or come from airports, or sporting events, or concerts. The last part is folks coming home from bars and laundromats and grocery stores. I think they'll still do that. Probably.

So I'm in Trenton, and I get my fare. He's chatty, and tells me about his sister who drove for a platform, and how she got killed. "You do this, man? You brave."

And I don't know if he's messing with me or not, and I've heard variations of this conversation before -- honestly, after 15K rides, the conversations I haven't heard are rare -- so I fall to my default, which is to talk about how the app knows who the rider is, and who wants to jack my 10-year-old Honda with 299K miles that's secretly a great car, but only if you are OK with small and not much pick up, and, well, most people aren't. I drop him off and go on with my day, but the words stick.

You brave.

Well, maybe. Or any number of other words -- stubborn, stupid, depressed, doomed, lucky, short-sighted, desperate, debased -- because...

One of these rides really might end in something unfortunate.

Even more so now, in the starting days of a pandemic. Every time one of my passengers coughs now, I wonder. And every time I touch my face (stop touching your face), and for them, every time I sniff (seasonal allergies, honest), they probably wonder.

It's not like I'm taking their temperature before I let them in the car, after all. And it's also not as if my car is completely clean. It gets attention at the start of my shift, not during. (Unless there's been an obvious problem.)

It's stupid to risk my health and the health of my family. But I can't really pay back my debt if I don't have side hustle money. I'm a contractor on a contract these days, and these days are not made for keeping every conractor. Side hustle could be main again. Make the money while you still can.

In a world without sports, or travel, or public gatherings. At least for a little while.

You brave.

As long as I can be, sir. As long as I can be.

3/12/20 - Update: I'm taking a break for now. Too many cases reported close by, and while I think I can do this safely - bleach surfaces between rides and do a fever check before allowing entry - the risk is too high to friends and familiy. I'm pretty sure we are going to find super spreaders in the rideshare industry. In a full shift, I can easily be sharing the air with 50 people a day.

But, well, money's right. I might change my mind later. Not sure.

It Was The Best Of Rides, It Was The Worst Of Rides

Image result for the best of times the worst of times
Not, to my knowledge, a rideshare driver
I'm doing the hustle on a Saturday night, and trying to stay close to my home base because it's cold and dark and such. Besides, there are no big surge prices going on, so I might as well be in the area where I know all of the traffic patterns and where the decent public bathrooms are.

This gets me a ride from one of the best hotels in Princeton, going south, a little after midnight. The couple endures a long wait as I got the ping 20 minutes away during Destination Mode, so I apologize for the delay while I'm doing my usual water, mints and cough drops routine. They have no issues with it, and with the vibe that conversation is encouraged, I ask what brought them to Princeton.

The answer is a wedding, a friend of the bride's that she reconnected with from childhood thanks to social media, and they were struck by just how great the event was. This leads me to bring up my wedding bona fides, in that my spouse is a music professonal that has played hundreds of them. It turns out that the couple is married for ten years, she's a sixth-grade English teacher and he's a clinical psychologist who specializes on people working on subtance abuse addiction.

We had a great conversation, told our meet-cute spouse stories, got philosohical about ways to reach children who have to acccept revisions as part of the creative cycle, and so on. Honestly, one of the top 0.1% of rides I've ever given, and as the cherry on top, they tipped on the app. (Yes, we do know who does that and who doesn't.) When I left, I was significantly closer to my revenue goal for the night, and genuinely happy to have had the experience to provide a service to them.

For this, I made $26.03. Five dollar tip.

An hour later, I'm still more south and away from any surge areas, in a part of Mount Laurel I haven't been in so much. I get a ping that promises to take me 15 minutes north, so I'm in. The pick up is at Top Golf, a super-neon entertainment complex that is, frankly, usually trouble. You get badly drunk people here, in that they tend to overdo things, and they have enough cash to look down on my battered small Honda. But a ping is a ping, so here I am.

The pick up is for a guy, who gets in the back seat with his girl, who sits in the middle and leaves the door open, despite the extreme cold weather. They are doing this because they want to make sure I can't leave without the rest of their party, which turns out to be a big bearded guy who barely fits in the back seat, and the final member of the troupe; his girlfriend.

She's a woman having some combination of nervous breakdown, Tourette's level profanity spree, and frequent threats of suicide, intermixed with gasping and breathing fits that sounds like she's going to die. She's in the front seat, and has zero filter or care that she's acting like this in front of a total stranger.

 She's ten pounds of terrifying in a five pound bag, basically.

So I'm outnumbered, outsized and way out-crazied, and I get to take these folks 16 minutes and 10 miles up the road. Normally I insist on having a front seat passenger click their seat belt, because it's the law and my car beep at me a lot, but there was not a moment during this entire ride where she wasn't either screaming profanities, threatening to kill herself by jumping out of the car (I put the child locks on withouth anyone noticing) or hyperventilating in a way that made me think she was close to vomiting. Her boyfriend decided to answer her abuse with sarcasm and belittlement, and the other two in the back kept engaging him in idle conversation or asking me to turn up the music louder as if there was any way to ignore this person in these quarters.

Now, I've had folks in my life in bad emotional states. I've often manged to be a resource in these situations, to be able to talk to them, give them support and help them get to a calmer and better emotional state.

But this woman... I don't know her, I'm never going to see her again in my life, and I have no idea if engaging in her would have resulted in some kind of physical altercation or her just seizing the wheel and trying to take us all out with her.

So instead, I was as silent as the grave, got them to their location, and drove away.

I also gave them one star, because the app does not let you give someone zero stars. For the base reason of being responsible to other drivers, none of whom should have to endure this kind of display and callousness... and at the end of my shift, noted with the kind of "Of Course" shrug that you get when terrible people do terrible things, I found that I had a fresh one star rating of my own, with seven complaints about every aspect of the ride that a passenger can rank, some of which have never been ranked badly in the previous 15K or so rides I've given.

(Note: I had no complaints before this ride, so, yeah, pretty sure it was them. Also, since my ranking went down from 4.91 to 4.9 after this, I can take the hit.)

For this, I made $10.14. No tip.

The trick as a rideshare driver is, honestly, trying to remember the first ride in this blog post as much as you remember the second.

But saying you should do that and actually doing that are two different things...

Part-Time Driver, Full-Time Guilt

Yup, So Me
For the last three weeks, folks, I've been almost entirely *not* a ride share driver. There's a new contract job for my actual career that's occupying my whole head and nearly bringing in enough to keep me from thinking about money and debt and obligations every minute of the day. Since it's a contract gig, it's also not one that I can say a lot about, or anything that I feel overwhelmingly secure in... but so far, it's going pretty well, and I'm doing all I can to make sure they can't live without me, for, well, ever.

All of which means that the job that I was doing pretty much full time (and truth be told, 1.5 - 2X full time, because money) has more or less gone poof. Here are the hours to prove it.

Jan 60.6
Dec 213.7
Nov 261.55
Oct 233.8
Sept 162.9
August 258.45
Keep in mind that almost all of the January hours are in the week before the new gig started. There was also a very high spike around New Year's. I track this stuff by the week more than the month, because that's how you are paid, so this isn't perfect, but it's close enough for trend analysis.

Now, it's not as if I've suddenly gotten a *ton* of my time back. With commute, the day gig is pretty much a 60 hour a week job,  a rough swap out for the time that I used to spend behind the wheel. I could and likely will do more ride share hours on nights and weekends, especially if something unfortunate happens with the accountant or the kids or the house or my teeth or what else.

But what is clear to me is that the nearly 2K hours that I logged in 2018, and the nearly 3K hours in 2019, is much more likely going to be in the 1K range this year. Maybe even less, if other opportunities crop up. (Which is the reason why September and October dropped, by the way.)

What happens if you are a full-time driver that stops doing the work? Well, Lyft has been seeing less and less of me for the better part of a year now, just because they aren't as good at keeping drivers busy in central New Jersey, where I live now. That's been an interesting back and forth of carrot and stick, in terms of trying to bribe me into driving enough to reach a higher status. Uber actually texted me the other day to see if anything was wrong, and they've been offering re-start bonus structures with dramatically lower ride counts. In other words, pretty standard reactivation marketing tricks.

The bigger mental hurdle involved after you've been Gig Economy for a while is that... well, you start to put a price on your leisure. And maybe even your sleep, or your health. Tonight, I had to catch up on some work for the contract job, and I also wanted to watch a basketball game... which I'm pretty sure "cost" me a couple of hundred bucks, given that I missed a Saturday night with college kids in the area, not to mention those bonus bucks. 

When you can sell any free hour of your week, and you've spent years doing more or less that... well, it feels *wrong* not to. Selfish, even.

That's the really dark side of gig work, folks. How easily it puts money to choices that you never had before. Go to the gym? We've got bills to pay. Help with the education of our youngest? Take care of some housework, play with your dogs, read a book or play music or enjoy a video game or... 

Anything, really. 

Clock's running. 

Don't you need the money more?

All About Tipping

Image result for tipping
No, I Have No Change
Recently, I heard an episode of "Freakonomics" while in the car doing the rideshare hustle. The episode talked with an economist who looked at tipping in the Uber app, and shared the following "surprising" findings.

1) Introducing tipping didn't improve the per hour revenue for drivers. Mostly because it got more drivers into the pool, and more drivers in the pool means less surge pricing and fewer rides per hour.

2) A very small percentage of passengers tip. Something like 7% always do, and over 60% never do. This seems odd, considering that nearly 100% of cab riders tip, but I get it - the dynamic is different and the transaction is all digital. It's just not as expected. But should be. (The percentage of my take-home amount from tipping is, to be fair, less than 7%, and has dropped from around 9% when I worked out on the West Coast.)

3) Men tip more often than women, and women drivers get more tips than men. Again, not very surprising. That's just how sexism works!

All of this seems fine and correct. But here's a few more from my own experience (15K rides and counting) that you can also take to the bank.

1) Shared or pool riders rarely, if ever, tip. Not too surprising, right? These folks are trying to spend as little as possible pretty often, rather than doing an environmentally conscious act.

2) Riders in economically disadvantaged areas also rarely tip. Again, not surprising. I tend to work these areas often, because the ride density is strong and I'm frequently chasing a ride bonus. If you don't have it, you're not sharing it. Or if you get the gist that I might (shh!) make more than you do, and am just doing this as a side hustle.

3) Airport riders, especially with luggage, tip. I tend to hop out of the car and grab the bags, mostly to speed the ride along. Airport rides also tend to be longer, and...

4) Long rides tip more than short ones. You have more time to get to know the passenger, and most folks know that airport rides are unpleasant for the driver. If someone is taking you out to the middle of nowhere, they also tend to feel bad and try to compensate for that.

5) Routine commuters are unlikely to tip. A fair amount of my rides come from supermarkets and train stations, and for these folks, the cost of the rideshare is something they are thinking hard about.

6) Folks who are (knowingly) paying a surge price. Which is, to be fair, a pretty small percentage, and leads to the next one...

7) Drunk people tip. Especially if they are feeling self-conscious about how much time they've spent talking through the ride.

8) If they match your demographic, or have something in common with you... they're gonna tip. People who wind up linking to me on LinkedIn don't want to start the relationship without throwing a few extra bucks on the ride.

9) Older riders tip. Most often in cash, and highly considered amounts, after a startling amount of conversation. Sometimes, I want to give it back, especially if they appear to be in poor health... but I never do. It'd be insulting, honestly.

10) Other people who work for tips. Waitresses, bartenders -- these folks respect hustle, and game respects game.

The best tipping person in my career as a rideshare driver is a waitress who has gotten me a half dozen times, and always tipped hard -- and I repaid the favor just this last week with a visit to her restaurant. We asked for her special, waited longer to get one of her tables, and hit the check with a 25% gratuity, in cash. It's how I roll, folks. (At least, when I can afford it.)

Bonus: The people who tip... always tip. And yes, this includes me. If your service stinks, it might just be a buck, but I want to live in a world where rideshare drivers can make a living. Which is possible if we just treat them, well, like the cab drivers they are replacing...

A Few Words About Where We Are Now

Portrait of the writer/driver as a young Plague Doctor Editor's Note: Yeah, this really isn't about ride sharing, other than I c...