Pages Menu
TwitterFacebooklogin
Categories Menu

Posted by on Mar 24, 2019 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Personal, Travel | 16 comments

My 28 Days as a Lyft Driver in Las Vegas (Part II)

 

 

This is the second in a four-part series.

Read PART I here.

 

Being stuck in a car together and forced to interact with a complete stranger does provide an infinite opportunity to pursue an insatiable curiosity.  It’s the chance to depart a cozy comfort zone.  It’s the rare moment to explore great unknown mysteries that exist within the human mind.  The strangers among us are motley fools and sages and jokers and pawns and princes and princesses and pricks.  Each one of us accompanied by an element of surprise.

Indeed, people we don’t know can teach us things.  That is — if we’re willing to listen and learn.  Sometimes, people who are vastly different from us can teach us the most.

One thing I have learned already:  Driving for Lyft doesn’t pay particularly well.  So, perhaps what dividends do exist must be mined and minted elsewhere.  Think of the experience as an alternative currency.  Maybe my bonus isn’t in remuneration, but revelation.

Connecting with so many different people, especially those who have lived hard lives and abused themselves and betrayed others and wasted whatever natural talents and inherent abilities they may have once possessed strikes me as both tragic and cautionary.  While many of us have blown chances and exhausted opportunities, it’s a remarkable gift that through accidental encounters and daily connections we might pass it on and pay it forward.  Greater understanding can spring from the most unlikely of reservoirs, through surrogates, in the places we least expect, and during times normally reserved for slumber and dreams.

Revelation can evolve from the raw derivative of human errors and imperfections, a premonitory warning personified by broken dreams and inextinguishable hope.  Indeed, wisdom is to be gained from those who have made the most mistakes, should we decide to seek it out….and listen to those voices.

__________

WEEK 2

Day 8 (Feb. 25) — Google allows users to post reviews on just about any subject, including to my great surprise — the Las Vegas Detention Center.  Should you doubt this, do a quick search.  Google “Las Vegas Detention Center.”  So far, 99 reviews have been posted.  Ninety-nine!  Incredibly, the county jail gets an overall rating of 3.0 out of 5 stars, which is kinda’ fucking amazing when you think about it.  In a related matter, it should be noted the Diamond Inn Motel, located at the south end of the Las Vegas Strip, has a current rating of 2.9 stars, which I guess means more people would rather spend the night in jail than stay at the Diamond Inn.

I begin driving early this Monday afternoon, the first day of my second week on the job with Lyft.  On my third fare, I receive a notice to make the pick up in North Las Vegas, in an area we used to euphemistically call “the other side of the tracks.”  We all knew what that really meant.

An older black woman, who has severe difficulty with walking, exits from a small rundown frame house that probably was built sometime in the 1940s and hasn’t seen a fresh coat of paint since.  She takes quite a long time to get to the car.  While I don’t normally get out and open doors for passengers, this is an exception.  The lady is assisted into the back seat.  Discussion begins.

The encounter began with usual niceties about the weather, common filler conversation between strangers intended to break the void of awkward silence.  I’m not sure how the discussion morphed into something of greater substance.  But then it did.  I think the lady asked me how long I’ve lived in Las Vegas.  When I told her, “15 years,” she smiled back and announced that she’d been here since the mid-1950s.  That set off a wonderfully engaging testimonial, a first-hand account of what living in Las Vegas was like all those years ago for someone who didn’t reap the benefits of her investment of time and toil, like her white contemporaries.  All I could do was ask questions to satisfy my curiosity and then listen.

Back then, Las Vegas was a very segregated city.  Blacks weren’t allowed to set foot inside most casinos, that is, unless they were washing dishes or scrubbing toilets.  Most black people were forced to reside within a confined zone carved out of the desert meadow a few miles northwest of downtown where the fences may have been invisible but the racial partition was both ominous and unmistakable.  When Sammy Davis, Jr. one the most famous entertainers in the world at the time, once used the public pool at the New Frontier Hotel-Casino, the manager ordered it drained and then refilled.  That’s the Las Vegas this lady came to 60 years ago.  Now, many years later she still lived in the same Westside district of her extinct youth.

Her destination was 3300 East Stewart.  That address didn’t register with me, not until I pulled up curbside and gazed upon swirls of metallic razor wire spun atop an ugly concrete fence laced with iron bars.  I didn’t ask any more questions.  I didn’t have to.  This was a silent testimonial that needed no words.

The lady struggled to exit the vehicle.  She thanked me politely, then turned away, and walked slowly towards a large sign containing a lengthy list of prohibitions which applied to weekly visitors.

Behind those swirls of metallic razor wire spun atop an ugly concrete fence laced with iron bars was someone who had made mistakes in life.  Perhaps many mistakes.  At least one mistake too many.  But a loved one, nonetheless.

When we think of the victims of crime, images of the misfortunate who have been violated come to mind.  And rightly so.  They’re worthy of our sympathy.  They deserve justice.  They should be given retribution, if and when possible.

But there are other crime victims, too, and they are innocent, mostly nameless and forgotten — the families of those on the wrong side of the law, incarcerating within cells which all studies show, is punishment applied disproportionally to minorities and the poor.  An old woman, presumably with no means and living frugally on limited resources, nearing the end of life without privileges nor having received many breaks just took a Lyft car to visit a loved one.  She did this presumably for no reason other than unspoken loyalty and unwavering parental devotion.

I don’t know what else to call that but love.  Perhaps undeserved, but love nonetheless.

Daily Tally:  Monday ends at 2 am after 18 rides and $141.96 in earnings.

 

Day 9 (Feb. 26) — Should you want an instantaneous firsthand review of a restaurant or show, then eavesdrop on the conversation that’s happening in the backseat of a Lyft ride just moments after the experience.

Prepare yourself for unabashed honesty.

That restaurant sucks!  Celine was amazing!  I can’t believe how bad the service was!  The onion rings were incredible!  What a rip off!  “Mystere” was awesome!  I’ll never go to the Tiki Bar again!

Those are just some of the actual comments from people who piled unfiltered praise or disdain upon restaurants and shows they’d experienced.  Driving during peak periods between 9:30 and 11:00 pm became akin to reading Trip Advisor or Yelp, only with a real person rasping an unrehearsed soundtrack.

On Tuesday evening at around 10:30 pm, I pick up a middle-aged man from the Luxor.  Come to find out he’d just seen Carrot Top, the prop-wielding madcap comedian who performs quite an energetic stage show six grueling nights a week.  I’ve seen Carrot Top live before and thought he was great.  But that recollection was from several years ago and was now dated.  I was about to get the latest update.

“I couldn’t believe how great Carrot Top was,” the man beamed.  “He was incredible.”

Then, what the man said next blew me away.

“Did you hear what happened to him?” the man asked.

“I don’t know.  What happened to him?”  I had no idea what he was talking about.

“Carrot Top broke his leg only a few days ago.  He had to perform his entire stage show riding a scooter and on crutches.”

It took a moment for those words to register.

“What?  How in the hell can Carrot Top, who bounces all over the stage like a rubber ball getting struck by a lightning bolt, perform his act with — a broken leg?”

“I don’t know.  He just did it.  The audience gave went wild, afterward.”

I love hearing stuff like that.  News and first-person accounts of Las Vegas shows don’t make the newspapers or get reported at all in the press unless is some BS marketing hype.  This was a report straight from the front lines of Las Vegas comedy and it sure made me want to buy a ticket the next night and go see Carrot Top, if for no other reason than to see how he can do that act on a broken leg.

I thought I knew about Las Vegas.  After all, I’ve seen almost every big show in town.  Yet the more I drive, the more I realize just how much I don’t know.  My riders have become my lifeline, reliable sources of new and updated information about everything that is Las Vegas.

Daily Tally:  I give 16 rides and earn $143.02.   This means that in two days, I’ve met the $274 threshold for the rental car.  This also means I’m really at ground zero, with no income so far for the week.  But almost everything I earn over the next five days will be mine. 

 

Day 10 (Feb. 27) — Making mistakes is inevitable, even by the most experienced rideshare drivers.  Supposedly, there’s a local or state law against fiddling around with smartphones while moving in a vehicle, but Lyft driving basically requires drivers to use mobile devices as if it’s an extra limb.  I’m constantly juggling GPS, the Lyft app, all while taking the occasional call or reading a soon-to-be passenger’s text with pick-up instructions while barrelling down busy boulevards.  Other drivers may insist they don’t look down at their phones while in motion, but I’ll confess to breaking the law and relying on my smartphone as a lifeline.

Somehow, even with the phone in hand, I make four costly mistakes this day.  The first mistake was flat-out stupid on my part.  I get a call to take a lady to the airport on what’s referred to as a “shared ride.”  That meant I’d probably make other stops along the way.  Sure enough, two more stops come in, three separate riders all headed to different destinations within close proximity.  Shared rights are kinda’ a pain in the ass.

However, when I receive the third request, I opt to hit the “cancel” icon.  I thought I could decline any additional riders.  But that’s not the case.  By hitting the “cancel” button, I instantly wiped all three fare requests and thus voided those incoming payments.  I realized this way too late in the ride and was embarrassed to admit my error.  So, I ate the fares in full and ended up giving the rides for free.

That was nothing.  The mistake I made later, was worse.

At around 10:30 pm, I receive pick-up request to go to Pick A Pita, a Mediterranean fast-food chain restaurant located at Town Square.  The passenger’s name flashes on the screen, which is “Paloma.”  It’s a party of two.

Town Square is dead quiet tonight.  No one is standing outside nor walking the streets.  This should be an easy find and a simple route.  About as easy as it gets for a driver.

Two girls, who seem to be in their late teens, are waiting and standing outside in front of Pick A Pita.  I pull up beside them and the girls get inside.

We are instructed to verify the passenger is who they say, but this sticky point seems rather unnecessary at 10:30 at night on a deserted street at a fast-food spot.

Anyway, the girls are in the rear seat laughing among themselves and gabbing away, and I follow the directional on my smartphone to take them to Henderson via the 215-East.

About ten minutes into the ride, my phone rings.  A lady is on the other end is frantically asking me where her daughter is at.

“Where’s Paloma?” she screams.

“Huh?  Paloma?  She’s right here, in the back seat!” I snap back.

“No, she’s not!  That’s my daughter!  You were supposed to pick up Paloma at Pick A Pita!  I called Lyft to pick up my daughter and her friend and bring them home!”

What was that?  Pick up Paloma at Pick A Pita?  With a pack of pickled peppers?

The temptation to scream “WHAT THE FUCK!” into the phone is somehow masterfully resisted, though it took every morsel of my constitution to avoid going ballistic at the rudeness of this woman who was obviously confused.

“Hey, is one of you girls named ‘Paloma?’  Your mom is on the phone and she wants to talk to you.”

“Who’s Paloma?  I’m Martina.  And this is Kaylee.”

“WHAT THE FUCK!”

I had already hung up on the irate woman that was badgering me about her missing daughter.  Now, the phone rang again and I was forced to take the call because, yes Paloma — we have a problem.

“I’m reporting you to Lyft!  I use Lyft all the time!  How could you miss her?  You didn’t pick up my daughter!  But now my phone is saying you picked them up and are on the way!  You are scamming me!  I’m reporting you!”

That’s when I realize that, somehow, some way, in the oddest of coincidences, two different girls were supposed to be picked up in front of Pick A Pita, and I mistakenly hauled the wrong batch of estrogen.  I mean, what are the odds?

I started to apologize profusely, a mea culpa which went nowhere with the irate woman who was frantically trying to locate her lost daughter, but who for some reason wasn’t answering her phone.  And here I was stuck with two nearly identical looking imposters who in a bizarre concurrence had also ordered a Lyft car at the very same time at the same location.

I had no option than to eat the fare like a cold shit sandwich and take the girls straight home, without charging them a dime for the ride.

Where do you girls live?

“Centennial.  Northwest.”

Seriously.  What the fuck!  I thought those words but, of course, didn’t actually say them.

Exit ramp.  Back in the opposite direction 17 miles.  No fare.  No charge.  Burned time and gas.

I have no idea what the hell happened to Paloma.

Daily Tally:  I give 19 rides and earn $136.11.   I should have been credited with 23 rides and at least $30 more.  But the mistakes cost me. 

 

Day 11 (Feb. 28) — Lyft Express drivers are incentivized to work full-time, which means being behind the wheel and out on the streets 40 to 50 hours per week.  Incentives come in the form of bonus payments, based on the number of rides given within a week’s time.

[Note that bonuses usually apply only to drivers who rent a car through Hertz — at least I’m told].

Bonuses, which get added to the driver’s weekly check, max out at about $140.  The specific amount varies, but based on hitting four week’s of bonuses and reaching every possible target, my average extra pay amounted to close to a buck-forty.  Unfortunately, given that drivers must pay our own fuel costs, the entire bonus essentially goes straight into the gas tank.

Bonuses make the short fares somewhat less annoying.  It’s frustrating as all fuck to make a U-turn and drive a few extra miles to reach the pick-up point, or far worse, wait 15 minutes in heavy traffic to transport a passenger, only to see “$3.97,” the bare bones minimum payment added to the Lyft pay wallet at the end of the ride.  Man, screw that.  Hence, a short ride here and there which doesn’t consume too much time makes reaching the bonus just a little bit easier.

However, there’s one notable exception.  I’ve come to view short rides and low fares originating from T-Mobile Center, home of the NHL’s Las Vegas Golden Knights, to be the absolute curse of Lyft driving.  In fact, I will no longer accept those requests.  Accordingly, I’ve learned to outmaneuver the app and now avoid the complete waste of time that is picking up hockey fans following a Golden Knights game.  It took me a few home games and several shitty no-tip riders to figure out this miserable fact.

Tonight, there’s a hockey game, which went into overtime.  The Golden Knights won.  Then, nearly 17,000 fans flooded out of the T-Mobile arena at around 10:45 pm and every rideshare driver within three miles proximity see their smartphones blow up and go bonkers with rider requests.  Hundreds of hockey fans suddenly need rides.

Trouble is, reaching the pick-up point amounts to performing a colonoscopy with no gloves.  To get there, drivers must maneuver through a myriad of long traffic lights around the arena, snake-crawl into a clogged single-file access street, pull into the Park MGM launching area, and then try to find the drunk guy wearing the Golden Knights jersey (seriously, I had one guy tell me that’s what he was wearing).  Then, once pick-up is successful, there’s the equal trouble of extraction from all the chaos which takes another 10 to 15 minutes and by the time I’ve finally pulled out onto The Strip, then I’ve got to wait through those same three traffic lights again.

Worse, most of the fares after hockey games are to hotels, casinos, bars, and restaurants that are nearby.  My fare share for most of these short hops costs me a half hour and comes to, you guessed it, a whopping $3,97.

Well, hockey fan pick-ups can now blow me.

My counterpunch to these pathetic post-game T-Mobile arena low fares is simply to shut off my phone app whenever I happen to be closeby between 10 pm and midnight on any night there’s a game.  Until Lyft starts compensating drivers for the ridiculous sacrifice that’s required to get into and out of traffic jams, and/or most riders start realizing what a pointless exercise this is for drivers to work the area following the games, I’m boycotting this whole clusterfuck.  I urge other drivers to do the same.  Any driver working the T-Mobile arena after a major event might as well be performing charity work.  They’re basically driving for free.

Fuck those $3.97 fares with no tips from hockey fans.

Instead, give me poor people, projects, and prisons — anytime.

Daily Tally:  Thursday concludes with 18 rides and $218.53 in earnings, which includes a $55 bonus payment.

 

Day 12 (Mar. 1) — Most fares are uneventful, which isn’t to say the riders aren’t interesting.  Much to my surprise, ordinary people and common folk are often the most inspirational.

At 9 pm, at time when many businesses around town close, I get a call to pick up a young lady named Angel.  She looks to be in her mid-20s.  Angel works at Sam’s Club, the warehouse superstore on Spirit Mountain and Rainbow.  Sam’s Club has just closed and Angel is standing out in front waiting for me, her ride, to take her home way across town in Green Valley.  This turns out to be a longer-than-average fare and a half-hour conversation.

Angel impresses me just by the way she talks.  She may have been Hispanic, or black.  Not sure which.  I don’t know.  What I did learn was that she’s working two jobs, putting in about 60 hours per week.  She’s also attending the local community college, part-time.  Angel’s shift at Sam’s Club consists of manning the gas pumps eight hours a day and making sure things go smoothly.  She works outside in the heat and cold.  She breathes exhaust fumes and her clothes smell like gasoline since some spillage is common with people who need assistance.  She’s one step up from being a toll booth attendant.

Yet, Angel doesn’t complain.  She doesn’t feel sorry for herself.  She admits she’s fatigued much of the time, but then sees the big picture that she needs to craft a skill set, get her education, save what money she can, and work her way upward towards fulfilling her dreams.  I’m not sure if she had any children.  But I sensed nonetheless, that she was a provider for her family, driven constantly by an inner spirit to succeed.  She mentioned she’d been at Sam’s Club for two years and just got a .20-cent an hour raise.  The more she spoke, the greater I admired her.  I absolutely knew that my instincts about Angel were correct.  I really want her to make it.

I also knew that once this ride ended it would be unlikely for me to see Angel again.  Like the newlyweds from the previous week, once a passenger departs the car, we all disappear back into the abyss of anonymity, again.  Strangers in a strange land.  Gee, I do hope Angel will be happy.

After I dropped off Angel at her destination, I heard the phone ding.  That meant a tip had been received.  I looked down and Angel had tipped me $8.  That was a small fortune, perhaps amounting to an hour of hard work for her manning the gas pumps at Sam’s Club.  I wish I could have refused it.  I needed money, but Angel surely needed the $8 more than I did.

Then and there, I vowed to drive to Sam’s Club, on another day, at a later time and buy some gas.  I silently vowed to myself that if Angel was working on that day, I would tip the gas attendant — $8.

It will be the right thing to do.

Daily Tally:  This was my longest day, to date, clocking in at 11 hours.  I did 23 rides and earned $203.90, which includes a $25 bonus payment.

 

Day 13 (Mar. 2) — Las Vegas is known as the gambling capital of the world.  Yet after nearly two weeks and nearly 200 rides, gambling and casinos are the one topic that hasn’t come up much in conversation.  Incredibly, not even once that I can think of.

However, the casino box was about to be checked off the list of omissions.

Around 6 pm, I’m scouting Southern Highlands for a fare and make a pick up in the farthest tract of land south of Las Vegas in quiet and elevated a cul-de-sac semi-circled with multi-million dollar homes.

An attractive brunette woman is waiting for me and standing outside wearing Rayban sunglasses.  She announces her husband will be right out.

The woman looks to be around 40 and the man arrives a minute later and is perhaps ten years older than her.  Both are strikingly good-looking people and obviously successful judging by the neighborhood where they live.  This is one of the nicest areas of the city I’ve seen, thus far.

“Where to?”

“Ellis Island,” the man replies.

Ellis Island seems like an odd destination for this affluent couple, particularly on a Saturday night.  Ellis Island is one of the city’s older casinos situated on Koval Lane, a few blocks off The Strip.  It’s not known for much else than a great tap microbrew selection and one of the most popular karaoke lounges in town.

“Are you headed to karaoke night?” I ask.

“Yes, that — plus dinner and a few drinks,” the man replied.  “This is our date night.”

“Date night?  Wow, that’s really cool.”

The couple explained to me that they’ve lived in Las Vegas for six months.  They made a vow to visit every major casino in the city as a sort of joint initiation.  It was something they’d do together, and a new experience each time, occasionally with surprises.  Every weekend, the couple picked out one local spot and makes a celebration of it.  This Saturday night — it was Ellis Island’s turn to be their mini-staycation.

What a marvelous idea and a creative venture, I thought.

The couple had done their research.  They’d start out with the $6.95 filet special, drink a few microbrews, and then sing karaoke into the night.  A nice couple who obviously could have afforded far more luxury and comfort decided that pursuing the unknown, the places within our grasp that we often over look, can be a great adventure.  And it was something the couple could experience together, for better or for worse.

Life for them wasn’t a destination, but a journey.

Too bad I couldn’t have also picked them up.  Afterward, I would have loved to listen to the backseat review.

Daily Tally:  Another 11-hour day.  I give 23 rides and earn $268.25, which includes a $55 bonus. 

 

Day 14 (Mar. 3) — It’s Sunday, the final day of the week.  As tempting as it may be to drive a seventh consecutive day, I’ve already logged 55 hours, so far.  That should be anyone’s mental and physical limit.

I desperately need rest.  My head hurts.  My body aches.

Spending so many hours crunched and buckled into a seat is making my arms and legs cramp.  The discomfort comes from physical inactivity.  My running and exercise schedule, a huge part of my life over the past six years, is now on hiatus.  I simply don’t have the energy.  I hate myself for it.  So, my body suffers.

Honestly, I don’t know how truckers and full-time career drivers do this.

I feel like total shit.

Oh, and finally just a couple of end of the week reminders:  (1) Fuck the $3.97 hockey fares and (2) If anyone’s seen Paloma, tell her to call her mom immediately.

__________

WEEK 2 RESULTS:

Total 55 hours, 44 minutes driven and 117 rides given….$837.94 in earnings including tips and bonus after $273.83 rental car cost deduction…..minus $162.00 spent in gas….equals $12 per hour.

Coming Next:  Week Three

__________

 

Read More

Posted by on Mar 22, 2019 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Personal, Travel | 19 comments

My 28 Days as a Lyft Driver in Las Vegas

 

This is the first in a four-part series.

 

On the streets of Las Vegas, at any time, day or night, hundreds of rideshare drivers are hauling passengers from one place to another.

Rideshare drivers artfully navigate a clogged latticework of busy avenues and bustling boulevards and highways and back alleys linking the vast labyrinth of mega resorts and cheap motels and restaurants and fast-food joints…and fancy shows and movie theaters and professional hockey games and annual conventions….and spacious homes protected by gate codes and crime-ridden rundown apartments and weekly rentals and ritzy timeshares with glorious views….and drug stores and doctors appointments and emergency rooms and hospitals….and discount shopping outlets and department stores and massage parlors and cannabis dispensaries….and the bus station and the airport.

For 28 consecutive days and nights between February 18 through March 17th, 2019, I maneuvered those Las Vegas streets.  I drove every major thoroughfare of my city many times over, discovering neighborhoods I’d not been, despite living here 15 years.  I thought I possessed a well-rounded understanding of people.  But I was gravely mistaken.  Even naive.  After speaking with and more importantly listening to a thousand riders — of all colors, incomes, shapes, ages, education levels, ethnicities, and different backgrounds with so many different problems and aspirations among them — I soon realized how very much I didn’t know and what a glaring void that was for me.  I realized how very little I knew about them, and the city I call my home.

Contemplation and solitude also taught me a thing or two about myself.

Typically, I was out on the road each night with hands on the wheel between 5 pm and 3 am, sometimes longer, and other nights less.  Over four weeks, I drove a grand total 5,304 miles and not once left the city limits.  I pumped 16 fill-ups and burned through 284 gallons of unleaded gas.  And speaking of gas, I ate at Arby’s and Wienerschnitzel and Dunkin Donuts and even developed a divine fondness for Subway.  Despite not ingesting a single ounce of alcohol during this entire period, somehow I still managed to gain 11 pounds and am now nourishing a double chin.  At the rate I aged and put on weight, I’ll be playing Santa Claus without a costume by late November.

I picked up, transported, and then dropped off people of all trades — including waiters, waitresses, bartenders, barbacks, desk clerks, dental assistants, researchers, musicians, students, hairdressers, professors, truckers, tourists, maids, dope addicts, drag queens, drug runners, helicopter pilots, craps dealers, keno writers, architects, newlyweds, drunks, tourists, hookers, moms with baby strollers, two dogs, and even the lead engineer now working on Elon Musk’s Hyperloop.

I listened.

I learned.

I drove for Lyft.

__________

Ridesharing first began in March 2009, exactly ten years ago, this month.

Happy anniversary, whoever invented it.

Think of a taxi service, only based on the principles of libertarianism — except that the fares are much cheaper and most drivers are showered and sane and pleasant to deal with.  It’s an attractive concept.  Basically, anyone with a pulse, clear vision, and a clean driving record with access to a decent car, or the willingness to put up a $250 security deposit and rent a vehicle through their special program, can become a de facto driver for instant hire and in the process earn a few extra bucks.

Sounds good, so far, right?  What’s not to like?

Thanks to the technology of smartphones, instant cashless billing, and every driver’s trusted hand pilot — satellite-generated GPS — rideshare driving is now open to nearly everyone.  English language skills?  Optional.  Knowledge of the city?  Not required.

Where do I sign up?

America’s two biggest rideshare companies are Uber and Lyft.  They dominate the market.  Both operate in most major cities, including Las Vegas.  Recently, Lyft has caught up to Uber in overall traffic and according to one report has even passed their rival in total ridership in some markets.  However, this isn’t like Pepsi toppling Coke.  Rideshare driving/riding elicits no fuzzy feelings nor allegiances nor nourishes any loyalties whatsoever other than every single one of us becoming the unwanton targets of hostility from crooked cab companies and foul-breathed taxi drivers which are currently in the midst of seeing their stranglehold on urban transport evaporate like dew droplets disappearing in the desert heat.  Moreover, there’s not a goddamned thing they can do about it.  In Las Vegas, taxis have lost about 30 percent of their ridership — last year alone.  They’re livid at the prospect of losing what’s been a monopoly for decades which has allowed them to rip off riders.  So, they hate Uber and Lyft.

My two-word response is this:  Fuck them.  You’ll be reading more about my disdain for most taxi drivers and all the cab companies throughout this four-part series.  Right now, I’m just warming up.

Many drivers opt to work for both Uber and Lyft, though technically speaking, no driver is employed by either company.  That’s because everyone gets classified as an “independent contractor,” which is just a really shitty-ass, cold-blooded way for our Silicon Valley overlords to avoid potential legal liabilities, not have to bear the costs of providing health insurance or benefits, nor have to pay a guaranteed minimum wage to drivers.  In other words, if a Lyft driver is negligent and kills somebody, the company isn’t on the hook for legal damages.  Given the way the system’s set up, rideshare drivers sometimes end up making less than a dishwasher.

Ridesharing as a purely economic construct might be is exploitative.  But there’s also something to be said for its positive social intertwinings, thrusting disparate populations together and mixing into a conversational blender known as the moving automobile.  The concept of offering someone we don’t know a ride is based on one thing — mutual trust.  Drivers must trust riders, and riders must trust drivers.  Ask yourself — would you get into the car of a total stranger late at night?  Would you let your wife or daughter ride with someone you don’t know?  With Uber and Lyft, strangers put their trust in other strangers.  Yet, because all payments get processed only by credit card on file, the legal identities of passengers can be traced, if necessary.  Hence, robberies and assaults on rideshare drivers are rare.  Unlike taxis, which still transact most payments in cash and are thus more susceptible to crime, driving for Uber and Lyft is relatively safe.  About a third of all rideshare drivers are reportedly female.

Uber and Lyft operate all over Las Vegas.  Not just on The Strip.  But on local routes, too.  Rideshare drivers are instantly recognizable for rectangular signs about the size of a beer bottle affixed to the front windshield.  Uber uses a glowing white semi-circle.  Lyft uses a blue light mounted on the dashboard.  You can’t miss them, especially at night.

Until I became a driver, I had no clue how ridiculously common ridesharing had become.  It’s become so common and so accessible both for drivers and passengers, that many people do both.  I was now caught up in the web.

__________

Boredom.  Curiosity.  Sick of the normal grind.

Pick any of those reasons.  In fact, pick all three.  All three would be accurate if asked precisely why I decided to drive for Lyft.  In other words, the truth is — I needed the money.

There was another reason, too.  There’s no risk involved.  Other than getting mangled in a car crash, perhaps.  It’s certainly much less of a risk than playing poker full time which can be a losing proposition any given week or month and betting sports which can be an even more expensive proposition, which has consumed so very much my time and attention for the better part of the previous three years and so often seems both pointless and hopelessly unfulfilling.  To the contrary, there seemed to be no risks at all with experimenting as a Lyft driver.  Besides, think of the stories from driving all over Las Vegas and meeting so many different people.  If I didn’t like my experience, I’d simply quit.  If I became fed up with people or got sick of sitting behind a wheel, I had one out, a wild card to play.  My resignation.  See ‘ya.  Bye.

Based on advance research, the major downside of rideshare driving is destroying your car, if you chose to use it.  You sure better get 25+ miles to the gallon and own a reliable car that will go 160,000 miles with nothing but oil changes and the occasional new set of tires, because otherwise, you’ll basically be doing what amounts to volunteer work after you factor in all the excessive costs of depreciation and unavoidable risks of stressing out an engine, ruining shocks, and exhausting an AC unit that will be running 10 hours a day, especially during the hot months.  Oh, and that doesn’t include the cleanup cost of someone puking in your backseat, from what I hear, not so much a matter of IF but WHEN.  This is, after all, Las Vegas — party town.  There’s also the increased cost of commercial auto insurance, meeting deductibles, and always the possibility the transmission drops out of your car at any moment, which basically leaves you holding your dick and a $4,000 repair bill while you wonder how you’re now going to pay the mortgage that’s due next Tuesday.

Driving my own car seemed like a gamble far worse than any poker game or sports bet.  So, instead, I opted to rent a car though something called Lyft Express and their partner agency Hertz.  Uber apparently doesn’t have this option in Las Vegas, which is why Lyft was chosen.  That meant I’d pay the princely sum of $273 per week (amounting to $1,092 per month!), which included tax and the cost of auto insurance plus unlimited mileage on a grey 2018 Nissan Altima with 38,000 miles.  Basically, I had to earn $273 per week for starters and then anything I earned beyond that amount was my profit, minus the cost of gas.  Given the weighty arrangement, Express Lyft drivers are incentivized to work an ungodly number of hours.  My calculations showed that anyone who drives less than 40 hours per week would end up probably making less than minimum wage.  And this earnings estimate comes in what’s arguably one of the most rideshare-friendly cities in the nation, Las Vegas, with a steady number of calls coming in 24-hours-a-day, seven days a week.  Frankly, I have no idea how any rideshare driver in Omaha or Nashville or Harrisburg could possibly make a respectable living.  I just don’t.

But now, I’m getting way ahead of myself.  Let’s back up, and revisit my first week of driving for Lyft.

__________

The best way to learn something is simply to do it.

Lyft provides no training whatsoever for drivers, other than a quick 15 minute tutorial inside the office with an iPad.  There’s no quiz.  There are no questions.  No resume.  No reference check.  There’s nothing.  The company policy for new drivers might as well be:  Sink or swim.

I paid a $200 fee for a Nevada State business license (mandatory) plus another $25 for a Clark County license (also mandatory).  I passed a quick online background check where basically they make sure who you say you are and make sure you have a valid drivers license with no DWIs or DUIs on your record.  I’ve been told that Uber and Lyft take those infractions very seriously, which is understandable.  Good for me, I have a perfect driving record.  I’ve also timed my driving experiment to take place during my (twice a year) drinking sabbatical when I take an extended break from consuming alcohol.  So, this fits nicely with my sobriety campaign.

I’m optimistic.  Maybe this new gig might work out.  Indeed, there are some perks.  I can drive anytime I want to.  I can take off whenever I want.  There’s no boss.  No supervision.  I’m in total command and control.  Well, up to a point, that is.  Hertz is about to assign me a car, and I have no voice in this since rideshare rental cars are somewhat limited.

I get lucky.  Hertz assigns me a nice-looking Nissan.  I’ve rented Nissan cars in the past when I used to travel a lot and was always impressed.  It’s an affordable car which handles well.  Makes tight turns, which is probably the most important thing for urban driving.  Supposedly gets 28 miles to the gallon.  Fairly spacious.  Good thing they put me in a Nissan.  If they would have assigned me a Hyundai, I would have flat out refused it.  Would have stormed off the lot.  There’s no fucking way I’m going to be seen driving a Hyundai.  Thanks to Nissan, I preserve what remains of my vanity.

The following recollections noted daily are taken from a small notebook I kept inside the car.  In between rides, I did lots of scribbling.

__________

WEEK ONE

Day 1 (Feb. 19) — My adventure begins on a Monday.  I start driving on the slowest night of the week.  It’s windy and cold outside.  This is entirely by intent.  Like trying out the training wheels before they come off.

Learning the ropes is not easy nor does it comes naturally.  Getting into a comfort zone takes a day, or two, or maybe a week to become proficient with the online app, deciphering how ridesharing works, optimizing opportunity, and most important to being successful — learning the key pick-up and drop-off points without getting lost, becoming frustrated, and going crazy.

Again, there’s no training provided.  Learning happens entirely on the fly.  There’s no one to call.  No call center.  No help hotline.

I begin driving at 9 pm and expect to make a short night of it, just hoping to wet my beak a little and master the basics of driving for Lyft during one of its slowest times.  My inaugural excursion is a disaster.

McCarran Airport is my initial stop.  Problem is, I have no idea how, nor where to pick up passengers at the airport.  So, while en route, I pull over to the side of the access road to perform a quick Google search on just where to go.  Within a few minutes, an LVMPD cruiser pulls up behind me with rollers flashing.

“You are illegally stopped!   Move your vehicle immediately!” comes over a loudspeaker.

“Huh, I’m just trying to figure out where to go,” I plea, hollering out the window.

‘Move it now, or I’ll write you a citation!”

Well, fuck me.  Asshole!  I didn’t say that.  But I thought it.

Not even one fare yet, and I’m already getting threatened with a ticket by the police.

Things are about to go from bad to worse.

I learn there’s a rideshare lot positioned 1.3 miles away from the airport next to the Thomas & Mack Center.  It’s used as a staging area by all the drivers for every company.  Kind of like Kiss and Ride, but no kissing.  Uber and Lyft both make it mandatory to pull into the staging lot and then wait for a notification which comes by phone.  This way, there’s no feeding frenzy or fights for passengers like you see with long cab lines.  When someone requests Lyft on their phone app, the driver’s phone automatically beeps.  We then chose to accept or decline the assignment.  Of course, the entire idea of driving is to accept as many riders as possible, so we accept most of the incoming requests (later, I begin to figure out which pick up spots are to be avoided).  Lyft doesn’t tell us either the final destination or the estimated amount of the fare when it flashes on the phone.  I understand why.  Masking is to dissuade drivers from declining short fares to make way for preferential longer rides, which pay better.  I surmise that picking up airport passengers is a roll of the dice.  The fare could be $20.  But more often than not, the fare is going to be somewhere around $5 or $6 (that’s the driver’s share after the company takes out its cut) because so many inbound flyers head straight to big hotels on The Strip, which is only a few miles away.  So, these trips tend to suck big time, especially when you consider popping the trunk open and lifting 50-pound bags as part of the equation combined with the rarity of rider’s tipping.

So, anyway — my phone beeps.  It’s my first fare.  Oh, joy!  The excitement!  Now, I’m a pro!

There’s just a problem.  I have no idea where to drive and make my first pick-up.

I can’t explain my ignorance.  It was a mental lapse.  I expected the pick-up spot to be out on the curb somewhere near “arrivals.”   I don’t know.  I just assumed there would be a sign or something telling me where to go.  In all my years flying into McCarran, I never took rideshare.  So, this was completely new territory.

Turns out, there’s a special pick up esplanade for rideshare drivers and passengers only and it’s on 2 Mezzanine Level of Terminal 1.  This is a clusterfuck because there’s no sign saying this on the roadway leading into the airport and so I have no clue where to go.  My first pass around, I accidentally drive into the ticketed parking garage.  Next, I pass through the departures area.  Another swing and miss.  On my third pass, I pull into the valet area reserved for limos and buses only.  A strikeout.  Then, my phone rings.

“Where are you?  We’ve been waiting out here in the cold ten minutes and it shows you circling around three times!”

Turns out, passengers have the option of calling the driver directly, although the phone number on my screen comes from a 415 area code, San Francisco, which I later learn is the Lyft corporate relay.  Actual phone numbers aren’t displayed as a security precaution.

“Uhh, umm, I’m on my way!  I had a problem with traffic, but I’ll be there in a minute!”

When in doubt, baffle ’em with bullshit.

On my fourth circle around the airport, I finally get lucky and swing my rented Nissan into level 2M where about 40 other cars are lined up and perhaps 100 people stand on the sideline crammed around suitcases all seemingly staring directly at me.  Drivers are corralled into long rows framed by orange traffic cones along with a number.  Once you pull into a spot, the driver supposedly telephones the rider with a pick-up assignment number.   As in, “I’m waiting for you over here at C-9.”

See how fast I learn?  I told you — I’m a pro.

I dial up my would-be passenger who now sounds really pissed.  Sure, the guy probably flew several hours on an airplane and how he’s waiting in a parking garage for clueless Lyft driver who doesn’t know his ass from a steering wheel.  Oh, and it’s 36 degrees outside.

Finally, we establish physical contact, and to my surprise and horror, it’s a party of four along with a shitload of luggage.  Lyft has a single price policy where the fare is the exact same no matter how many people ride along.  Two couples flew in together and now want to travel to their homes in Southern Highlands.  So, the trunk gets weighed down and the five of us stuff into the nifty Nissan like greased sardines wiggling in a tin can.

“What took you so long?” was the very first question directed at me once I’d snapped on my seat belt.

In this spot, there was just one remedy in my toolbox.  Total honesty.

“Honestly, you are my very first passenger,” I confessed.  “I’ve never picked anyone up before.  It’s my first day as a Lyft driver.  I got lost.”

Well, that instantly defused the situation.  Annoyance morphed into genuine empathy.  My confession set off a nice conversation and avoided further disaster, especially after I missed their turn off from the I-15 freeway and had to drive an extra two miles.  Twenty minutes later, I dropped off the foursome.  One guy reached in his pocket and even tipped me $3.  I glanced down at my phone, and the fare came to a whopping $13.63.  Wow, that seems a little light, I thought, especially coming from the airport.  What the hell happened to those whopping $40 fares I used to pay to taxi drivers when I needed a ride to the airport?  Here it is, years later, and I’m on the losing end of a measly $13.63?  WTF?  I figured this would be a good fare.  As it turned out, that was a good fare.

I still had so much to learn.

My first day, after six hours of driving that seemed more like 16, I made $64.61 in 6 rides.  I also earned $8 in tips.  Not counting the cost of gas, I earned about $12 an hour.

I didn’t know whether to be happy or sad or to laugh or cry.

 

Day 2 (Feb. 20) — Yesterday, I made just about every mistake possible, short of getting into an accident.  I didn’t know what the hell I was doing or where I was driving most of the time.  If those errors of ignorance were as bad as things get, then certainly with more experience and better knowledge of the driving landscape, my earning prospects would improve considerably.  The worst day was behind me.

New lesson learned:  Big hotels on The Strip are a huge pain in the ass.  They’re crowded.  They take way too much time to drive to.  Long traffic lights in between stops prevent quick rides.  Security officers posted at entrances are often rude and force drivers to move along.  Finding passengers in crowds is usually difficult, especially after dark.  The passengers also tend to be more boisterous.  It might seem busy, but busy as the operative word isn’t always a good thing if you’re driving and trying to make decent time darting from one fare to the next.  Sitting in traffic waiting, especially with no rider on board, is financial and psychological suicide.  Get stuck in between Flamingo and Tropicana is maddening.

Very quickly, I come to despise picking up and dropping off along The Strip which kinda’ like being a baker who’s allergic to flour.

What’s worse than the heavy traffic most nights are insanely low fares.  Many fares (the rider share) amount to a bare minimum for the company, which is $3.97.  Seriously, that’s precisely what the driver earns — 3 dollars and 97 freaking cents (not counting gas and car costs).  It’s almost sweatshop criminal.

So, hauling riders from Planet Hollywood to Mandalay Bay, a reasonable distance of perhaps 1.5 miles, might take 12 minutes on the very clearest night with light traffic, but could easily take 25 minutes on a busy evening during prime time due to three long traffic lights, bumper to bumper stagnation, which also doesn’t count my pick up going to the target and dropping off afterward from the destination, which could easily add another 10-15 minutes.  With rideshare driving, there’s no meter running.  Price is based solely on distance.  So, you might drive 35 minutes with the engine running and not even generate $4 bucks for the fare.  This, my friends, isn’t an abnormality.  It’s pretty common.

Busy Night = Bad.

When The Strip turns into a parking lot as it so often does, especially on weekends, rideshare driving almost isn’t worth the time or effort.  That’s a sad fact, but it is a reality.

This is only my second day.  Already, I’m becoming jaded and cynical.  In another few weeks, I’ll be like one of those crabby foul-breathed cab drivers.  Soon, I’ll be turning into Travis Bickle.

You talkin’ to me?

As frustrated as I’ve become about pay scales, much to my shock there’s also a surprise revelation of broader curiosity which motivates me to continue on as well as keep an open mind about what I’m doing.

About midway through my second day, I experience something of an epiphany.  After a dozen or so fares, I realize how the confines of a small car, within perhaps just a 10- to 15-minute stretch, where two complete strangers meet for the first time, me in front and the other person usually sitting in the rear, does create a sort of amateurish therapy session, and a cheap psychiatrist’s sofa.  There’s even a phrase psychologists use to describe this, which is the “stranger on a train” phenomenon, which theorizes the most intimate conversations are more likely to happen between two people whom may never interact again.

No doubt, passengers love to vent.  They say things to a stranger no one would never confess to a co-worker or a business associate or perhaps even family.  Some riders even go into the most intimate details of their private lives, with no regard for passing judgment nor any sense of personal embarrassment.  They will tell you anything — and everything about themselves.  Trust me on this.  Wait until you read some of the things I heard, in subsequent parts of this series.

I was astounded by the unfiltered self-revelation of so many different people.

Perhaps it’s because most riders know that he or she will never see me again.  Within this closed crucible of an automobile-confessional, feelings and fears and frustrations about all matters of life get shared.  And captive to curiosity and the prospect of the occasional tip for lending a comforting ear to pain, I listened.

It’s 10 pm.  A lady considerably younger than the lines on her face show is picked up in East Las Vegas and driven to a trailer park off Boulder Highway.  On the journey, she swears to me she’s going to kill her husband.  I presume she’s joking.  I giggle, nervously glancing into the back seat in the rearview mirror every minute or so to make sure she doesn’t flash a loaded firearm.  Turns out, her old man did some fooling around and left her with lots of bills to pay and now she’s pissed off and wants him gone.  I didn’t ask any questions.  Too afraid of the answers, I suppose.  She just rambled on vented for about 15 minutes then slammed the car door without saying goodbye.  Fare:  $7.16.

One of the last fares of the night happened when another woman got into the car in Southwest Las Vegas off Jones Blvd.  She was a heavy-set Black woman.  She mentioned she’d just moved from Buffalo, NY.  Since I’d been to Buffalo a few times myself, I revealed that I’d crossed the US-Canada border there before.  She then told me she couldn’t leave the country and had never even been into Canada.

“Why not?” I asked.

Big mistake.  Don’t ask questions!  Questions get you into trouble.  But, by then it was too late.  The question was out, like bait being gobbled and the regurgitation of a scandalous reply.

“I tried to cross the border once but my criminal record came up and they wouldn’t let me in,” she replied.  “They got me on solicitation a few times in Buffalo and that shows up when you cross the border.  So, that’s why I’m now working Vegas.”

Uh, okay.  Have a nice evening, ma’am.

Daily Tally — Day Two includes 12 rides and $109.41 in earnings.

 

Day 3 (Feb. 21) — It’s human nature to remember the outliers.  But most rides are uneventful and rather pleasant.  For every arrogant asshole or weirdo or sicko, the freaks are greatly outnumbered by many genuinely nice normal people.  More on the good days.  Day Three turns out to be a good day.

One moment of particular joy takes place early when I pick up a middle-aged couple from Nashville who had just arrived at the Las Vegas airport.

“Take us straight downtown to the Municipal Building,” I’m instructed.

The couple was unusually cuddly in the back seat, especially for a late afternoon fare.  During the drive, it was revealed they’d flown here just to get married.  They were headed for the Marriage Licensing Bureau, which (something I didn’t know) is open here 24 hours a day.  Since Las Vegas offers weddings 24/7 at many chapels along The Strip, a license is an absolute pre-requisite prior to the ceremony.  So, newlyweds-to-be must visit a nondescript government building, fill out some papers, pay a token fee, and are officially afforded all the trappings and benefits of holy matrimony in the eyes of the law.

I joke that most people would at least check into a hotel, first.  Then after resting and freshening up, they’d then go and get married.  But the couple explained they were so madly in love and due to some difficult personal circumstances this day couldn’t come fast enough.  So, when the opportunity finally came to actually tie the knot, they wanted to attack their long-awaited crowning moment with of bliss an insatiable passion.

It was an odd experience and strange feeling, dropping off two people with suitcases on a downtown sidewalk, on what was to be one of the happiest days of their lives, knowing I’d probably never see them again, nor know how things turned out.  I hope they live happily ever after.

One interesting aspect of ridesharing I hadn’t anticipated was the combustible pairings of people with little or nothing in common.  Lyft offers a discount for what’s called a “shared” ride.  That means the passenger pays less but then also risks deviating from the normal route to pick up additional riders along the way.  Sometimes, seeking to save a few bucks produces unintended surprises.

While downtown, I picked up two straight-laced, well-dressed people.  It was a nice couple, presumably in their early 30’s.  They told me they were from Provo, Utah and were doing some volunteer work in Las Vegas for their church.  I took this to mean they were Mormons.  I know — some great detective work, there.  A few minutes after picking them up, my phone beeped.  That beep meant I had another rider, actually another couple to pick up.

I deviated and drove up in front of a shady-looking motel, and two twentysomething kids got in the car and squeezed up next to the Mormons.  The young kids stank of weed — like they’d spent an entire day and maybe even most of their lives smoking marijuana.  The odor was unmistakably intrusive.  I rolled down the car windows, this despite it being in the 40s outside.  The Mormons being from Utah didn’t seem to mind the cold.

Incredibly, this oddball foursome, two couples that couldn’t have been more different, talked and even laughed about the stench and pastime of smoking dope.  Everyone kinda’ just rolled along with the situation and went with the punchlines, and given Las Vegas is now one of the states where marijuana use is legal and out in the open, this was to be a phenomenon we non-users would have to get used to and accept.

After the dopers got dropped off, the Mormons stated they knew what to expect while in Las Vegas.  These weren’t innocent babes in the woods.  Besides, they revealed, it’s not like people in Utah don’t smoke weed.

Something I took from that experience was to go out the next morning and buy a spray can of air freshener.  It’s the law of large numbers.  The more people you encounter, the more sights and sounds and smells you will inevitably encounter.  Hence, cars are inevitably infused with body odor.  Weed.  Bad breath.  Dirty diapers.  Dogs.  You name it.  This car badly needed a dousing of citrus.  So, I went to the Dollar Store and stocked up on cans of air freshener, boxes of Kleenex, breath mints, and bottled water.  I was a just pack of condoms away from turning into a mobile CVS.

Daily Tally — 10 rides, $80.61 in earnings.

 

Day 4 (Feb. 22) — Entering my fourth day of driving for Lyft, I still haven’t earned a dime in profit.  All the money earned has gone straight to the house, which is Lyft and Hertz.  In other words, the rental car still hasn’t been paid for, yet.  And then, there’s the cost of gas.  It’s demoralizing to think I’ve worked for three days and am still not out of the hole, yet.   It’s like not beating the rake.

Man, fuck this.

I find a reason for optimism in the oddest of places.

My first three days concentrated mostly along The Strip, at the airport, and downtown.  I’d spent much of my time hauling around tourists.  Truth is, I’d blown far too much time sitting at traffic lights, waiting at crossroads, and trying to navigate a confusing matrix of passages to and from the big hotels and casinos.  Spinning wheels.  Round and round.

The real money, or at least better money, was elsewhere.

On Day Four, it snows.  It snows all night long.  Blowing snow as you would see at Lake Tahoe up in the mountains.  It’s Las Vegas’ most intense snowstorm in a decade.  And I stay out until 4 am working.

Entirely by miscalculation, I get more rides than expected into and out of North and East Las Vegas.  Both areas are poorer than more affluent districts of the city — including Summerlin, Southwest, Southern Highlands, and Green Valley.  North Las Vegas is much more Black than elsewhere.  East Las Vegas is populated heavily by Hispanics.  The older parts of the city tend to be more populated by minorities.  The newest parts of the city are lily White.  That’s not a judgment.  That’s a fact.

Owning and driving an automobile is expensive, especially for working-class people and those who are struggling to make ends meet.  In addition to the cost of buying a car, there’s also insurance required.  Workers making perhaps $10 an hour in many instances simply cannot afford a car.  So, many have to ride the transit bus.  But, city buses don’t run during all hours of the night and don’t reach into certain areas which are remote and less trafficked.  So, minorities tend to rely on rideshare transport in disproportional numbers when compared to other locals.  I don’t have any specific data on this, but my experience tells me I’m right.

I also presume that some drivers are reluctant to venture as often into North and East Las Vegas, especially late nights.  I didn’t see this as an issue having grown up in and lived in multiethnic communities most of my life.  In fact, given the traffic is considerably lighter, the fares are usually longer, and the riders often need transport during odd hours, I begin to discover there’s more money to be made concentrating on neglected areas of the city.

I’ll have far more to say about this subject, later.

Day Four’s earnings prove my supposition to be correct.  Despite the showstorm and slippery pavement, I give 20 rides and earn $131.62, by far my best day, so far.  I’m also finally out of the hole with Lyft and Hertz.  What I earn from this point forward I get to keep as my own.

The bounds of bondage have been lifted.

Free at last.  Free at last.  Thank god almighty, I am free at last.

 

Day 5 (Feb. 23) — I’ve always despised fast food.  I loathe it.  I hate everything about fast food, from the unhealthy ingredients to the corporations who mass produce the slop.  I might eat at McDonald’s twice a year, and that’s only because their breakfasts are decent.  Burger King — never.  Carls Jr. — boycott.  Chicken O’ Filet, or whatever it’s called — no fucking way.  I don’t give business to bigots.

Terrible thing is, when you’re driving eight to ten hours at night, all you pretty much see are strip malls and the neon lights of fast-food joints.  Holy shit, there really is a Starbucks on every block and right across the street, there’s usually a Subway shop.

I don’t remember where I read it or heard it, but the guy who ran Subway, before he was sent away for some really bad sexual abuse stuff, said he lost something like 100 pounds eating nothing else but Subway sandwiches.  In all my years, I’ve never ordered one.  I figure, why the hell would I ever pay $7 for a sandwich?  That’s crazy.

Late one night, hungry in East Las Vegas, I pull into a Subway and order the Black Forest Ham with provolone cheese.  It was like snorting crack for the first time.  Hard to remember when I’ve tasted something better.  Maybe it was just that my expectations were so appallingly low, that the entire escapade was a surprise.  I can’t explain the shock and awe.  So far in the month since, I’ve wolfed down like a dozen Subway sandwiches.  I’m still waiting for the 100 pounds to fall off.

The same cannot be said for Wienerschnitzel, a dying castoff of a quick-paced culinary has-been straight out of the 1970s that I remember as being pretty decent, in as much as a 14-year-old knows anything about good food.  Anyway, one night I drove by Wienerschnitzel, on East Charleston.  Insatiably curious, I ordered two hot dogs with mustard and onions, and after wolfing down two chomps of the first one, then chunked the remainder out into a cold dark wet parking lot, presumably to be consumed in broad daylight of the pending dawn by a flock of hungry pigeons which won’t nearly be as selective about what they introduce into their intestines.  What crap.

Donut places also become my weakness.  I can’t resist donuts.  Unfortunately, Las Vegas is limited to a couple of junky franchise donut shops scattered all over town — namely Dunkin Donuts and Winchells.  I hate Krispy Kreme.  That’s a no-go for me.  Way too sweet.  Shit cheap ingredients.  By now, I’m on a first-name basis with three different night crews working graveyard at Dunkin and Winchell’s.

The downside of all this sitting and eating and farting and solitude is feeling pretty much starting to feel like total shit all the time.  I develop trouble sleeping.  I start dreaming of neverending traffic jams.  My clothes begin to smell like dope — even with the air freshener.

On the upside, I’m getting better and better at this.  I’m avoiding low-fare rides and bad pick-up spots and concentrating on off-the-beaten-path areas which make better time and are far less stressful.  I can’t always avoid undesirable routes and rude passengers, but it’s all a numbers game.  Minimize costs.  Maximize gains.  Continue to learn.

Daily Tally — 13 rides and $146.36 in earnings.

 

Day 6 (Feb. 24) — Another trick I learn is utilizing music to my advantage.  By this, I mean the music I play inside the car while driving with passengers.

Other than politics, music is something that divides us the most.  We don’t listen to people different than ourselves and certainly don’t like their music.  I plead guilty to this also.

I’m astounded that many rideshare drivers selfishly play what they want to hear, which passengers are then forced to endure like helpless hostages.  Since so many drivers are young, they tend to play rap and techno music.  I hear that a lot in the airport queue.   Some passengers also reveal to me that many trips were insanely annoying only because drivers played their shit music with the boom box blasts and warbling autotune voices.  I have no idea what possesses these clowns to force that garbage on paying customers.  Maybe that’s why some drivers receive negative star ratings, which is the direct feedback and rating attached to every driver’s permanent record.  Five stars is great.  One star is a disaster.  Although it shouldn’t really matter, I want to get five stars from my riders.

I installed Pandora from Day One through the car’s audio sound system.  I then programmed a link to the John Coltrane station at the perfect decibel level of 7.  Just loud enough to hear and enjoy, but yet not too loud.  The Coltrane station is outstanding as background music and even becomes a conversation starter.  Cannonball Adderly, Herbie Hancock, Charlie Bird, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis…..all the jazz greats become the soundtrack of my day as a Lyft driver.

One passenger, a young lady originally from New York City even reveals her father was a stand-up bass player and played many studio sessions on some of Dizzy Gillespie’s recordings.  That crosstown fare was too short at 25 minutes.  I could have listened to her talk about her late dad and hear her stories much longer.  That insightful conversation happened simply because of some really good music.

Over my four weeks of driving, I had at least 30 to 40 people comment on the music I’d selected.  Every word of feedback was positive.  Without exception.  Many riders said they felt more peaceful and at ease after listening to classic jazz masters at the end of long trips or stressful work days.  Coltrane and friend’s instrumentation seemed to converse in a universal language, equally appreciated by White and Black, Male and Female, Young and Old.  I, too, found myself acting calm behind the wheel.  Spewing profanities at other drivers, a common pastime since my youth, mellowed and then eventually disappeared.

Almost like meditation.

Coltrane in the car and its impact became a major surprise to me.  I had no idea of the immense influence music has on people and their moods.  Music used in the right way can, in a word, be transformative.

Late Saturday night, I make a final run adjacent to Paradise Road and get called to a quick pick-up at the Flamingo, where a busy nightclub has just let out.  There’s a huge crowd of people standing around, many females in scantily-veiled dresses and macho half-bearded guys wearing jackets on size too small and bathed in cologne.  This was one of those cheap fares that I didn’t want.  But, I was here already.

A couple of women get into the back seat and a guy who looks Middle Eastern and speaks with an accent sits in front.  They’ve all been partying and drinking most of the night, which I can tell because even though they’re inside the quiet confines of a car, they are still yelling at each other as they talk.  After spending several hours inside a nightclub, one apparently becomes accustomed to shouting over the thundering boom of ceaseless noise.

Within moments, a classic track from Miles Davis’ masterpiece Kind of Blue virtually lullabies the trio and as if intoxicated by both rhythm and note become transfixed to the syncopation of a cornet recorded some 61 years ago.  The yelling stops.  Not a word is spoken for the next 12 minutes.  Hypnotizing.

Once the trio gets dropped off at their hotel, while stepping out of the car, I hear one girl say to the other, “that music was so perfect.”

I agree.

It was perfect.

Daily Tally — 21 rides and $223.97 in earnings.  My best day.

 

Day 7 (Feb. 25) — The thing that’s hardest to explain and even tougher to understand about driving as a full-time job is just how excruciating it is on the body.

Should you doubt this for a second, think of what it’s like to sit in the middle seat of an airliner, packing in economy class for four hours.  Now, double that.  Imagine flying from Las Vegas to Atlanta every day, and then back again, for several days in a row.  Oh, and you can’t read a book or watch TV.  Instead, you have to look outside the window and pay attention to where you’re headed.  Oh, and you must also engage in conversation with the people sitting around you.

That’s exactly what it’s like driving passengers.  Just like flying, only headed to nowhere.  A day or two of driving.  Okay.  Fine.  A few days of it, then it gets tiring.  After a week, my entire body feels like a department store mannequin from being frozen too long in one position.  My back aches.  My brain is fried from way too much pointless conversation.  The music helps, but it’s not a miracle tonic.  There’s still the sporadic craziness.

I desperately need a day off.  So, I give one short ride in the afternoon and then decide that since it’s Sunday, I’m giving myself some much-needed rest.

Daily Tally:  1 ride and $3.97 in earnings.

With another week about to begin the following day, and given the same demands as I just went through, I need the break.  I’m off the next 24 hours and then will begin anew in Week Two.

 

WEEK 1 RESULTS:

Total 44 hours driven and 83 rides given….$524.84 in earnings including tips and bonus after $234.71 rental car cost deduction…..minus $135.00 spent in gas….equals $9.30 per hour.

 

 

Coming Next:  Week Two

__________

 

Read More

Posted by on Feb 14, 2019 in Blog, Essays, Personal | 0 comments

What’s the Worst Date You’ve Ever Been On?

 

 

Happy Valentines Day!

Let’s do something different.  Today, we’re going to have a little fun.  We’ve earned it, right?  On this special occasion, we’re going to try and recall the absolute worst dates of our lives.

I considered asking my faithful readers to post stories about their best dates.  It is Valentines Day, after all.  Thing is, the very best dates either lead to weddings, or if they’re truly amazing — maybe really wild and happened at the end of the night which might best remain unspoken.

So instead, let’s find some common ground and focus on the worst dates we’ve ever had.  Everyone’s been on a bad date, so we should all be able to play along.

I got married at age 29.  That means I spent about ten years playing the dating game.  Like most everyone, I went out on some good dates and some bad dates.  Most of them, I don’t remember much.

But I sure remember a Saturday night that happened sometime in 1987.

My worst date happened when I was around 25.  I met a girl somewhere, I forgot where exactly.  Attracted to the girl, I gave her my phone number and asked to call if she wanted to go out sometime.  To my surprise, she called just a few days later.  We talked for a few minutes and agreed that I’d pick her up Saturday night and take her out to dinner.  We may even have discussed going to a movie, as well.  I think Platoon had just been released.

Saturday comes around and I’m supposed to pick her up promptly at 6.  I get into my car and the piece of shit won’t start.  The bastard battery was dead.  Frantic, I tried getting a jump start but didn’t have any jumper cables.  Utterly desperate for transport and the clock ticking fast to 6, I called up my friend, Iranian Mike, a gambling buddy of mine who lived about a mile away.  I begged him to borrow his car for the night.  He said okay.  Iranian Mike even agreed to drive his car over and let me have it so I wouldn’t be late for my date.  Man, what a pal.  I think he might have owed me some money, so this made us even.

When Iranian Mike pulled into my apartment complex, I couldn’t believe my eyes.  He drove a dark blue Oldsmobile.  A Cutlass.  It was filthy.  There was dog hair all over the seats.  He had a small Shitzhu and the dog rode in the car all the time.  It was summer in Texas, so the dog shedded like crazy.  Worse, Iranian Mike’s car had a flat tire a few days earlier and was riding on one of those small donut-shaped emergency tires that was only intended as a temporary replacement to make it to a service station.  Iranian Mike tossed me the keys and told me to bring it back in one piece.

I can’t even fathom what must have gone through the girl’s head when I pulled in to pick her up, driving that dark blue Oldsmobile Cutlass of a shitbox with dog hair all over the seats and a tiny tire that made the car pull off to one side.

Hey, the night was still young.  Then, things went downhill from there.

I feel bad not remembering the girl’s name, right now.  So, I have to call her “the girl.”  If you’re reading — sorry girl.  She listened to my sob story about the car not starting and having to borrow a friend’s car at the last second.  I think she kinda’ appreciated the effort.  She even believed me for a second.

We pulled into one of the best Italian restaurants in North Dallas, Lombardi’s on Lower Greenville.  This was my go-to place.  Great food.  Live jazz on weekends.  I’d even made a dinner reservation in advance.  What a gentleman.  A player.

The next 90 minutes were excruciating.  Ever been in a confined space, trapped in a sit-down situation, and within 5 minutes you know it’s already a disaster?  How about this:  Ever been crucified?  That was this date.

We had absolutely nothing in common.  I mean, nothing.  Everything she liked and enjoyed, I detested.  Every topic I brought up, she took no interest in.  But, she had a great ass.  Man, I couldn’t get the check fast enough.

We both went through the motions.  We gave it the old college try.  I remember as we were looking across at each other one of those cozy two-top tables meant for couples truly in love, recalling that many odd relationships start off sailing on rough seas before calmer waters.  Indeed, many love affairs do begin when the two people can’t stand each other.  But this wasn’t that.  She didn’t dislike me.  And I didn’t dislike her.  The date pretty much just ended up like walking up to a stranger on a bus and saying, “hey, let’s hang out together for a couple of hours.”  What would one expect?  Rolling the dice like that, what are the odds it’s going to work out and you’re going to keep hitting your point?  Dating is/was just a numbers game.  Keep tossing and eventually, you hit the 7.  But along the way, there’s a few boxcars and snake-eyes.  This date wasn’t like crapping out.  It was like misfiring with two dice bounding off the table.  A miscue.  A bad roll.

The waiter brought over the check and by this time there was no chance in hell we were going to that movie.  Even if I really wanted to see Platoon.  All I wanted to do was pack her into the passenger seat with all the grey dog hair and wheel her back to her street, prop open the side door, and slow down enough to let her get a running start when the stilettos hit the asphalt.

But first I had to pay the bill.

Uh oh.

Dallas — we have a problem.  When I reached for the check that’s when I suddenly realized this night was about to become so far beyond a humiliation that I think I just lost it right then and there and began to burst out laughing.

A few hours earlier while trying to find a jump start for the car, I’d switched jackets.  That meant I’d left my billfold in the other coat pocket.  The billfold had all my money and credit cards.  So, I was sitting at a dinner table on a Saturday night penniless.  Flat fucking broke.

I think I was laughing by this time.  Crying, maybe.  I don’t remember.  The girl must have thought I was insane.  If there was a bridge nearby, I probably would have jumped off it.

“Umm, you’re not going to believe this, but umm…..”

Whatever syllables followed next from my trembling salty lips aren’t important, nor are they remembered exactly word for word, some three decades later.  However, I do remember this.  My date actually gasped for air.  Then, she just stared.  Sort of like a death stare.  Then, she calmly reached into her purse, tossed some money on the tabletop, and confessed she needed to go to the ladies room immediately.  Yeah, I totally got that.  I could surely understand.  I’m stoked with empathy.  The girl needed to catch her breath.  Take a little break.  I’m sure our date had been quite overwhelming.

Well, I sat there by myself with my hands over my face in silence for the next ten minutes.  The agony seemed a lot longer than that.  It sure seemed like a long time for her to be using the restroom.  So, I left her money on the table and approached to the hostess stand.  I was still clueless.

“Hey, did you see a brunette lady in a polka-dot dress up here?  She’s my date.  I can’t find her.”

 “Yeah, she jumped in a taxi and left five minutes ago.”

Can you believe that?  I didn’t even get a kiss.

Well, at least I got a free dinner out of the worst date of my life.

 

Note:  ‘Tis the season of love.  Now it’s your turn.  Please join our fun at Facebook where readers can post their WORST DATE EVER stories in the “comments” section.  My last poll question got about 230 replies.  This one should be a blast.  CLICK THE LINK BELOW:

 

 

 

__________

 

Read More

Posted by on Feb 13, 2019 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Personal, Travel | 0 comments

Ten Things Las Vegas People Secretly Want to Say to Friends and Relatives Who Visit

 

 

How to Lose Freinds, Piss-Off Family Members, and Maintain Your Sanity:  A Las Vegas Crumudgeons’s Dark Confessional on Dealing with Visitors

 

Las Vegas is a terrific place to go on vacation.  Las Vegas is an even better place to live.

Not only is there lots of stuff to do 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week — but someone we know always seems to be in town.  If not, then they’ll visit eventually.  It’s like living inside Grand Central Station, only with about a million video poker machines.

If you live in Las Vegas, people from all those boring places are bound to come and pay you a visit at some point in their lives.  In fact, there’s a 100 percent chance you’ll eventually hear from every old high-school chum, ex-whatever, former co-worker, ballbusting boss, frat brother, step-uncle, old college roommate, softball teammate, and long-lost distant relative, including those whose names you can’t remember and/or have been desperately trying to forget.

One surprise about living here is that locals don’t tend to hang out together much.  Perhaps we’re just too exhausted entertaining all the out-of-towners to have much time left for friends and neighbors.  Visitors expect us to be at their beck and call….acting as their booking agent, tour guide, chauffeur, casino host, maid, cook, banker, and sometimes even the co-signer for bail.

Yes, I did that once.

Don’t misunderstand me.  I do like some of my friends and even enjoy the company of a couple of my relatives.  But I also receive 3 to 4 messages per week on average, saying something to the effect — “Hey Nolan, let’s get together!”  Imagine how high this number might be if I weren’t such an asshat someone with impeccable taste and high standards.  Sure, these social invitations are well-intentioned.  I’d like to accept most of them — especially when they’re buying.  Unfortunately, tough choices have to be made to preserve one’s sanity.

I’ve begun to decline the majority of invitations that I receive.  It’s nothing personal.  I’m just tired of hanging out in casinos for hours at a time, without any sense of purpose.  Most nights, I’d much rather spend my free time at home — getting into political fights with complete strangers on Facebook — rather than sitting in a sportsbook, which all seems so pointless, especially when the shitty team you bet on like the Los Angeles Lakers can’t even cover the pointspread even though they’re playing against the worst team in the NBA that just lost and is in the second game of a back-to-back situation and you found a -9 when every other sportbook in town had it at -10.  And, don’t even get me started on the prospect of grazing up and down The Strip like I’m stuck in the middle of a cattle drive or wading through mall crowds to go see a $140 show.

Screw that, man!

Welcome to fabulous Las Vegas.  Sorry, but I’ve got a headache.  Have fun.  You’re on your own.

Here are ten unspoken secrets that most Las Vegas residents want to say to our dear friends and relatives who come here to visit:

 

[1]  Give us plenty of notice when you’re coming.  Chances are, you planned your Las Vegas vacation several weeks ago, or even months in advance.  Well, we have lives, too.  If you really want to get together, give us as much notice as possible that you’re coming.  I can’t count all the occasions I got text message asking me if I want to get together that same night, and look down and see the message was sent at 3:30 pm.  We can’t drop everything on two hours notice.  It doesn’t work that way.  Warn us please, so we can try and be out of town ourselves.

[2]  Unless it’s an emergency, we won’t go to The Strip!  I realize the main reason 40 million people come to Las Vegas annually is to hang out at fancy casinos and blow tons of money for free drinks.  Flying here and then not going to The Strip would be like taking a trip to Egypt and then skipping the Pyramids.  But hey, you can even see a pyramid here — it’s called Luxor.  Thing is, most locals over the age of 30 don’t go to The Strip — ever.  Crowds, high costs, paid parking, terrible odds on machines, we don’t want to go there.

[3]  Most of us can’t afford $200 dinners every night.  We know you saw a celeb chef on TV  want to try out their new place.  Reality is, that’s just a branding exercise.  A facade.  Famous people get paid lots of money to stamp their names on the sign in front, because, for some inexplicable reason, lots of gullible people want to eat in a place with a famous person’s name on the sign.  Again, have fun!  We’ll stick to our favorite locals’ spot, park for free, get better service, and save about 40 percent on the bill.  Oh, and tap, not sparkling.

[4]  We don’t have connections to grease you with free show tickets.  Sorry, but we can’t pick up the phone, call Alfonse at the Copa Room, and have two front row tickets waiting for you and a special guest at Will Call.  That archaic system ended about the time the Rat Pack died.  But, here’s what we can do:  Direct you to a great website where you can book your own show tickets!  Oh, joy!  One notable exception is something really cool called Half Price Show Tickets, which is a kiosk storefront on The Strip.  Same day, last-minute show tickets are deeply discounted.  Go there, so long as you don’t mind seeing a D-grade show like a juggler or “comedian” at 2 in the afternoon with a two-drink minimum.  If you want tickets to any of the big headliners, it’s best to reserve well in advance.

[5]  Friday and Saturday night are to be avoided at all costs Whatever we said earlier about visiting the mega-casinos — double it twice and turn it sideways when it comes to heading to The Strip on a weekend.  Recently, I made the monumental mistake of meeting someone at Bally’s on a Friday evening at 8 pm and then waited 45 minutes idling in my car to get out of the parking lot.  I hated my ex-friend, after that.  Forget about being anywhere around City Center during a Las Vegas Golden Knights (NHL) home game.  When it comes to holidays, forget-about-it.  I don’t know you.  I don’t want to know you.

[6]  Don’t even think about asking me to do something on an NFL Sunday or a Monday night during football season.  Unless you hit the lottery and need somebody to do some serious partying with, I’m busy.

[7]  Don’t expect me to drop whatever I’m doing to entertain you.  What do I look like, Britney Freaking Spears?  What talents I possess won’t interest you.  Accordingly, your time is best utilized compensating a true professional.  I can’t just drop whatever I’m doing and become your personal servant.  Besides, the poker game I’m likely sitting in on a typical Wednesday night is probably great and I need to play a just few more hours to try and get out of the hole.

[8]  We aren’t forking over our casino comps for you to splurge.  The $62.17 I managed to rake into my account at Stations Casino cost me $2,700 in video poker losses over four months.  I worked damn hard for those comps.  So, don’t expect me to blow them on you.  Yeah, I love you, Mom.  But use your own comp points.

[9]  If we’re picking you up somewhere, be there, on time.  Picking up a friend in front of a 5,500-room hotel isn’t like going through the drive-thru at Wendy’s.  Chances are, we’ve got one shot at seeing you standing outside on the sidewalk.  If you’re late or aren’t there, that means we have to go circle around ten minutes again through the taxi line.  Be where you say you’ll be.  On time.  If there’s any doubt about making the connection, always leave 15 minutes early.  That seems to make just about everyone right on time.

[10]  Buy your own dope.  Las Vegas has gotten to be a tourist destination for dope smokers.  I don’t know shit about that stuff, except that lots of people appear to be happy and having lots of fun.  I have nothing against marijuana or cannabis or whatever it’s called.  Stay high, my friends.  But I’m not becoming your personal pusher.  I’ve got another reputation issues already without being labeled El Broko El Chapo.

 

So, what’s all this mean?  Based on each of my demands, that pretty much leaves just one spot open for visitors who want to get together and hang out with me:  1:30 pm on non-holiday Tuesday afternoons at Maggiano’s Little Italy in Downtown Summerlin, but only if you’re buying (alcohol must be included).

Sound good?  Then, give me a ring!  I can’t wait to see you!

 

__________

 

Read More

Posted by on Feb 6, 2019 in Blog, Essays, Personal | 9 comments

Fifty-Seven Things You Don’t Know About Me (and May Not Care) on the Glorious Occasion of My 57th Birthday

 

Nolan Dalla Grandparents

 

57 Things You Don’t Know About Me (and May Not Care) on the Glorious Occasion of My 57th Birthday

 

Writer’s Note:  Time now for another self-indulgent article on the special occasion of my 57th birthday.  This column has become an annual tradition for me.  If you can spare a little generosity to help keep this website going and allow me to pay my webmaster Ernst Dieter Martin a few bucks for all his hard work, I would be most grateful.  Please click the CONTRIBUTE button to the right side if you care to lend your support.  If not, then please enjoy anyways.  I have lots of new exciting projects coming up in the weeks and months ahead.  Thanks for reading.

Read More
css.php