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.
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?
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.
“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