My 28 Days as a Lyft Driver in Las Vegas (Part III)
This is the third in a four-part series.
Read PART I here.
Read PART II here.
The dangling of carrots can make tigers and bears jump through rings of fire.
Years ago, a survey was done. People were asked to rate their own driving abilities. Around 90 percent of respondents professed to be “better than average” drivers. About 60 percent considered themselves in the top 10 percent.
The only thing proven by the survey was — there’s a shitload of self-deception going on. Everybody thinks they’re Superman. Meanwhile, we’re all convinced that everybody else is an idiot. Well, that last part might actually be true.
Our delusions don’t apply just to an evaluation of driving skills. A similar survey would reveal the same percentages for many things. Ask 100 men to rate themselves as lovers and I suspect the percentages would mirror driving. But the biggest illusion of all is in gambling, especially among poker players and sports bettors. While working in casinos, I met barely anyone who admitted to losing. And it’s always the other guy who plays his hand badly. It’s incredible.
I post this little ditty of a disclaimer up front because, the fact is, while I’m an average poker player and have surely gone through some rough spells in sports betting — I’m a great driver. Trust me on this. Would I lie to you?
Working for Lyft is a job where the primary skill set required is….driving. Not being a great conversationalist. Not being kind and courteous. Not clicking an app. Not fiddling with the radio. Not writing crusty blog reflections of what it’s like to be a rideshare driver.
Day 15 (Mar. 4) — Previously in this series, I eviscerated Las Vegas cab drivers. Long before I began this whimsical experiment, my opinion was that cab drivers ranked somewhere in between eating at Taco Bell and getting daihrrea, which is commonly one and the same.
Upon pondering this biased opinion further, I now realize my criticism of taxi drivers wasn’t entirely fair nor accurate. Alas, some drivers are very good people who put in very long hours. Maybe a couple, anyway. Like many working-class folk, cab drivers are overworked, underpaid, exploited by superiors, those prickly cab companies who have forced everyone to dance in the shit parade for far too long. With Lyft and Uber riding to the rescue for consumers, local transport habits are changing fast and dinosaur taxi companies are beginning to see their axels stuck in a tar pit.
When I used to take taxis, which was often, I got fed up with the smelly cars, burned out shells of bitter souls, the chronic complaints, long-haul airport-connector tunnel rides, $3 credit card surcharges, $2 add-on fees for baggage, an extra charge for the airport, $45 fares that took 20 minutes to drive, and seeing every single inch of the car looking like a Times Square bum wearing a sandwich board. Admittedly, these annoyances weren’t the drivers’ fault. It’s the system.
Still, the resentment lingers and remains something I just can’t shake. The scab on old wounds has ripped open again after facing considerable unpleasantness with cabbies, transgressions like — intentionally cutting me off in traffic, honking horns for no reason, flipping me the middle finger (okay, I flipped him off, first), and behaving like total assholes. Professional drivers — no matter who they work for — do share a kindred spirit. We’re out there on the streets day and night busting ass, taking mostly the same risks, simply trying to make a decent living. There’s no reason to be vicious and vindictive, yes, even though I find myself becoming increasingly vicious and vindictive.
If cabbies want peace, then my olive branch heretofore is extended. If they want war, I’m ready to battle. Trust me, I’m driving a fully insured vehicle and it can be used to make my point. Warning: Do not tread on me.
Changing the subject now to a topic equally as bothersome, let’s talk about pay scales.
Express Lyft drivers make .40 cents per mile (on average), while driving with a fared passenger onboard. Forty fucking cents. That doesn’t include mileage to go the pick-up point or returning to orbit after the drop-off. Compare the travesty of earning .40 cents per mile versus cab companies which charge passengers a whopping $2.76 per mile, and that doesn’t include airport surcharges and waiting times. Taxi drivers are dining on caviar, while Lyft (and presumably Uber, too) are living on scraps.
Despite the inequities of rideshare driving, even though the money’s basically dog shit, Lyft nevertheless encourages its passengers to rate each driver immediately after the ride. Sure, direct feedback can be good. I understand the reason for this interactive rating system. No doubt, bad drivers should be called out and dismissed if they don’t improve. But it’s humiliating enough already making $4 fuck bucks to drive ten miles, not counting eating the fuel cost, without the frat brat in the back seat albatrossing a marginal driver with a low star rating. Hell, let’s start grading all the migrant workers picking fruit, and ruin they’re lives, too.
Lyft’s online app ratings range from 1-star (worst) to 5-stars (best). Following my first week, I had a perfect 5-star score, which basically meant not a single rider complained or was dissatisfied, this despite me making several errors. My second week, Paloma’s mother must have went all Ted Bundy on my driver profile because my star rating suddenly dipped to 4.8. Bitch. While I’m assured that’s still a very high rating, actually about as good a score as possible after several hundred rides, it still bothers the hell out me to get a bad rating from anyone. Here I am stacking .40 cents a mile and I’m worried about my star rating like some 2nd-grader anticipating his math report card.
I guess what I’m saying is, we all want to be loved. Especially, rideshare drivers.
No memorable fares or incidents on this Monday. That will change in a big way in the days to come.
Daily Tally: 17 rides given and $137.76 in earnings.
Day 16 (Mar. 5) — Around midnight on my second night of the week, a slower-than-average Tuesday, I receive a ping to make a pick up at Hawks Gym. That’s a gay bathhouse located off East Sahara. I didn’t know these details before. See how fast I learn about the hot spots of my fair city? Now, I can play the ideal Las Vegas tour guide for all people and every occasion.
Wanna suck a cock? I know just the place.
Hawks Gym is nestled next to The Green Door, Las Vegas’ oldest and most established swingers club. Both adult entertainment establishments are located in a run-down strip mall with hookers prancing along the sidewalks and garbage blowing through the parking lot where there’s also a roller rink and an all-night Spanish-language evangelical retreat. Go figure. Lotus of Siam was located in this strip mall before once night during a storm the entire fucking roof caved in and forced the popular Thai restaurant to relocate to a more mainstream location. I can only imagine the wild scene if the roof would have caved in at Hawks Gym or The Green Door, instead. Everybody fucking and then the ceiling suddenly collapses. Man, I’d have paid the entry fee to witness that scene.
So, I pull in front of Hawks Gym and there’s a burly, bearded man standing there waiting. A flannel-shirt and sideburns kind of guy. I don’t think much of it. He said he was going back to his “rig” way across town on West Tropicana. At first, I thought he said “crib.” But the man said “rig,” whatever that meant.
Seeing the man had just departed from something called a “gym,” and this was nothing unusual since there are plenty of late night rec centers all over town, I asked — “So, how was your workout?”
“Really slow, tonight. The slowest night I’ve seen,” the man said. “But there were still a few hot guys.”
If my foot wasn’t on the gas pedal doing 45 in a 35 zone it certainly would have been stuffed into my mouth at that instant. Hawks Gym….ahh yes, now I get it! Bingo!
From my inquisitiveness, the man must have presumed I knew all about Hawks Gym and was a regular, so he proceeded to provide intimate details of his sexual escapades. Admittedly, this was wild fun to listen to, purely in an anthropological sort of way, of course. The man also confessed he’s “madly in love” with a guy back in Phoenix, his hometown. But he also had steady lovers spread out all over the West — in Kingman (Arizona), Jackson (Wyoming), and Reno (Nevada). I got all this golden information in a 20-minute Lyft ride, once again validating the “stranger on the train” phenomenon. Perhaps instead, they should call this “stranger in the Lyft car.” [I stole this line from an Arthur Reber Facebook post].
I also learned the man’s “rig” was actually a truck and this guy was a trucker. He’d parked his rig in a slimy lot, where the only smell is gasoline and exhaust fumes. The man moaned he was sick of “lot lizards” working the overnight trucker station. Lot lizards? Lot lizards (hookers) bang on the truck doors late at night looking for “dates.”
“I don’t want no pussy!” the man frequently yelled out each night he parks and sleeps on the lot while in town, he tells me. Wow, amazing the things you learn doing rideshare.
We pulled into the trucker lot on Tropicana near Wynn and the man pointed to a giant black beast of an International 18-wheeler that looked more like a jumbo jet from the front view. I couldn’t help but be impressed. We made small talk for a minute more about trucking and then he offered to show me “the inside of the cab.”
Tempting as the trucker’s suspected advance was, I declined the invitation with the excuse it was time for me to get back — on the road again.
Daily Tally: 15 rides given and $97.81 in earnings.
Day 17 (Mar. 6) — We’re forced to carry comprehensive auto insurance. The standard Hertz (with Lyft Express) policy has a $1,000 deductible, a charge that would probably bankrupt half the driving force if they were unfortunate enough to get into an accident.
In some cases, traffic accidents are unavoidable. It doesn’t matter how skilled you are or careful you may be behind the wheel, even the best driver might at any moment get into a crash.
On my tenth work day, I get into a minor fender-bender in the airport staging area.
Wednesday is another slow day, so I find myself waiting longer for a ride in the staging lot (see photo atop this article, which shows the typical view of the rideshare lot, which may have up to 150 cars at any time). The lot is nearly full. We’re all cued up and waiting, one by one.
I was legally parked and taking a short rest, which meant reclining my seat just a little and closing my eyes. Just as I was about to doze off, the entire car rocked off to one side and I heard a loud crash.
Some idiot driver wasn’t looking where he was going and pulled forward, slamming into the front wheel panel on the passenger side.
I jumped out and immediately surveyed the damage, which was remarkably insignificant to my Nissan but had seriously damaged his vehicle, which I presumed was also rented by the looks of it.
“Byy are you bahking dere?” the weathered-looking man wearing a ballcap asked in a thick accent that seemed either Pakistani or Indian, I couldn’t tell which. It wasn’t a question so much as an accusation that I was at fault.
“Hey good buddy, uhh, I was parked here. You slammed into me,” I snapped.
The man stood there for five minutes surveying the scene, scanning the” damage,” and taking pictures. He must have snapped a couple of dozen images from his phone. He also started asking nearby drivers if they’d seen anything. This was suddenly turning into the Kennedy Assassination.
I snapped a few photos myself for my own protection and then told him that we’d deal with the matter later through our insurance companies. My phone indicated a new pick up, so I had to go make a quick $7.45 — which I figure might come in handy to pay my dime deductible, if it came to that.
Daily Tally: 11 rides given and $85.61 in earnings, and one minor fender-bender.
Day 18 (Mar. 7) — I’d read about perks to Lyft driving. Strip clubs reportedly offer cash kickbacks to drivers who take clients to hotspots like Sapphire, one of the largest flesh factories in Las Vegas. Cannabis dispensaries also allegedly give drivers bonus money to bring in new customers. There have even been reports of bunny ranches in Pahrump, about an hour’s drive away across the Spring Mountains, giving drivers a couple of hundred dollars in kickbacks to bring them a customer.
Stupid me hasn’t received one single kickback from anyone yet. In fact, I went the entire 28 days without so much of an opportunity or even an offer. I’m no moral puritan, but I’m not entirely comfortable with conducting my personal and professional affairs that way. Seems wrong to haul someone who’s seeking advice to a club for the sole reason of taking a cash payoff. I have no problem recommending anything to anyone, provided I actually know the subject matter and do have an opinion about it. But my recommendation isn’t for sale unless, of course, someone does demand a ride to Pahrump and the madame wants to slip me a couple of hundred as a thank you. I’ll let you know when that happens. Until then, I won’t be exhaling any cannabis.
One unusual thing happens on this Thursday evening. A woman gets into my car just off Fremont Street downtown. She wants me to transport her to far East Las Vegas and then bring her back to the same spot. This is called a fare with multiple stops.
Along the way, the lady begins to negotiate with me. She wants me to charge her for just one way, and then cancel the return part of the fare. I tell her I can’t do that. Next, the woman insists she can give me “lots of business” and pay cash for all her rides. She even tells me she takes Lyft and Uber to Los Angeles all the time and she’s currently looking for a “new driver.”
Mind you, I picked up this woman off 14th Street and Fremont five minutes ago.
I politely decline this splendid opportunity to enhance my investment portfolio and become what amounts to a private chauffeur. But before leaving the car on the (paid) return trip, she insists on taking down my cell phone number. She tells me she’ll text me next time she needs a ride to Los Angeles. Visions of the woman swindling me to make the 220-mile trip flash into my head, and once we arrive in L.A,, and before paying for her ride, she jumps out of the car and runs away. Sounds like a scam.
I make up another excuse that we’re not allowed to do that. I’m winging it at this point. Being calm and polite probably serves me better in this spot than just saying, “get the fuck out of the car and get lost.”
Besides, what driver wants to get a 1-star rating?
Daily Tally: 15 rides given and $108.72 in earnings.
Day 19 (Mar. 8) — Lyft must incentivize drivers to work at premium times of day or night and work the more difficult areas of the city. They do a terrible job with incentives in relation to special events, as I pointed out in my tirade (Part II) when I lambasted the low pay for fares right after hockey games at T-Mobile Arena. Man, fuck those thirty-minute $3.97 fares.
The incentives are called boost times and priority zones which multiply the drivers pay anywhere from 25 percent up to 100 percent, which is double the standard fare. On a couple of occasions, I’ve seen the boost notification go as higher as 200 percent, which means that’s triple the normal fare.
Boosting sure sounds wonderful. But I’m also convinced it’s used as bait to get drivers to swim to colder waters. That old devil’s scent. Early on, I chased the boost zones, but usually, by the time I got there just a few minutes later, the 100 percent increase had fallen significantly, and sometimes had disappeared altogether. My advice to Lyft drivers is — don’t chase phantom ghosts. While there are indeed some times of day that are more profitable (very early in the morning is probably the best example as cars are needed for hotel-to-airport runs as early as 4 am), I’m not sure the hassle of picking up at the Las Vegas Convention Center at 5 pm after 20,000 trade show attendees are exiting is really worth the extra $3 or $4 on the fare. Just my opinion based on what’s admittedly limited experience.
I do understand there are inherent responsibilities that go along with working for any company. Riders look to drivers as “Lyft employees,” even though we aren’t. We’re on the front lines, in the battle, wearing the uniform, taking the abuse — but without any flags and victory parades.
Sometimes it takes manure to grow roses. In the service industry, you swallow your pride, keep your mouth shut, and nod yes. That’s the way it works in tipped occupations, even though by my estimate only about 1 in 10 riders leave any kind of tip at all. I guess there’s the holdout of hope each time a new passenger climbs into the back seat that this is the one that forks over the five or ten spot or if I’m really lucky — a twenty [Note: My highest cash tip in 404 rides over 28 days was $20. My second highest tip was $8 — thanks again, Angel].
The dangling of carrots can make tigers and bears jump through rings of fire and the hope of receiving a cash tip while driving means I’ll go out of my way and even make sacrifices, on occasion. Several passengers have asked if I’d make a “quick stop” at a convenience store, or drive somewhere else not on the standard route, purely as a favor. As an independent contractor, I’m certainly willing to do this, especially for people who look like they could use a break. But I also don’t like being taken advantage of. Man, that really pissed me off.
Friday night at 1 am, several airport pick ups are over in Terminal 3, which is where all international flights arrive. It’s also the time of day when Frontier, the discount airline, arrives from Chicago and Denver and elsewhere, flights which are packed to capacity with passengers who paid less than $120 round trip because of a special fare happening this month.
A hipster-looking half-shaven guy who disembarked from one of those Frontier flights gets in the car. While driving over to the far west side of town, the hipster asks if he can use my phone charger. I comply. The phone remains plugged in during the 25-minute ride.
It’s dark in the car and by the time he exits, we’ve both completely forgotten about the phone laying in the back seat that’s connected to the portal. I drop off the hipster at a large apartment complex and then drive away.
A few minutes after returning to the road, I look down and see the phone plugged in. So, I try to log in, but it’s password protected. I immediately send a note to Lyft reporting the lost item. Following the rules. I consider driving back to the apartment complex and searching for the man, but there’s no way I would be able to find his unit.
Another ten minutes pass and now I’m at least five miles away. The phone rings. I answer it.
“You’ve got my phone!”
“Yes, I do.”
“Can you bring it back to me?”
It’s an inconvenience, but the hipster does need his phone back. If the roles were reversed, I’d certainly appreciate someone doing me a favor. Besides, the guy will certainly make it worth my while and leave a tip. Right?
Ten minutes later, I’m back at the apartment complex again. The hipster takes his phone and asks me if he wouldn’t mind taking him up to the Red Rock casino.
“You live up near there, don’t you? he asked. [That came up in conversation earlier]
Another ten-minute car ride, completely out of my way — I give what amounts to a free ride. We arrive at Red Rock, where the hipster says “thanks,” exits the car, and darts away towards the nightclub. No tip.
What a stingy jerk-off motherfucker.
My longest and best day driving ends on a sour note.
Daily Tally: 30 rides given and $310.79 in earnings, which includes a $55 bonus.
Day 20 (Mar. 9) — I’ve noted driving is a numbers game. Given enough time, you’ll see almost anything possible on the streets.
Saturday is an abbreviated driving session given how long I worked on the previous day. Late in the evening, I pick up a middle-aged Hispanic woman wearing a maid uniform at the El Cortez downtown and take her to the far east side of town.
As we approach the quiet intersection of Charleston and Nellis, the streets seem deserted. Except for what’s ahead. About a quarter mile up the road, a dozen police cars are sprawled all over the street. Usually, when you see this many cops, that means something serious is going down — like a shooting.
Just as we come to a red traffic light, in my rear view mirror a catch glimpse of a cop car barrelling down Nellis southbound, racing towards the crime scene. The car is zooming 60 to 70 miles an hour. Instinctually, I swerve my vehicle off to the side to allow the police car to pass.
Just as I move over to the sidewalk and come to a complete stop, the police cruiser races into the intersection where a white Toyota has suddenly appeared out of nowhere and cuts in front of the police cruiser with engine roaring and its flashing red and blue lights.
It was a horrifying sound. But the sight was much more frightening. The police car, which I now see is a boxy SUV, t-bones slams the much smaller Toyota, spinning it around and knocking the vehicle sideways towards a traffic pole. Twisted metal and glass flies everywhere. The rider in the back seat screams. I think I yelled out a profanity.
The police car is mangled and smashed in like an accordion. The driver policeman exits the car and momentarily staggers around the empty intersection. He’s dazed. Another officer slowly steps out of the car and kneels down to the pavement.
Meanwhile, the white Toyota is demolished. I’m out of my car by this time and am leaning into the white Toyota since that’s the closest vehicle and the police officer look to have survived the impact. Thankfully, airbags deployed and two ladies are screaming and sobbing with their heads engulfed in what looks like a huge pillow. They’re in shock. It’s a miracle the ladies were alive. I’m not sure exactly what I said or did if anything. Perhaps just hearing a human voice after such trauma was appropriate at that second.
“Stay strong, help is on the way,” I said.
The policeman approached and then also provided comfort. Within another minute or so, two more cop cars had pulled up to the scene and were handling the aftermath of a bad crash, but one which everyone would presumably be okay. From my vantage point, the accident had clearly been the police officer’s fault. He was driving way too fast, and his siren wasn’t turned on. By the time the white Toyota entered the intersection, it was too late.
I left my information as a witness.
Shaken by the incident, I dropped off my passenger and called it a night.
That white Toyota could have been me, or you, or someone you love. You never know what’s on the horizon.
Daily Tally: 7 rides given and $141,22 in earnings, which includes an $80 bonus.
Day 21 (Mar. 10) — Another long driving week has taken its toll on the body and mind. Aching and exhausted and still bothered by the crash just hours earlier, I make a decision to not drive on Sunday. Instead, I vow to put in seven straight days the following week, the final stage of my Lyft contract before returning the rental car back to Hertz.
And on the 7th day, Nolan rested and recovered prior to the final judgment.
WEEK 3 RESULTS:
Total 47 hours driven and 95 rides given….$608.10 in earnings including tips and bonus after $273 rental car cost deduction…..minus $130.00 spent in gas….equals $10.17 per hour.
Coming Next: Week Four (the final chapter)