Last night at 11:15 pm, we lost our beloved cat Alex. He was 18 years old.
Alex died in our arms. He was surrounded by love. As he gasped his dying last breaths, we called out his name softly, over and over, “Alex, good boy….Alex, such a good, good boy.”
He looked up at us with those gorgeous green eyes, never peering away from his gaze. He tried to answer with a few faint “meows,” just as he’d always responded each time his name was called. But last night, he lacked the strength. He had no more meows left to give. He died restfully in peace.
It was heartbreaking. It was beautiful.
Alex was adopted from an animal shelter in Washington, D.C. Marieta and I took him into our loving home exactly one month after the tragedy that was 9/11. Over the next 18 years, Alex traveled the country with us, more like a dog than a cat. He visited a dozen states. We took him to the Grand Canyon. He stayed with us in Reno. Whenever and whenever possible, we took Alex with us because he was a part of our family.
Alex was amazing. We trained him to walk on a leash. He loved to ride in the car. Every Christmas Eve, we took Alex with us to look at the Christmas lights. Every visit to PetsMart, we took Alex along on his leash. All the dog lovers couldn’t believe how smart and sophisticated Alex was, walking inside a store.
Everyone thinks their pet is special. But Alex was truly special.
Many of you might remember Alex. Some of you came into our home and fed him when we traveled. Others may recall Alex as the only cat in Las Vegas history who actually played a hand of live poker.
In 2003, while still working at Binion’s Horseshoe, I brought Alex who stayed upstairs in the hotel. Not a cat to be couped up, Alex wanted to get out and be part of the action. So, I brought him downstairs. Alex joined a poker game and laid upon the table as the cards were dealt and the chips flew. He was dealt in a few hands and even won a few pots. Admittedly, Alex did violate the “one player to a hand” rule. Not surprising, since Alex was always looking for the angle.
Alex’s short poker career wasn’t without a bit of controversy. Gavin Smith was sitting in that game. Gavin insisted the cat “played,” meaning he was part of an all-in bet. Gavin won the pot, and my cat. So, Gavin — a devoted animal lover — cradled Alex in his arms for the next hour while playing No-Limit Hold’em. Gavin and Alex both lived for another 14 years. They died just a few months apart.
Alex loved to play with his cat toys. He loved walks. He loved riding in the car. But most of all, Alex loved to sleep and eat. He could sleep 16 hours a day and he ate like a pit bull.
We will never forget Alex nor be able to express the tremendous joy he gave us. I am so grateful he passed away in peace and was surrounded by our love.
Losing family and friends is to be expected, as death is a part of life. But that doesn’t make things easy with the inevitable happens. Alex was a part of the family. Alex was a friend.
I cry these tears now, not in pain, but in joy, grateful for the gift that was Alex.
Alex was a good boy. Alex was such a good, good boy.
Last Sunday afternoon at 2 pm, the Windmill Library in Las Vegas offered a free musical performance and verbal retrospective in remembrance of Liberace, the late flamboyant showman-pianist, who died 32 years ago.
I suspect most of us who attended expected perhaps only a few dozen locals might show up. After all, Liberace disappeared from the Las Vegas stage a very long time ago. An outdated museum dedicated to his life shuttered in 2010. So, I wondered with some justification — who remembers Liberace?
Remarkably, “Liberace Lives!” — a celebration of the master showman’s life and music — attracted more than 500 attendees! About 50 people or so had to be turned away at the door at the performance center. Come to learn, an identical performance held at another library during the previous day also drew a packed house and an overflow crowd.
What magic spell is still cast by this campy entertainer who never sang, didn’t compose any significant music, couldn’t dance, never used a light show or had an orchestra and whose entire stage show pretty much consisted of a pudgy aging man with a bouffant hair dew dressed in some absurd costume straight out of the Renaissance while sitting at a piano for what would seem to be an excruciating 90 minutes?
That’s the great mystery I shall attempt to solve in today’s article.
Indeed, the timing is perfect. Today, Liberace would have been 100-years-old. He was born Wladziu Valentino Liberace in West Allis, WI on May 16, 1919. The son of Polish and Italian immigrants, Liberace was known as “Lee” to his friends, and “Walter” to his family. But later, the performer became better known to millions by the singular name, Liberace, the first American entertainer to establish a popular trend later copied by Madonna, Prince, Pink, and countless icons.
The remembrance held at the library taught me many remarkable things about Liberace. So, I thought I’d share them now with you. Here are a dozen facts you probably didn’t know about Liberace:
 During the mid-1950s, Liberace was the highest-paid entertainer in the United States, and perhaps the entire world. He had a successful nationally-television variety show. He also earned a whopping $50,000 a week at the Riviera for one Las Vegas’ first extended residencies. That’s equal to about a million dollars per month in today’s money.
 A decade later, Liberace moved his act over to the more spacious The International showroom (later the Las Vegas Hilton, now the Westgate). Every one of his shows sold out. For a time, his opening act was a young female singer named Barbra Streisand.
 Liberace was vilified by critics for his piano playing style and unapologetic showmanship. He was often accused of being way too glitzy with little musical substance. Critics noted that he didn’t compose any original music. Liberace’s counterargument was he brought classical music and old American standards to millions of new listeners. He’s often credited with demystifying the greatest classical compositions for much broader audiences. He was one of the first stage performers to completely obliterate siloed musical tastes. In fact, Liberace included nearly every genre of music in his Las Vegas stage show.
 Liberace had hundreds of fan clubs throughout the world, 200 at one point during the height of his popularity. Later in his career, his most loyal fans consisted of older women, with whom he had established the oddest of connections.
 Liberace stories are the stuff of legend. While rehearsing one afternoon for his temporary residency at The New Frontier around 1953, an unknown man observed the virtuoso from the wings offstage. Liberace wasn’t at all pleased with the lighting and asked the tall man to help with repositioning a few spotlights. The man silently complied with the pianist’s request. That man turned out to be Howard Hughes.
 Before morphing into a legend, Elvis Presley was mostly known as a teen idol during the 1950s. While playing a few shows in Las Vegas, during one night off Elvis attended Liberace’s performance at the Riviera. He saw the pianist wearing a glittery jacket that was so flashy it completely dominated the showroom. Elvis was so impressed with the spectacle that he too began wearing sequined jackets in his act and later adopted the flashy jumpsuits that Liberace pioneered as a Las Vegas performer, years earlier.
 Liberace’s stage show became increasingly over the top nearly to the point of self-parody and camp. He overtly displayed his wealth, fawned over royalty and other celebrities, and even wore heavy fur coats while onstage, despite the bright lights and oppressive Las Vegas heat. He drove into the showroom while chauffered in the back of a mirrored Rolls Royce (driven by his live-in lover, the boyish Scott Thorson). Liberace doddered across the stage adorned in a full white mink stole with a tail more than 20 feet long. As he paraded near the front row of worshippers, Liberace’s stock stage line was “go ahead, have a feel, there’s enough fur there for all of you.”
 Liberace is credited with the famous line, “I laughed all the way to the bank.” When critics ripped his act and he was asked for a reaction, Liberace frequently slung the revengeful reply. Later, during an appearance on The Tonight Show in an interview with Johnny Carson, Liberace really stuck it to his critics. He snapped: “I don’t cry all the way to the bank anymore – I bought the bank!”
 Liberace won a multi-billion dollar defamation suit against a British tabloid after the magazine claimed the pianist was gay in the 50s. Incredibly, Liberace denied the claim and ultimately won his lawsuit, despite the obvious fact the allegation was true. While Liberace couldn’t “come out” given the restrictive times and repressive norms of the day, and certainly would never have enjoyed vast success had his homosexuality been widely known, his adoring fans never seemed to care. Nonetheless, to this day, Liberace remains controversial among gay activists. He never acknowledged being gay, despite actor Rock Hudson being the far braver as the first Hollywood legend to announce his sexuality months prior to dying of AIDS. Liberace died in a similar vein, 18 months after Hudson, but still denied being gay until his last dying breath.
 In life and even in death, Liberace was the ultimate contradiction. He was a flamboyant showman, who lived just as extravagantly while offstage. Yet, he was devoutly religious and remained a practicing Catholic throughout his entire life. Liberace was very conservative politically.
 After Liberace’s death, his wealth funded thousands of college scholarships for students interested in pursuing careers in music. His estate bestowed millions, much of the money going to students in the performing arts at UNLV. His generous endowment continues to support students and musical programs.
 Liberace’s stage shows often concluded with the most unusual fanfare possible. He didn’t simply disappear backstage and then leave, as is normal custom. Rather, after performing his final song, he invited his audience up onto the stage to touch his clothes, sit at his grand piano, and even try on his flashy jewelry. He posed for tens of thousands of photos with his fans, often with handshakes, hugs, and kisses.
Liberace remains a Las Vegas legend. He’s a musical icon. He’s well worth remembering today, on the centennial of his birth.
— Then, don’t you ever lecture me again on MORALITY.
— Then, don’t you ever lecture me again on your so-called “CHRISTIAN VALUES.”
— Then, don’t you ever lecture me again on TAKING PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY FOR ACTIONS.
— Then, don’t you ever lecture me again about GOVERNMENT SPENDING or FEDERAL DEFICITS.
— Then, don’t you ever lecture me again on PAYING YOUR OWN BILLS.
— Then, don’t you ever lecture me again on ADHERING TO THE U.S. CONSTITUTION.
— Then, don’t you ever lecture me again on following THE RULE OF LAW.
— Then, don’t you ever lecture me again about CIVILITY.
— Then, don’t you ever lecture me again about CRONYISM, NEPOTISM, or CORRUPTION.
— Then, don’t you ever lecture me again on PROTECTING THE COUNTRY FROM FOREIGN INTERFERENCE.
— Then, don’t you ever lecture me again on anything to do with RUSSIA.
— Then, don’t you ever lecture me again about CARING FOR THE POOR AND THE ELDERLY.
— — Then, don’t you ever lecture me again about RESPECTING FAMILIES OF THE WAR DEAD.
— Then, don’t you ever lecture me again about CARING FOR THE ENVIRONMENT or PROTECTING ANIMALS.
— Then, don’t you ever lecture me again about HONESTY.
— Then, don’t you ever lecture me again about TELLING THE TRUTH.
From your deafening silence, your constant deflection, your incessant what-about-ism, and your self-imposed bubble of blind ignorance, you have made a clear choice, an appalling demonstration of precisely where you stand on all the important issues of the day, and it’s not flattering.
The bottom line is — you will NEVER lecture me again on anything.
Remember his name, because he merits being treasured. Ponder his significance because he enhanced everything to which his name was attached. Revere his memory because he was a mentor to many, who freely gave guidance for no other reason than simply being kind.
If you knew Gary, you were lucky. If you didn’t, then please read on and learn more about this remarkable man I knew, respected, and loved.
He was a father. He was a husband. He was a friend. He was a veteran. He was a patriot. He was a son of the earth.
He wasn’t just a good man. He was a great man. He was a teacher. He was an intellect. He led by example. He was a man who exemplified the very essence of compassion, honesty, and decency. He was the greater good. He was the angel of our better nature.
Gary Edward Thompson was born in Danbury, Connecticut on December 4th, 1945. He died in Las Vegas, Nevada on April 14, 2019. In between, he lived 74 extraordinary years. His life touched countless others. He made a difference.
Gary spent most of his childhood in Connecticut. He graduated from the prestigious New York Military Academy. He enlisted in the United States Air Force. He served overseas during the Cold War and was stationed in Pakistan during a tense period in global geopolitics.
After serving his country proudly abroad, Gary returned home and worked in New York City for several years as a marketing executive. He became a widely-respected Wall Street reporter and was assigned to writing daily copy for the Dow Jones Report.
Gary then moved to Las Vegas and launched a new career. He took a job as a reporter covering city hall and was promoted to managing editor of the Las Vegas Sun. Next, he worked at Harrah’s Entertainment as a publicist. He worked his way to the pinnacle of the casino industry, becoming the spokesperson for Caesar’s Entertainment, the world’s largest gambling enterprise.
Gary also worked as an executive for the World Series of Poker — not because he needed the extra workload, nor the immense responsibilities that went along with an additional full-time job. He worked for the WSOP — and did so from 2004 through 2008, the period now regarded as “the poker boom” — simply because he loved the game and respected its players. He was there during the critical transition between past and present when the WSOP grew from a smoky backroom corral into an internationally-televised spectacle.
That’s how I came to know Gary so well, and where our story now begins.
Thirty-one years ago, two legends-in-the-making battled it out for poker’s richest prize and instant immortality. Johnny Chan beat Erik Seidel heads-up and won the 1988 World Series of Poker. The final hand later became canonized in the popular movie Rounders and to this day remains one of the most famous confrontations in poker history.
Remember the riveting instant when Chan masterfully captured his prey and yet was forced to disguise the victory within his grasp? See the photograph above which shows Chan just moments before winning his second of two world championship titles. Look at the man positioned over Chan’s left shoulder reporting on the event. That’s Gary Thompson.
Yes, that’s Gary Thompson — standing on his feet at crusty old Binion’s Horseshoe, during the pre-historic era when no one from the mainstream press ever came to cover anything related to poker. Reporting on poker events just wasn’t done back then. Not before Gary Thompson arrived in Las Vegas, saw the potential, trekked down to the Horseshoe personally, and made it into a front-page news story. Some two decades after recognizing the magnetic attraction that was the World Series of Poker, he became one who would run it and make major decisions that would come to define what it’s become today.
Sometime in the future, the real story of the WSOP shall be written. What went on behind the scenes. In back hallways and on cell phones late at night. On those pages, should they tell the whole truth, Gary will be tagged as the perpetual outlier, the ultimate voice of reason, the grand visionary, and the player’s champion.
I was there. I saw it. I witnessed everything. I remember.
Poker players who revere the WSOP owe a special debt of gratitude to Gary for all the things he did that almost no one saw. In the face of excruciating pressure, outright opposition, and often indifference from the highest level, he (often alone) was the voice who stood up to the mega-corporation, the short-sighted bottom-liners, the managerial MBAs, and all the suited squeezers who wouldn’t know mixed games from a mixed salad and never gave a rat’s ass about the players or any of poker’s great traditions. Gary was there duking out in the back offices and boardrooms, bickering and bargaining and bantering at every meeting, every step of the way — pleading, cajoling, maneuvering — desperately trying to protect and preserve all that the WSOP represented that corporate culture wanted to milk out and pulverize the last nickel and drop.
He didn’t win every battle. In fact, he lost many. But he argued passionately and always came down on the side of the greater good of the game.
Yet, Gary’s name will never be associated with poker championships, although he was the players champion. He stood up for them. He defended them. He understood those who came to the WSOP each and every year weren’t just ripe customers to be plucked for a day but might be loyalists for life, provided they were treated right and not ripped-off. Among everyone I ever worked with at Binion’s-Harrah’s-Caesars over 20 long years at the WSOP, no one was more protective of the players and traditions than Gary Thompson.
Public relations and marketing basically boil down to mastering the art of bullshitting.
There, I said it.
Maybe it was because Gary waded through so much of it himself, working on Wall Street and recognizing a lie when he heard it. Maybe it was covering the dirty underbelly of Las Vegas politics for so long. Perhaps those experiences had something to do with Gary always despising bullshitters and vowing never to become one himself.
So, when Gary ultimately flipped to the opposite side of the cat and mouse media game, he never distracted, diverted, nor double-talked those who sought his perspective. He never once bullshitted. That’s why every media personality who interviewed Gary knew they were getting the straight story directly from the source. That made Gary the “go to” guy in Las Vegas. Because he returned phone calls. He told the truth.
Most readers have no idea how difficult it is to maintain trust and personal integrity while working for a conglomerate as colossal as Caesars Entertainment, particularly during the tense period when the $27 billion company was inexplicably floundering in bankruptcy. Gary manned the front lines and dealt with the press on a daily basis. He was the company’s firewall.
That didn’t mean things always went smoothly.
About ten years ago, I read an explosive story on the front page of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The article was about the Department of Justice laying down the hammer on online poker, which pretty much pulled the plug on the game’s growth inside the United States. Gary was quoted (accurately) with a blistering rebuke of the D.O.J.’s overreach. He blasted the feds. I remember sitting there and reading that article, fist-pumping air, and screaming out, “You tell ’em, Gary!”
That was Gary Thompson, ignoring the guard rails, cutting through the bullshit, and telling it like it was. It was pure Gary at his best.
Later, I found out Gary was almost fired for that impromptu comment. Caesar’s Entertainment and the stuffed suits were annoyed that its own spokesperson was picking swinging an ax at the federal government. But Gary survived because he was so damned good at his job and everyone who knew him respected his word as the gold standard. That’s trust. That’s integrity. That’s power.
I must have had 50 dinners and at least 500 drinks with Gary, and that’s a conservative estimate.
His beverage of choice was always Vodka Martini. Shaken not stirred.
He dressed immaculately.
He spoke calmly but could always command a conversation. When Gary spoke, everyone stopped and listened. He had the ear of everyone — CEO’s, Mayors, television people, everyone. Once, I saw him pick up the phone and book a friend of mine as a guest on National Public Radio — on the spot. He got things done.
Most of all, Gary loved to laugh and made the most of every opportunity to do so. If pressed to recall the serene sound of Gary’s soothing voice, it most certainly is accompanied by his laughter. Even when Gary was mad, and he did get angry at times, you could always tell he was looking for the bright side and seeking a way for everyone to shine. His positive spirit was utterly infectious.
I was lucky to call him my boss. He was the kind of person you worked for and didn’t want to disappoint. There are rare individuals in this world who command such authority just by their example, that to fall short of their expectations is the ultimate defeat and despair. Letting down Gary on any task was the ultimate in shame. I don’t know if I ever let down Gary, but I certainly tried to meet and match everything that was expected. I think everyone who ever worked for or with Gary would say the same thing. He was that exceptional leader who could motivate others to exceed their capabilities.
Sometime around 2006, Gary and I had one of our dinners at Piero’s, a local Las Vegas institution. Everyone in the restaurant knew Gary. It was like dining with a rock star. I think (former) Mayor Oscar Goodman was there that night. Gary could have run for any office in the city and probably been elected in a landslide.
During our many conversations, he confessed things privately to me. I don’t think he would mind me sharing some these memories, now. Gary absolutely adored his daughter, Kelly. He talked about her with great love and admiration. He also would get choked up each time he would talk about his late wife, who had died years earlier. Gary carried some guilt about her death, rightly or wrongly burdened with memories that didn’t tell her how much he loved her enough while she was living. He carried that burden long after she was gone. I think Gary lost a piece of himself when she passed away. Gary could be the life of the party without every trying to call attention to himself.
But when Gary met Gina, he became complete once again. They were married and devoted their lives to each other. Gary and Gina were the perfect power couple and even better dinner companions — witty, funny, insightful, and kind. Marieta and I dined out with the Thompson’s many times, including wine dinners. If I were to describe those dinners and our conversations, the word I would use would be passionate. Gary and Gina were always filled with passion. About everything.
Gary and I shared so many common interests and similarities. But our political views were dramatically different. Gary was a libertarian and a Republican. He had bumper stickers of the National Rifle Association on his Acura that I threatened to tear off. We argued about politics all the time. Yet never once did our discussions become heated, nor uncomfortable. I think there was a mutual respect that was so deep it transcended our differences. I wish other people who can’t get along could have spent more time witnessing the way Gary carried himself in daily conversation. There’s a lesson there for everyone.
About six years ago (if memory serves), Gary learned he had terminal cancer. He immediately began treatment and lost his hair. Never one to seek out any sympathy, Gary instead focused on the time he had still remaining. He vowed to make Gina happy. That was all that mattered to him. Gina and his daughter Kelly — they were everything to Gary.
And so, Gary traveled. And played golf. And laughed. Despite the diagnosis, Gary laughed a lot. He never gave up. He never quit smiling and laughing.
I’m a terrible golfer.
Yet somehow, I always got paired with the laughing chain smoker and 70-year-old cancer patient, even when we were senselessly playing for money against much younger and stronger competition.
Talk about a handicap. Thing was, the handicap was me.
Gary tried to give me golf lessons. Many times. That didn’t work. I still sucked. He once trashed my old set of golf clubs right out on the middle of the course and gave me his own brand new set of wood and irons. Seriously, he picked up my bag and tossed it in the trash between holes. Then, he gave me a $500 set of new clubs, which I still have as a prized possession.
Gary’s expensive didn’t help either. It wasn’t the clubs. It was the golfer swinging them.
The only time I ever won money on the golf course was back a few years ago when Gary and I were at Angel Park in Summerlin playing against a couple of guys who could whack the ball 300 yards down the fairway. We were playing “best ball.” That meant each player got to play the ball of the best shot. Of course, we played Gary’s shot 90 percent of the time because I was so awful and he was so consistent.
We got down to the final hole at Angel Park, the 18th green. The purse had a big carryover. I had to sink a 30-yard putt, for us to win the match. It was a shot I couldn’t make 1 out of 500 times. Gary coached me. He told me to exhale and just where to strike the ball and how hard to hit it. I took my club, actually Gary’s putter, and slapped the ball which ran downhill and to the right and dropped straight into the hole. Pluck! We cheered. We hugged. Our opponents threw their clubs up in the air. I felt like I had just won The Masters.
Here are two golf stories I wrote about previously, including an account of that round with Gary.
When Gary was diagnosed with cancer, he knew his days were numbered. For most who are facing their own mortality, seeing the end of the road serves as a rude wake-up call. It’s a cruel reminder to re-align one’s priorities. For Gary, knowing he had a limited time to live wasn’t a jolting life adjustment at all. It was merely a continuation of who he was and always had been. It was a fitting final chapter and an epitaph.
Gary had always wanted to see Africa and experience the final frontiers of the wilderness. So, during the last year of his life, still healthy and with energy enough to make the long and demanding trip, he ventured to the great continent of Africa where he saw the wild beasts up close and marveled in all that was natural. For the man who’d spent much of his life working among the skyscrapers of New York and the neon glow of Las Vegas, standing out on the open plains with African bushmen and being among the animals was his final fateful act of revelation and liberation.
If the life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living, then we all share an obligation to remember him and revere the life he lived and try to meet the lofty aspirations he set by his conduct and the man he was.
I loved Gary Thompson.
I will miss him.
We will all miss him and the greater good he was.
Here is a direct link to the Gary Edward Thompson memorial page and more information about services scheduled for April 27th. CLICK HERE
Note: I believe the facts of Gary’s life to be accurate in this hasty remembrance. I have no notes nor any obituary for reference. It was written from memory. If readers notice any errors, please e-mail me privately at — firstname.lastname@example.org — and I will make any corrections. Thank you.
Buyer Beware: Why Lyft’s Current Business Model is Unsustainable and the Stock is Probably a Losing Long-Term Investment
A few hours from now, the rideshare company Lyft will go public. Shares of stock will be offered on the NASDAQ. A few people are about to become insanely rich overnight.
Lyft began operating in 2012. In the seven years since, the high-tech startup has grown into the second-largest rideshare transport company. Uber, which ranks first, enjoyed a four-year head start on their rival.
However, some analysts now believe Lyft’s long-term prospects are brighter given the number of cities where the company operates (300) and growth projections within those markets. Certainly, Lyft will be an attractive investment for initial speculation in what’s been a booming American economy. The timing of Lyft’s public launch couldn’t be better than now.
However, Lyft is beset with many questions and potential problems. What are my credentials to make this statement? Well, admittedly, I know nothing about the company’s ownership, its management team, its technology, or anything whatsoever to do with its finances. What I do know is its current business model is badly flawed and hence, unsustainable. Lyft can’t continue to operate as it’s now doing and expect to generate much of any profit for investors. In other words, don’t expect dividends to be paid soon. In fact, profits may never come.
We’ve seen this false hype before — high-tech stocks and even great ideas that seemed they couldn’t miss, go from boom to bust. Anyone remember the late 1990s? Apparently not.
Lyft is expected to sell 32.5 million shares at around $72 each in the initial public offering phase (IPO), taking place on Friday, March 30, 2019. The company will instantly be valued at $25 billion, a remarkable degree of investor confidence for such a young company that has yet to produce a profit in any of its seven years of operations, to date.
Read that again — yet to produce a profit.
Sure, Lyft (and Uber) have set the stage for what seems like a transformative enterprise that could change how millions of people get around in urban centers. Most of us have used the service and do find it appealing. The convenience of simply pulling out a smartphone on any city street, typing in an address, and getting a car direct to your doorstep within minutes is an attractive feature. Moreover, ridesharing doesn’t require the handling of cash since all transactions are done by credit card (which is already on file when the consumer signs up for an online account). Finally, ridesharing fares cost significantly less than taxis and other means of private transportation. And therein lies the problem.
Lyft and Uber have been competing in a heated rivalry, especially over the last year or so, which has really been great for riders, but bad for both companies and especially their drivers, which are not employees but independent contractors. The battle to inflate market share has kept fares ridiculously low in some cities, which has resulted in drivers’ pay being cut. Lyft has been able to weather financial losses until now, and the infusion of IPO capital surely will give the company a huge boost. However, there’s simply no way to generate profits in the long-term based on any of the current numbers.
Why not? :et me explain.
Presently, Lyft is losing money. To make a profit, the company must either:
Reduce labor costs
Ramp up technology (which will reduce labor costs)
Sorry, riders — but paying $8.45 for a six-mile ride cannot continue. That fare isn’t feeding all the mouths that need to be fed when it comes to operating a motor vehicle, maintenance, fuel, labor, customer service, management, marketing, insurance, and other associated costs. Making up the current deficit and then generating a profit for shareholders will require implementation of one or more of the options above. There’s a reason the taxi costs $12 while the Lyft ride costs $9. It’s because the trip is somewhere between $9 and $12 in cost, and Lyft is undercutting the competition.
If prices increase to a level that offsets costs and generates profit, ridesharing won’t be nearly as attractive to consumers. Right now, many people are turning to ridesharing because it’s cheaper than a taxi. That won’t be the case if fares go up by a substantial margin, which is probably inevitable given the costs of driving in urban markets.
If labor costs are cut, which means driver’s pay is slashed, rideshare companies won’t be able to attract new talent, nor keep those the drivers they have. Uber and Lyft have been in a war to the bottom to see which company can pay its independent contractors less, presumably in an attempt to make their balance sheets look good. With high turnover, rideshare companies are now bombarding social media channels desperately trying to attract new drivers, even offering so-called incentives to sign up. Check your Facebook feed after visiting the Lyft page sometime and see what pops up.
Ridesharing is still a relatively new phenomenon and many drivers may be fooled into thinking it pays more than what’s actually accrued after time, investment, fuel costs, and wear and tear on personal vehicles — not to mention the inherent risks that go along with working odd hours driving on the streets (crime, traffic tickets, auto accidents, and so forth). As the word spreads that many Lyft drivers make barely above minimum wage, it will be increasingly difficult to find the gullible. Furthermore, the low rate of pay (which based on my personal experience varies between $8-14 per hour, and that’s — before taxes and zero benefits) will inevitably discourage better drivers and attract people of lesser quality. Seriously, who can live in cities like New York, Washington, San Francisco, or Los Angeles on $11-an-hour?
Poverty-level wages, essential to profits, will attract marginal people — both in quality and character. Increasingly, expect to see problems (like Uber sexual assaults, which have risen significantly). There’s simply no way to attract a viable workforce paying $11 an hour with no benefits. It’s a lettuce picking job behind the wheel.
Investors may be attracted to the company’s high-tech prospects, which could be on the horizon. The most revolutionary component of ridesharing of the future is autonomous vehicles. If Lyft (and Uber) can convert cars into a driverless experience, that eliminates significant labor cost. Inner-city transportation would never be the same again.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, just yet. While the technology does exist and the rideshare giants undoubtedly would chomp at the bit to convert to driverless cars if given an option, nevertheless, significant legal and practical objections do remain. How many cities and states will allow hundreds or perhaps thousands of cars to be driverless and how long would this process take? Additionally, what happens when a driverless car kills someone, as happened last year in Phoenix? Accidents are part of the equation and are bound to occur (even if they aren’t caused by technical malfunctions). Will city and state governments allow this controversial new technology on the streets? Perhaps the biggest hurdle of all — what about consumer confidence and traditional habits? Will riders get into a car that doesn’t have a living person as the driver? Sure, high-tech might make driverless cars statistically safer and perhaps these concerns shall be overcome. But I’m not convinced that either Lyft or Uber will be able to convert to a driverless vehicle fleet, not anytime soon. Any investor would be a fool to think this is the game changer that will suddenly make rideshare companies profitable.
Hence, rider fares must increase (jeopardizing profit), labor costs must be reduced (jeopardizing profit), or high-tech must become the lifesaver for Lyft and Uber (probably the only viable option). Then, add the uncertainty of gas prices now at a historic low (when adjusted for inflation), rising automobile acquisition and repair costs, and other economic uncertainties, and it’s impossible to imagine a better climate for ridesharing companies that right now nor how things will improve. If Lyft and Uber can’t make a profit in these extraordinary conditions, how will they make money when the inevitable slowdown or downturn occurs?
This isn’t to say Lyft and Uber are doomed to fail. To the contrary. Ridesharing is here to stay. It’s great for consumers. But it won’t be nearly the bargain later on when operating costs and shareholder expectations create pressure to raise fares. A ride from the airport can’t be delivered at $12 when the actual cost is higher. It’s unsustainable.
No doubt, Lyft is going public at the ideal time for their owners. Uber will likely be following suit, soon. Unfortunately, those who invest in all likelihood have never driven for the company, seen the day-to-day operations, nor done the math. I have.
Those who buy shares in these companies early and then hold rideshare stocks could end up in a riderless investment, with no idea when to bail out. Short-term, Lyft could be an attractive investment. But as reality sets in, no one knows where the profits will come from.
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.
We don’t need the Mueller report to prove that Donald J. Trump colluded with the Russians and committed obstruction of justice.
The evidence on this is overwhelming and incontrovertible. We have video and audio. We have eyes and ears. We know what we’ve seen. We know what we’ve heard.
We’ve seen Trump — the candidate — make a personal plea to the Russians to go after his political opponent.
We’ve seen Trump — both the candidate and the president — repeatedly deny that he had business dealings in Russia.
We’ve seen Trump — the president — lie boldly and incessantly when asked if any of his aides and/or family members secretly communicated with officials working in coordination with the Russian Government.
We’ve seen Trump — the president — viciously attack those connected to the investigation, fire those who could do him harm, ridicule and intimidate witnesses, and threaten his own former associates who gave their cooperation.
We’ve seen Trump — the president — fuel the incendiary fires of a so-called “Deep State” conspiracy, deliberately and actively trying to discredit a federal criminal investigation.
We’ve seen Trump — the president — openly admit to firing former FBI Director James Comey after he fumbled his excuses and couldn’t get his (entirely fabricated) story straight in a nationally-televised interview.
We’ve seen Trump — the president — demand loyalty pledges from prospective appointees to the Justice Department.
It’s all there, in blood orange.
No number of lies, no amount of deflection, no degree of masquerading, no barrage of name-calling alters the fact that on July 27th, 2016 candidate Trump stood before television cameras and actively encouraged foreign powers, including Russia specifically by name, to hack into his political, Hillary Clinton.
“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”
In other words — go for it.
It’s all right here:
No candidate has ever so brazenly solicited the help of a foreign government in a presidential campaign.
We just don’t know all the facts, yet.
What we certainly do know is that about a year prior to Trump green-lighting Russian meddling, hackers affiliated with the Russian government penetrated the Democratic National Committee’s network, stealing large volumes of data and then maintained that access for about a year. The timing of this nesting of potentially-damaging information is critical. Shortly thereafter, thousands of Russia-backed social media accounts began sprouting up and spreading propaganda and disinformation, attacking Clinton while exhibiting a clear preference for Trump.
What we certainly do know is that George Papadopoulos (later convicted) joined the Trump campaign as a special adviser. A short time after joining the campaign, Papadopoulos knowingly met someone who had connections to Russian government officials.
What we certainly do know is that Donald Trump, Jr. received an email from a Russian expatriate professing close ties to Moscow with allegedly “incriminating evidence” against Hillary Clinton. “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” the email stated. The younger Trump replied that same day: “If it’s what you say — I love it.”
Both during the campaign, and as president, Trump used surrogates, including campaign aids, advisors, and even his own family to create secret backchannels of communication with the Russians that couldn’t be deciphered. Jared Kushner, the president’ son-in-law was one of those directly involved.
What we certainly do know is there’s a cesspool of troublesome circumstantial evidence that remains unexplained. Why has Trump never criticized Russia for meddling in the election, nor for any of a myriad of other international violations and transgressions? Why did Trump openly take Putin’s side in front of the entire world while when asked about the comprehensive assessment of American intelligence agencies that Russia had indeed meddled in the 2016 campaign? Why does Trump go after virtually every other political leader on social media, but remains silent when it comes to anything connected to Putin and Russia?
Yes, there was collusion. Yes, there was obstruction of justice. Yet, we still don’t know what Trump knew, how much Trump knew, or anything about Trump directing his associates to break the law. Despite the investigation’s findings, to borrow the late Sen. Howard Baker foreshadowing phrase from 1974’s Watergate proceedings, we must continue to ask: What did the president know and when did he know it?
I was not surprised by the Mueller report’s “conclusions” — at least what we know, so far. Keep in mind, few details pertaining to the president’s conduct have been released yet. Let’s also remember Trump backtracked from his public statements that he’d agree to be interviewed in person by Mueller’s investigative team. Trump’s awkward flip-flop probably saved him from perjuring himself, which would clearly have been an indictable offense. Trump’s echo chamber of delusion probably means that he wouldn’t know the truth about much of anything, anyway.
Another legal battle is certain to follow, as to the actual details within the Mueller report and what information will be available to the American people. Don’t be misled by the smokescreen of professed transparency. Mark my words — Trump and his legal team attempt to block every facet of discovery related in any way to his conduct. He will use every trick in his ghostwritten book to stonewall potentially damaging information. There’s certainly dirt in there. Trumps’s background, character, and conduct are way too jaded to believe otherwise.
Indeed, the disinformation campaign has already ramped up into high gear. Trump’s sycophants are claiming a victory. But Trump’s own hand-picked Attorney General William Barr’s four-page summary-letter included this public statement:
“The Special Counsel states that ‘while the report does not conclude that the President has committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
“…..it also does not exonerate him.”
Since the statement was released, Trump and his lackeys have ignored half of it. They have falsely and repeatedly claimed the report “exonerates” Trump. Is anyone shocked by this flagrant dishonesty?
No, the report does not “exonerate” Trump. Apparently, they can’t read.
Let’s acknowledge that there was a conspiracy of some kind connected to the 2016 presidential election. The Russians and its proxies used social media as a weapon to assist the Trump campaign. That’s neither a hunch nor a hoax. It’s a fact that’s been established by multiple intelligence agencies. Even conservative pro-Trump media have retreated from their previous false claims the Russians “no impact on the 2016 election.”
Let’s also knowledge Russian President Vladimir Putin said he wanted Trump to win the 2016 election because he believed Trump’s policies would be more friendly to the Kremlin.
“Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the U.S.–Russia relationship back to normal,” Putin said, standing alongside Trump at a joint news conference in Helsinki.
Trump denies all of this, of course. Trump has falsely claimed on numerous occasions that Putin would have preferred to see his 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton, in the White House. He’s completely delusional.
Let’s acknowledge that Trump met Putin that same day behind closed doors, demanding that no Americans be in the room, nor any official notes be taken of the discussion. In all of American history and diplomacy, such a bizarre set of circumstances has never happened before. There’s no reason for such secrecy, particularly while a criminal investigation was being conducted on the very question of Trump colluding with Russians, unless of course, Putin did have the American president on a chain. It’s certainly a huge red flag. This is entirely Trump’s doing at his insistence — not something the “fake media” created.
Let’s acknowledge Trump’s statements remain fishy. And smelly. His own actions and tweets baited the waters of suspicion. A little truth from Trump might have gone a long way toward silencing critics and dissolving the many claims against him. What else were we to think when Trump lied so many times about his surrogates meeting with Russians when the record showed that at least 16 Trump campaign officials were in direct contact? [CLICK HERE]
Let’s also acknowledge Republicans apparently have no problem at all with foreign nations meddling in American elections. In July 2018 the Republican-controlled Congress voted against protecting our national security by refusing to increase funding to counter high-tech espionage in future elections. This is madness. [CLICK HERE]
What if before the Mueller investigation began we had a crystal ball? What if we were told that 34 defendants would be charged with various crimes, including six close Trump associates, including his former campaign manager and disgraced National Security Advisor? Would anyone claim the president had been “exonerated?” Would anyone think this was a “witch hunt?”
Trump would have gone ballistic if the indictments would have been delayed until the very and and basically revealed he operated as a political mafia don. Apparently, the timing of embarrassments is everything.
If nothing else, Trump has clearly exercised appallingly bad judgment and might be the most naive individual ever to occupy the Oval Office.
Trump and his defense team claim indictments stemming from the Special Counsel’s investigation didn’t prove collusion. since some of the charges were for crimes not directly related to Russia’s nefarious role in the 2016 election. This is true. But it’s also circumstantially relevant to our assessment of what really happened. If all those Trump associates did nothing wrong, then why did they repeatedly lie about it so many times?
That Trump hasn’t been led away in handcuffs and paraded around in an orange jumpsuit doesn’t alter an irrefutable historical timeline. It doesn’t erase what we have seen and what we already know — yet alone, things we don’t know and will gradually come out. History isn’t written in a flurry. History is typically more of a slow trickle, like sandstone, carved out over time.
Twenty years ago, following a long ordeal, O.J. Simpson exited from a Los Angeles courtroom a free man and declared victory. A “not guilty” verdict in the criminal trial happened because the evidence wasn’t there to convict and many say the prosecution did a poor job. But the court’s verdict didn’t change the prevailing public perception and the fact he committed the crime.
Trump too, is exiting this legal round as a victor in the eyes of some. But he still faces a gauntlet of legal hurdles ahead for a myriad of other crimes, mostly committed prior to taking office. Barring an expiration on the statute of limitations, those charges will plague him to the grave.
We don’t need Mueller’s report to tell us what we know, what we’ve seen, and what we’ve heard, directly from Trump himself.
Trump is guilty of collusion with Russia and obstruction of justice. As he wiggled out of legal troubles so many times in the past — in racial discrimination, bankruptcies, sexual assault charges, affairs, fraudulent business dealings, and fake diploma mill — his lawyers will continue putting in plenty of overtime to shield a guilty man from justice.
We don’t need a special report to know Trump remains a vile, dishonest, corrupt, incompetent, self-serving, vindictive, horror show for this country.
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.
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 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 beis 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.
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.”
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.