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Posted by on Mar 18, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Politics | 2 comments

The Parachute Question

 

louis gohmert

 

You’re on a cross-country flight with several key Republicans.

Suddenly, the airplane has a mechanical problem. Things go from bad to worse. It’s going down. A crash is imminent.

The only chance for survival is to bail out. There are only two parachutes on board. You are the only passenger who knows about the two parachutes. You will use one parachute. You also have a choice of saving ONE Republican.

The Republicans onboard include:

Mitch McConnell
Tom Cotton
Rand Paul
Susan Collins
Ted Cruz
Devin Nunes
Louis Gohmert
Jim Jordan

So, now — the question. Just as you are about to bail out, you have a difficult decision to make. What’s your choice?

Do you hide the second parachute in the overhead bin or under the seat?

 

__________

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Posted by on Jan 21, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Personal, Rants and Raves | 0 comments

My 2020 New Year Resolutions — Twenty Days Later

 

train crash

 

So, how are the 2020 New Year’s resolutions going?

Now so good, huh?

You’re not alone.  Here’s my 20-day update into the year 2020:

 

RESOLUTION #1: Lose Weight

People carrying a few extra pounds typically announce that they’re going on a diet when a new year begins. A week later, we’re at the All You Can Eat buffet pounding down a second slice of cheesecake.  Sure, we want to lose weight. But why kid ourselves? We’re not chasing a magic number. A weight scale shouldn’t be our barometer of happiness. Instead, our goal should be — to get healthier. To feel better. Losing weight shouldn’t be the end game, but rather one numerical consequence of striving for something higher. There are certainly ways to reduce one’s weight (so, I hear), but they aren’t always healthy. Some are even risky. Our top priority should be to enjoy life to the greatest extent possible. Sure, I’d like to drop a few pounds. But if I get through the year 2020 at 225 pounds (my current weight) and maintain my health, that’s a victory.

 

RESOLUTION #2: Travel Less

I love traveling. That is, once I get there. Unfortunately, the journey getting from point A to B is often a miserable experience. Flown lately? Been strip-searched by overzealous TSA agents? Paid nearly the cost of the air ticket for baggage fees? Been sardined into a middle seat? Sat beside the rapper yapper or the screaming infant? Leisure travel can be a tremendously rewarding experience. But traveling just for the sake of going somewhere and then returning home again is often more stressful than a typical workday spent at home. Especially if you’ve got kids or pets and have to board them (board the pets I mean). I hope to travel less in 2020 unless there’s a first-class hotel and wine involved.

 

RESOLUTION #3: Manage My Stress Better

Zen philosophy is becoming increasingly popular. I can certainly understand why. The problem with Zen is, it encourages us to disengage from challenges. I wholeheartedly reject this approach. Some things in life must be confronted. Always. Always. Always. And passion is the rocket fuel that lights the engine. Vested emotions and intensity can be a great motivator. Sorry, but Zen people don’t usually change the world. Action-minded people do. Those with passion do. I want to get fired up about life, not skate through it calmly. Forget worrying about rocking the boat. Rock the hell out of it. That’s my motto.

 

RESOLUTION #4: Drink Less Alcohol/Quit Drinking

If drinking is a problem in your life, then, by all means, do try to cut back and/or get some help. But let’s face it. Drinking serves as a wonderful bonding experience for many people. Without drinking, I doubt many people would be as close as they are. Booze is both a sugar cube and a truth serum. While this freedom can be dangerous when abused (and there’s lots of abuse), the loss of inhibitions can also be tremendously liberating. Think of it another way. I have a theory that outlawing bars (and forbidding drinking/intermingling of sexes) in Muslim countries frustrates the hell out of a lot of people, especially young men, and that’s what causes much of the world’s problems. Here’s a thought:  Open bars all over the Middle East.  Acts of terrorism would be cut in half.  Yes, I believe that. As for me, I plan on drinking exactly the same amount with the same frequency in 2020 as I’ve done in the past. I see no reason to make changes. And, to reiterate my point — some places in the world need a lot more drinking, not less.

 

RESOLUTION #5: Get Out of Debt

I’d love to be debt-free. I’d also like to be 25-years-old again and a member of the Rolling Stones. Fact is, when the date December 31st, 2020 rolls around, most of us are still going to be in hock up to our asses to the banks. We’ll still owe on our mortgages, own credit card debt, and have to beg some joker dressed in a golf shirt for a new car loan. I take a much simpler approach, a goal I can actually achieve. It’s this. Try and stop the bleeding first, which means not to take on any more debt. That’s the first goal everyone currently in debt should have, since our poor spending and saving habits likely got us into trouble in the first place.  Especially me.

 

RESOLUTION #6: Eat Healthier

I don’t believe in diets of denial. I want to eat good food and plenty of it. That means I won’t be ashamed of enjoying my large portions, my red meat, my loaded baked potato, my real butter, my rich desserts, my deep-fried foods, and pretty much whatever I want. That said, I refuse to eat fast food or consume prepackaged garbage that’s sold in supermarkets because that’s poison. And, I’ll never drink a soda, which is packed with sugar and chemicals. Never! So, that means I can enjoy just about everything else so long as it’s natural. A side note: I suffered a health scare late in 2019, so this might change — but all tests showed diet wasn’t a factor.

 

RESOLUTION #7: Be a Better Father/Husband/Friend/Son/Whatever

Sounds all warm and fuzzy, doesn’t it. The mantra goes something like this — I don’t spend enough time with so and so, which means I must change. Says who? You work hard, right? You earn the bread, right? You love your family and friends and are there for them when they need support, right? I think it’s vital to be comfortable in our own skin. You also need your time, just for you. If people get offended by the things you say or do, maybe the problem lies with them — not you. Think about that. Be who you are and take time for yourself. You probably deserve it. And there’s no reason to apologize for feeling this way, just as those you care about also deserve their own time and space.

 

RESOLUTION #8: Go Back to School/Get an Education

I’m all for learning. But getting an education doesn’t have to cost you 30 grand a year. The education lobby and the lending cutthroats have warped our sense of reality. They’re loading up millions of kids with crushing amounts of debt, and then providing few tools to escape the chains other than slaving away for years to pay off the loans (this is entirely by design). Yes, I believe people should learn as much as they can, and get an education. However, it’s far easier to read a book on your own, or become part of a social club, or join an Internet group which provides opportunities to learn just as much. And, it’s basically all free. Self-learn. Take a guitar lesson online. Get a library card.  Volunteer to coach a kid’s soccer team.  I’ve done all three.  Learning shouldn’t be a once-a-year resolution. Education should be a lifelong mission that never ends.

 

RESOLUTION #9: Donate Blood/Give to Charity

This one will piss-off some people. I’ve donated blood before. Many times. However, many blood banks (and drives) are nothing but scams. Make sure the blood you give is really going to someone needy and won’t be sold off for a profit by some medical company. When it comes to donating time or money to a charity, be sure they do what they say. And check out the salary of the head honcho running the show (non-profits are required to make this information public). Some of the biggest charities in America are detestable, horribly-managed, money-making enterprises. I give to charity when I can. But I refuse to give anything to a charity that pays fat salaries to its executives or is based in ridiculously expensive cities like New York and Washington. Move the charity to someplace where operating costs are significantly cheaper so more good can be done. The point is — give, but with greater discretion. I also volunteer, once a week.  I wish I could do more, but this is the right balance.  I recommend trying to find your own balance, whatever it is.

 

RESOLUTION #10: Quit Gambling

You’re kidding, right?

__________

 

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Posted by on Jul 28, 2019 in Blog, Essays, Personal, Rants and Raves | 2 comments

The Check-Deposit Scam

 

 

I’m holding a check in my hand for $6,850.12.

Unfortunately, it’s not even worth 12 cents.

This makes me the latest unsuspecting target of a popular scam that’s been going on for many years called the “Fake Check Deposit.”

Here’s what happened to me and typically how the scam works.

A few weeks ago, I scanned Craig’s List for odd jobs and temp opportunities to make some extra income.  Craig’s List and similar platforms allow people to post long- and short-term gigs doing all kinds of different tasks — from driving a car, to bricklaying, to joining a band, to webcam modeling.  Since my webcam modeling career is on a downswing right now, I answered an ad for a temporary chauffeur.

I sent a short e-mail listing my qualifications and also conveyed my 24/7 ability for the position.

The next day, I received a response from “Dr. Lee.”

Dr. Lee explained that he/she lived in Toronto.  He would be visiting Las Vegas to attend an upcoming conference.  Dr. Lee needed a private driver for one month.  He needed transportation between his hotel and the conference and also wanted to do some sightseeing.  His e-mail was well-written and certainly appeared that it could have come from a doctor.  Although still somewhat skeptical, I believed this job opportunity could be real.

I accepted the position which paid $800 per week, for four weeks, plus a small bonus awarded at the end of the assignment.  The pay seemed reasonable for the work and hours involved.

Next, in his follow-up e-mail, Dr. Lee explained he would need to rent a car which had to be a luxury vehicle.  He noted that he’d leased a Mercedes GLE in the past, which was an SUV priced at $53,000.  This month-long lease would be every expensive.

Dr. Lee informed me that he’d send me certified check by Federal Express.  I’d receive it the next day.  He told me to take the check, deposit it into my personal bank account, and then a few days later when funds were available to make the lease arrangements.  Dr. Lee would later provide the name of the leasing company.

This temp job started to smell fishy.

But I decided to play along.

The next day, a Federal Express envelope arrived at my doorstep.  The only item inside was a single slip of paper.  It was a check for $6,850.12 made payable to “Nolan Dalla.”

The check image can be seen in the image above.  Note that I’ve blacked out personal information and the bank account numbers.

The checked looked and felt very real.  It had a water seal embossed in the paper.  It was signed by someone, but it wasn’t Dr. Lee.  Perhaps this was Dr. Lee’s personal assistant.

I did some quick investigating.  I performed a bank account search, which can be done online within just a few seconds.  To my surprise, the bank ID number wasn’t made up.  It actually matched the name of the bank, listed as “City Bank N.A.”  The account number also appeared legitimate.  But the check also had some glaring peculiarities.

My check for almost seven-grand was drawn from a business account listed as “National Sorghum Producers.”  That company is based on a remote highway in Lubbock, Texas.  I don’t want to seem cynical, but this seemed like an odd financial arrangement that a small company in West Texas would be paying for a car and driver for a Canadian doctor soon to be visiting Las Vegas.

Here’s an image of the company from MapQuest, when I typed in “National Sorghum Producers” located at 4201 North Interstate 27; Lubbock, TX; 79403:

 

 

Well, shit.

My heart sank.  Gee, I guess I wasn’t going to be chauffering a doctor around Las Vegas, getting paid to drive a new Mercedes.

I’d been instructed to deposit this check immediately.  Time was critical since Dr. Lee was coming into town next week.  Within just a few days, my funds would be available.  I was told to keep $800 for my first week’s pay and then send the remainder to rent the car in advance.  I’d be given the details of where to send the money once I confirmed receipt of the check.

This thing wasn’t just fishy.  It was now as smelly as week-old sardines.

Dr. Lee emailed me that same day.  “Did you receive my Federal Express envelope with the check?” he asked.

I decided to play along and get clever.

“No, it didn’t arrive,” I replied.  “Maybe you got my address wrong.”

After a few back-and-forth e-mails, Dr. Lee informed me that he’d Federal Express another check which would arrive the next business day.

“Great!” I replied.  “I can’t wait to start driving for you!”

The following day, another Federal Express envelope arrived at my front door.  Inside was an identical check in the same amount.  Each “Priority Overnight” delivery cost the sender $17.50.  So, Dr. Lee was now on the hook for $35.00 in express delivery charges.  He was a doctor, right?  So, he could afford it.

“Did you get the check this time,” Dr. Lee wrote.

I waited a full day, and then responded as follows:

“Gee, I don’t know what’s the problem.  I’ve been waiting for the Federal Express envelope, but neither one arrived yet.  Can you check with National Sorghum Producers and see if they sent it out yet?”

Bada-boom!

I never heard from “Dr. Lee” again.

The scam was reported to authorities.  I also contacted my bank, which confirmed these scams do often happen.  The problem, I was told, is that some people really believe these checks are real and mistakenly think they have no liability.  The truth is — if a check is deposited and gets returned, the account holder is fully responsible for the funds.  Some banks have been known to close the accounts of people who have fallen prey to this scam, even if from naivete.  Older people, students with little financial experience, and poor people, often desperate for any chance to earn income are particularly susceptible to this scam.

Indeed, I learned the scam does sometimes succeed.  How and why?  Laws require that funds be released to customers and made available in a timely manner, sometimes in as little as a few days.  I could have done precisely as instructed — deposited the check, kept $800 as my payment, and then transferred $6,o00 to the “rental car agency,” who was actually the scammer eagerly awaiting the fruits of his heist.  By the time the check was found to be fraudulent and bounced, which might take weeks, the scammer would be long gone with my money.  I’d be 100 percent responsible for making up the lost $6,000.  Who knows — maybe the scammer really does drive a brand new Mercedes, paid for by unsuspecting victims of the fake-check swindle.

There’s an old saying that goes, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

We should all learn ways to protect ourselves.  One of the best ways to dissuade scammers is to play along and get them to invest time and money digging down an empty hole.  So, my advice is to make things as costly as possible for them.  Milk them dry, even if it’s just for the cost of a Fed Ex express delivery.  Make them pay.  Then, report the incident to proper authorities.

Now, it’s back to Craig’s List again.  Let’s see what other exciting opportunities I can find and trouble I can get into.

_________

 

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Posted by on Mar 26, 2019 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Personal, Travel | 4 comments

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


 

This is the third in a four-part series.

Read PART I here.

Read PART II here.

 

The dangling of carrots can make tigers and bears jump through rings of fire.

 

Years ago, a survey was done.  People were asked to rate their own driving abilities.  Around 90 percent of respondents professed to be “better than average” drivers.  About 60 percent considered themselves in the top 10 percent.

The only thing proven by the survey was — there’s a shitload of self-deception going on.  Everybody thinks they’re Superman.  Meanwhile, we’re all convinced that everybody else is an idiot.  Well, that last part might actually be true.

Our delusions don’t apply just to an evaluation of driving skills.  A similar survey would reveal the same percentages for many things.  Ask 100 men to rate themselves as lovers and I suspect the percentages would mirror driving.  But the biggest illusion of all is in gambling, especially among poker players and sports bettors.  While working in casinos, I met barely anyone who admitted to losing.  And it’s always the other guy who plays his hand badly.  It’s incredible.

I post this little ditty of a disclaimer up front because, the fact is, while I’m an average poker player and have surely gone through some rough spells in sports betting — I’m a great driver.  Trust me on this.  Would I lie to you?

Working for Lyft is a job where the primary skill set required is….driving.  Not being a great conversationalist.  Not being kind and courteous.  Not clicking an app.  Not fiddling with the radio.  Not writing crusty blog reflections of what it’s like to be a rideshare driver.

Lyft is…..driving.

 

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.”

Ahh, yes.

“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.

WHAM!!!

Some idiot driver wasn’t looking where he was going and pulled forward, slamming into the front wheel panel on the passenger side.

Holy shit!

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.

“Hello?”

“You’ve got my phone!”

“Yes, I do.”

“Can you bring it back to me?”

“Uhh, okay.”

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]

“Yeah, okay.”

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.

Stiffed.

What a stingy jerk-off motherfucker.

My longest and best day driving ends on a sour note.

Daily Tally:  30 rides given and $310.79 in earnings, which includes a $55 bonus.

 

Day 20 (Mar. 9) — I’ve noted driving is a numbers game.  Given enough time, you’ll see almost anything possible on the streets.

Saturday is an abbreviated driving session given how long I worked on the previous day.  Late in the evening, I pick up a middle-aged Hispanic woman wearing a maid uniform at the El Cortez downtown and take her to the far east side of town.

As we approach the quiet intersection of Charleston and Nellis, the streets seem deserted.  Except for what’s ahead.  About a quarter mile up the road, a dozen police cars are sprawled all over the street.  Usually, when you see this many cops, that means something serious is going down — like a shooting.

Just as we come to a red traffic light, in my rear view mirror a catch glimpse of a cop car barrelling down Nellis southbound, racing towards the crime scene.  The car is zooming 60 to 70 miles an hour.  Instinctually, I swerve my vehicle off to the side to allow the police car to pass.

Just as I move over to the sidewalk and come to a complete stop, the police cruiser races into the intersection where a white Toyota has suddenly appeared out of nowhere and cuts in front of the police cruiser with engine roaring and its flashing red and blue lights.

It was a horrifying sound.  But the sight was much more frightening.  The police car, which I now see is a boxy SUV, t-bones slams the much smaller Toyota, spinning it around and knocking the vehicle sideways towards a traffic pole.  Twisted metal and glass flies everywhere.  The rider in the back seat screams.  I think I yelled out a profanity.

The police car is mangled and smashed in like an accordion.  The driver policeman exits the car and momentarily staggers around the empty intersection.  He’s dazed.  Another officer slowly steps out of the car and kneels down to the pavement.

Meanwhile, the white Toyota is demolished.  I’m out of my car by this time and am leaning into the white Toyota since that’s the closest vehicle and the police officer look to have survived the impact.  Thankfully, airbags deployed and two ladies are screaming and sobbing with their heads engulfed in what looks like a huge pillow.  They’re in shock.  It’s a miracle the ladies were alive.  I’m not sure exactly what I said or did if anything.  Perhaps just hearing a human voice after such trauma was appropriate at that second.

“Stay strong, help is on the way,” I said.

The policeman approached and then also provided comfort.  Within another minute or so, two more cop cars had pulled up to the scene and were handling the aftermath of a bad crash, but one which everyone would presumably be okay.  From my vantage point, the accident had clearly been the police officer’s fault.  He was driving way too fast, and his siren wasn’t turned on.  By the time the white Toyota entered the intersection, it was too late.

I left my information as a witness.

Shaken by the incident, I dropped off my passenger and called it a night.

That white Toyota could have been me, or you, or someone you love.  You never know what’s on the horizon.

Daily Tally:  7 rides given and $141,22 in earnings, which includes an $80 bonus.

 

Day 21 (Mar. 10) — Another long driving week has taken its toll on the body and mind.  Aching and exhausted and still bothered by the crash just hours earlier, I make a decision to not drive on Sunday.  Instead, I vow to put in seven straight days the following week, the final stage of my Lyft contract before returning the rental car back to Hertz.

And on the 7th day, Nolan rested and recovered prior to the final judgment.

__________

WEEK 3 RESULTS:

Total 47 hours driven and 95 rides given….$608.10 in earnings including tips and bonus after $273 rental car cost deduction…..minus $130.00 spent in gas….equals $10.17 per hour.

 

Coming Next:  Week Four (the final chapter)

__________

 

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

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

 

 

This is the second in a four-part series.

Read PART I here.

 

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

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

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

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

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

__________

WEEK 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Prepare yourself for unabashed honesty.

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

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

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

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

Then, what the man said next blew me away.

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

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

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

It took a moment for those words to register.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where’s Paloma?” she screams.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“WHAT THE FUCK!”

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

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

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

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

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

Where do you girls live?

“Centennial.  Northwest.”

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

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

I have no idea what the hell happened to Paloma.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It will be the right thing to do.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

“Where to?”

“Ellis Island,” the man replies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

I feel like total shit.

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

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WEEK 2 RESULTS:

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

Coming Next:  Week Three

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