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Posted by on Nov 5, 2019 in Blog, Las Vegas, Music and Concert Reviews | 2 comments

Willie Nelson (Concert Review)

 

 

Willie Nelson Concert Review (October 25, 2019 at The Venetian, Las Vegas)

 

No one can say for sure how many more Willie Nelson stage performances remain now that he’s weathered and wrinkled in the final twilight of an astounding musical journey that first began in 1956.

So, when the opportunity arose to go see the 86-year-old country music outlaw, I viewed my surprising good fortune at getting last-minute tickets not so much a passive performance but a personal pilgrimage.  This was the chance to revere and pay tribute.

Nelson is indeed on the road again, currently in the midst of his 2019 American Tour.  This latest show was held on Friday, October 25th, the first of a six-night engagement at The Venetian Theatre, in Las Vegas.

First and foremost, Nelson remains a uniquely gifted songwriter.  But he’s just as well known as a singer, guitarist, and stage performer.  And a film star.  And a political activist.  And so much, much more.

At a time when live musical authenticity has become exceedingly rare, it wouldn’t have mattered had Nelson taken the stage, forgotten some lyrics, and missed a few notes during the show which clocked in at a racy-fast one-hour and twenty minutes.  No one in the crowd of perhaps 1,800 witnesses arrived on this night expecting to see Shotgun Willie.  Instead, most of the sold-out crowd came to pay homage.  Many wanted to see Nelson a first, or one last time.

The show began promptly at 8 pm with a warm-up act — Tennessee Jet.  I knew nothing at all of Jet, who played an acoustic guitar solo for about 30 minutes, with no other musical accompaniment whatsoever.  This was a stripped down show to the very extreme, no doubt intended to create a mellow atmosphere for what was to come later.  Jet wasn’t going to be Garth Brooks.  This was a soft-spoken man on a stool, plucking notes, singing songs, and telling stories.  Jet was perfectly fine in this role, and just the right length of time as a warm up.

Following a short intermission and some sound adjustments, Willie Nelson entered from stage left to rousing applause.  He was joined by five other musicians.  Behind Nelson and his band, a giant red, white, and blue Texas State flag the size of an Olympic swimming pool served as the backdrop.  Two large in-house television screens provided excellent visuals for everyone in the house to watch Nelson, who would be the exclusive focal point for the remainder of the evening.

Immediately, Nelson took his guitar and launched into “Whiskey River,” a surprising breakout hit from 1972 when the singer initially transitioned from an awkward-looking, hopelessly out-of-place third-rate performer into a long-haired bandana-wearing hippie who no longer attempted to hide his twangy rough-sounding nasal-driven voice.  The rebellious honky-tonk tune brought the crowd to its feet, proving again that Nelson still has the ability to work a room, even in glitzy Las Vegas.

The tight set list included 17 songs, including a mix of new material, a few familiar hits, and (surprisingly) many songs by other fellow country legends.  Spontaneity wasn’t part of this act.  This was a meticulously-scripted show from start to finish, intended to deliver Nelson not so much as a nostalgia act, but an artist who very much remains at country music’s creative apex of past, present, and future.

“This one’s for Merle,” Nelson said to the audience as he gave a solo rendition of “Reasons to Quit,” the 1983 hit he co-wrote with Haggard who passed away a few years ago.  Nelson also paid tribute to the late Waylon Jennings, his fellow Texas outlaw.  Decked in a cowboy hat during the first third of the show, he also sang the old Hank Williams’ chestnut, “Hey, Hey, Good Lookin’.”

Nelson’s vocals were remarkably strong, especially for an octogenarian.  But it was Nelson supurb guitar work that was most impressive and the biggest stunner for those unfamiliar with Nelson’s pedigree and skills as an artist.  Strumming and plucking “Trigger,” his hopelessly faded and beat up wooden guitar that was the only personal belonging salvaged from a 1970 house fire that marked his final goodbye after struggling for years as a songwriter in Nashville, the braided troubadour proved his can still bend the strings and pick notes.  In fact, Nelson’s guitar work was, there’s no other word for it but — exceptional.  Many musical icons can rely on younger backup stage performers to carry the heavy load and fill in details during a performance.  Not Nelson.  He plucks and picks every single lead melody of the entire set himself, and his finger work on the frets could easily be seen on the giant screens.  This was truly amazing to watch.

Given Nelson’s surprising guitar prowess, one of the evening’s highlights was the show’s only instrumental number, “Stardust,” the title song off of his 1982 best-selling masterpiece that once showed an alternative side to Nelson’s songmanship.  However, Nelson’s finest moment came when he performed the crossover 1970 hit, “Yesterday When I Was Young,” written and sung by Roy Clark off his Shades of Country album.  When Nelson with his heavy nasal vibrato sang the song’s final stanza, one could have heard a pin drop:

There are so many songs in me that won't be sung
I feel the bitter taste of tears upon my tongue
The time has come for me to pay for
Yesterday, when I was young.

To say Nelson’s band was restrained would be an understatement.  His backing accompaniment had no drum kit, only brush sticks with a single snare.  One sideman played harmonica.  Another plucked a stand-up bass.  Someone else in the band played soft acoustics.  A big black grand piano took up much of the stage, but never overwhelmed Nelson, the clear frontman conducting the entire performance from beginning to end.  No doubt, the singer-songwriter who’s composed more than 1,000 tunes himself, including 40 top country hits, and knows a great many more classics committed to memory, took understandable comfort in having a small screen monitor directly beneath his feet teleprompting the lyrics.  However, it appeared Nelson didn’t need the visual crutch very often.   He didn’t miss a note, not a lyric.  May we all be so mentally astute when we reach his age.

For those expecting to see and hear more of Willie the unapologetic political and social activist who participated in countless progressive causes over the years, including the annual Farm Aid concert to help support America’s farmers, that particular silo didn’t make an appearance on this night.  His show was remarkably apolitical.  One suspects Nelson might be determined to keep some would-be critics at bay, by not speaking to the crowd about controversial topics, despite the great political and social divide throughout the country.  Alas, this was a moment of reflection and unity.

Forty minutes into the show, a large American flag was unfurled and replaced the Texas flag as the band’s backdrop.  Was this a statement?  Not sure what the point of this display was, perhaps to self-identify himself with Americana, or just to prove to his audience that pot-smoking liberals can be patriots, too.

The evening’s most amusing moment came in the 16th song of the set when Nelson, an avowed proponent of marijuana use and legalization, sang “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.”  Even though the song might not be as well known as his other hits, most of the crowd could be seen and heard singing the catchy chorus along with Nelson, everyone willing to enjoy the free-spirited celebration.

The show did have some gaps.  One major disappointment was Nelson not performing an encore.  After what turned out to be his final song, “Still Not Dead,” off the 2017 God’s Problem Child album, the band returned to the stage and it seemed Nelson would answer the standing ovation for an obligatory curtain call.  However, the auditorium lights then came on and the show was over.  It’s uncertain whether Nelson was simply fatigued, or the 10 pm hour right on the nose marked a preset termination time.  Given this was the first of six straight nights of shows — probably the former.  Nelson would be justified preserving his energy and voice, and no one in the crowd seemed to mind.  But for $120-a-seat tickets, one final song and a hearty farewell from the country icon would have been the perfect closer.  It was only a small blemish on an otherwise wonderful experience.

Curious to learn more, I discovered that Nelson has been forced to cancel some performances in recent months due to his tireless travel and associated bouts with fatigue.  Performances are likely to be inconsistent, from now on.  But at least a few things are certain:  Willie Nelson can still sing and perform just as well as during anytime in his illustrious career, and there won’t be many more chances again to see a legend of this stature who given us so many wonderful songs for more than 60 years and invented an entire genre of music.

You’d be “crazy” not to go and see Willie Nelson if and when you still can.

 

Note:  Thanks to Dan and Sharon Goldman for the show tickets.

 

 

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Posted by on May 30, 2019 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Personal, Travel | 6 comments

My 28 Days as a Lyft Driver in Las Vegas [The Final Chapter, I Think.]

 

 

This is the fourth and final chapter of a four-part series.  Well, maybe.

Read PART I here.

Read PART II here.

Read PART III here.

 

Driving for Lyft rekindled an old love affair.

Stuck behind the wheel navigating a quilted labyrinth of arterial side streets, blasting through intersections both vehicular and interpersonal, being required to perform a menial task within a wonderland of disparate anonymity stoked fires thought extinguished long ago.  Memories of my affection, fuzzy and faded, came back into focus.

My old flame Las Vegas became reignited.

Some time ago, I can’t recall when, I lost consciousness of why exactly I moved to Las Vegas.  When exposed to her charms from afar, the corsetted city in a cavalcade of colors was that mysterious, alluring, unattainable, and even forbidden temptation — the pretty girl from high school you couldn’t get, gradually morphing into a compulsive, all-consuming obsession.  An obsession, because I couldn’t have it, and yes, we do obsess over what we can’t have.

But then, once we get it, the obsession dissipates or the obsession transforms into something else.  It’s that way with food and wine.  It’s that way with sex.  It’s that way with material possessions.  It’s that way with just about everything in our lives — even the cities where we live.  Once the forbidden fruit gets tasted over and over, when those sizzling dice inevitably crashed into the rail of reality and seven-out, old temptations become tedious and tiresome.  All seductresses age.  And, we evolve.  We acquire new tastes.  Perceptions are transient.  All dreams are momentary and fleeting.

Years ago before I moved to Las Vegas, I had a conversation with Ed Hill that I’ll never forget.  Ed Hill, who has no idea how meaningful that 5-minute discussion was that happened 20 years ago, has been an advantage player his entire life.  Never worked a day, except for gambling, which of course is the toughest job anyone can ever have.  Before taking the plunge, back when I was thinking of moving to Las Vegas, Ed Hill was bitching to me about — you guessed it — living in Las Vegas.

“I just want to get the fuck out of here,” Ed Hill snapped.

I looked at him like he was from outer space.  I thought Ed Hill was crazy.  The man never worked.  He lived in a nice house that was totally paid for.  He led a dream life.  And yet, he wanted to get the fuck out of Dodge.  Well, by February 2019 — I’d turned into Ed Hill.

Sequestered into a cushy car seat bombarded constantly with imagery of casinos I no longer look at nor see, and the scent of foods I try to ignore, alternating situational interruptions invade my space.  Windows rolled down with cool 65-degree breezes whisking through the cozy Nissan’s interior, I’m reminded again and again with each conversation that floods of people come to this peculiar place with no natural reason whatsoever to exist — to live, to work, to play, to escape, to enjoy, to explore, to reinvent themselves, to temp fate — indeed, they come here from all over the world.

According to my Google search, there are 559 cities on earth with a million persons or more.  Las Vegas is but one of 559.  I’ll bet my last borrowed dollar that most of us can’t name anywhere close to half of those mega-cities, but just about every literate adult with a television set or an internet connection on any continent or remote island or iceberg or canoe has heard of and thus has some concept of Las Vegas. Over the course of their lives, some long and others bittersweet, many will eventually make it here to Las Vegas to discover for themselves if reality matches the illusion.

For some, it does.

For others, it doesn’t.

What follows are my Days 21 through 28 delivering doses of reality while getting hooked on my own supply.

 

Day 22 (Mar. 11) — If all the world is a stage, and all the men and women merely players with their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts, then driving for Lyft presents the ultimate opportunity to star on a pauper’s Broadway.

“Where are you from?

“How long have you lived in Las Vegas?”

“Why did you move here?”

“How long have you been driving for Lyft?”

In no particular order, often in scattershot repetition, those are the top four questions I get asked during every ride.  Sometimes I get asked all four questions on the same trip.

Riders are just trying to make casual conversation.  Trying to be friendly, attempting to fill an awkward, empty silence with feigned curiosity.  In Las Vegas — “Where are you from?” is the typical cocktail party banter.  Other places, it’s “What do you do for a living” — especially among circles of men.  But in Las Vegas, since most people come from someplace else, the quickest moniker of identity stems geography, with all its inherent stereotypes.

Strangers asking questions isn’t so much born from sincere curiosity as a launching platform.  People really want to talk about themselves.  They desire to share their problems.  Admittedly, my patience with this quickly wears thin.  Hey, I’ve got my own problems.  I don’t bore you with my shit.  So, get your weight off my shoulders.  You think you got issues?  Hell, I’m driving for Lyft.

I’m no amateur therapist.  I’d rather sit in silence and vegetate with my own thoughts than engage in small talk.  In fact, I love silence.  Why move air with your mouth and make sound waves when just about everything sputtered will totally be erased from memory just seconds later?  That’s small talk.  And, I hate small talk.

Here’s the problem.  I’m presently engaged in the quintessential occupation which demands small talk.  Driving and being stuck with people.  Strangers.  It’s like being vegetarian and working in a slaughterhouse.  I just wasn’t born for these times.  I sure wasn’t born to be a Lyft driver.

Well, after complying with their expectations and dishing out the same stale true story so many times I wanted to stick my face out the window and vomit, I’m now ready to play an entirely new role, only with a zesty and albeit risky twist.

And so for this and many reasons, I began experimenting with playing alternative people and parts.  Different personalities.  Hey, why not?  The masquerade of being someone totally different on each and every ride became an amusing game for me created to pass the time, just harmless self-amusement.  It also became increasingly fun and even dangerous thing to do, playing a different role to entertain and even challenge myself, so as to not go crazy stupid parroting the same leftovers to one ten-minute stranger after another.

Most everyone who reads my stuff already knows parts of my bio and that won’t be retold here.  It’s the official talking point I stuck to during the opening act week one of driving.  But after regurgitating knee-jerk replies, I figure it might be a lot more fun to morph into the Man of a Thousand Faces and Voices.

“Where are you from?  New Orleans!  Dallas!  Las Vegas!  Illinois!  Maryland!  Belfast!

“How long have you lived in Las Vegas?”  All my life!  I just got here two months ago!  I moved here after Katrina.  When I was a kid.

“Why did you move here?”  I decided to retire!  I got offered a new job!  I got tired of the hurricanes.  I got offered a new job.  The Irish potato famine.

“How long have you been driving for Lyft?”  Two months!  Six months!  Two years!  Way too long!

Was this charade dishonest?  Perhaps.  But it’s not like anyone’s checking my credit report or hooking me up to a lie detector test.  This isn’t exactly Grand Jury testimony.  While driving, I can play any role I want.  It’s like standing in front of that mirror when you’re a lonely kid pretending to be Batman for five minutes.  And I did my Batman impression more out of self-preservation than anything else.

If forced to sit here and play the uncompensated nightly role as “Max the Las Vegas Entertainer” (by the way, I changed my Lyft Driver name to “Max,” in homage to Mr. Shapiro) then…..here’s my mantra:  THEY.  ARE.  GOING.  TO.  GET.  THEIR.  SHOW.

Naturally, I had to be clever and careful.  Each answer had to be artfully polished, crafted to fit in some narrative that might establish rapport with the rider so as to extract the biggest possible tip.  But this wasn’t about money, really.  Don’t wince.  Save the self righteousness, please.  Poker players do these sorts of acts all the time.  So do salespeople.  So do politicians.  It’s called empathy.  It’s all part of the bluff.  It’s part of life and the stage we work and live on daily.

See, the goal was to connect, even though I’m not particularly interested in making any real connections.  If someone gets in the car and they’re from Philadelphia, well then, I can be “Max from Washington, D.C.”  Because they will probably commensurate with this persona and we can spend the next few minutes arguing about the Eagles versus Redskins or bitching about the traffic on I-95.  But if a couple of good ole’ boys from Georgia roll into the back seat, then I don’t want to be from anywhere near The District, because everyone hates people from Washington, even Washingtonians hate each other, and because they figure you’re part of the swamp and so instead I tell them, “Metairie!”  Or “Mandeville!”

“Yeah, I went to LSU but dropped out.  Hey, you sure kicked our asses!  Georgia — now that’s a football program!”

That tasty chestnut shelled in bullshit is smoked bacon rolled in pecans to most male Southerners, utterly obsessed with anything to do with college football.  Get them talking about the SEC and that kills ten minutes and then presto! — I don’t have to say another word the rest of the trip while they bitch about Alabama and Clemson.  Then, I can daydream about what I’m going to say in my next blog.  Win-win.

“You’re from Chicago?  Wow, what a coincidence!  I grew up in Aurora!”

Okay, that’s kinda’ true.  I lived in the Chicago suburbs for like a year when I was two when my dad was an Air Traffic Controller at O’Hare.  The important thing is to establish a rapport, make a connection, and needlepoint the tip like Betsy Ross plugging the red, white, and blue.

My most creative “act,” which was a riot to pull off, was playing an immigrant from Belfast, North Ireland.  Since I’ve heard just about every interview ever conducted with singer Van Morrison, I’ve somehow managed to craft a fairly convincing Northern Irish Belfast accent, which sounds kinda’ like a gruff Liam Niessen only with severe nasal congestion after slamming four shots of Jameson.  I figure there’s no way in the fuckery of Ulster to get called down on my Belfast accent by any American.  I sure as shit wouldn’t try this with an Irish tourist, however.

“I’m Irish, came to Boston, and landed in Las Vegas.  Lucky me!”

That ditty came in particularly handy during St. Patrick’s weekend.

Doing my Shakespeare in the Parking Lot landed me in trouble just once….and it was embarrassing as hell.  A 30ish woman got in the car and started bitching about her kids.  That got old fast.

“Do you have children?” she blurted out.

Before I could fully think my answer through fully, I retorted with words which seemed to have a life of their own, which I could not control.  “Yeah, two kids.”

“How old are they?”

“Umm……six and nine.”  Don’t ask me why I invented those numbers.

“Where do they go to school?”  Oh shit, I don’t know any of the local schools here.  Now, I’m really fucked.

“Ahh, uhh………(seconds pass)……..Woodrow Wilson, I think.”  I figure most cities have a school named Woodrow Wilson, right?  Isn’t there a Woodrow Wilson Elementary here somewhere?

Next ,there was a prolonged pause.

“We don’t have a Woodrow Wilson Elementary anywhere in Las Vegas.  I work for the district.  You don’t know where your kids go to school?”

Caught in my dumb lie, I mumbled something else thoroughly unconvincing, abandoning the very first commandment of bullshitting that when you’re stuck in a hole — stop digging.  She didn’t speak to me the rest of the way and the next eight minutes of dead air stank of uncomfortable silence.  She frowned as she exited and I didn’t get a tip.  So, I guess she caught on.  Call this my Ishtar moment in performance art.  Gee, I should have pretended to be from Belfast.  She might have swallowed that line of bullshit.

Daily Tally:  16 rides = $130.30

 

Day 23 (Mar. 12) — I expected to run into lots more gamblers.  But I didn’t run into gamblers.  During this driver-journalist immersion-experiment, the subject of gambling came up no more than a few times in hundreds of rides.  A couple of guys asked me about scores when their smartphones were dead, or they made passing comments about a point spread.  But almost no one spoke about any form of gambling.  They talked about everything else, except gambling, in fact.  Honestly, that was a shocker.  For a city that’s purportedly built on gambling, it’s odd gambling came up so infrequently.

Awareness that people don’t come to Las Vegas anymore to gamble anymore became increasingly obvious.  They can gamble back at home, since 40 states now have casinos.  If gambling is part of the plan, then they sure don’t talk much about it.  While this is admittedly an unscientific summation, when combined with plenty of other evidence, non-gambling tourists comes as both a revelation and a warning.  The Las Vegas gambling scene is in serious trouble.  I wish I could bet the “don’t.”

An exception was a rider who I picked up at about 8 pm on this busier-than-expected Tuesday night.  A young man, late 20s, got into the car.  Immediately, I sensed he was pissed.  He’d just busted out of the daily $70 poker tournament at the Rio.  Seriously.  Seventy bucks.

“Shit!  I really needed the money.  Dumbass called me with Ace-Five and caught an Ace on the river.  Fuck!”

Oh man, Da Nang flashbacks recurring again.  PTSD — which for me stands for Poker Traumatic Stress Disorder.  But now, I’m hearing bad beat stories inside the Lyft car.  I don’t know whether to laugh or scream.

This bad beat bullshit goes on way too long.

“Played four fucking hours and was two away from the money.  Got dealt pocket Jacks cracked by some old fool with an Ace.”

Please.  Please.  Don’t let this guy recognize me.  I want nothing to do with this.  If I could pull off an Arabian impression, I would have attempted it.  The poker player rambles on about his bad luck for the next 15 minutes which seemed much longer, of course, because that’s how it works with bad beat stories and we hit every goddamned traffic light between Tropicana and Centennial.

Now, what I’m about to tell you is 100 percent true:  Inexplicably, this passenger needed to raise his rent money and was counting on cashing in a poker tournament, a tournament mind you, with 20-minute rounds.  This would have been funny if it weren’t so pathetic.

Maybe this Lyft-driving gig is just as hopeless.  Raising rent money driving for Lyft?  Fuck it, what time’s the next Rio poker tourney?

Daily Tally:  15 rides = $184.04

 

Day 24 (Mar. 13) —  Sometime around 9 at night, I get another ride.  It’s a pick up from the arts magnet school, near downtown.  For gifted kids.  A young girl, perhaps 15 or 16, scoots into the back seat.

This ride is longer than expected — about 12 miles to Sunrise Mountain, in far east Las Vegas.

The girl has her smartphone in her hand and plays a video to herself much of the ride which includes the classic rock song, “Heartbreaker,” originally sung by Pat Benatar.  She plays the song three or four times.  The singer doing the Pat Benatar cover is outstanding.  I mean, she’s really good.  I can’t see her since she’s in the back seat and it’s dark.  But this doesn’t stop me.  One does become attuned to the skill of eavesdropping.

From what I can deduce in this limited time together, the song was performed earlier that night at the arts center and she was revisiting the show.

“That sounds great!  Did you attend the show, tonight?” I ask.

“Yes — that’s me.  I got to sing ‘Heartbreaker’ for my school.”

Damn.  She nailed it.  Moments later, the girl’s phone rang.  She answered.  Paraphrasing their one-sided discussion:

“Oh Mom, you should have been there!  You should have been there!  It was great!  It was unbelievable!”

I couldn’t help but listen in.  The voice on the opposite end of the phone wasn’t audible, but the conversation made it clear to me the girl’s mother was forced to work tonight and could not attend.  She couldn’t attend her daughter’s performance.  And the girl was, well, awesome.

“Oh, I wish you could have been there!  You would have loved it!  It was amazing!  Oh, I wish you could have been there.”

She repeated that line several times.  During the short conversation, there was never a reference to any father, nor any other family figure.  Just a young girl, and her Mom.  But Mom, like a lot of Moms in Las Vegas, had to work.  She missed the show.

I’m still haunted by that conversation.  Parents out there by the hundreds and thousands missing key junctions their children’s lives.  Probably a struggling mother through no fault of her own trying desperately to survive and doing her best to raise a teenager, which is not an easy thing to do in Las Vegas, especially in 2019.  Forced to work the night shift.  Maybe a second job.  And missing life.

Past Pecos, we pull into the broken down parking lot of a worn down, dark building with peeling paint chips.  It was an apartment complex with puddles in the pavement and kids playing outside, way too late at night, schooled by neglect and probably destined for trouble.  Her ride was completed.

The car back door opened.

“Excuse me,” I mustered up enough fortitude to say.  “You are REALLY good.  Stick with it.  Work hard.  You have talent.  And from what I could hear, yeah — you were awesome.”

“Thank you, Sir.  Goodnight.”

A real Heartbreaker.

Daily Tally:  16 rides = $144.41

 

Day 25 (Mar. 14) — An earlier than usual start to my day includes a rare accompaniment with the lovely Marieta who sits in the front seat as my passenger, navigator, and co-pilot.  This is totally against Lyft’s policy.  But fuck it.  It’s my lease.  It’s my time.  It’s my ride.  It’s my space.  And as an “independent contractor,” which is what I’m called in the eyes of this cutthroat company, I’m doing things my way.  They want to pay me a decent wage with benefits and make me their employee, okay, then I’ll follow the rules.  But this is my fucking turf.

We run a few personal errands and end up in Centennial.  Then, a call comes in for a pick-up.  A stylish woman, mid-30’s, gets in the back seat.  She’s holding a small white dog, a Maltese.  Cute dog.  The dog riding in the car, not a service animal, represents the second company rule I’m violating.  Two violations on the same ride.  Now, that’s impressive.  Hey, when you’re an outlaw, might as well go for broke.  Why rob a 7-11?  Let’s stick up a bank.

I like dogs.  So, I’m letting the pet ride.  Remember — my rules.  Well, the dog is a sweetheart, but Marieta and I learn quickly this ride is going to pose a challenge.  The rider is picked up at 4:31 pm.  She informs that she MUST be at an office in Henderson by the close of business — which is 5:00 pm.  That means I have precisely 29 minutes to make it through rush-hour midday traffic, with a major highway under construction, over a distance that clocks in at 22 miles.  According to my GPS, the estimated time of arrival is 5:11 pm.  There is no way I can complete this trip within the time frame.  Mario Andretti couldn’t drive this route by closing time.

But I like challenges.  I love to tackle the impossible.  So, let’s fucking roll!

“Can you make it?  This is an emergency.  I have to get there before 5!”

Sure Lady, no problem.  Got a helicopter and a machine gun?

Of course, I didn’t really say that.  But she wants me to drive 22 miles in 29 minutes which is supposed to take 40 minutes on the normal drive.  It’s impossible.

Incredibly, everything goes perfectly for the first 12 miles.  Like clockwork.  Like Moses doing that Red Sea thing.  Every lane opens.  Every light turns green at the right moment.  We drive 80 mph in the HOV lane and get all the way to Downtown Las Vegas.  Another ten miles to go and I still have a window of like 13 minutes.  Man, I love this smell of napalm, I really do love it so.  Then, straight ahead past the downtown exits heading south towards Henderson, out of nowhere…..fucking WHAM!

We hit dead-stop traffic which means I-95 has morphed from a racetrack into a parking lot.  The dream is over.  We won’t make it.  Sorry, Lady.

The woman with the dog is none too happy about this.  Now, I’m thinking — what to do?  Drive on?

“If you want me to try the side streets, I will.  But there’s no way to make this by 5 pm.  You have to understand that.”

The woman can’t conceive of this problem she created by not planning accordingly and then abruptly instructs me to make a U-turn.

“Okay, then just take me to my juice place.”

Huh?  Excuse me?  Did she say “Jews place?”

“Take me to my juice place.  I want to get a juice.”

With Marieta silent and not wanting to poke the bear, the woman commands me to drive ten miles due north to a nondescript strip mall, where there’s some Jumba Juice store.  The woman gets out, while we babysit the dog, lapping in the back seat with nothing to drink the last 45 minutes.  Then, she returns to the car with a large juice, and it’s now time to drive another eight miles back to her apartment.

By this time, I can’t get rid of this passenger fast enough, but the fare ends up being fantastic financially — close to $30, which is the biggest fare of my entire 400+ passenger hauling experience.  Of course, she’s a stiff.  No tip.  I might have tried one of my stories with her, but that wouldn’t have worked, and besides, Marieta might have completely lost it.

Daily Tally:  16 rides = $198.46

 

Day 26 (Mar. 15) — Until tonight, I’d never heard of an “escape room.”  Don’t laugh.  I still have much to learn.

Four twentysomethings cram into the car — the max ridership not counting dogs, of course.  I’m instructed to drive to a run down warehouse nestled off Industrial, near what used to be called Naked City before some rich developers carved it up, gentrified it, and re-branded the area “the Arts District.”  It’s 11:30 at night.

Umm, where are you headed?  I think everything around here is closed.

“We’re going to an escape room!”  Next, there’s giggling.

The four of them smell like dope.  Skunk weed.

Not wanting to show my ignorance and give away the fact I have no fucking idea what they’re talking about, I drive to some lot littered with broken glass with no cars in it and buildings covered with plywooded windows and barbed-wire chain link fences.

Um, are you sure you have the correct address?

“Yep, this is it!  This is the escape room!”

I’m figuring this must be a sex thing, a swingers club, some S&M joint.  That’s it.  Yep.  That’s what an escape room means.  All this is running through my sick confused mind.

One guy gets out and while everyone else stays in the car waiting.  He can’t find the entrance.

Suddenly, a faint light bulb turns on and a side door to a warehouse opens.  The four of them start giggling again and stream for the entrance.  I don’t know whether to hang around and be a good Samaritan if this situation goes South quickly, or hit the gas and get the fuck out of here.  The four dopers step inside the building and the door closes and the light bulb goes dark.

I blast the gas.

Three minutes later, I Google “ESCAPE ROOM” and learn what this actually means.  Here you go, old people:  LAS VEGAS ESCAPE ROOMS

Daily Tally:  13 rides = $135.63

 

Day 27 (Mar. 16) — Until this Saturday night, my Lyft driving experiences had been completely impervious to any danger.  Perhaps naively so.  Maybe I was just lucky.

I’d driven in every part of the city.  Knowingly picked up pimps, prostitutes, and drug dealers.  Never an incident.  Not once a problem.

That would change in a frightening way late on what was to be my second to last day of driving.

At 3:15 am on my way home for the night, I received a notification to pick up at PT’s, a locals’ bar near the Rainbow and Charleston intersection.  This appeared to be a typical ride for this time of night.  Someone likely had too much to drink and did the responsible thing by calling for a Lyft car.

As I pull up, I’m met outside in the parking lot by a muscular man who looks to be in his early 30’s.  He’s yelling vulgarities at another man standing at the front door.  Then, another man runs inside the bar.  This all happens way too quickly.

After many hours driving out on the streets, I wasn’t paying attention to the argument.  My task is simple — pick up the rider and get him on his way, arriving home safely.

The muscular man gets in and takes the front seat next to me.  This happens in perhaps one in ten rides.  I don’t really like front-seat passengers because it usually means I have to talk to them, and it just seems a little more intimate than something I want at 3:15 am with a complete stranger.

As we pull onto Rainbow, I look over and see his hand is bloody.  The man announces he’s been in a bar fight and wants to leave for home.

Okay.

The Lyft app automatically maps out each rider’s destination and I see the inebriated man who’d just been involved in a bloody brawl will be traveling to the far side of northeast Las Vegas, some 20 miles away.  This means I’ll be spending far more time inside the car with this man than I wanted to.  I’d wrongly presumed he was probably a neighborhood local and just needed a quick lift home, perhaps only a few miles.  But I was going to haul him to the opposite side of town and be stuck with a drunk and apparently dangerous man in the seat right next to me.

I don’t like this ride.  I don’t need this job.  I don’t want this risk.  But I’m stuck.

Some small talk was attempted, him mostly talking, and me nodding along with the occasional verbal affirmation.  The longer he talked the more he worked himself into a lather.  The man became increasingly upset.  He made a number of derogatory comments about Mexicans and told a story that he’d been thrown out of the Social Security Office for fighting that same day.  This wasn’t a story I wanted to hear.  Not at 3:15 am.

“Every fucking Mexican in there was getting free money from the government and I couldn’t even get a goddamned Social Security card that I lost because I didn’t show a birth certificate,” was the gist of man’s complaint.

He rambled on about Mexicans and then brought up his combat experience. “I was five years in the Army fighting and did two whole tours,” he said.  “And I can’t even get my fucking Social Security card?”

Well, I decided then and there this wasn’t the time to let him know I’d voted for Bernie Sanders.  I wan’t exactly keen on arguing him about sanctuary cities.  I’m brave.  But I’m not stupid.  This isn’t the time nor the place nor the guy with whom to argue politics.  Whatever steam this pressure cooker of a disturbed man wanted to blow off, I’d sit there, staring straight ahead, holding the wheel, bite my lip, and say absolutely nothing.  Dude already had been in two fights that day and I didn’t want to end up as the third leg of his angry trifecta.

About 15 minutes into the ride, there’s an astonishing development.

“Where the fuck are you driving?”

What?  I’m going to….[whatever the address written on the GPS says].

“No!  That’s wrong!  That’s my old address!  I live…..[some address in the opposite direction].”

The man, angry and obviously inebriated, had tapped the wrong destination on the app.  So, I’d blown 15 minutes driving in the wrong direction, and the man finally came to his senses and realized something was wrong.

Again, this wasn’t the fare to dispute or argue about.  Just get this guy home, close the door, and be done.  I don’t even give a fuck about eating the ride at this point.  Just let it be over.

For the next 15 minutes, the disturbed immigrant-hating vet rants about everything on his mind.  This is the longest ride of the Lyft ordeal, made much worse by sitting within inches of the uncertainty, a sort of village next to Mount Vesuvius.  There was not telling if and when it might blow.

The ride ends sometime after 4 am.  It’s a sigh of relief to see the disturbed individual out of the car and stumbling towards his front door.

This incident still bothers me.  I wish there was something I could have said or done to help him.  But one can’t do therapy from the seat of a car at 4 am.  It was clear this man was in serious pain and had severe troubles.  But rather than judge him, I felt sorry for him  He’d clearly fallen through the cracks.  He was an emotional casualty due to lots of circumstances, perhaps some beyond his control.  Immigrants and hate and drinking and bar fights had become foils of frustration.

I hope that man can get some help.  I really do.

Daily Tally:  18 rides = $231.33

 

Day 28 (Mar. 17) — It’s Sunday — my final day.  My contract is over.  A week loaded with drama ends with not a bang, but a whimper.  Nothing interesting happens.  Nothing at all.  Gee, I wish every day of driving could have been like this.

For the past month, abnormal became normal and when that day finally came when nothing dramatic happened, that was the outlier.  My night became my day.  Normal is unusual.

I’m finished as a Lyft driver.  Done with it.

I think.

Daily Tally:  13 rides = $112.22

 

POSTSCRIPT:  I return the leased Nissan Altima to the Hertz rental center, located near the Airport.  On my way back home, needing a ride, naturally — I call for Lyft.

An older man in a mini-van picks me up and begins driving.  Two minutes into the ride, it happens:

“So, where are you from?” the driver asks.

Purgatory has no escape.

“Belfast,” I answer — in the most obvious American accent imaginable.

“Belfast?  Where’s that?  Ohio?

“Yeah — Belfast, Ohio,” I say.

Later on, I learn there actually is a Belfast, Ohio.  This time, I got lucky.

 

__________

WEEK 4 RESULTS:

Total 56 hours driven and 117 rides given….$837.94 in earnings including tips and bonus after $274 rental car cost deduction…..minus $149 spent in gas….equals $12.11 per hour.

 

Note:  Thanks to everyone for the positive feedback posted on social media.  In a follow-up article, I’ll post my final thoughts, which will include my recommendations for both drivers and riders.

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Posted by on May 16, 2019 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Music and Concert Reviews | 0 comments

100 Candles….and Counting: Liberace’s Las Vegas Legend Lives On

 

 

I don’t give concerts.  I put on a show.

— Liberace

 

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.

For Liberace?

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:

[1]  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.

[2]  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.

[3]  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.

[4]  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.

[5]  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.

[6]  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.

[7]  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.”

[8]  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!”

[9]  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.

[10]  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.

[11]  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.

[12]  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.

 

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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.

__________

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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