This is the first in a four-part series.
On the streets of Las Vegas, at any time, day or night, hundreds of rideshare drivers are hauling passengers from one place to another.
Rideshare drivers artfully navigate a clogged latticework of busy avenues and bustling boulevards and highways and back alleys linking the vast labyrinth of mega resorts and cheap motels and restaurants and fast-food joints…and fancy shows and movie theaters and professional hockey games and annual conventions….and spacious homes protected by gate codes and crime-ridden rundown apartments and weekly rentals and ritzy timeshares with glorious views….and drug stores and doctors appointments and emergency rooms and hospitals….and discount shopping outlets and department stores and massage parlors and cannabis dispensaries….and the bus station and the airport.
For 28 consecutive days and nights between February 18 through March 17th, 2019, I maneuvered those Las Vegas streets. I drove every major thoroughfare of my city many times over, discovering neighborhoods I’d not been, despite living here 15 years. I thought I possessed a well-rounded understanding of people. But I was gravely mistaken. Even naive. After speaking with and more importantly listening to a thousand riders — of all colors, incomes, shapes, ages, education levels, ethnicities, and different backgrounds with so many different problems and aspirations among them — I soon realized how very much I didn’t know and what a glaring void that was for me. I realized how very little I knew about them, and the city I call my home.
Contemplation and solitude also taught me a thing or two about myself.
Typically, I was out on the road each night with hands on the wheel between 5 pm and 3 am, sometimes longer, and other nights less. Over four weeks, I drove a grand total 5,304 miles and not once left the city limits. I pumped 16 fill-ups and burned through 284 gallons of unleaded gas. And speaking of gas, I ate at Arby’s and Wienerschnitzel and Dunkin Donuts and even developed a divine fondness for Subway. Despite not ingesting a single ounce of alcohol during this entire period, somehow I still managed to gain 11 pounds and am now nourishing a double chin. At the rate I aged and put on weight, I’ll be playing Santa Claus without a costume by late November.
I picked up, transported, and then dropped off people of all trades — including waiters, waitresses, bartenders, barbacks, desk clerks, dental assistants, researchers, musicians, students, hairdressers, professors, truckers, tourists, maids, dope addicts, drag queens, drug runners, helicopter pilots, craps dealers, keno writers, architects, newlyweds, drunks, tourists, hookers, moms with baby strollers, two dogs, and even the lead engineer now working on Elon Musk’s Hyperloop.
I drove for Lyft.
Ridesharing first began in March 2009, exactly ten years ago, this month.
Happy anniversary, whoever invented it.
Think of a taxi service, only based on the principles of libertarianism — except that the fares are much cheaper and most drivers are showered and sane and pleasant to deal with. It’s an attractive concept. Basically, anyone with a pulse, clear vision, and a clean driving record with access to a decent car, or the willingness to put up a $250 security deposit and rent a vehicle through their special program, can become a de facto driver for instant hire and in the process earn a few extra bucks.
Sounds good, so far, right? What’s not to like?
Thanks to the technology of smartphones, instant cashless billing, and every driver’s trusted hand pilot — satellite-generated GPS — rideshare driving is now open to nearly everyone. English language skills? Optional. Knowledge of the city? Not required.
Where do I sign up?
America’s two biggest rideshare companies are Uber and Lyft. They dominate the market. Both operate in most major cities, including Las Vegas. Recently, Lyft has caught up to Uber in overall traffic and according to one report has even passed their rival in total ridership in some markets. However, this isn’t like Pepsi toppling Coke. Rideshare driving/riding elicits no fuzzy feelings nor allegiances nor nourishes any loyalties whatsoever other than every single one of us becoming the unwanton targets of hostility from crooked cab companies and foul-breathed taxi drivers which are currently in the midst of seeing their stranglehold on urban transport evaporate like dew droplets disappearing in the desert heat. Moreover, there’s not a goddamned thing they can do about it. In Las Vegas, taxis have lost about 30 percent of their ridership — last year alone. They’re livid at the prospect of losing what’s been a monopoly for decades which has allowed them to rip off riders. So, they hate Uber and Lyft.
My two-word response is this: Fuck them. You’ll be reading more about my disdain for most taxi drivers and all the cab companies throughout this four-part series. Right now, I’m just warming up.
Many drivers opt to work for both Uber and Lyft, though technically speaking, no driver is employed by either company. That’s because everyone gets classified as an “independent contractor,” which is just a really shitty-ass, cold-blooded way for our Silicon Valley overlords to avoid potential legal liabilities, not have to bear the costs of providing health insurance or benefits, nor have to pay a guaranteed minimum wage to drivers. In other words, if a Lyft driver is negligent and kills somebody, the company isn’t on the hook for legal damages. Given the way the system’s set up, rideshare drivers sometimes end up making less than a dishwasher.
Ridesharing as a purely economic construct
might be is exploitative. But there’s also something to be said for its positive social intertwinings, thrusting disparate populations together and mixing into a conversational blender known as the moving automobile. The concept of offering someone we don’t know a ride is based on one thing — mutual trust. Drivers must trust riders, and riders must trust drivers. Ask yourself — would you get into the car of a total stranger late at night? Would you let your wife or daughter ride with someone you don’t know? With Uber and Lyft, strangers put their trust in other strangers. Yet, because all payments get processed only by credit card on file, the legal identities of passengers can be traced, if necessary. Hence, robberies and assaults on rideshare drivers are rare. Unlike taxis, which still transact most payments in cash and are thus more susceptible to crime, driving for Uber and Lyft is relatively safe. About a third of all rideshare drivers are reportedly female.
Uber and Lyft operate all over Las Vegas. Not just on The Strip. But on local routes, too. Rideshare drivers are instantly recognizable for rectangular signs about the size of a beer bottle affixed to the front windshield. Uber uses a glowing white semi-circle. Lyft uses a blue light mounted on the dashboard. You can’t miss them, especially at night.
Until I became a driver, I had no clue how ridiculously common ridesharing had become. It’s become so common and so accessible both for drivers and passengers, that many people do both. I was now caught up in the web.
Boredom. Curiosity. Sick of the normal grind.
Pick any of those reasons. In fact, pick all three. All three would be accurate if asked precisely why I decided to drive for Lyft. In other words, the truth is — I needed the money.
There was another reason, too. There’s no risk involved. Other than getting mangled in a car crash, perhaps. It’s certainly much less of a risk than playing poker full time which can be a losing proposition any given week or month and betting sports which can be an even more expensive proposition, which has consumed so very much my time and attention for the better part of the previous three years and so often seems both pointless and hopelessly unfulfilling. To the contrary, there seemed to be no risks at all with experimenting as a Lyft driver. Besides, think of the stories from driving all over Las Vegas and meeting so many different people. If I didn’t like my experience, I’d simply quit. If I became fed up with people or got sick of sitting behind a wheel, I had one out, a wild card to play. My resignation. See ‘ya. Bye.
Based on advance research, the major downside of rideshare driving is destroying your car, if you chose to use it. You sure better get 25+ miles to the gallon and own a reliable car that will go 160,000 miles with nothing but oil changes and the occasional new set of tires, because otherwise, you’ll basically be doing what amounts to volunteer work after you factor in all the excessive costs of depreciation and unavoidable risks of stressing out an engine, ruining shocks, and exhausting an AC unit that will be running 10 hours a day, especially during the hot months. Oh, and that doesn’t include the cleanup cost of someone puking in your backseat, from what I hear, not so much a matter of IF but WHEN. This is, after all, Las Vegas — party town. There’s also the increased cost of commercial auto insurance, meeting deductibles, and always the possibility the transmission drops out of your car at any moment, which basically leaves you holding your dick and a $4,000 repair bill while you wonder how you’re now going to pay the mortgage that’s due next Tuesday.
Driving my own car seemed like a gamble far worse than any poker game or sports bet. So, instead, I opted to rent a car though something called Lyft Express and their partner agency Hertz. Uber apparently doesn’t have this option in Las Vegas, which is why Lyft was chosen. That meant I’d pay the princely sum of $273 per week (amounting to $1,092 per month!), which included tax and the cost of auto insurance plus unlimited mileage on a grey 2018 Nissan Altima with 38,000 miles. Basically, I had to earn $273 per week for starters and then anything I earned beyond that amount was my profit, minus the cost of gas. Given the weighty arrangement, Express Lyft drivers are incentivized to work an ungodly number of hours. My calculations showed that anyone who drives less than 40 hours per week would end up probably making less than minimum wage. And this earnings estimate comes in what’s arguably one of the most rideshare-friendly cities in the nation, Las Vegas, with a steady number of calls coming in 24-hours-a-day, seven days a week. Frankly, I have no idea how any rideshare driver in Omaha or Nashville or Harrisburg could possibly make a respectable living. I just don’t.
But now, I’m getting way ahead of myself. Let’s back up, and revisit my first week of driving for Lyft.
The best way to learn something is simply to do it.
Lyft provides no training whatsoever for drivers, other than a quick 15 minute tutorial inside the office with an iPad. There’s no quiz. There are no questions. No resume. No reference check. There’s nothing. The company policy for new drivers might as well be: Sink or swim.
I paid a $200 fee for a Nevada State business license (mandatory) plus another $25 for a Clark County license (also mandatory). I passed a quick online background check where basically they make sure who you say you are and make sure you have a valid drivers license with no DWIs or DUIs on your record. I’ve been told that Uber and Lyft take those infractions very seriously, which is understandable. Good for me, I have a perfect driving record. I’ve also timed my driving experiment to take place during my (twice a year) drinking sabbatical when I take an extended break from consuming alcohol. So, this fits nicely with my sobriety campaign.
I’m optimistic. Maybe this new gig might work out. Indeed, there are some perks. I can drive anytime I want to. I can take off whenever I want. There’s no boss. No supervision. I’m in total command and control. Well, up to a point, that is. Hertz is about to assign me a car, and I have no voice in this since rideshare rental cars are somewhat limited.
I get lucky. Hertz assigns me a nice-looking Nissan. I’ve rented Nissan cars in the past when I used to travel a lot and was always impressed. It’s an affordable car which handles well. Makes tight turns, which is probably the most important thing for urban driving. Supposedly gets 28 miles to the gallon. Fairly spacious. Good thing they put me in a Nissan. If they would have assigned me a Hyundai, I would have flat out refused it. Would have stormed off the lot. There’s no fucking way I’m going to be seen driving a Hyundai. Thanks to Nissan, I preserve what remains of my vanity.
The following recollections noted daily are taken from a small notebook I kept inside the car. In between rides, I did lots of scribbling.
Day 1 (Feb. 19) — My adventure begins on a Monday. I start driving on the slowest night of the week. It’s windy and cold outside. This is entirely by intent. Like trying out the training wheels before they come off.
Learning the ropes is not easy nor does it comes naturally. Getting into a comfort zone takes a day, or two, or maybe a week to become proficient with the online app, deciphering how ridesharing works, optimizing opportunity, and most important to being successful — learning the key pick-up and drop-off points without getting lost, becoming frustrated, and going crazy.
Again, there’s no training provided. Learning happens entirely on the fly. There’s no one to call. No call center. No help hotline.
I begin driving at 9 pm and expect to make a short night of it, just hoping to wet my beak a little and master the basics of driving for Lyft during one of its slowest times. My inaugural excursion is a disaster.
McCarran Airport is my initial stop. Problem is, I have no idea how, nor where to pick up passengers at the airport. So, while en route, I pull over to the side of the access road to perform a quick Google search on just where to go. Within a few minutes, an LVMPD cruiser pulls up behind me with rollers flashing.
“You are illegally stopped! Move your vehicle immediately!” comes over a loudspeaker.
“Huh, I’m just trying to figure out where to go,” I plea, hollering out the window.
‘Move it now, or I’ll write you a citation!”
Well, fuck me. Asshole! I didn’t say that. But I thought it.
Not even one fare yet, and I’m already getting threatened with a ticket by the police.
Things are about to go from bad to worse.
I learn there’s a rideshare lot positioned 1.3 miles away from the airport next to the Thomas & Mack Center. It’s used as a staging area by all the drivers for every company. Kind of like Kiss and Ride, but no kissing. Uber and Lyft both make it mandatory to pull into the staging lot and then wait for a notification which comes by phone. This way, there’s no feeding frenzy or fights for passengers like you see with long cab lines. When someone requests Lyft on their phone app, the driver’s phone automatically beeps. We then chose to accept or decline the assignment. Of course, the entire idea of driving is to accept as many riders as possible, so we accept most of the incoming requests (later, I begin to figure out which pick up spots are to be avoided). Lyft doesn’t tell us either the final destination or the estimated amount of the fare when it flashes on the phone. I understand why. Masking is to dissuade drivers from declining short fares to make way for preferential longer rides, which pay better. I surmise that picking up airport passengers is a roll of the dice. The fare could be $20. But more often than not, the fare is going to be somewhere around $5 or $6 (that’s the driver’s share after the company takes out its cut) because so many inbound flyers head straight to big hotels on The Strip, which is only a few miles away. So, these trips tend to suck big time, especially when you consider popping the trunk open and lifting 50-pound bags as part of the equation combined with the rarity of rider’s tipping.
So, anyway — my phone beeps. It’s my first fare. Oh, joy! The excitement! Now, I’m a pro!
There’s just a problem. I have no idea where to drive and make my first pick-up.
I can’t explain my ignorance. It was a mental lapse. I expected the pick-up spot to be out on the curb somewhere near “arrivals.” I don’t know. I just assumed there would be a sign or something telling me where to go. In all my years flying into McCarran, I never took rideshare. So, this was completely new territory.
Turns out, there’s a special pick up esplanade for rideshare drivers and passengers only and it’s on 2 Mezzanine Level of Terminal 1. This is a clusterfuck because there’s no sign saying this on the roadway leading into the airport and so I have no clue where to go. My first pass around, I accidentally drive into the ticketed parking garage. Next, I pass through the departures area. Another swing and miss. On my third pass, I pull into the valet area reserved for limos and buses only. A strikeout. Then, my phone rings.
“Where are you? We’ve been waiting out here in the cold ten minutes and it shows you circling around three times!”
Turns out, passengers have the option of calling the driver directly, although the phone number on my screen comes from a 415 area code, San Francisco, which I later learn is the Lyft corporate relay. Actual phone numbers aren’t displayed as a security precaution.
“Uhh, umm, I’m on my way! I had a problem with traffic, but I’ll be there in a minute!”
When in doubt, baffle ’em with bullshit.
On my fourth circle around the airport, I finally get lucky and swing my rented Nissan into level 2M where about 40 other cars are lined up and perhaps 100 people stand on the sideline crammed around suitcases all seemingly staring directly at me. Drivers are corralled into long rows framed by orange traffic cones along with a number. Once you pull into a spot, the driver supposedly telephones the rider with a pick-up assignment number. As in, “I’m waiting for you over here at C-9.”
See how fast I learn? I told you — I’m a pro.
I dial up my would-be passenger who now sounds really pissed. Sure, the guy probably flew several hours on an airplane and how he’s waiting in a parking garage for clueless Lyft driver who doesn’t know his ass from a steering wheel. Oh, and it’s 36 degrees outside.
Finally, we establish physical contact, and to my surprise and horror, it’s a party of four along with a shitload of luggage. Lyft has a single price policy where the fare is the exact same no matter how many people ride along. Two couples flew in together and now want to travel to their homes in Southern Highlands. So, the trunk gets weighed down and the five of us stuff into the nifty Nissan like greased sardines wiggling in a tin can.
“What took you so long?” was the very first question directed at me once I’d snapped on my seat belt.
In this spot, there was just one remedy in my toolbox. Total honesty.
“Honestly, you are my very first passenger,” I confessed. “I’ve never picked anyone up before. It’s my first day as a Lyft driver. I got lost.”
Well, that instantly defused the situation. Annoyance morphed into genuine empathy. My confession set off a nice conversation and avoided further disaster, especially after I missed their turn off from the I-15 freeway and had to drive an extra two miles. Twenty minutes later, I dropped off the foursome. One guy reached in his pocket and even tipped me $3. I glanced down at my phone, and the fare came to a whopping $13.63. Wow, that seems a little light, I thought, especially coming from the airport. What the hell happened to those whopping $40 fares I used to pay to taxi drivers when I needed a ride to the airport? Here it is, years later, and I’m on the losing end of a measly $13.63? WTF? I figured this would be a good fare. As it turned out, that was a good fare.
I still had so much to learn.
My first day, after six hours of driving that seemed more like 16, I made $64.61 in 6 rides. I also earned $8 in tips. Not counting the cost of gas, I earned about $12 an hour.
I didn’t know whether to be happy or sad or to laugh or cry.
Day 2 (Feb. 20) — Yesterday, I made just about every mistake possible, short of getting into an accident. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing or where I was driving most of the time. If those errors of ignorance were as bad as things get, then certainly with more experience and better knowledge of the driving landscape, my earning prospects would improve considerably. The worst day was behind me.
New lesson learned: Big hotels on The Strip are a huge pain in the ass. They’re crowded. They take way too much time to drive to. Long traffic lights in between stops prevent quick rides. Security officers posted at entrances are often rude and force drivers to move along. Finding passengers in crowds is usually difficult, especially after dark. The passengers also tend to be more boisterous. It might seem busy, but busy as the operative word isn’t always a good thing if you’re driving and trying to make decent time darting from one fare to the next. Sitting in traffic waiting, especially with no rider on board, is financial and psychological suicide. Get stuck in between Flamingo and Tropicana is maddening.
Very quickly, I come to despise picking up and dropping off along The Strip which kinda’ like being a baker who’s allergic to flour.
What’s worse than the heavy traffic most nights are insanely low fares. Many fares (the rider share) amount to a bare minimum for the company, which is $3.97. Seriously, that’s precisely what the driver earns — 3 dollars and 97 freaking cents (not counting gas and car costs). It’s almost sweatshop criminal.
So, hauling riders from Planet Hollywood to Mandalay Bay, a reasonable distance of perhaps 1.5 miles, might take 12 minutes on the very clearest night with light traffic, but could easily take 25 minutes on a busy evening during prime time due to three long traffic lights, bumper to bumper stagnation, which also doesn’t count my pick up going to the target and dropping off afterward from the destination, which could easily add another 10-15 minutes. With rideshare driving, there’s no meter running. Price is based solely on distance. So, you might drive 35 minutes with the engine running and not even generate $4 bucks for the fare. This, my friends, isn’t an abnormality. It’s pretty common.
Busy Night = Bad.
When The Strip turns into a parking lot as it so often does, especially on weekends, rideshare driving almost isn’t worth the time or effort. That’s a sad fact, but it is a reality.
This is only my second day. Already, I’m becoming jaded and cynical. In another few weeks, I’ll be like one of those crabby foul-breathed cab drivers. Soon, I’ll be turning into Travis Bickle.
You talkin’ to me?
As frustrated as I’ve become about pay scales, much to my shock there’s also a surprise revelation of broader curiosity which motivates me to continue on as well as keep an open mind about what I’m doing.
About midway through my second day, I experience something of an epiphany. After a dozen or so fares, I realize how the confines of a small car, within perhaps just a 10- to 15-minute stretch, where two complete strangers meet for the first time, me in front and the other person usually sitting in the rear, does create a sort of amateurish therapy session, and a cheap psychiatrist’s sofa. There’s even a phrase psychologists use to describe this, which is the “stranger on a train” phenomenon, which theorizes the most intimate conversations are more likely to happen between two people whom may never interact again.
No doubt, passengers love to vent. They say things to a stranger no one would never confess to a co-worker or a business associate or perhaps even family. Some riders even go into the most intimate details of their private lives, with no regard for passing judgment nor any sense of personal embarrassment. They will tell you anything — and everything about themselves. Trust me on this. Wait until you read some of the things I heard, in subsequent parts of this series.
I was astounded by the unfiltered self-revelation of so many different people.
Perhaps it’s because most riders know that he or she will never see me again. Within this closed crucible of an automobile-confessional, feelings and fears and frustrations about all matters of life get shared. And captive to curiosity and the prospect of the occasional tip for lending a comforting ear to pain, I listened.
It’s 10 pm. A lady considerably younger than the lines on her face show is picked up in East Las Vegas and driven to a trailer park off Boulder Highway. On the journey, she swears to me she’s going to kill her husband. I presume she’s joking. I giggle, nervously glancing into the back seat in the rearview mirror every minute or so to make sure she doesn’t flash a loaded firearm. Turns out, her old man did some fooling around and left her with lots of bills to pay and now she’s pissed off and wants him gone. I didn’t ask any questions. Too afraid of the answers, I suppose. She just rambled on vented for about 15 minutes then slammed the car door without saying goodbye. Fare: $7.16.
One of the last fares of the night happened when another woman got into the car in Southwest Las Vegas off Jones Blvd. She was a heavy-set Black woman. She mentioned she’d just moved from Buffalo, NY. Since I’d been to Buffalo a few times myself, I revealed that I’d crossed the US-Canada border there before. She then told me she couldn’t leave the country and had never even been into Canada.
“Why not?” I asked.
Big mistake. Don’t ask questions! Questions get you into trouble. But, by then it was too late. The question was out, like bait being gobbled and the regurgitation of a scandalous reply.
“I tried to cross the border once but my criminal record came up and they wouldn’t let me in,” she replied. “They got me on solicitation a few times in Buffalo and that shows up when you cross the border. So, that’s why I’m now working Vegas.”
Uh, okay. Have a nice evening, ma’am.
Daily Tally — Day Two includes 12 rides and $109.41 in earnings.
Day 3 (Feb. 21) — It’s human nature to remember the outliers. But most rides are uneventful and rather pleasant. For every arrogant asshole or weirdo or sicko, the freaks are greatly outnumbered by many genuinely nice normal people. More on the good days. Day Three turns out to be a good day.
One moment of particular joy takes place early when I pick up a middle-aged couple from Nashville who had just arrived at the Las Vegas airport.
“Take us straight downtown to the Municipal Building,” I’m instructed.
The couple was unusually cuddly in the back seat, especially for a late afternoon fare. During the drive, it was revealed they’d flown here just to get married. They were headed for the Marriage Licensing Bureau, which (something I didn’t know) is open here 24 hours a day. Since Las Vegas offers weddings 24/7 at many chapels along The Strip, a license is an absolute pre-requisite prior to the ceremony. So, newlyweds-to-be must visit a nondescript government building, fill out some papers, pay a token fee, and are officially afforded all the trappings and benefits of holy matrimony in the eyes of the law.
I joke that most people would at least check into a hotel, first. Then after resting and freshening up, they’d then go and get married. But the couple explained they were so madly in love and due to some difficult personal circumstances this day couldn’t come fast enough. So, when the opportunity finally came to actually tie the knot, they wanted to attack their long-awaited crowning moment with of bliss an insatiable passion.
It was an odd experience and strange feeling, dropping off two people with suitcases on a downtown sidewalk, on what was to be one of the happiest days of their lives, knowing I’d probably never see them again, nor know how things turned out. I hope they live happily ever after.
One interesting aspect of ridesharing I hadn’t anticipated was the combustible pairings of people with little or nothing in common. Lyft offers a discount for what’s called a “shared” ride. That means the passenger pays less but then also risks deviating from the normal route to pick up additional riders along the way. Sometimes, seeking to save a few bucks produces unintended surprises.
While downtown, I picked up two straight-laced, well-dressed people. It was a nice couple, presumably in their early 30’s. They told me they were from Provo, Utah and were doing some volunteer work in Las Vegas for their church. I took this to mean they were Mormons. I know — some great detective work, there. A few minutes after picking them up, my phone beeped. That beep meant I had another rider, actually another couple to pick up.
I deviated and drove up in front of a shady-looking motel, and two twentysomething kids got in the car and squeezed up next to the Mormons. The young kids stank of weed — like they’d spent an entire day and maybe even most of their lives smoking marijuana. The odor was unmistakably intrusive. I rolled down the car windows, this despite it being in the 40s outside. The Mormons being from Utah didn’t seem to mind the cold.
Incredibly, this oddball foursome, two couples that couldn’t have been more different, talked and even laughed about the stench and pastime of smoking dope. Everyone kinda’ just rolled along with the situation and went with the punchlines, and given Las Vegas is now one of the states where marijuana use is legal and out in the open, this was to be a phenomenon we non-users would have to get used to and accept.
After the dopers got dropped off, the Mormons stated they knew what to expect while in Las Vegas. These weren’t innocent babes in the woods. Besides, they revealed, it’s not like people in Utah don’t smoke weed.
Something I took from that experience was to go out the next morning and buy a spray can of air freshener. It’s the law of large numbers. The more people you encounter, the more sights and sounds and smells you will inevitably encounter. Hence, cars are inevitably infused with body odor. Weed. Bad breath. Dirty diapers. Dogs. You name it. This car badly needed a dousing of citrus. So, I went to the Dollar Store and stocked up on cans of air freshener, boxes of Kleenex, breath mints, and bottled water. I was a just pack of condoms away from turning into a mobile CVS.
Daily Tally — 10 rides, $80.61 in earnings.
Day 4 (Feb. 22) — Entering my fourth day of driving for Lyft, I still haven’t earned a dime in profit. All the money earned has gone straight to the house, which is Lyft and Hertz. In other words, the rental car still hasn’t been paid for, yet. And then, there’s the cost of gas. It’s demoralizing to think I’ve worked for three days and am still not out of the hole, yet. It’s like not beating the rake.
Man, fuck this.
I find a reason for optimism in the oddest of places.
My first three days concentrated mostly along The Strip, at the airport, and downtown. I’d spent much of my time hauling around tourists. Truth is, I’d blown far too much time sitting at traffic lights, waiting at crossroads, and trying to navigate a confusing matrix of passages to and from the big hotels and casinos. Spinning wheels. Round and round.
The real money, or at least better money, was elsewhere.
On Day Four, it snows. It snows all night long. Blowing snow as you would see at Lake Tahoe up in the mountains. It’s Las Vegas’ most intense snowstorm in a decade. And I stay out until 4 am working.
Entirely by miscalculation, I get more rides than expected into and out of North and East Las Vegas. Both areas are poorer than more affluent districts of the city — including Summerlin, Southwest, Southern Highlands, and Green Valley. North Las Vegas is much more Black than elsewhere. East Las Vegas is populated heavily by Hispanics. The older parts of the city tend to be more populated by minorities. The newest parts of the city are lily White. That’s not a judgment. That’s a fact.
Owning and driving an automobile is expensive, especially for working-class people and those who are struggling to make ends meet. In addition to the cost of buying a car, there’s also insurance required. Workers making perhaps $10 an hour in many instances simply cannot afford a car. So, many have to ride the transit bus. But, city buses don’t run during all hours of the night and don’t reach into certain areas which are remote and less trafficked. So, minorities tend to rely on rideshare transport in disproportional numbers when compared to other locals. I don’t have any specific data on this, but my experience tells me I’m right.
I also presume that some drivers are reluctant to venture as often into North and East Las Vegas, especially late nights. I didn’t see this as an issue having grown up in and lived in multiethnic communities most of my life. In fact, given the traffic is considerably lighter, the fares are usually longer, and the riders often need transport during odd hours, I begin to discover there’s more money to be made concentrating on neglected areas of the city.
I’ll have far more to say about this subject, later.
Day Four’s earnings prove my supposition to be correct. Despite the showstorm and slippery pavement, I give 20 rides and earn $131.62, by far my best day, so far. I’m also finally out of the hole with Lyft and Hertz. What I earn from this point forward I get to keep as my own.
The bounds of bondage have been lifted.
Free at last. Free at last. Thank god almighty, I am free at last.
Day 5 (Feb. 23) — I’ve always despised fast food. I loathe it. I hate everything about fast food, from the unhealthy ingredients to the corporations who mass produce the slop. I might eat at McDonald’s twice a year, and that’s only because their breakfasts are decent. Burger King — never. Carls Jr. — boycott. Chicken O’ Filet, or whatever it’s called — no fucking way. I don’t give business to bigots.
Terrible thing is, when you’re driving eight to ten hours at night, all you pretty much see are strip malls and the neon lights of fast-food joints. Holy shit, there really is a Starbucks on every block and right across the street, there’s usually a Subway shop.
I don’t remember where I read it or heard it, but the guy who ran Subway, before he was sent away for some really bad sexual abuse stuff, said he lost something like 100 pounds eating nothing else but Subway sandwiches. In all my years, I’ve never ordered one. I figure, why the hell would I ever pay $7 for a sandwich? That’s crazy.
Late one night, hungry in East Las Vegas, I pull into a Subway and order the Black Forest Ham with provolone cheese. It was like snorting crack for the first time. Hard to remember when I’ve tasted something better. Maybe it was just that my expectations were so appallingly low, that the entire escapade was a surprise. I can’t explain the shock and awe. So far in the month since, I’ve wolfed down like a dozen Subway sandwiches. I’m still waiting for the 100 pounds to fall off.
The same cannot be said for Wienerschnitzel, a dying castoff of a quick-paced culinary has-been straight out of the 1970s that I remember as being pretty decent, in as much as a 14-year-old knows anything about good food. Anyway, one night I drove by Wienerschnitzel, on East Charleston. Insatiably curious, I ordered two hot dogs with mustard and onions, and after wolfing down two chomps of the first one, then chunked the remainder out into a cold dark wet parking lot, presumably to be consumed in broad daylight of the pending dawn by a flock of hungry pigeons which won’t nearly be as selective about what they introduce into their intestines. What crap.
Donut places also become my weakness. I can’t resist donuts. Unfortunately, Las Vegas is limited to a couple of junky franchise donut shops scattered all over town — namely Dunkin Donuts and Winchells. I hate Krispy Kreme. That’s a no-go for me. Way too sweet. Shit cheap ingredients. By now, I’m on a first-name basis with three different night crews working graveyard at Dunkin and Winchell’s.
The downside of all this sitting and eating and farting and solitude is feeling pretty much starting to feel like total shit all the time. I develop trouble sleeping. I start dreaming of neverending traffic jams. My clothes begin to smell like dope — even with the air freshener.
On the upside, I’m getting better and better at this. I’m avoiding low-fare rides and bad pick-up spots and concentrating on off-the-beaten-path areas which make better time and are far less stressful. I can’t always avoid undesirable routes and rude passengers, but it’s all a numbers game. Minimize costs. Maximize gains. Continue to learn.
Daily Tally — 13 rides and $146.36 in earnings.
Day 6 (Feb. 24) — Another trick I learn is utilizing music to my advantage. By this, I mean the music I play inside the car while driving with passengers.
Other than politics, music is something that divides us the most. We don’t listen to people different than ourselves and certainly don’t like their music. I plead guilty to this also.
I’m astounded that many rideshare drivers selfishly play what they want to hear, which passengers are then forced to endure like helpless hostages. Since so many drivers are young, they tend to play rap and techno music. I hear that a lot in the airport queue. Some passengers also reveal to me that many trips were insanely annoying only because drivers played their shit music with the boom box blasts and warbling autotune voices. I have no idea what possesses these clowns to force that garbage on paying customers. Maybe that’s why some drivers receive negative star ratings, which is the direct feedback and rating attached to every driver’s permanent record. Five stars is great. One star is a disaster. Although it shouldn’t really matter, I want to get five stars from my riders.
I installed Pandora from Day One through the car’s audio sound system. I then programmed a link to the John Coltrane station at the perfect decibel level of 7. Just loud enough to hear and enjoy, but yet not too loud. The Coltrane station is outstanding as background music and even becomes a conversation starter. Cannonball Adderly, Herbie Hancock, Charlie Bird, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis…..all the jazz greats become the soundtrack of my day as a Lyft driver.
One passenger, a young lady originally from New York City even reveals her father was a stand-up bass player and played many studio sessions on some of Dizzy Gillespie’s recordings. That crosstown fare was too short at 25 minutes. I could have listened to her talk about her late dad and hear her stories much longer. That insightful conversation happened simply because of some really good music.
Over my four weeks of driving, I had at least 30 to 40 people comment on the music I’d selected. Every word of feedback was positive. Without exception. Many riders said they felt more peaceful and at ease after listening to classic jazz masters at the end of long trips or stressful work days. Coltrane and friend’s instrumentation seemed to converse in a universal language, equally appreciated by White and Black, Male and Female, Young and Old. I, too, found myself acting calm behind the wheel. Spewing profanities at other drivers, a common pastime since my youth, mellowed and then eventually disappeared.
Almost like meditation.
Coltrane in the car and its impact became a major surprise to me. I had no idea of the immense influence music has on people and their moods. Music used in the right way can, in a word, be transformative.
Late Saturday night, I make a final run adjacent to Paradise Road and get called to a quick pick-up at the Flamingo, where a busy nightclub has just let out. There’s a huge crowd of people standing around, many females in scantily-veiled dresses and macho half-bearded guys wearing jackets on size too small and bathed in cologne. This was one of those cheap fares that I didn’t want. But, I was here already.
A couple of women get into the back seat and a guy who looks Middle Eastern and speaks with an accent sits in front. They’ve all been partying and drinking most of the night, which I can tell because even though they’re inside the quiet confines of a car, they are still yelling at each other as they talk. After spending several hours inside a nightclub, one apparently becomes accustomed to shouting over the thundering boom of ceaseless noise.
Within moments, a classic track from Miles Davis’ masterpiece Kind of Blue virtually lullabies the trio and as if intoxicated by both rhythm and note become transfixed to the syncopation of a cornet recorded some 61 years ago. The yelling stops. Not a word is spoken for the next 12 minutes. Hypnotizing.
Once the trio gets dropped off at their hotel, while stepping out of the car, I hear one girl say to the other, “that music was so perfect.”
It was perfect.
Daily Tally — 21 rides and $223.97 in earnings. My best day.
Day 7 (Feb. 25) — The thing that’s hardest to explain and even tougher to understand about driving as a full-time job is just how excruciating it is on the body.
Should you doubt this for a second, think of what it’s like to sit in the middle seat of an airliner, packing in economy class for four hours. Now, double that. Imagine flying from Las Vegas to Atlanta every day, and then back again, for several days in a row. Oh, and you can’t read a book or watch TV. Instead, you have to look outside the window and pay attention to where you’re headed. Oh, and you must also engage in conversation with the people sitting around you.
That’s exactly what it’s like driving passengers. Just like flying, only headed to nowhere. A day or two of driving. Okay. Fine. A few days of it, then it gets tiring. After a week, my entire body feels like a department store mannequin from being frozen too long in one position. My back aches. My brain is fried from way too much pointless conversation. The music helps, but it’s not a miracle tonic. There’s still the sporadic craziness.
I desperately need a day off. So, I give one short ride in the afternoon and then decide that since it’s Sunday, I’m giving myself some much-needed rest.
Daily Tally: 1 ride and $3.97 in earnings.
With another week about to begin the following day, and given the same demands as I just went through, I need the break. I’m off the next 24 hours and then will begin anew in Week Two.
WEEK 1 RESULTS:
Total 44 hours driven and 83 rides given….$524.84 in earnings including tips and bonus after $234.71 rental car cost deduction…..minus $135.00 spent in gas….equals $9.30 per hour.
Coming Next: Week Two