Tag Archives: rideshare

What’s in a Passenger?

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On the Prevalence of Women Drugged Against Their Will in the SF Bay Area and Ending Up in Taxis and Ride-Hails

My column in the S.F. Examiner this week is about transporting a woman who was most likely drugged. As I mention in the column, the frequency of women getting drugged at bars in the San Francisco Bay Area has become way too common.

It’s alarming how many women I encounter who’ve unknowingly had their drinks spiked in bars. No place is immune. Not even the Cat Club, which usually has a very sophisticated clientele.

Recently, I had a long conversation with a bartender who told me, in the 10 years she’s been in San Francisco, she’s been roofied three times.

In the past, I’ve written about dealing with situations like this as an Uber driver.

As a taxi driver I was confronted with a situation out of my control:

A few months ago, a very intoxicated and distraught young lady showed up in the National cab yard. She only had one high-heeled boot on and no idea where she lived, or where her friends went.

A cab driver brought her into the yard out of desperation after picking her up and not knowing what to do with her.

Since the cab yards are in the Bayview, it would have been natural to assume this girl was homeless and/or on drugs, but she was wearing designer jeans, her hair was done up and her nails were manicured.

While she ran around the junk piles and broken down cabs in a hysterical daze, no one knew what to do with her. That’s the problem with a woman in this condition: most men are afraid to intervene because of potentially misperceived impropriety.

But I’m relatively comfortable dealing with super intoxicated women. So I led the girl to the couch in the lounge area and tried to get her to relax. I held her hands between mine and reassured her that she was safe. I encouraged her to focus on her breathing. I reminded her repeatedly that she was going to feel better soon, that this would pass.

Just as I’d finally calmed her down, flashlights lit up the area and three large cops approached. Someone had called the cops.

I got out of their way, but I tried to mention to them that she just needed to go to the emergency room and get a bed with a blanket until whatever drug she was on wore off. But cops being cops, they surround her and begin to question her like a criminal.

When Colin and I left the yard, they had her on McKinnon sitting on the curb.

I guess they were calling an ambulance after giving her the option of going to jail or to the hospital.

That was a hard lesson learned: never call the cops unless you need a gun.

Anyway, the following is my piece on overly intoxicated women passengers , expanded from the original column published in the S.F. Examiner; as it appears in the zine Behind the Wheel 3: The Unexpurgated Columns:

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Not much is happening. Just a boring Thursday night. I pull up to the Cat Club and shoot the shit with Chucky, Liz and John, the stalwarts of the ad hoc cabstand there, until I’m on deck.

As I watch the throng of smokers for a potential fare, I get a Flywheel request for 1190 Folsom: the address of the Cat Club.

Bingo.

A few minutes later, two women approach my cab.

“This is for Gina, right?” one asks me. I nod and she opens the back door, helps the other inside and says, “Make sure she gets home safe.”

I turn around. Gina looks a little rough around the edges.

“Where to?” I ask.

She mumbles something about Battery and Jackson.

As I head towards the Financial, Gina starts to whimper slightly.

“Are you okay?” I ask.

“Sure. I mean… Not really.”

“You wanna talk about it?”

She garbles something. Goes silent.

Guess not.

At each red light, I watch her in the rearview gradually keel over onto the backseat. She seems to be sleeping, even though her eyes are half open.

Since nothing about her indicates she’s consumed enough alcohol to be this wasted, I assume she’s been roofied.

It’s alarming how many women I encounter who’ve unknowingly had their drinks spiked in bars. No place is immune. Not even the Cat Club, which usually has a very sophisticated clientele.

Recently, I had a long conversation with a bartender who told me, in the ten years she’s been in San Francisco, she’s been roofied three times. Once she woke up in a strange bed, in a strange apartment, with no clue how she got there. Turned out a guy found her the night before raving like a lunatic on the median at Van Ness and Union. Since she’d lost her purse and couldn’t remember her address, he took her home, gave up his bed and slept in the office chair at his desk. A fortunate turn of events, we concurred.

Unlike two years ago, when Irina met a friend at Kingfish in Temescal for a couple drinks. After a while, Irina felt sick, went to the bathroom, threw up and walked back to our apartment four blocks away. I came home later that night and she was still asleep. Her friend, however, woke up in the emergency room.

Sadly, I’ve dealt with so many drugged women in my cab I’ve become adept at dealing with the nerve-racking process of getting them out of my taxi and into their homes.

It’s always upsetting and I’m usually paralyzed with fear that something I do may seem or come across inappropriate.

With so many news reports about Uber drivers sexually assaulting passengers, it’s terrifying to be in these vulnerable situations myself. Because I can see how easily temptation arises while transporting extremely young girls, especially when they pass out in the backseat of your car in their tiny skirts, with their legs open, or their tops in disarray and their breasts exposed… For a man with little to no willpower or possessed with an uncontrollable momentary urge, these types of opportunities would be hard to resist.

Whenever girls pass out in my backseat of my cab in a short skirt, I don’t look between their legs. Not just because I’m trying to be a gentleman, or that I’m trying to resist temptation. No, I’m respecting a woman’s body and her right to privacy, even in – especially in – a weakened state.

I keep my eyes up. I turn the lights on and roust them from their slumber. If they come to and are cognizant, I make sure they know my eyes are in the rearview mirror, where I can only see their faces. Or at the least, if they’re completely oblivious, I know in my mind that I’ve done all I can do to protect them when they’re helpless.

It’s my job to get people home safe and sound. And that’s what I do. With as much dignity as possible…

So… when I arrive at Gina’s building, I wake her up and ask if she needs help. Once she gives me permission, I open the back door and extend my arm. She stands up and wobbles, but I hold her steady.

As she gains her balance, she swings around and tries to embrace me, giggling. Sensing her inhibitions due to the drugs, I grab the strap of her shoulder bag and slowly guide her towards the building like a marionette. Along the way, she gets more playful and tries to impede the operation.

“Let’s focus, okay?” I tell her. “You need to get home.”

When we get to the front door, I ask if she has her keys.

“Right here!” She pulls them out joyfully.

I open the door for her, but there’s no way I’m crossing the threshold. “Can you make it to the elevator?”

“I’ll be fine!” she insists, though not very convincingly.

“You’re a pro!” I psych her up to make the final stretch into her apartment. “You got this.”

“I’m a pro!”

“Yeah!”

As she’s about to enter the lobby, she turns around and demands a kiss. Just then, someone emerges from the elevator and I’m able to redirect her advance.

“Quick! Get on the elevator before the doors close!”

Gina careens back inside but doesn’t reach the elevator in time. While she staggers back towards me, laughing hysterically, the girl who got off the elevator stands nearby staring into her phone.

“No! No!” I shout. “Press the button again!”

Gina follows my instructions and, when the doors open, she goes inside. As I wait for them to close, she opens them at the last moment to play peek-a-boo.

“That’s not very pro!” I tell her sternly.

Finally, the doors close and I take off.

Back in my cab, I head to the yard. I’ve had enough excitement for a boring Thursday night.

First photo  by Trevor Johnson. Second photo from Night on Earth, a film about taxi drivers around the wold, directed by Jim Jarmusch.

From Uber and Lyft to Taxi

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Originally appeared on Broke-Ass Stuart’s Goddamn Website

It’s inevitable.  Now that I drive a taxi, I regularly field the inquiry:  “So… have you thought about driving for Uber?”  When I tell my passengers that I did the Lyft and Uber thing before switching to taxi driving, they’re usually shocked.  “Don’t you make more money with Lyft and Uber?”  Maybe some do, I’ll say, but I never did. After eleven months of mostly full time driving, my bank account was overdrawn, my credit cards were maxed out, the backseat of my car looked like I’d been transporting farm animals and I was riddled with self-loathing.  I was basically subsidizing multi-million—or, in Uber’s case, multi-billion—dollar companies.  And for what? Empty promises and a sense of community?  What bullshit.  I never felt like anything but an underpaid, untrained and unregulated cab driver.

I could go on ad nauseam, detailing the moral bankruptcy of the Lyft and Uber systems, but now that I’ve been a real taxi driver for two months, I try to deflect the Uber/Lyft question.  It’s boring.  I’m sick of talking about fucking Uber in my cab!  And to be honest, I’m not proud to have driven for them as long as I did.  In fact, I’m ashamed of it.

From the beginning, I was appalled by the self-entitled culture that spawned the phenomenon of “ridesharing” and the consequences it’s had on the livelihoods of cab drivers, most of whom are longtime San Francisco residents.  It wasn’t easy participating in the destruction of a blue-collar industry.  After all, I’m a descendent of coal miners, janitors, store clerks and army grunts.   In college, I was required to read The Communist Manifesto three times.  Being an Uber/Lyft driver is not in my nature. To be successful at it requires personality traits I will never possess: the ability to cheat and scam.  And a complete lack of conscience.  Since the only time you make decent money is during surge pricing, you have to take pride in ripping people off.  The rest of the time, you’re barely making minimum wage, so you need to be somewhat stupid as well.  You’re basically running your personal car into the ground and hoping to luck out with a ride that’s more than five bucks.  Some drivers have figured out how to make the system work for them and earn more money referring drivers than they do actually driving themselves, but isn’t that just a bizarro take on the pyramid scheme?

Despite Uber’s political spin or Lyft’s cheerful advertising campaign, using your personal car as a taxi is not sustainable.  Each time I got behind the wheel of my Jetta and turned on the apps, I had to overlook the absurdity of what I was doing.  It never ceased to amaze me that people would be so willing to ride in some random dude’s car.  But since my passengers acted as if the activity were perfectly normal, I went along with it.

Once I realized what I’d gotten myself into, I wanted to document the exploitative nature of this predatory business model. I wanted to expose the inherent risks associated with inadequate insurance, the lack of training and the vulnerability of not having anyone to contact in an emergency.  I wanted to shed light on the reality of being a driver, dealing with constant fare cutsenforced jingoism and the tyranny of an unfair rating system.  I wanted to reveal the lies.  All the dirty lies. I started a blog and even published two zines about my experiences.

Naïvely, I thought reporting on these issues from the perspective of a driver would make a difference.  I was wrong.  People hold on to their faith in the corporate spirit even when it’s against their best interest.  That’s what I figured out from all this.  Oh, and that I really like driving the streets of San Francisco.  So I signed up for taxi school and went pro.  Now I make more money, feel more relaxed and no longer have to worry about declaring bankruptcy if I get into an accident.

Plus, I’m a taxi driver.

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In San Francisco!

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I haven’t felt this connected to a place through a job since I was a cook in New Orleans.

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My Uber Breaking Point

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Originally appeared on Disinfo.com.

 

Hello Lyft, My Old Friend

It’s Wednesday afternoon. The sky is pissing rain. I’m swerving through the Marina on my way to pick up Tina, trying to avoid crater lakes and double-parkers. Turn onto Van Ness. With rush hour traffic from Lombard on my back, I pull into a driveway a few doors down from the pinned location. Tap the arrive bar on the Lyft app and tap again to confirm that I’ve actually arrived. Ian Dury comes on the stereo. While I wait for Tina, I bang my fingers against the steering wheel along to the beat.

Just as the song ends, a girl emerges from the high-rise apartment building and dashes through the downpour towards my car. I turn down the music as she jumps in the front seat.

“I tried to get as close as I could,” I say. “But this was the only driveway.”

“That’s alright.” She slides the seat all the way back with authority and props her Uggs on the dashboard.

“So we’re going to…?” I ask.

She doesn’t respond.

“Oh, right.” This is a Lyft. I’ve gotten so used to driving for Uber the past few months, I keep forgetting how the Lyft app works. Passengers generally input their address when requesting a ride. I close out another window. Expand the map screen to figure out her destination. “SoMa?”

Still nothing.

“Okay then…” I reverse slowly, watching traffic through the windows of a parked car.

I’ve just started driving for the day. Tina is my second ride. Despite loading up on Philz coffee when I began my shift, I haven’t got my head into the game of moving folks around the congested city yet. As aggravating as it may be, I usually drive rush hour. The traffic is horrible, but at some point, surge pricing, or prime time, in Lyft parlance, usually kicks in, which is the only time you’re guaranteed to make more than the bare minimum.

I decide to follow the suggested route in the app. Although I can’t read the street names underneath the thick red lines on the map, I can tell the app wants me to go down Broadway to The Embarcadero. Not my preferred route to SoMa from Russian Hill during rush hour, but I follow the app’s advice anyway. Lyft passengers always seem to want you to follow the in-app navigation. Even if it’s the less efficient route. Whatever. It’s their $1.35 a mile.

Tina coughs and snorts. I glance in her direction. Yoga pants, hoodie, thick sweater and a scarf wrapped around her face like a fashion-conscious anarchist. She stares into her phone, which erupts with a woman’s voice enthusiastically describing how to melt butter for the quickest fudge recipe on the internet. Then she watches another step-by-step video recipe. In between videos, she snorts, coughs and hacks.

“Are you okay?” I ask.

“I’m sick.” Hacks. “Sorry.”

As I approach The Embarcadero, I immediately regret following the directions in the Lyft app. What was I thinking? Rush hour is bad enough. Throw some rain in the mix and it’s a clusterfuck. Traffic is completely gridlocked. We’re barely moving. At twenty-seven cents per minute, I’m wasting both my time and Tina’s time. With the Bay on my left, the only way out of this mess is to take a right on Washington. But I’d still have to traverse the Financial District, where the streets are no doubt backed up as well. Fuck! I should have known better than to follow the directions in the app. Had I taken Hyde, even if it were just as clogged, I’d at least have a few more options. Now that I’ve screwed myself, I can only push through until I get to Mission Street.

Besides her constant coughing, hacking and sneezing, Tina is silent as she continues to watch recipe videos, send texts, write emails and listen to her voicemail. She makes a few phone calls on speakerphone so I can hear every word of her inane conversations. Apparently, a coworker smells funny. Her roommate leaves dirty dishes in the sink. A client doesn’t know how to use the print function on his MacBook.

I want to blow my brains out.

Why is this girl in the front seat anyway? Didn’t Lyft recently send out a press release telling users if they don’t want to interact with their drivers, they can just sit in the back seat? I guess she didn’t get the memo. It never ceases to amaze me how easily people will conform to the traditions of a gypsy cab service just to avoid taking the bus. Or paying a taxi fare.

Fuck, I hate Lyft. As I sit in suspended awkwardness next to Tina, feeling like we’re both going to explode from the tension, I begin to wonder if I really have reached my Uber breaking point. I thought I had, but now I’m not so sure… This isn’t the first time I’ve bailed on Uber. Except in the past, I’d do a couple Lyft rides, realize how exhausting it is pretending to give a shit about the people I drive for even less money and quickly flip-flop back to Uber. This time, though, I don’t have a choice.

As much as I’d like to say I quit driving for Uber because of their lies, the inability to protect passengers from physical and sexual assault while insisting that their background checks are superior to taxis (a claim that is being challenged by prosecutors in Los Angeles and San Francisco), the false promises to be a kinder Uberthe threats to journaliststhe disdain for the disabledthe mistreatment of drivers or the general douchebaggery of their libertarian, cut-throat business practices, Uber made it easy for me to stick to my convictions by charging me $200 for a cracked iPhone 4S.

Back when I first signed up, Uber didn’t allow drivers to use the “partner” app on our personal phones. Instead, they issued us iPhones that ran the app (and only the app). And charged us $10 a week in rental fees. Whether we drove that week or not. Eventually they released a version we could download. Most drivers quickly returned the Uber-issued phones to avoid the rental fees. I was ready to send my phone back too, but I’d accidentally cracked the screen. One night, when I got home from driving, I left the phone on the bed and somehow managed to shatter the screen between my ass and the pillow top mattress. It was mind-boggling. I mean, I’ve dropped phones on concrete before and only ended up with a few scratches. Yet this one couldn’t withstand a little pressure?

Fucking Uber and their janky ass phones!

I posted a few queries on Facebook groups for drivers and emailed Uber asking what to do about the damaged phone. But as with all emails to Uber support, the response was as vague and uninformative as the opinions of other drivers on Facebook. I didn’t know what to do: take the chance and return the useless phone or spend eighty bucks and get it fixed myself?

With those ten-dollar charges rapidly adding up, the Wife was pissed to no end. She hates Uber. She hates their entire predatory business model. She hates worrying that we’ll have to declare bankruptcy if I get into an accident. She hates their exploitation of foreigners (which is rarely, if ever, discussed in the media — journalists prefer to focus on the part-time, middle class workers of the on-demand economy). She hates the Uber passengers who scuff up the interior of our car as they drunkenly climb in and out. She hates the plastic sleeve on the windshield that holds the Uber placard. And she especially hates their crappy phones.

Whenever she saw the thing with its screen smashed into a splintered web of disappointment gathering dust on my nightstand, she reminded me, with increasing annoyance, that I shouldn’t be paying $10 a week for something I didn’t use. “Fix the damn thing or send it back already!” When the nagging got to be too much—Er, I mean, when I realized she was right, as always—I returned the phone to Uber. Cracked screen and all. Fuck it.

That weekend, disgusted by how Uber is handling the Sophia Liu case, now that the driver has been charged with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter, I made one of my many grand declarations to never drive for Uber again. I was done! How could I affiliate myself with a company that refused to accept even a shred of responsibility for the death of a six-year-old child? With all those billions and billions, they can’t break off some for a little girl’s life? Yeah, I know it would set a precedent and they’d be on the hook for all the other misdeeds perpetrated by Uber drivers. And yeah, the guy fucked up. He wasn’t paying attention to where he was going. On those congested Tenderloin streets, you need to keep your eyes on the road. But the way an Uber spokesperson said the driver had no business even looking at his phone when the accident occurred, since he was in between fares, rubbed me the wrong way. As any Uber or Lyft driver knows, the entire process is about looking at a phone. You look at the screen for requests. You look at the heat maps to see where it’s surging. You look at the phone to make sure you’re online when you go a few minutes without a ride.

As devastating as the situation is, Uber makes it worse by doing everything they can to distance themselves from what they created: an app-based taxi service for non-professional, unregulated and underinsured drivers. It’s obvious Uber doesn’t care about anything but world domination at the expense of whatever or whoever gets in their way. Whether it be state and local lawsprotesting drivers or small children. They are barely concerned with their passengers, much less the public at large. And they don’t give one iota of a shit about the drivers.

I just couldn’t be a part of their rapacious practices anymore. After putting off the inevitable for too long already, it was time to implement my exit strategy and move on to driving a taxi. As soon as I earned enough money for taxi school, I would finally be done with Lyft and Uber. Then it’s the cabbie’s life for me!

In the meantime, I started driving for Lyft again. Which wasn’t an easy sacrifice to make. At least with Uber there’s no expectation of conviviality. The Lyft experience is so pedestrian. Lyft tries to hold your hand the whole time. It’s excruciating when you know what you’re doing and just want to get the job done. That’s why Uber is killing Lyft in the ride-hail wars. They are the bridge between taxis and limos. A premium service at a cut-rate price.

With Uber, there are no illusions. Unless you’re an idiot — or believe corporate shills like The Rideshare Guy — you enter the life of an Uber driver knowing damn well you’re going to get fucked up the ass. Lyft, on the other hand, is all about a false sense of community and inclusiveness. As long as you play by their rules. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a more jingoistic, flag-waving group of kool-aid drinking cheerleaders before I discovered the loyal drivers in Lyft’s Facebook driver lounges. These private groups have since been disbanded, as if John Zimmer, the CEO, happened upon them one night and, after perusing the infinite flow of asinine comments by a chorus of gossip hounds and glad-handers, murmured into the glow of his computer screen, “Exterminate the brutes.”

Lyft may portray themselves as fun and quirky and the “friendly” alternative, but they’re just like Uber. Except when they cut rates and tell drivers it’s for their own good, they never fail to mention how we’re part of a a community. Which makes their version of ass-rape so appalling.

I like my evil pure and uncut, thank you very much.

Of course, community comes in handy when you get in an accident and you’re forced to crowdsource the $2,500 deductible to get your car fixed. Cause you know, in the “sharing” economy, money if just another underutilized resource. (Seriously, search “Lyft” on GoFundMe and be prepared to feel disgusted by what “ridesharing” has wrought.)

GoFundMe might as well be a subsidiary of Lyft. Since you don’t get as many rides as you do with Uber, you don’t make as much money. Yeah, it’s great passengers can leave a tip through the app—unlike Uber, which strictly forbids tipping. But hardly anybody tips. And those who do tip maybe add a buck or two to their total. At the most. Occasionally, you get somebody who leaves more than twenty percent. But that’s rare. It’s demoralizing to receive my Lyft totals the next morning and see how little I’ve made and how much more I could have made if I got at least twenty percent in tips to offset Lyft’s twenty percent cut of my meager profits.

Each time I get into my car to drive for Lyft, I have to suspend the disbelief that it’s a viable occupation. I never feel like I’m really doing something productive. More like participating in a newfangled pyramid scheme.

Sure, there are some great moments with cool and interesting passengers, but that happens with Uber too. The majority of my passengers talk to me. I think my long hair, tattoos and glasses put people at ease. I’m chill and articulate. Everybody assumes I’m a student. I love to bullshit and discuss San Francisco history and lore. I’ve had some great conversations while driving for Uber and Lyft. Unfortunately, confabulation doesn’t translate to a living wage.

Yet.

When it comes to Uber and Lyft, charm doesn’t pay. But I hope that once I get behind the wheel of a bonafide taxi, a charismatic personality will be an asset. And I can unshackle the reins of a tyrranical rating system. It’s exhausting trying to make people happy so you can get those five stars.

Based on what I’ve noticed at the Whole Foods on California, despite the strain of losing fares to these apps, taxi drivers seem more relaxed. Unlike ride-hail drivers, who always look squirrelly and overworked. Maybe all that flexibility isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. As Uber and Lyft lower their ratesclaiming this tactic will lead to more ridesdrivers are working harder than ever to make up the difference.

And compared to Uber, Lyft is way more labor intensive. It’s all about Lyft Line these days, the cheaper service where different passengers share the same ride going in similar directions. About seventy-five percent of my rides are Lyft Lines. Which means I’m driving more, doing more pick-ups and more drop-offs, all the while making less than if I were just giving one decent Uber ride. While Uber wants to compete with taxis, Lyft seems to be competing with the bus. It’s a race to the bottom. And drivers are rats on a sinking ship.

After a few days of doing non-stop Lyft Lines, I began to feel like a soccer mom: Pick up one passenger here. Pick up the second over there. Drop off one. Then the other. Repeat. Over and over… The process is rarely easy. The algorithms that determine who gets dropped off first don’t always make sense. And despite choosing to use Lyft Line, riders can be impatient with the procedure. I had one woman tell me when she got in my car that she was running late to catch the Caltrain. As she sweated me about it all the way to pick up the next passenger, I pointed out that she really shouldn’t be using Lyft Line when she’s in a hurry. Another night, this bossy girl insisted I pull over on Kearney and call the guy I was supposed to pick up next and ask him to walk three blocks to meet us because she didn’t want to drive into Union Square. Granted, it would have been a nightmare — this was during Christmas — but while on the phone with him, I got the sense he didn’t know his way around the city very well. Sure enough, he got lost. While we idled in a tow-away zone for twenty minutes waiting for him to find us, the girl kept saying, “Why doesn’t he just use the navigation in his phone?”

As annoying as Lyft Line is, the Lyft app is the worst aspect of driving for Lyft. I can’t believe some commenters think the Uber and Lyft apps function the same. They do not! Uber has the superior app. If there’s one thing Uber is willing to spend their billions on other than marketing and lawyers, it’s app development.

When it comes to interacting with the app, Lyft is like a needy child. You have to tap when you arrive at the pinged location, tap again to confirm you’ve arrived, tap when the passenger gets in the car, tap to find out the destination, tap once you’ve reached their destination, tap to end the ride, tap to rate the passenger, tap to go back into driver mode… Tap, tap, tap… All the while dealing with passengers and traffic. The Uber app is a little more intuitive. There’s still a lot of tapping, but the process feels simpler.

During my second week driving exclusively for Lyft, I complained about the app to a passenger who happened to work as a software engineer for Lyft. He seemed to be soliciting a critique, so I pointed out all the things I found problematic. His defensive response was typical of how most people who work at Lyft respond to criticism. If anybody wonders how Lyft manages to stay in the ride-hail game, despite Uber’s dominance, it’s their cult-like stubbornness to admit they are doing anything but the “Lord’s Work.”

Later that night, when I finally got sick of the Lyft Lines and the shitty app, I switched over to Uber. It was like putting my aching feet into a pair of worn-in slippers. I was able to see where I needed to go easily on the map, which is larger and has translucent lines over the boldly labeled streets. The passengers sit in back. Interaction is minimal and mostly respectful. Hardly anybody uses UberPool, their version of shared rides. And when people do request a ride through UberPool, nine times out of ten, they aren’t matched with another rider.

I only gave a few rides with Uber that night, including one to SFO, but the following week I didn’t get a payment summary. I went onto their website and blanched when I noticed my account was negative $168.00. I emailed support and, after five or six exchanges, was finally informed I was being charged a “deposit” on the cracked phone. Plus a few rental charges from the weeks I didn’t drive before I returned the phone.

That was the deal breaker.

At the current rates, it would take me several days to pay off the debt. All the while, shelling out what little cash I have left for gas, car washes and bridge tolls. There was just no way I could justify the expense. I kept thinking of all the things I could buy with $200. Like a couple used tires to replace my bald Michelins. Or a cheap break job before I have to fix the rotors as well. Both of which I desperately need. The squeaking is getting louder each day. And I’m one particularly sharp rock away from a blowout on the rugged streets of San Francisco. What I make from driving for Uber and Lyft, with the constantly diminishing rates, barely covers my bills, much less necessary maintenance on my car so I can keep driving for Uber and Lyft.

When the Wife found out Uber was charging me $200 for a piece of shit iPhone 4 (which goes for about $80 on eBay), she was livid. Absolutely forbade me from driving for Uber again. I swore up and down that I wasn’t that stupid. But stuck in the car on The Embarcadero during a torrential downpour with Tight-Lipped Tina sulking in my passenger seat, I have to admit the thought crossed my mind.

After a grueling fifteen minutes, I’m $3.20 richer, but no closer to her destination. I notice a few taxis go by in the far right lane. I get behind a Yellow cab like a running back following a linesman towards a first down and hope for the best. I learned long ago to always follow cab drivers. If I’m on a street and there are no taxis, I know I’m on the wrong street.

Eventually other cars get hip to the possibility of escape and we continue crawling past Market. As soon as I can, I weave into the right turn lane and head down Mission. Fight my way onto Beale Street, trying not to get stuck in the middle of the intersection. In my infinite list of grievances with Bay Area drivers, the tendency to block intersections should be a crime punishable by public flogging in Union Square. And yet, here I am, my front end past the crosswalk as the light turns yellow and the car in front of me has nowhere to go. Not to be a hypocritical asshole, I drive straight and flip a bitch in the middle of the block. Crowd my way back to the corner. After four green lights, I finally make the turn. I get into the left lane so I can bypass the freeway traffic.

In between phone calls, tweets and Facebook updates, Tina keeps coughing and hacking. As I head down a glorified alley under the Bay Bridge, she starts making groaning sounds.

“Are you okay?” I ask.

“I haven’t eaten today. I’m a little nauseous.”

“Sorry. I’ll try not to drive so fast.” But what can I do? I cut through Bayside Village to Brannan. Then down a side street to Townsend. I take the turns easy, but all the other cars on the road are being aggressive. A dickhead in a BMW rides my ass. I have no choice but to fight to make it through the lights. I just want to get this girl out of my car!

When I finally reach her destination and she dashes out into the drizzle, I take a deep breath. End the ride. But Lyft’s having server problems. The ride won’t close out.

Fucking Lyft! I curse the app as I keep clicking the “wait” button until the command finally goes through. Certain I’ll get a low rating from Tina, since I didn’t have the Moses-like ability to part traffic, I rate her three stars. Go back into driver mode. Instantly, I get another request. 5th and Townsend. Postmates HQ, the delivery startup that used to be in a second floor walk-up on Valencia before moving to a slick new office space across from Caltrain. As bad as it is to be an Uber or Lyft driver, from what I’ve read, driving for Postmates is worse. There seems to be no end in sight to the exploitative business models of the emerging peer-to-peer economy. Or suckers to participate in their mercenary schemes.

Tom is just as reticent as Tina. He sits up front too.

Kudos to Lyft for effectively brainwashing these kids into acting like they’re really supposed to be friends with their drivers. But they’re all just so… awkward. I wonder if they even have friends in the real world. Maybe if we were communicating through FaceTime it would be easier.

In my never-ending plight to neutralize awkward situations, I fancy myself a bit of a techie whisperer. I ease Tom into a conversation.

“My company has a deal with Lyft,” he tells me, in response to my query about whether he also uses Uber. “We get a certain amount of free rides each week.”

Lyft emailed me about this new program called Lyft for Work when it launched, in case I worked for a company that would benefit from the service. Oh sure… Like I would drive for Lyft if I had a real job to fall back on! But I guess in the so-called “sharing” economy, we’re all supposed to be rubbing each other’s backs. Only problem is, these days, I’m steady rubbing backs and there’s nobody to rub mine.

Traffic through SoMa is as bad as it was on The Embarcadero. But the rain is letting up. I weave my way over to 7th Street. Cross Market and head through the Tenderloin. Tom lives in Nob Hill. Stopped at the light on Bush and Taylor, a block and a half from his destination, I suggest he might want to walk the rest of the way.

“That’s alright,” he mumbles

Whatever. Twenty-seven cents a minute is better than nothing, I guess.

I ask Tom about the pizza place on the corner. I’ve always wondered about Uncle Vito’s. “It looks legit,” I say. “Do you order from there?”

“No,” he tells me. “They’re not on Eat24 or Postmates.”

“But the number’s right there on the window. It says, ‘For delivery call.’ You should just put it in your phone.”

“Yeah. I guess.” He makes no effort to take his phone out.

“Man, that’s the kind of place you don’t even look up on Yelp first,” I declare after a few minutes of silence.

Tom grunts. Between us, there is only a gear shifter and a center console. But the distance is wider than the San Francisco Bay.

Several green lights later, he finally says, “I think I’ll walk the rest of the way.”

“Might as well,” I say with a slight chuckle. “I’m not going anywhere any time soon.”

I end the ride. Fortunately, Lyft isn’t having server issues this time. And hey, I scored 25% prime time on top of the regular fare! I give Tom five stars. Now I just have to hope he doesn’t rate me low because of the added charge… or the traffic… or talking… or the weather… or for any of the other reasons Lyft passengers rate their drivers low.

I stay out of driver mode since I’m stuck in traffic. No point in trying to pick up a passenger until I can actually move.

At least the rain has let up.

For the next several green lights, parked in front of Uncle Vito’s, I watch the pie maker toss dough and bang my fingers on the steering wheel along to the Cramps. Turn up the volume and hope there’ll still be some prime time left once I get out of this traffic jam. 

Top  photo by the author, taken on my way to the Bart station after passing the New Taxi Driver exam. Since Uber HQ is next door to the SFMTA, I couldn’t resist a little homage to Ai Wei Wei. 

Your Uber Driver Hates You

UberHatesYou

But Your Lyft Driver Thinks You’re The Bee’s Knees
(Unless You Act Like You’re in An Uber – Then They Hate You Too)

TOO MUCH TO READ? THEN CHECK OUT THE LISTICLE

This post originally appeared on my previous blog on July 21, 2014

Where would the peer-to-peer economy be without trust?

Nobody in their right mind would give a complete stranger the key to their apartment or get into a random person’s car if they didn’t have faith in the safeguards enforced by the companies that function as intermediaries. Airbnb, Uber, TaskRabbit and Lyft use Facebook accounts and/or cell phone numbers to authenticate the identities of their users, but miscreants can always find a way around those barriers. Ride-hailing services rely on background checks and driving records, which have been proven over and over to be far from foolproof. Then there’s the feedback system that’s supposed to ensure a quality experience for both parties, though it’s just as easily skewed.

In theory, the rating system used by Uber and Lyft allows riders to anonymously inform future passengers what to expect from their driver. As a driver, unless you’ve only given one ride that day, you never know which passengers rate you what. Like internet comments, this anonymity gives riders complete freedom to rate and comment without fear of reprisal. And they take full advantage of this liberty, which is reflected in most drivers’ low ratings. It’s almost impossible for a driver to have a 5 star rating for more than a day or two, unless they are in line to be sainted by Jesus Christ himself.

uber_rating1

The rating system is supposed to convey trust, but an unintended side effect seems to be taking hold. Uber and Lyft drivers are using the same rating system to secretly warn other drivers about problematic riders. And they are just as unforgiving as their passengers.

Surprise, surprise.

As a passenger, you know your driver’s rating. It pops up when they accept your ride request along with their picture and car details. But you never see your own rating. If you did, you might be surprised to discover how the people who drive you around town actually feel about you.

While Lyft drivers tend to get along well with their passengers, Uber drivers, for the most part, think their riders are assholes.

Uber vs. Lyft

lyft_ratingUber and Lyft distinguish themselves by how passengers interact with their drivers. Lyft’s “friend with a car” vibe encourages passengers to sit up front and chat with the driver during the ride. Uber, on the other hand, wants their passengers to feel like they have a personal driver, so they sit in the back and rarely say much besides hello and their destination. Who converses with their servants anyway? Would you chat with your server at a restaurant? Of course not!

Many rideshare customers, especially in San Francisco, use both platforms depending on price surging, availability or what kind of experience they’re in the mood for. I’ve had numerous passengers tell me that when they’re going to work, or in work mode, they take Uber so they don’t have to deal with any annoying conversations. But on the weekends, or if they’re going out, they take Lyft because it’s more fun.

Price wars are also a factor.

As a driver for both Uber and Lyft, you can easily tell which passengers use Lyft regularly and which passengers prefer Uber. And not just by where they sit or whether they talk to you, but through their ratings.

lyft_rating2Most Lyft users have 5 stars with the occasional 4.9. Those with a 4.8 rating are generally the ones who sit in back and stare at their phones. These are your Uber passengers, reluctantly slumming it with Lyft. They get in your car and immediately say, “I’m not going to do the fist bump, so don’t try it.” They express contempt for the pink mustache and seem relieved I don’t have one. They make it clear that they are only using Lyft out of necessity. I find this attitude amusing, though based on their rating, Lyft drivers have no doubt rated them low in the past for not playing along with the Lyft modus operandi.

Since the main difference between the Uber and Lyft experience is the talking, and the passengers with less than 5 stars on Lyft tend to be incommunicado during the ride, it’s not much a stretch to conclude that drivers hate being treated like a “personal driver” and they rate passengers lower for being unsocial. Regardless of which platform they are on.

Now, you might be thinking, aren’t Uber drivers supposed to just get you where you’re going and keep their trap shut?

Sure, but they’re still humans with feelings. So while you sit in the back seat, browsing Facebook to keep you distracted, your driver is seething with animosity at your entitled and unfriendly attitude. The only recourse he or she has is to use the feedback system to rate you accordingly, and that’s a 4 at best.

Very few Uber passengers have 5 stars. In fact, the percentages are completely reversed with Uber. From what I’ve seen so far, 95 percent of Uber passengers have 4.9 or lower. Those users with 5 stars have all started conversations with me, which makes it clear how they got their elusive 5 stars. In fact, after carting around a bunch of people for Uber who barely say hello and thanks, getting a talkative passenger is like finding a fellow countryman in a foreign land.

Face it, Uber users, when it comes to being a passenger, you suck!

Drivers are People Too

Last year, somebody figured out how to hack the Uber site to get passenger ratings. Twitter lit up with people posting the link and their ratings. Only a few had 5 stars. Some thought it was funny how low their ratings were, though most were chagrined by what they found.

Uber quickly put the kibosh on the leak, but I couldn’t help but wonder at the time if that brief window into the reality of passenger ratings might have finally alerted passengers that they’re not immune to criticism just because they take advantage of a frictionless payment system.

Bidirectional ratings are just that: they go both ways.

Nobody likes negative ratings. Drivers complain about their ratings all the time. It’s not easy making people happy. Even when a ride has gone perfectly, there is never a guarantee that the passenger will be satisfied.

lyft_summary_sample

While I always rate passengers 5 stars, even when I’ve had to deal with some real stinkers, my passengers haven’t been as generous with me. Like other drivers, I’m always shocked when my rating goes down. Lyft considers a 4.8 rating “awesome,” but it still hurts to think that I’ve failed to do my simple task of driving a car, something I’ve been doing in cities across the country going on twenty-five years now.

When I get my weekly summaries from Uber and Lyft, I wrack my brain thinking of how I might have messed up or disappointed the passengers who rated me lower than 5 stars. It usually happens after a good night too. Nobody ever gives any indication they are dissatisfied with my driving. Which is why I’m convinced the passengers who converse with me must think I’m some kind of freak for talking about art, literature, architecture, geography, the history of San Francisco and the way the city spreads out across the sky from the top of Potrero Hill. And they hate my music: that dreadful rock and roll nobody listens to anymore.

For every person who finds me entertaining or interesting or feels a kindred spirit with me, there are those who rate me less on my ability to get them from point A to point B and more on an inscrutable formula that only makes sense to them. And while I can usually navigate the city from memory, avoiding traffic jams and unpleasant streets, and maintain a relatively intelligent conversation along the way, in the new San Francisco, that’s only worth three stars. Four at best.

lyft_ratings3

The More You Know…

Maybe if passengers knew what their ratings were, they might want to protect them as much as drivers do. Perhaps it would make them a little less demanding as well. So I missed a turn. Big deal. So I went in a direction that had too many stop signs. Whatever. So I want to tell you how my cousin’s girlfriend has the same name as you when you’re in the middle of reading an email. Get over it! After all, it’s easy to be judgmental when you’re the one with the gavel. Flip that shit around and it’s not as much fun.

The Uber ratings leak also raises the question: why don’t rideshare companies show passengers their ratings in the app? Don’t they want passengers to improve?

The fact of the matter is Uber and Lyft don’t want customers to know their ratings because they mean nothing. The only real consequence is that some drivers won’t pick up passengers with low ratings. Otherwise, what’s the likelihood that a paying customer will be kicked off the platform for having a low rating? Not bloody likely!

The rating system is there to keep drivers in check. You drive with the constant fear that if your rating slips too low you’ll be deactivated. Thus, it’s no wonder drivers have begun using that same system to strike back at what they don’t like about their own experiences. Even if the passengers never find out.

So the next time you take an Uber or a Lyft, why not ask your driver what your rating is. You might just be surprised how big of an asshole you really are.

shitty_uber_passengers

Hey!

Don’t want to be a shitty Uber passenger?

THEN READ THIS AND DO THE OPPOSITE: TEN REASONS WHY YOUR UBER DRIVER HATES YOU

—-

Uber & Lyft Drivers Are This Year’s Surge Price Whiners

lyft_nye_jackpotIt’s New Year’s Day. When pissed off Uber passengers usually storm Twitter to express their outrage at surge pricing and post ridiculously high fare summaries from their rides the night before. But this year, it’s the drivers who are doing all the complaining. Sure, some folks around the country got hit with some high ticket rides, but at this point, we all know they were asking for it. These people also probably complain about every aspect of their unfortunate lives on Twitter. So fuck them.

The drivers, on the other hand, dutifully went out last night, encouraged by Uber and Lyft with promises of high ticket fares, and they were left hanging. Of course, the fact that Uber also sent messages to passengers basically telling them not to take rides, proves, once again, that Uber and Lyft do not know what the fuck they are doing. Yeah, they know how to make apps and utilize unbridled ambition to push their way through government regulation. But they have no clue how to perform like a company that actually wants to perform a service.

(Read my full NYE coverage here.)

These are mostly from Bay Area and LA drivers. Click on any image to view as sideshow:

Being Uber Ain’t Easy: Why All Rideshare Drivers Should Support Regulation

ridesharing_is_cheap

Originally appeared on Disinfo.com:

 

The global pushback against Uber domination continues to gain momentum. Over the past few weeks, the ride-hailing app was banned in IndiaThailand and Francesuspended in Spain and challenged in BelgiumGermanythe Netherlands and South Korea. Across the US, local governments in OregonArizonaNevadaTexasPennsylvania and California are cracking down on the San Francisco-based behemoth, as well as its smaller rival, Lyft. Every day there are more and more articles in major news outlets documenting the growing rideshare backlash.

Uber responds to the lawsuits and rampant criticism with aplomb, holding the ship steady amid a tempest of dissent. They are always quick to fire back. When they’re not threatening journalists, they accuse city councils of subjecting them to unfair burdens. They claim their model of ridesharing is under attack by government overregulation. Since they profess to be a technology and not a transportation company, they argue they’re immune to the same laws that taxi companies must adhere to. They demand special treatment because they are disrupting the evil “taxi cartel” and bringing quality service to the masses. They hire lobbyists and ask their supporters – both drivers and passengers – to sign petitions and join rallies. They set up web pages to make it easy for customers to contact their representatives.

Being Uber means you never have to take your face out of an iPhone. Click a button, get an Uber ride. Click another, support the Uber cause.

As an Uber/Lyft driver, I’ve received dozens of emails and texts encouraging me to resist government meddling. I may drive for these companies, but I’m not stupid. Just broke and desperate. Which is why I use my own car as an unlicensed taxicab, despite the risks associated with transporting drunk and impatient people through crowded urban streets. I know I’m not protected from misfortune. When something goes wrong, whether it be car-maintenance or worse, I’m on the hook. My personal insurance policy is completely invalid when driving for-hire. If I get in an accident, I’ll be at the mercy of the offshore insurance company Uber uses to cover their drivers. From everything I’ve read about the experiences of other drivers, Uber won’t be clamoring to come to my aid. There isn’t even a number to call in case of an emergency. I could have bodies splattered all over the asphalt and still only be able to submit a support ticket through Uber’s website. And hope for the best. Even though drivers make these companies billions of dollars, we are entirely alone out on the streets.

Being Uber means never thinking about the consequences of being Uber.

So why support a system that puts the underemployed at such an extreme disadvantage? It makes sense Uber customers would oppose regulation. Until something goes wrong. They just want cheap, efficient rides and a cashless payment system. But a regulated Uber and Lyft are in drivers’ best interests. After all, we are the ones with everything at stake.

Maybe I am kind of stupid.

Safety Not Guaranteed 

Regulation is all about insurance and background checks. Taxi companies are required to provide adequate insurance and use Live Scan background checks to properly vet their drivers. So what’s the big deal? Uber was just valued at $40 billion. Why can’t they provide adequate insurance and fork over the cash for industry-standard background checks? They have no problem writing code that makes hailing a car as easy as touching the screen of a smart phone, but when faced with a little bureaucratic paperwork, suddenly they don’t have the resources?

It’s almost impressive how far Uber will go to avoid regulation. Shawn Marquez, the acting director of Arizona’s Department of Weights and Measures, which regulates cabs in the state, recently pointed out, “Some areas regulate how many cars you can have, their color, their year, how much the price is. In Arizona we don’t do any of that. You can have purple cars with stars and stripes as long as you have the insurance.” (Arizona continues to crack down on Uber and Lyft.)

Instead of playing by the rules, Uber just plows into cities across the world and sets up shop. They figure after getting public support for their service, they can argue they’re providing an invaluable service that consumers would suffer without. When the regulators come calling, they cry injustice and rally the legal teams. It’s a gambit that seems to be paying off. Even with several pending lawsuitsincluding PortlandSan Francisco and Los Angeles, they are still operating in those cities. Las Vegas seems to be the only municipality able to fend them off. (Though Portland is trying their damnedest to rout Uber’s advance into the Rose City.)

Being Uber means never taking “no” for an answer.

Lyft, on the other hand, is pulling out of places where regulation doesn’t bode with their model. In November, when the Houston city council approved regulations for rideshare services, they shut down operations, claiming background checks, increased insurance and safety exams create an undue burden for drivers. A few weeks ago, they ceased operations in Tacoma, Washington, after the city council passed regulations there. Since most people moonlight as Lyft and Uber drivers to supplement income, they don’t have time during the day, the argument goes, when they are supposedly at regular jobs, to sit around government offices waiting to get legal. (Never mind the fact that, as these companies squeeze the taxi industry, hordes of former cabbies are moving into rideshare.)

Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death

Uber and Lyft promote convenience. For passengers and drivers. They know people are lazy. If drivers had to get their fingerprints taken, pee in a cup and spend a day or two attending a class, they wouldn’t be as likely to sign-up. Or keep driving.

Where would the so-called sharing economy be without this ease of participation? Especially for the folks providing these peer-to-peer services? Why go through the hassle of setting up your house as a legitimate bed and breakfast when you can just list empty rooms on Airbnb? Why polish a resume and apply to temp agencies when you can post your services on TaskRabbit?

For the Average Joe, the idea of using his personal car to transport drunks may seem like a fun way to earn some extra money. That it requires very little effort makes it even more appealing. Taking time out of your day to get a license in order to be legit… well, that sounds like a total drag. Nobody enjoys going to government offices like the DMV. (When will there be an app to solve that hassle?)

Uber and Lyft know prospective drivers won’t take the extra steps to become legal. In a recent article on SFGate.com, Lyft’s vice president of government relations said as much: “Most people would sign up for Lyft if they could do it standing at line in the grocery store and spend five minutes.” The entire business model of ridesharing is based on a never-ending supply of moonlighters.

Need some extra money to pay off credit cards? Drive for Uber.

Bored at home and sick of watching TV on weekend nights? Turn on the Lyft app. Look, there’s surge pricing!

To become a Lyft driver, I just ran my thumb along a slider in the app. Filled out my personal information and provided my social security number, driver’s license and the make and model of my car. It was a breeze. The only obstacle was waiting for a response. But a week later, I was giving rides and making money.

With Uber, the process was just as simple. Except I never received the Uber-issued iPhone 5 required to access their app in the mail. I had to wait in line at Uber HQ. Which was a slightly harrowing experience. But the majority of drivers get their phones and placards shipped to them. They start driving without ever once looking an Uber representative in the face.

uncle_uber_sf_protest

The Uber Bait-and-Switch

This effortless process of onboarding is what pushes the ridesharing revolution. Anybody can get signed up without a hitch. But once you start driving, it’s a different story. From that point on, the experience becomes increasingly difficult.

Driving a car in a city like San Francisco is no cake-walk. When a request comes in, you have to deal with the app while negotiating traffic. You only have ten seconds to accept the ride. (Miss too many requests and you face deactivation.) Once you figure out where you’re going, you drive to the location and, invariably, wait in traffic with your hazards on for the person to saunter outside and get in the car. From there, the app tells you where the passenger wants to go and how to get there. But there’s still traffic to contend with. And along the way, you have to keep a careful eye on errant cars, belligerent cabbies and suicidal pedestrians. All the while maintaining a sunny disposition. It’s important to be accommodating to your passengers. Or risk a low rating. (If your rating gets too low, they deactivate you.)

Pro tip: When passengers ask if you like driving for Uber, always say you LOVE driving for Uber. Being Uber means not being afraid to tell a lie or two.

On the road, issues often arise that have to be dealt with, like unruly passengers, drunks, picking up the wrong personlost items that have to be returned, physical and mental stress, low rates that keep getting lower and an unfair rating system that allows riders upset about surge pricing and app glitches to take their frustrations out on drivers.

I’ve been driving Uber and Lyft for ten months. I’m not going to make it much longer. I don’t earn enough driving for Lyft and Uber to afford to keep driving for Lyft and Uber. My car is trashed and the only way I can make the kind of money to maintain it anymore is by driving ten to twelve hours a day. Which would only rag my car out even more. And hey, isn’t that the cabbie’s life? And what rideshare is ostensibly trying to disrupt?

Hell, I’d rather be a cabbie. They have it much better. They don’t have to use their own cars. Or shell out the big bucks for car maintenance. Or provide their own insurance. Or pay a deductible if they get in a no-fault accident. They don’t have to deal with the demands of self-entitled kids accustomed to getting the world handed to them on a silver platter and expecting premium service at a cut-rate price. (I’d take the tourist trade over the start-up crowd anyday!) Cabbies actually have their own businesses in the form of repeat customers. Charm and quality service don’t pay when you’re an Uber driver. But cabbies get tips. On top of all the other indignities Uber drivers suffer, we are also denied tips! According to Uber’s official policy, “Being Uber means there is no need to tip drivers with any of our services.”

So yeah…

Being Uber isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Not for drivers. When you think about it, sitting in the waiting room of a government agency for a few hours to ensure you’re protected from the evil machinations of a corporation bent on world domination doesn’t seem that bad. In fact, it sounds kind of like a vacation.

For more insight into rideshare from a driver’s mostly altered perspective, check out my blog Behind the Wheel. Follow me on twitter

(Top photo taken by the author of artwork by Mansur. Second photo from a driver protest outside the Uber offices.) 

 

A Day in the Life of an Uber/Lyft Driver in San Francisco

rideshare_driver-2

(an excerpt from the zine Behind the Wheel 2: Notes from an Uber/Lyft)

Most days, I wake up around noon. Usually hung-over. My first thought is always the same: probably should’ve skipped that last drink. At the time, though, it felt absolutely necessary. Vodka has a way of alleviating some of the physical stress from driving a car all night. At least temporarily.

After several months of driving for Lyft and Uber, my neck is like an open wound. The muscles that run from my shoulder to my jaw are steel rods. I have very little radius when I turn my head left or right. The tension never goes away. It makes my teeth ache. There is a real possibility that I have some dislocated vertebrae. My joints hurt. My right ankle has a creak in it. And I have a chronic case of hemorrhoids. No matter how much ointment I apply, they remain perpetually enflamed. Old age has not only crept up on me, it has run past me and turned around to taunt me.

Besides the physical exhaustion of driving a car in the city, there is also the psychological toll. It’s one thing to maintain a diligent eye on my blind spots, the other cars on the road, speeding bicyclists and cavalier pedestrians, but I also have to project a sunny disposition and be accommodating to my passengers. Or risk a negative rating. Not an easy task when I’d rather be committing murder. And yet, with enough Ativan and caffeine in my system, somehow I make it through another shift. Like when the endorphins kick in after a boot to the nut sack, these superficial interactions with complete strangers have a numbing effect after awhile. As long as it’s busy and I have enough rides to keep my mind off the grueling process. The slow nights can be torture and I can’t wait to get home so I can pummel my brain with alcohol, pills and weed until I stop obsessing over the streets of San Francisco, their order and how they intersect with each of the forty-seven neighborhoods.

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