Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A Donald Trump Presidency

Several friends asked me this morning why I haven’t written a blog about the election.  In reality, I started to write several times, but found the words hard to come by.  I am stunned, disheartened, and afraid.  My mind is muddled today by the confusion over the outcome of the election, and the extreme fear of the future.  There are many excellent thought pieces being posted online this morning. Most express my feelings, and perhaps yours, better than I can today. You can seek them out. 

Briefly, my basic thoughts on the Trump victory … he tapped into several kegs, not any one of which could fill his glass alone but collectively added up to enough electoral votes (though apparently not enough popular votes) to bring him victory.  He was excellent, a master, at painting a dark picture of America that was largely false … and he promised with few details to bring us out of the depths of this great make-believe chasm.  It is difficult to turn down a promise like that.

He was also very successful at awakening the racist underbelly of America that had been slumbering under decades of both Republican and Democratic presidencies.  Like it or not, his anti-Muslim, anti-Mexican, anti-women, anti-LGBT rants (along with supporters from the KKK) found an audience that finally had a candidate who espoused their views.   

He was also very good at personally attacking his opponents in such a way that his vapid characterizations became reality in the eyes of some voters. Using rude childish behavior with demeaning catch words such as “lying,” “little,” “stupid,” “crooked” he painted all his challengers as unfit candidates and human beings.  Like calling a kid on a school yard “big ears,” or “four-eyes,” you do it enough and it begins to stick.

 He also was running against a deeply flawed candidate whose baggage bogged her down (and of course, no favors were done by Mr. Comey’s fourth quarter interference).  His unconventional (and some may argue unlawful) threats of arresting his “nasty” opponent and his encouragement of cries to “lock her up” all added up for a Trump victory.  Though highly qualified, Ms. Clinton suffered in likability and represented the establishment that Mr. Trump made voters feel is the problem.

Finally, I can’t go without expressing my thoughts that the news media has become an embarrassment and is largely responsible for the outcome of this election … particularly the broadcast media.  Many newspapers did admirable jobs of covering the issues, but with so few people reading print anymore, the power of the press had been hugely diminished.  Television, for the most part, grasped onto the entertainment brought by a TV reality star turned politician granting him unfettered access to “news” broadcasts with little analysis of substance.  It is easy for TV stations to cherry pick the most salacious and titillating soundbites which lure in viewers for the entertainment factor.  TV news did a deplorable job of providing any insight into this election and the issues.  And while they can now go back to their regular fare of car chases and neighborhood stabbings, their shortcomings in providing a public service (for both candidates) should prompt outrage among the dwindling number of viewers. 
This morning, Mr. Trump said he wants to bring us all together.  After his incendiary talk during the campaign, that may be extremely difficult to do.  As Hilary Clinton spoke live this morning several hours after Trump’s plea, traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange broke into chants of “Lock her up.” And Trump surrogates appearing on a handful of talk shows today reiterated their candidate’s demands that people be rounded up, jailed, and deported immediately.  The candidate who depicts Mexicans as rapists and murderers, who mocks an individual with a physical disability, who calls for a ban on people based on their religion has a long way to go to bring us all together.

I will likely lose some “friends” on Facebook after this, and that is fine with me.  This morning, I actually unfriended two “friends” who were gloating about the Trump victory in language reflecting the unleashed bravado that their candidate exhibited.  They won’t see what I write here now because I have unfriended them, not for their political views, but rather for displaying the type of hatred that I am afraid Mr. Trump has legitimized through his fiery rhetoric and threats.

As of this writing, more than half of those who cast their votes did not want Trump to win.  Yet he is the new president.  I will support him as best as I can, which admittedly will not be an easy task for someone I find so morally, socially, and politically reprehensible.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Stagecoach or Bust? Bust! Big Bust – My life as an Uber driver #6

Big events like the Coachella Music Festival a few weekends ago, and Stagecoach Music Festival last weekend usually mean high demand for Uber/Lyft drivers.  Because of that, Uber sends out mass texts to its drivers throughout Southern California to converge on the Coachella Valley for the expected surge.  That usually works out pretty well for passengers and drivers (case in point, Coachella), but not always (case in point, Stagecoach).


I figured this would be another good weekend for driving, so Friday afternoon, I clicked on the app and headed out. And sure enough, the calls were steady and by mid-afternoon, surge pricing was underway.  It was a good afternoon. 

Among my first passengers were Kelsey and her friend from here in Southern California.  Funs girls who I thought would set the stage (no pun intended) for a good Stagecoach weekend.  In fact, I figured that  Saturday and Sunday would be even better since more music lovers would be in town and heading to the festivities in Indio.

While that may have been true, what also happened was a flood of Uber drivers descended on our small valley.  I went online about 10:00 Saturday morning and within five minutes had a call to take two ladies from a condo they were renting to a restaurant nearby.  And … that was it for Saturday morning.  I went to the areas where I have learned demand is high on weekends … trendy hotels where Gen-Xers stay.   Nothing.   I went to downtown Palm Springs and hung there for a while.  Nothing.  After an hour of no calls, I went to the gym, then home for lunch.  I looked at the rider app (which is different from the driver app), and there were so many Uber cars waiting for calls from passengers who never materialized, the little car icons were stacked on top of each other on the map.

The Coachella rock crowd apparently is more tuned into ride sharing than the Stagecoach country crowd, and as a result, the market was saturated with drivers with a lack of passengers. Eventually, I did get one ride to the festival, and once down there, I had a few local pick-ups in the Indio area.  But not a lot.  It was a different audience than the previous weekend for Coachella.

To totally generalize (which admittedly isn’t really fair), the Coachella crowd was more drug oriented, laid back.  Better educated.  Happy hippy type people.  Accepting. The Stagecoach group (again, not all but a lot), are boozers.  Drunk early in the day, loud, foul mouthed, demanding. 

Saturday afternoon about 3:00PM, after a fairly dismal day, I got a call for a pick up at the Motel 6 in Indio.  When I arrived, there was no sign of the passenger.  I called his number, but got no answer.  Just as I was ready to cancel the ride and move on, this drunk guy (well dressed in cowboy clothing, early 30s) stumbles up to the passenger door with a beer can in hand.  “Hey man,” he mumbles, “no need to call.  I’m here.”  And I’m thinking, why didn’t I cancel the ride when I had a chance?

I tell him he can hop in, but no open containers allowed. So he tosses the beer in the bushes.  Classy.  Just then, I see three others emerge from the side of the motel, another guy and two girls, one who is being helped to the car because she is so drunk. All have beer cans in hand.  When I tell them “no open containers,” the drunkest girl starts swearing.  I should have left then, but the guy who first showed up apologizes and says there will be no problem.  I tell him I don’t want her puking in the car, and he says she won’t.  The other three toss their cans into the Motel 6 parking lot, and we take off for the festival.  The guy was actually cool, but the two skanky girls were nasty, totally wasted, and every other slurred word that comes out of drunkest girl’s mouth is the F-bomb.   The guy in the back seat kept telling them to shut up.  At one time I looked in the mirror and saw the drunkest one is taking a swig from a plastic flask.  I get them to the festival grounds, get them out of the car, give them the lowest one-star rating (which they did the same to me).  That was my last ride for Stagecoach.  Next year I’ll pass on that festival. 

The good news …. This week I started driving for Lyft as my ride share experiment continues. And so far, Lyft is a superior experience.  Cooler riders, better pay. Nicer company.  More later.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

An Uber Coachella Fest - My Life as an Uber Driver #5

I had been out of town visiting my mom for nearly a couple of weeks, so Ubering for the big Coachella Music Festival was not an option for weekend #1, even though Uber incessantly texted that they need me (and the hundreds of other drivers they have here in the valley).

Even when I got back to town in time for weekend #2, I was reluctant to drive, mainly because it is a long trek from Palm Springs to Indio where the festival is held (and once you take somewhere there from Palm Springs, I figured you were stuck there with hundreds of other Uber drivers waiting for passengers who wouldn’t materialize until the festival ended late at night). 

Plus, there were reports of drivers getting stuck in one hour lines just waiting to get into the dusty Uber drop off spot, and the fares Uber was paying were pretty low.  There were many street closures, and reports that police were writing tickets to anyone (Uber or not) for dropping people off along the street.

So, I passed on driving Saturday, but Sunday morning I decided to give it a try.  I’m glad I did.

The first few rides Sunday morning were from music fans recovering from the night before … searching for a cool breakfast place or coffee house.   Cheeky’s and Lulu were the places I recommended to them and they, not being from these parts, were happy with the recommendations.

It wasn’t until about 11:30 that I got my first real festival call.  The ping on the app went off, and I was on my way to meet Royce at a nice home that likely was the root of much frustration for the neighbors.  It was a Coachella crash pad.  There were no less than a half dozen cars crammed into the driveway, and more parked on the street.  This is a nice Palm Springs neighborhood with upscale homes, and while the city has tried to crack down on the home rental business because of overcrowding and big parties, the endeavor obviously isn’t 100% successful. 

So, I pull up on the street behind the cars that are choking the driveway.  Uber notifies Royce that I am waiting.  And I wait.  And I wait.  And I wait.  After five minutes with no activity.  I see two women on the side of the house, spraying what I assume is sunscreen all over each other … enough that they could have walked on the sun and not gotten a burn.  But still, no Royce.  So, I call him.   And he tells me he’ll be right out.

Number one, if you’re calling for an Uber, be ready to go when they arrive.  You think your time is more important than mine, well that doesn’t work for me.  And just as I am ready to push the cancel button on the app, Royce spills out the front door, juggling a hat, red bandana, cell phone, can of Red Bull, and some papers.  He gets to the car and says, he’s ready, but we have to wait for “the girls.”  Another minute or two, and the sunscreen drenched ladies emerge from the home, clueless that anyone has been waiting for them. 

They are all friendly enough, and are happy that I have the Coachella channel on the radio, and they entertain themselves for the 40 minute ride down valley.  Now, I am following the Uber app map which supposedly has been programmed to take you right to the Uber drop off spot.  Well, as is a frequent problem with Uber, the app took me to streets that were closed, and others that were so jammed with traffic, you couldn’t get through.  Royce, and friends, who I waited a good 10-15 minutes to pick up are now getting antsy because they aren’t at the festival yet, and a band they want to see they can now only listen to live on Dan’s car radio.  The irony.

Ah, but there is a silver lining in giving these clueless Coachella fans a ride to the festival.  Toward the end of the ride, one of the girls in the back seat pulls out a twenty dollar bill and gives it to Royce to cover the girls’ share of the Uber ride.  No mention of a tip for their most excellent driver.  They get out and leave.  I give them a three star rating, they give me the same or lower since my rating went down after they got out of the car.  And I go on my way.  By now, it is lunch time, so I head home to make a sandwich before the afternoon session.  As I do frequently, I check the car when I get back to see if anyone had left anything behind and to pick up the trash passengers throw in the back seat (passengers can be pigs).  I found a candy wrapper, an empty water bottle, an empty Red Bull can that Royce figured he would dump in the car.  And …. I found the $20 bill that the girl had given Royce for her share of the ride.  It may have fallen out of his pocket and onto the seat.  Nice unintended tip. Karma. 

The afternoon resulted in three more rides to the festival grounds, but by then, the demand was way up.  Uber fares were surging, 2-3 times normal.  But the fans didn't care ... many seemed to be on a company expense account. 

Case in point … Tim.  About 3:00PM I get a ping to pick up Tim.  He has no address.  It’s one of those where it says to follow the map to the little icon of the man.  That is extremely frustrating for the driver, because the app map rarely works the way it should.  It can be off by as much as two city blocks.  It is even more frustrating when the app takes you to a gated community where all you have is the person’s first name, and in this case, no address.   

When I get this gated community where there is no guard on duty, but simply a call box. I am stuck.  Tim has not given me the gate code.  So, I call Tim.  He says he doesn’t know the gate code because he was visiting a friend who had already left.  He says just follow another car in when the gate is open.  So, I loiter out in front, getting the evil eye from security people roaming around in little golf carts, just about ready to cancel the ride, when someone pulls up to the gate.  I follow them in and wind through this huge complex to the spot where, if the Uber app was correct, I would have just run over Tim.  But you guessed it … no Tim.

I call him again, and he says he is a block away, but sees my car and he will head to me (a block away from where the app says he was … that’s about right).  In my rear view mirror, I see Tim, another guy, and a girl.  As he opens the passenger door, we say hi, and I see that he and his two pals all have big beer cans they are chugging away on.  “You got any problem with us drinking in your car,” asks Tim.  To which I say, “Yep, sorry, but it is illegal in California.”  Not to mention the fact that the place is crawling with cops just looking to find something to do.  So, they set their open containers in the parking lot of the complex at the exact same moment one of the rent-a-cops on the golf cart comes around the corner.

“Hey, what are doing?  You can’t put those there.”  So, another delay as Tim’s pals grab up the cans and have to search for garbage.

Finally, we are underway, and I find that all three are actually very interesting people.  They all currently live in Hong Kong and came to the desert just for Coachella.  Tim is originally from Florida, his pal in the back is Scottish, and his girlfriend is from China.  They are well educated, successful, and worldly.  They talk politics and current affairs, and they also know their music, spouting off names of bands that are as foreign to me as The Animals, Byrds, and Stones were to my parents.  They make me feel old.  But my passengers are good entertainment, and very nice.  Good thing, because we were stuck in the car for more than an hour. 

The traffic leading into Coachella by this time is dreadful.  Fifteen minutes to go two blocks.   The wind is strong, dust is blowing across the road.  That dissuades Tim and friends from bailing and walking the rest of the way, so they hung in there.  As we finally arrive to the giant Uber lot where an endless stream of vehicles are entering and exiting in an endless loop, Tim and friends say how much they enjoyed the time they spent with me.  I did too.  As he’s leaving, Tim says “Five stars?”  I say, “Yes, for sure.”  He smiles and says, “I’m giving you five stars and a comment.” Cool.  Later, I looked at my comments.   “XOXOXO” from Tim.  Go figure.  Right back at ya, Tim.

My last ride of the day was for Mike from San Diego and his friend visiting from Phoenix.  Again, two really nice guys.  Happy.  Engaging.  A real pleasure.  As we get ready to pull into the Uber staging area, Mike looks at the adjacent staging spot set aside for taxis.  While the Uber lot was jammed with cars moving through, one solo taxi car was waiting in the taxi area.  "Wow," he says, "Guess no one is taking taxis much anymore."

For working Coachella, I made the best money yet (about $150 for the day), but it could have been much better had I worked late.  One group I took to the festival said they had to pay $385 the night before to get back to Palm Springs because the demand was so high.  I said to them that’s so extreme.  Their response was, “Oh we’re on a company expense account.”  I remember those days.

Finally, some observations about the Coachella crowd.  Trends are cyclical.  I listened to Coachella radio all day.  The music I heard reminded me a lot of the cutting edge stuff we were listening to in the mid-60s, less raw, more refined.  I just don’t know the names of a lot of the groups.  But the ones that seemed to have the biggest buzz among my passengers were The Chainsmokers, Chvrches, Calvin Harris, and James Bay.  Most thought Guns n Roses were dismal. 

As for fashions, many of those I gave rides to could have been cast members in “Rowan and Martins Laugh In” or the “Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour” from the 60’s and 70’s.  Big floppy hats, tie died shirts, beads, worn out jeans, vests.  If only I would have saved my clothes from high school!  I have hope for the next generation.

Tomorrow, I meet with the local manager of Lyft, Uber's competitor, and I hope to be driving for both by this weekend ...  just in time for the Stagecoach Country Music Festival in Indio.  I’ll tune to the C&W radio channel and get behind the wheel.