Uber Is Lyfying Getting Screwed to New Heights
Uber Is Lyfying Getting Screwed to New Heights

Originally published over at Hunting For Thompson on July 26, 2019.

Little Ricky / John R. Hall
Little Ricky / John R. Hall

In the early eighties, long before the thought of becoming a rideshare driver in Las Vegas crossed my mind, I failed at replacing Doug Henning as America’s favorite magician. Even a serendipitous appearance on television’s PM Magazine, on which I performed the Chinese Water Torture Cell—the same escape that had sealed Harry Houdini’s legendary status and fate—even that did not have the desired metamorphose affect. The country opted for David Copperfield instead, and after my fifteen minutes of eighties-spandex TV fame disappeared, I reappeared within the shipping and receiving industry. Specifically, I was in the business of receiving and shipping people: I drove a taxicab in Seattle.

That people-moving experience from Michael Jackson’s (pre-pedophilic) Thriller era and beyond is what emboldened me to title this article “Uber Is Lyfting Getting Screwed to New Heights”—that and that I had diligently researched the rideshare marketplace in Las Vegas before purchasing a low-mileage 2015 black-on-black Acura MDX, complete with black rims. I bought the Acura solely for use within the rideshare industry; I prefer motorcycles.

Between performing copious research of the Las Vegas rideshare marketplace and forking over twenty-six grand in cold, hard cash for a black beauty of a car, and getting this, that, and another thing to satisfy state, county, and local governmental entities (everybody wanted a piece of the pie), after I calculated costs and profitability and relocated to Sin City, Uber and Lyft began to rapidly and radically change the pay paradigm for their prospective Las Vegas drivers. Government agencies also upped the ante too. And then two rare bacterial infections nearly took me out . . .

As with all industries, experiences, and endeavors I have found myself preoccupied with, I caught the last waning days of Seattle’s legal—though containing outlaws—taxi industry. Back then, circa 1982 to 1991, cabbies did not have an Uber- or Lyft-esque rideshare app with which Big Brother could follow every move and record every transaction. Apps can now track an individual’s every expenditure and track each and every red cent pocketed and spent; there’s even an app to record escort outcall requests or brothel visits. Hell, here in Las Vegas, where assumed anonymity would exist due to the cash-only nature of back-alley services from street hookers, even those “candid” transactions can be captured by state-of-the-art apps operating Allen Funt–esque1 cameras.

While those encounters may seem unseemly to some, they’re usually (I assume) memorialized for the enjoyment of graveyard watch commanders too burned out, or too aroused, to dispatch a patrol car to end the only true and pure no-strings-attached fornication. That pleasurable but, to some, perverse quickie can be captured and preserved in the Cloud by an eye in the sky (to use a casino term). Once the video is stored, the deed can be used against the sinners in court, or on the Day of Judgment, or when President Trump declares martial law after he loses the rapidly approaching 2020 election. That, to his rabid believers, would surely trigger the great gathering in the sky from where they would look down, mockingly, upon the post-Rapture remnants of humanity. We—the uninvited—would instantly realize that we had gotten “it” wrong. Well, then, if that comes to pass, at least I’d be looking up with my people finally united and living out our nation’s motto: E pluribus unum, or united as one, albeit forced upon us as we waited and hoped that the earth would not open up and swallow us down into a fiery inferno. Hell, we might even start praying that we only had gotten half of “it” wrong.

We were forewarned by Orwell and Orwellian messengers of the dog days of doom that are now upon us. Even Sting’s eighties Police foresaw this horrendous State of App Affairs coming by proclaiming “Every breath you take; every move you make; every bond you break; every step you take; I’ll be watching you . . .” None of that was possible back when I roamed Seattle’s seedy streets in a Yellow Cab; back in the—and I can’t believe I’ve reached an age from which I can state this with some authority—“good ol’ days.” Nope! There were no apps back when Seattle’s hacks were free to roam without a “pin” being dropped on a map. Cabbies were free, if they chose, to pocket a few cents or lots of ducats without Uncle Sam being any the wiser.

Apps have enslaved humanity while giving omnipresent, omnipotent capabilities to those in powerful positions in government and corporations (also to nightshift technical flunkies), all of which I refer to as the new and improved Orwellian Big Brother.

During my stint as a cabbie in Seattle, back when rideshare apps were not even a concept on the campus of Microsoft, all one needed to drive a taxi was a valid Washington State driver’s license (with or without an SR-222 attached) and a for-hire driver permit issued on the spot (for a fee, of course) by the City of Seattle; mien was number 12,171.

John R. Hall's Seattle For Hire Driver Permit
John R. Hall’s Seattle For Hire Driver Permit

That inexpensive business card–size permit, emblazoned with my pic, allowed cab companies to lease me a cab for time frames ranging from 12 hours to 168 hours (stop doing the math; it’s a full seven-day week).

To ride the craziest roller coaster that I have yet taken (Seattle is known for its hilly geographical location), all I had to do was lease a taxicab from one of Seattle’s three major cab companies for a twelve-hour shift. The fee for the lease was fortyish US dollars for the day shift and around thirty-three bucks for the night show. And oh what a show it could be; watching the action at First & Pike through the windshield of a cab long before respectability moved onto the corner made famous by the documentary Streetwise, back when Guenter Mannhalt either looked after the street kids or used them, depending on which source one chooses to believe, that sordid show at First & Pike was usually worthy of a standing ovation.

Guenter, while imperfect like the rest of humanity, cared deeply about his corner of the world. According to many street kids who congregated in his First & Pike doughnut shop, they found safety under Guenter’s wings. First & Pike was where Seattle’s epicenter of crime was found. In the eighties, it was overflowing with homeless children. Tattoo, pawn, and sex shops filled the windows of stores located directly across from the world-famous Pike Place Fish Market, also located at First & Pike. That’s where Guenter sold his doughnuts to whores, hustlers, pimps, con men, panhandlers, cops, thieves, politicians, street performers, cheats, cabbies, and the general public (all birds of the same feather); it’s where he gave doughnuts and milk to homeless children and provided them shelter from the storm. It’s where he assumed the role of surrogate street parent to kids that Seattle’s society viewed as vagrants and a threat and unworthy of saving. Those kids found safety under Guenter’s wings to either try to build a new life or conspire to survive the mean and gritty Seattle street life of yore.

Rest in peace, Guenter Mannhalt, and if no one else will express it, then I will: Thanks for the smell of fresh doughnuts that would block out the stench of First & Pike—and thank you very much indeed for doing what you could to help kids who were unable to help themselves but were willing to take yours. As for the robbery-ring connotations attached to your name, it’s now just water under the bridge.

Now back to the task at hand, defending this article’s title.

The City of Seattle, King County, and the Port of Seattle (think Sea-Tac International Airport Authority) set the taxicab fare rate that passengers paid (would you expect anything less in a free country than to have governmental agencies mandate fare rates in a so-called free marketplace?). To the best of my memory, and by referencing Richard O. Zerbe Jr.’s article “Seattle Taxis: Deregulation Hits a Pothole,”3 the imposed fare rate in 1983 was $1.20 as a meter-drop charge (starting the trip) and thereafter $1.20 per mile, calculated at fractional mileage (e.g., one-eighth of a mile) and 20 cents per minute waiting time. By the end of my (ahem) white-line-chasing days in Seattle, I believe that taxi rates were a buck eighty for a meter-drop and the same per mile, with half-a-buck per minute waiting time.

On average, at the end of a twelve-hour shift in the early eighties, this former cabbie pocketed $125—and $175 toward the end of the decade—of 1980s buying-power money. That coveted currency was tucked tightly into my formfitting, stonewashed jeans. Those bills represented pure profit for the time spent behind the wheel dealing with Homo erectus’s offspring. The referenced currency was left over after filling the gas tank and purchasing the occasional quart of oil and paying the cab lease. The wear and tear on the tires, engine, transmission, and all the other moving parts of an automobile used as a taxicab, along with the infrequently cracked windshield from road debris and dents from other cars’ doors banging into the cab’s body, plus preventive maintenance costs (oil changes, etc.) were all the cab owner’s responsibility. I, as a driver, simply picked up the cab at either 4:00 a.m. or 4:00 p.m., returned it full of gas and oil within twelve hours, paid the lease fee, dropped off the keys, and walked away free from further costs, to include auto insurance. Even Uncle Sam’s taxes were optional because of the modus operandi of Seattle’s taxicab industry, back when a Seattle apartment with a stunning view was obtainable to struggling Seattleites.

I had decided to research the Las Vegas rideshare industry after experiencing the Great Oil Boom of North Dakota’s Bakken Shale play and barely surviving the rapid and unexpected, but in hindsight predictable, bust. It was a long hard ride through North Dakota’s Bakken oil boom and bust, and I was looking forward to returning to a familiar occupation—the shipping and receiving industry, a driving job in which I’d again be receiving and shipping people (a loosely used descriptor for the general public).

Rideshare and taxi industries are more akin than unalike when considering the basic commodity. The service rendered in both businesses is arriving at point A, picking up, driving to point B (sometimes points C, D, E, F . . . ad infinitum) without hitting anything. It’s the same job description truckers must fulfill when hauling horse manure (yes, I have been a truck driver too). At times, it’s hard to differentiate between those two types of cargo (humans versus horse shit) or choosing between which would be more pleasurable to haul. If I had my druthers, I’d opt for the latter type of cargo. A little dap of Tiger Balm or Vicks VapoRub under the nose, applied to the upper lip, and you’d be oblivious to the stench of manure; but blocking out obnoxious Homo sapiens is much more involved than applying a dab of ointment.

But I digress . . .

So it’s back to the subject at hand: getting screwed as a Las Vegas rideshare driver. The similarities of taxi driving in Seattle’s eighties and rideshare driving in 2019 in Las Vegas end with the job description of arriving at point A, gathering the cargo, and arriving at the destination. The eighties were much more profitable and vastly less financially risky for taxi drivers leasing a cab than 2019 is for individuals within the rideshare industry, who must now put their own automobiles on the line to eke out an acceptable existence. But that’s the New Right Deal, isn’t it? Its focus seems to be on keeping the lower and middle classes of society down while building the upper class higher.

The American lower- and middle-class working masses need FDR like never before. Or at least like never before since the Great Depression was defeated, and like never before since the Nazi bastards of the thirties and forties were beaten. A word to the wise to the umpteenth incarnation of the American neo-Nazi movement and to the reemboldened white supremacists, both of whom have crawled out of Trump’s swamp: Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it, and your asses will surely be beaten again and kicked back underground with the rest of your moronic mutant tribes, along with your mangy mutts too. Ticktock, your time in the sun screaming like banshees from the past on FOX TV is running out.

Again, I have digressed . . . digressed while the majority of my fellow citizens are attempting to at least dream of the Great American Dream. That’s what it has come to, hasn’t it? The best the lower- and middle-class masses can hope for is to have a dream about the American Dream, because believing that the Dream’s obtainment is possible could get one declared mentally incompetent. I watch casino dealers, casino housekeepers, casino bartenders, casino car valets, fast-food workers, rideshare drivers, ad infinitum, here in the land of plenty struggle to make ends meet while we watch the top few percent of the Right people live like pharaohs in a fantasy world. When in reality they are parasites. They attach to a host, suck it dry, return nothing, and move on to the next host. And they get from host to host in Las Vegas via rideshare.

I think I’ll try to start a pro bono parasitic fumigation 503(c)(3) organization for the rideshare drivers’ cars . . . but I’ll need a benefactor because I am broke due to being ill from bacterial infections for four years, and for nearly three of those four years I have been nauseated by the Right people. That elongated illness and bilious state led to a forty-six-day stint in the hospital, complete with tubes and scalpels and general anesthesia. It was discovered that I had (and maybe still have) two types of bacteria (Streptococcus intermedius and Fusobacterium necrophorum) running around my body—and which finally took hold in a lung. An unusual occurrence indeed, because those bacteria originate in the mouth and are responsible for abscesses in teeth and gums, thus requiring antibiotic treatment and root canals; lovely, huh?

The lung is probably the world’s best Petri dish because it is moist, warm, dark, and deep, with lots of hiding places for bacteria to multiply faster than rabbits. It’s also usually a balmy 98.6 degrees, so bacteria thrive once inside the lung. In addition to the rarity of those bacteria breeding in my lung, and just to make matters more interesting, or to give the gods something with which to amuse themselves, I also contracted the rare and potentially lethal Lemierre syndrome.4

Don’t cry for me, Argentina! I have had a great run, I have had tons and tons of fun, and I have had lots and lots of laughs. If the end is nigh, then let the last night fall quickly. I’ve always been curious about what’s behind the veil, always wondered what comes next, always wanted to find out exactly what or who is behind the curtain. Since I do not have a dog named Toto, I’ll just have to cross over to find out exactly who the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz is (assuming, and here I am hard pressed to do so, that there is in fact a great and grand Poobah).5

If the little micro-bacteria buggers take me out before a Trumpinite does, I’ll count myself lucky and mock Trump’s moronic eejits as I fade away from America’s political cesspool. America’s politics were once the envy of the world but are now viewed as being more toxic than when I was at the height of my rare infectious state of being. It took drain tubes inserted into my lung, followed by lung surgery, followed by more drain tubes, coupled with third-generation intravenous antibiotics administered every eight hours from April 29, 2019, through June 13, 2019, followed by ongoing weeks upon weeks of oral antibiotics accompanied by an assortment of pills—and removal of my teeth—to hopefully detoxify my lung and jugular vein. At least I had college-educated people who were and are trying to cleanse my innards.

But it’ll take a majority of Electoral College electors (commonly known as ass-kissers who are owed a moment in the sun for a few minutes of immoderate aggrandizement) to depollute our nation by removing the orange menace from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC. A majority of voters, y’all now know, do not elect the highest office in the land, arguably the highest office on the planet. Just in case any of the orange buffoon’s blowhards have read this far, and knowing that, like Trump himself, most of them do not read nor know much about anything not spewed from a FOX’s mouth, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is the address of the White House, and it is where the president resides. There, and it seems at 1100 South Ocean Boulevard in Palm Beach, Florida, too. That address is commonly referred to as Mar-a-Lago. I refer to it as Mar-a-Looney-Bin Numeral Uno.

But I digress . . .

I purchased the black Acura that I had hoped to use for the rideshare industry in Las Vegas from a private seller in Texas, thereby circumnavigating a second sales tax on the car, because in Nevada sales taxes “are not collected on private party vehicle sales that occurred on or after January 1, 2006.”6 See, I did my research, and that saved me 8.25 percent, which should have cost me $2,145 on a $26,000 automobile.

Now, I am not rich, nor is a 26K automobile considered a top-end vehicle, but in Nevada, the government decided to help out the rich, or those with access to rich-like resources. Since I had access to cash—from a friend who dipped into his 401(k) for me—for a private-party vehicle purchase, the state gave me a break, and I paid zero percent sales tax. Social Security, due to the Right people, considers the well-to-do and rich by capping contributions into a system that many believe will not be viable nor available for the rapidly aging baby boomers. In this foul year of their Right Lord,7 if a person makes over $132,900, their contribution to Social Security ceases. That must seem right to the Right people: earning over that amount of money, then stiffing a failing program formed to sustain the least of our citizenry. Knowing that that is the de facto SOP (standard operating procedure) of our land, I am Left aghast while hearing John Lennon ask: “How do you sleep?”

Yet again I have digressed from the point I am attempting to make, which is that the rideshare driver in Las Vegas—and, I assume, elsewhere—is getting screwed. Well, maybe I haven’t digressed at all. Just maybe it is all interconnected, as Chief Seattle shared at the end of his tribe’s stewardship over their precious (but, as he forewarned, now polluted) land: “All things are connected like the blood that unites us all,” he wrote.8 “Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.” Or in more modern terms, if you dance to the piper long enough without ponying up, he’ll invoice your ass and demand payment for not paying your fair share.

In Nevada, as I have already pointed out, the well-heeled (not to be confused with my goal of being well healed) catch a break by being flush and thereby circumnavigate paying tax on a private-sale vehicle. An average Joe gets the same break when he purchases a private-party sale vehicle, too, but I bet that average Joes do not have enough cash stashed, nor do their friends have it to loan them, to be able to purchase a private-party sale car new enough to not cost them an arm and a leg in repairs. If an average Joe purchases a private-party sale vehicle for cash, it is probably not in the thousands upon thousands of dollars range, and therefore could be considered a jalopy, which will most likely have issues passing the obligatory emissions testing in Las Vegas and will have repair bills forthcoming—and, to quote the late protector of the lower and middle classes, Ralph Nadar, “is unsafe at any speed.”

On July 13, 2019, the current (un)fare rates Uber would pay me for using my 2015 Acura for their Uber X ride is contained in the following directly quoted (but notated) data from Uber’s website:9 “Base Fare $1.12 [known as a meter-drop in Seattle’s 1980s taxi lingo and is .08 cents less than I made over three decades ago]; Per Mile $0.60 [half of Seattle’s 1980s taxi rate]; Per Minute $0.1575 [time payrate when driving which increases the $0.60 per mile rate a tad]; Per Minute Wait Time $0.21 [over 50 percent less than Seattle’s 1980s waiting time fare rate]; Standard Driver Initiated Cancellation Fee $3.75 [amount a driver is charged if ride is canceled by the driver; no such thing existed in Seattle’s taxi industry of the 1980s].”

Even a moron would instantly see that by juxtaposing Seattle’s 1980s-imposed taxicab fare rates that cab drivers collected against Uber’s 2019 Uber X rates for its drivers in Las Vegas that the better deal would be found in Seattle . . . more than three decades ago. There’s another thing to consider when contrasting the good ol’ days of yesteryear and the uber screwing of driving for rideshare companies of today: tips! Uber’s initial rideshare app did not include an option for tipping a driver at the end of the ride. That option is now included in Uber’s app, but it is basically moot as to whether or not it has a noticeable effect on a driver’s overall pay, because unlike the taxi industry, wherein the driver concludes the transaction by collecting the fare face-to-face with the rider/passengers, the rideshare companies’ paradigm is that the transaction is concluded when the driver and rider/passengers have gone their separate ways, probably never to cross paths again. And that makes stiffing the rideshare drivers much easier than having to look them in the eyes while screwing them out of a tip, even when a tip is well-earned and deserved.

Over my many winters driving a taxicab during the eighties in Seattle (the summers were spent performing magic, creating balloon sculptures, eating fire, and juggling for audiences gathered at Seattle Center’s lovely grounds or at the numerous street fairs and farmers’ markets), the tip rate from passengers was over 90 percent. The minimal tip came via the line “Keep the change,” when passengers paid the fare directly into my hand. Now, in the uber-improved technical world of Uber and Lyft rideshare, the non-tip rate is over 90 percent. As President Obama discovered, it is much more desirable and easier to kill someone by having a drone drop a bomb on them versus having to do the deed in person. And the same holds true for stiffing a working-class rideshare driver, something most people would not do face-to-face.

Here’s the bottom line: Driving for the rideshare companies as a private contractor (the only option) is a long-term losing proposition. Period! And here’s why: (1) Rideshare drivers are taxed at the self-employed tax rate, and 15 percent off the top goes to Social Security, and there is no “cap contribution break” for rideshare drivers, considering that no rideshare driver will ever generate over 139.9K in revenue. (2) The additional insurance fees, and the wear-and-tear costs on the vehicles and the gas consumed for rideshare driving are enormous, and even though all are tax deductible, each will have a negative effect on the bottom line. (3) It would be a phenomenal feat of financial juggling for a full-time rideshare driver to accomplish paying taxes, and have a savings account for tools-of-the-trade replacement (a new or newer car because there is a cutoff date to how old a vehicle can be and still be used for the rideshare industry, which is set by each company), and then after the above financial obligations and considerations are satisfied, hope to live above the poverty line, which would be both fanciful and hopeful thinking. As any thinking person (an endangered species in America) knows: Hope as a tactic is flawed thinking.

And that’s a fact, Jack!

The upshot for me is that by being an impoverished rideshare driver after my forty-five days as an inpatient at University Medical Center and Spanish Hills Wellness Suites for emergency invasive treatment of the bacterial infections that waylaid me, and the ongoing procedures and treatments, I’ll probably get to keep my Medicaid insurance due to the greed-driven corporate rideshare industry and non-tipping riders, and also by pursuing the title “writer” in a soundbite society.

Hell, here in Las Vegas, I might even be eligible for food stamps. Thanks, taxpayers! My gratitude is no solace to you as you realize that you too are getting screwed by Uber Lyfting earnings to a new low for its drivers.

Are you understanding Chief Seattle now? The accommodating but wise Native American chief of the Suquamish and Duwamish tribes wrote, “All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”

When it comes to corporations, and the Right people in Congress and the Senate and the White House (all of whom I consider talking heads) screwing the frontline, blue-collar workers, a line from a band from my eighties Seattle cab days comes to mind: “Same as it ever was . . .”

Thanks for hangin’ with me, readers, and as Sir Mix-a-Lot sang: “Peace, and I’m outta here!”

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Copyright © 2019 – Hunting For Thompson / Hallesque – All Rights Reserved

[1] Allen Funt was the host of Candid Camera, the first, although the term was not coined until much later, reality TV show. The show centered on footage recorded by a “hidden camera.”

[2] “In the United States, an SR-22 (sometimes referred to as a certificate of insurance or a financial responsibility filing) is a vehicle liability insurance document required by most state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) offices for ‘high-risk’ insurance policies” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SR-22_(insurance)].

[3] Circa 1981, publisher AEI Journal on Government and Society. Internet location: https://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/serials/files/regulation/1983/12/v7n6-6.pdf.

[4] Lemierre syndrome is a rare, potentially lethal, oropharyngeal infectious disease occurring in immunocompetent adolescents and young adults that is mainly due to Fusobacterium necrophorum and that is characterized by septic thrombophlebitis of the internal jugular vein that leads to septic, usually pulmonary, embolism, associated with ENT (ear, nose, and throat) infection that manifests with fever, neck pain, and tonsillopharyngitis.

[5] “Grand Poobah is a term derived from the name of the haughty character Pooh-Bah in Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado (1885). [1] In this comic opera, Pooh-Bah holds numerous exalted offices, including ‘First Lord of the Treasury, Lord Chief Justice, Commander-in-Chief, Lord High Admiral . . . Archbishop . . . Lord Mayor’ and ‘Lord High Everything Else’” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Poobah].

[6] DMV NV: Internet location: https://dmvnv.com/regprivate.htm.

[7] Thanks Hunter S. Thompson for the great line I ever so slightly altered.

[8] There’s been some brouhaha over the authenticity of Chief Seattle’s letter.

[9] As of July 13, 2019, when I accessed driver payrate data from Uber’s app for an Uber X ride.

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John R. Hall is a James Copley Scholarship for Journalism recipient. John studied journalism, psychology, communications & drama at City College, San Diego, California. John has largely traveled through life as a single and childless rolling stone, collecting little moss. He has been employed in numerous industries: first as a KFC dishwasher, then a Red Lion busboy, followed by soda jerking for Dairy Queen. All of that occurred before Uncle Sam whispered in his ear and he donned the olive drab green as a soldier in the U.S. Army. After that non Yankee Doodle Dandy duty was over, he attempted a career in entertainment, performing comedy and magic. When those opportunities disappeared, John reappeared in the transportation industry as a taxi and truck driver. He's been a barkeep, a hotel manager, a street performer, a professional student, a business manager, a dispatcher, an oil field professional, and an IT/IS professional; He's even been a procurer of substances. John developed and maintains both HuntingForThompson.com and HALLESQUE.com. All of this basically makes him an omnipotent . . . (in his own mind, which, as he says: "Is all that counts").