I’ve never been good at people. So when a ride finally flashes on my screen and it’s “Madisyn” – a mid-20s Mossy Oak cutie-pie type – I feel nervous prickles of sweat all over my scalp. She needs a ride from one of the trendier bars downtown – just a couple blocks away. Enough time for me to dig under the seat, pull out my camo cap and find some Taylor Swift on Spotify. I pull up, playing it cool as she hops in the back seat, reeking of schnapps and red bull.
“Good evenin’, little lady,” I say, mentally face-palming myself. I can’t help but affecting whatever accent I think my riders might identify with. It started as an admittedly transparent ruse to get that 5th star. Now it’s basically hardwired in my numb skull.
“Oh. Uh, hey …” she says a little apprehensively.
“Headed to Edmond?”
She says it with such finality that I know she hates when “her driver” talks to her. I take the hint, nod and shut my stupid mouth. As we head up I-235, I reflect on how I got here. I always thought a degree was a ticket into the job I wanted. And the friends I wanted. And the life I wanted. Heh. Joke’s on me because I got the degree and a pile of loans but not much else.
I started doing ridesharing a couple years ago. Seemed like it might be a fun way to “meet people” (can you hear the feigned unthusiasm in my voice?) and make a little money at the same time. But there’s a lot I didn’t know about this ridesharing gig.
First of all, you never know where your ride is heading. Could be a two-mile ride – on which I’d be lucky to make more than a dollar. Or it could be 70 miles into the middle of nowhere. I might make pretty good cash on that, but I’d also have to cover the cost of getting back to an area where there’s more business.
After dropping sloppy drunk Madisyn at her parents’ Edmond McMansion, I got lucky, actually: another ride needed nearby.
I head a couple miles west to pick up Tony. Looks like a 40-something African American. Hmm. Probably not the Taylor Swift type. Hip Hop? Here I am stereotyping again. For all I know he’s a die-hard Marty Robbins fan. Marvin Gaye seems like a safe bet, so I switch on “Got to Give It Up.”
“Sup?” I say as he opens the door and slides in.
“Hey.” Looks like I got another reticent type. I tried.
Another thing I didn’t know: You can’t just do Lyft. And you can’t just do Lyft and Uber. Not if you want to make ends meet. I do all the ridesharing. And food delivery. Hell, I’ve even taken on some of the manual labor gigs here and there when the rides dry up. I’ve mown lawns, dug trenches, cleaned toilets … all without ever meeting my “boss.” I even let out my embarrassing studio apartment on Airbnb. I just sleep in my car on those nights. It’s uncomfortable but I can make 40 bucks or so.
With so many people doing like I’m doing, we’re all on Meta – the app that consolidates my schedule plus all of the different gig economy apps. It finds the best-paying, nearest gig wherever I am and whenever I am.
As I dropped off Tony, I got pinged for two wings deliveries and a junk removal service, but there will be four more in five minutes after I hit the head at Quick Stop.
The fact that there’s work 24/7 makes it hard to stop working. And as much as I work, I’m not doing any better. God. I just looked in the mirror. I look like a vegan who doesn’t eat any actual vegetables. I guess that’s what I’ve been doing. When I have to choose between rent and car payment or decent food, guess which wins?
I walk over to the urinals, multitasking as I relieve myself.
Dog Walking Tuesday 1.6 Miles
Postmates Delivery 22 Miles
Uber Eats Delivery 11 Miles
5-10 Hours Clerical Work 6 Miles
Moving Help Sunday Morning 17 Miles
Christmas Light Installation Thursday 28 miles
I move on to my Meta notifications. The first is another message from Gig United, a union of gig economy workers. We get screwed over by these companies constantly. They’re always finding ways to charge customers more while paying us less.
Ha. Speaking of that, here’s an email from one of the ridesharing’s executives:
“As a thought leader in this ecosystem, we’re partnering with retailers to leverage the impact of our social capital, gamify your experience, and roll out new ways to powerfully impact your brand loyalty.”
I literally have no idea what that means.
I swipe to see more. It’s your typical wildly inflated points system. 5,000 points for car air fresheners. 10,000 points gets you a branded seat-belt cover. For 25,000 points, I can get a $25 gift card at Blockbuster Online. What I need to do is see a doctor. I’m not looking so good. How about 10,000 points for a checkup?
I swipe and swipe through pages of rewards program junk. It’s insulting. Branded beach balls. Coolers. Yoga classes. I can’t believe they think they can buy my loyalty by charging me for cheap junk. I swipe and swipe. This is just infuriating. The balls on this guy. On this whole company.
Swipe. Swipe. Swipe – PLOP.
My phone just landed in the urinal. I should probably fish it out and desperately start drying it with that thin, worthless truck stop toilet paper. But the truth is I’m just done. I’m tired. I’m lonely. I’m overworked, and poor to boot. I think I heard a sizzle when the phone hit the water. I’m not sure if that was the phone or my head.
But this … this is different. This silence. No buzzes, bells, dings, tones, rings. No alerts. No notifications.
No jobs to decide on.
No personas to adopt.
Just me, alone, in the silence. I missed this.
This is good.