So Lyft had a rental car deal for people who wished to drive for them but didn’t have a qualifying car (meaning my busted-ass 2001 Camry). A $250 deposit and I would not only be cruising in Hyundai Elantra style, but fully insured for more than the CA minimums as well. Howie Mandel didn’t need to ask me twice…Deal!
I went to the orientation for new drivers and signed a few papers, and was handed the keys with my instructions, “Just walk around the parking lot clicking the alarm. When you hear it go off, that’s your car.” How could I possibly go wrong knowing this Rhodes Scholar finalist had my back?
It was nearly dusk so I pressed the lock/unlock buttons until I heard the annoying beep in the distance. My head was on a swivel trying to locate the source; similar to someone in a horror movie when they hear a noise. The difference was I wasn’t about to be gutted with a pitchfork by a man in a mask. 2 or 3 more tries and I found my chariot…a gold 2017 Elantra with 40,000 miles and a few dings, courtesy of California’s trenched streets which allow the 4″ of rain we get each year to run off. I had to chuckle a bit as I thought of all the times during the good old days when I would get a massage from some Korean woman in Stanton, and now, finally, something Asian would be giving ME money for a change.
So Lyft’s deal was this: the rental would cost me $250 per week; about $36 per day, which sounds hefty, but there were some incentives which would drop the price down to $175. I also knew this would be a great chance to earn a little money during the hours of 5 AM – 9 AM, when I’m normally at Starbucks wasting my time tweeting. The next morning was a Saturday and instead of drinking 2 cups of coffee inside, I took my second cup to the Hyundai and fired up the Lyft app. “Here we go!” I thought as I signed in. I resisted the urge to call a realtor in Beverly Hills to start looking for me a home in the hills. Better to wait and see how this thing plays out first.
One of the quirks about the passenger delivery business is that when an order comes in, you only get info on how far the customer is from your current location (in driving minutes). You have no clue about where they’re going. It could be an airport drop-off or it could be the CVS down the street. So it isn’t really hit or miss; more like, miss-miss-miss-miss-miss-hit-miss-miss.
It reminded me of the game at the carnival where there’s 300 floating ducks in a little tub of water and for a buck you get to pick one. The number on the bottom coincides with the prize you get. You keep hoping to get the giant pink bear to present to your girlfriend so she’ll finally see you for the Sir Galahad you are, but $30 later you hand her a shitload of plastic whistles.
My first ride was right in-between a miss and a hit. It was a young dude, picked up right in front of his low-end apartment, going to work at 5:30 AM. He was just a working schlub making enough to keep a roof over the heads in his family, but not enough for a car, gas, or insurance. I began wondering about “his story”. This was something I never had a chance to ask a burrito or boba tea. Once he got in the car the app switched to his destination. It was about seven minutes away. So after exchanging pleasantries I stayed mum. I had no idea if he was interested in sharing his story, or if he would be succinct enough to finish by the end of the ride. I didn’t want to be left with an uncomfortable, “Don’t leave me hanging here, Mario! What happened after your parole? Don’t make me drive around the block, Bitch!” So, silence it was. My mind raced as I kept one eye on the GPS and another on the rear-view mirror (think Marty Feldman in Young Frankenstein), lest he be an ax killer on the loose. Yeah, I know it was a million-to-one shot, but I’d defied those odds before. We drove to the warehouse area of town and he got out with a polite, “Have a nice day. Stay safe.” On the app I marked him as “Dropped Off” and awaited my reward.
Are you fucking kidding me? Please tell me my phone malfunctioned and the 3 was really an 8. Jesus H. Christ, I could have been delivering a breakfast sandwich in the Camry and made more! Then there was a little “ding” sound, and it showed the ax murderer/warehouse stiff had tipped me $2. Okay, NOW we’re talkin’.
That first morning I had about 7 rides, with one run to the airport. My total was $69. From being in the adult entertainment world years ago, the irony of the amount wasn’t lost on me. It seemed the last time I had “69” was when Ben Franklin was still alive; he wasn’t even on the $100 bill yet. It was just a photo of a guy named Ernie. But I digress. $69 wasn’t bad for a morning of work when I’d normally be observing the nuances of coffee shop patrons, while wishing I still had a podcast to rant my irritation.
I closed out the app and cashed in. I needed to get back to the motel to pay for my room or it would be driving in the Elantra, sleeping in the Camry. I checked my bank balance…nothing. Nada, zip, zilch, bupkus. The panic/adrenaline rush which followed matched anything I’d ever felt, which includes two near-death experiences. I hit a few buttons on the app, and there, plain as day in tiny print any 3rd grader with an electron microscope could read was the explanation. I had forgotten to account for the $250 per week for the rental. Every fucking week Lyft gets their $250 up front directly from my earnings before I see a dime. I had assumed the rental fee would be taken as a daily expense of about $36. Obviously the program was designed for the poor, not the destitute. My mind went immediately from “Oh shit” mode to “Survival” mode, because I not only had to solve the problem directly in front of me (the day’s motel bill) but also how I would make ends meet the first two days (minimum) of every week going forward, without income, so Lyft could get their car rental revenue.
I was going to need to tweak the goddamn plan…again.