Take Me to the Nail Salon, for 79 cents

The future of ride share?

The future of ride share?

Mrs. UpintheValley decided she wanted to get a manicure over the weekend. ‘Twas raining, so she called an Uber.  She claims her app was set to UberPool by mistake, but a car was at the door in three minutes, having already picked up another passenger in the neighborhood.  Off they went, and she was deposited, quickly and dryly, two miles away at the salon.

Her bill: 79 cents.

You can’t even buy the weekly edition of the LA Times for that.  You can’t get a candy bar at the corner store.  The Metro bus is $1.75, one way.   Normal UberX is 90 cents per mile, with a five dollar minimum, and a four dollar cancellation fee.  But if you can slipstream in as the second passenger on a short Pool ride, you can turn another working American’s Prius into the Tap-Tap bus of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Uber drivers, needless to say, hate UberPool.   First world service at Third World prices, with first world overhead eating your balance sheet.

“But I tipped him!” Mrs. U says in her defense.  Not having any singles handy, she handed him four quarters.  I type this to shame her.

To be fair, UberPool rides are rarely this cheap, but they are now an inescapable part of driving.  The arc of economic justice may be long, but in the end, ubiquity bends all prices toward zero.  In theory, a driver can turn down Pool rides. In practice, once his acceptance rate drops below 80% (and it will if he says no to Pool) he loses driver incentive$. Without incentive$, his take home drops below what one could justify for wear and tear on a good vehicle.  Pool was created in answer to rider dissatisfaction with surge pricing. Uber created incentives to mollify drivers dissatisfied with Pool pricing, but the catch is you have to drive a whole lot more than you normally would in order to attain them.

It’s a splendid thing working class people can avail themselves of an affordable ride hailing service.  It’s a blessing for the formerly unemployed and people in need of extra night work to have a side gig. The unknown element in the equation is the means of production: the car itself. We are very early in the life cycle of ride-share apps.  In my experience, the Uber payout justifies new tires and brake pads. New transmission, not so much.

When the heavy repair bills roll in this coming year or two, what then?  How many drivers will leave the app?  How many will buy the new transmission? More telling, how many will stay on the app but ride the old transmission until it spits metal shavings and drops like a hansom cab draft horse in the August heat, right in the middle of the 405 commute?

Most of them, I suspect.

Jack Baruth, who writes beautifully at The Truth About Cars, has some thoughts on that topic.

Aren't they pretty?

Aren’t they pretty?

My wife tipped her manicurist three bucks for a job well done.  She can afford to be generous with my money.

I wonder what my brother Uber driver did with the quarters.

Keep Voting, sez MSNBC

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Mrs. UpintheValley, who did not vote for Godzilla, has been obliged to avoid Facebook, the vitriol and emotive accusation has been so intense.

Now, in the name of tolerance, the call has gone out for the assassination of the non-President, the week after the election.

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Bullet in the forehead, bleeding from his, wherever….

And I thought my apolitical blog was going to go back to being apolitical.

He hasn’t even taken the oath, people.  Tell me how this movie ends.

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Banksy has his own view.   He of course has made millions doing something which is technically illegal, but clearly changes how things are perceived. Or tries to. Otherwise what would be the point?

What begins in wish fulfillment,  ends as all Pygmalion-like creation myths do. Carve a woman from marble and your feverish longing, and you will fall in love with her. You will leave a bloody handprint.

The City’s Shameful Secret

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It was here, not long ago, during a break in my nocturnal journeys around the city, I overheard two women discussing theater, and bumbled inadvertently into a sketch from Louie.

Me: “Are you an actor?”

“Why are you asking?”

“You were talking theater, and I–”

“That’s not something I can readily answer.”

“Okay.”

“When you say ‘actor’, what do you mean?”

“Are you of a theatrical inclination? Do you go on auditions?”

“Why do you want to know about auditions?”

“I just wrote a–”

“Auditions are a private matter.”

“I was speaking figuratively. But I accept your reticence on the matter.”

“Really, it’s not something you should be asking people.  It doesn’t belong to you.  Hate that conversation. People make assumptions.”

“Hate that conversation, too.”

“Then why are you starting it?”

Friend: “Yes, maybe she’s acted. Maybe. But you shouldn’t assume that.  It’s demeaning.”

“Acting? Or discussing it?”

“What the f*** do you do, anyway?”

Bloggers give it away for free, that’s what we do. We easy.

Musicians also give it away for free, but they often get laid in the process. Artists pay to hang their work in a group show, and people come to swallow the hors d’oeuvres and discount chardonnay and flirt with other patrons of the arts and make plans to meet up later and ignore the obscurantism in the corner.  Theater is a pro bono exercise in social obligation.  Stand-up comedians have to persuade a requisite number of their friends to pay a cover charge and a two-drink minimum or the club owner won’t let them assume the stage for a 5 minute slot on open mic night. YouTube is a global flea market of platonic self-conception and exhibitionism which generates a billion dollars a year in ad revenue for …Google.  Unless you’re in Jenna Marbles territory, you don’t see a dime.  Most of her money comes from products she promotes through her site.

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At CicLAVia I watched Jamey Mossengren, a “world champion” juggling unicyclist spend the last ten minutes of his performance aggressively panhandling from the audience. He had worked twenty years perfecting his craft and could we not thank him by dropping some singles in his bag? Some of us did. Most didn’t.  His naked insistence he be paid for his work was noble, and at the same time, degrading.  I’ve felt better leaving a dollar on the tip rail at a strip club.

So why is there, in the city Greta Garbo built, something particularly shameful about being an actress?   The woman in the bar was the third in recent weeks who responded angrily to inadvertent conversational tripwires on the apparently forbidden topic of thespianism.

Perhaps because Hollywood is thought of as a giant machine for taking money away from pretty people who want to be famous.  To admit to longing is to confess to being a sucker.  To admit spending milk money on lottery tickets. To admit to carrying a crack pipe of ambition in your purse.  To feeding off the half-eaten desserts of wealthy people at your catering job.

What would Barbara say?

What would Barbara do?

It is all those things, of course, and probably always has been.  But there wasn’t Vanderpump Rules in Barbara Stanwyck’s day.  A successful actress didn’t ‘play herself’ for $700 a week in a cross-branding exercise promoting a rich woman’s portfolio of restaurants and claw for screen time by….acting out.

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Brava.

A Night of Wet Pillows

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In a long election year of Uber driving, I heard many things. On occasion, I was asked pointed political questions.

Guess who people wanted to talk about?

Some were eager to let me know how wonderful or terrible Trump was. Others, very furtively, wanted to suss out my views.  It was phrased in terms of gee, what are other people saying? 

Quietly, they were seeking my consent to vote for him.

Lotsa Bernie People in my Uber, too, and they were a very agreeable bunch.  Free college for everybody may not be sound fiscal policy but it galvanized people and you have to give a measure of respect for the enthusiasm of your fellow Angelenos.   Bernie put meat on the table. So did Godzilla.

No one asked about Hillary.  Her name went unmentioned in Hillary-ville, across a span of 1,436 Uber rides.   Jill Stein was mentioned once.

A month ago, I watched her motorcade roll down San Vicente on her way to a fundraiser…black, silent, funereal, an ambulance bringing up the rear.    In Brentwood, no one waved.  In the break room, my Latino co-workers ignored the TV when election coverage was on, which surprised me.

The gulf between moments like these and the smug triumphalism in the media could not have been broader.

Eight years ago, Barack Obama was presented to the world as Jesus Christ in political form.  Once in office, he had nowhere to go but down.  Even competent governance would play as anti-climax.

The Trump election has been presented to us as an extinction-level event for democracy.  If he manages to not burn down the White House while chasing Melania through the East Wing with a cigar in his mouth, he will surprise to the upside.  Imagine all the wet pillows then.

Choose Your Monster

Confident in victory

Confident in victory

The Nostradami of cable news have abandoned predictive analysis in favor of absurdist performance art.

Monday Conventional Wisdom: Trump has no chance of winning New Hampshire. He’s too extreme for any state outside of the Confederacy.  

Tuesday MSNBC:  Maaaaaybe he could, but we’ve spoken to the Clinton camp and they are confident they are up by nine points. 

Wednesday: Too many ballots have already been cast in early voting for him to catch her.  

Thursday, Trump leading by 3: New Hampshire has too many old white people. 

Friday, CNN: “I’m not worried about New Hampshire. All she has to do is win Pennsylvania, Colorado, Virginia. That’s 269 electoral votes right there. Game, set, match.”  

Saturday, NPR: She’s looking to stabilize Colorado. Just in case. Also, Michigan.

Sunday:  The basic worry in a democracy is you have ignorant voters. They vote their gene pool.

The great and good American people are going to affirm our nations highest ideals by voting Bill Clinton’s wife into office.  And women shall rise and lead them!

Unless crucial counties in the battlegrounds confound pollsters and go the other way, in which case, our destiny was thwarted by a KGB/FBI plot! 

Everyone Who Knows These Things knows she’s safe behind her Blue Wall, it’s all but finished. Somehow Godzilla has managed to slip past the wall, with a subway car of screaming journalists between his jaws,   waving a rally towel.   Oh no, there goes Tokyo….

For 48 more hours, they can both be right.  Then we have to live with the aftermath.

Choose your monster. You’ll regret it either way.

Riddles in the Afternoon

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Van Nuys is not on anyone’s list of urban pleasure walks, but you can see a lot in an hour.  Freedom. Love. Trust. Help.  I have no idea who Trusty is. I don’t know who is asking for help. I don’t know if the panhandler sign is trying to say pleaser or pleasure, or if the misspellings are a deliberate calculation. Or if the declaration of daddy love is ironic. They’re all messages from the parallel world of the dispossessed.