Riding with Tha King

AC

I picked up Tha King in front of the Sofitel in West Hollywood.  He was headed to Bare Elegance, down by LAX, with $4000 cash, ready to make it rain.

But first we had to wait for his pool rider.

He was wearing a hoodie, and had a voice like Tone Loc from away back in the 90’s, gravely and debauched. He reeked of weed.  As an icebreaker, I asked him if the ladies liked his voice that way.  All conversation flowed from this point. He was surprised I didn’t recognize him, cause he made beats for Future. Also, Young Thug. That’s why he wore a hoodie.  He couldn’t take it off in LA, cause the ladies were all up on him as soon as they saw his distinctive array of tats.  He also wanted me to know, for a second time, he had $4000 cash in his pocket for the club.

It occurred to me to ask why he didn’t just take his shirt off and save himself the money, but that wouldn’t be in the spirit of our conversation and I didn’t want to step on his flow.

Tha King was flowing. His beats were the bomb. The shit be blowing up because the world wants it. They were so good, everyone wanted to work with him and he couldn’t go back to Texas cause people were looking to shoot him, which was too bad because he had a purple Bentley in his garage.  But he was tearing it up in LA. He owned this motherfucker. Besides, the Cowboys were having a terrible year, and he was ready to be a Rams fan.

Did I know The Illuminati chose hiphop as the musical force for taking over the world?  Oh, yeah.  They got that shit locked down. Also, they cloned Tupac, then they killed the clone to deceive everyone. The real Tupac was still alive and kicking it in tunnels somewhere, waiting for his instructions to return.  All the name rappers out there couldn’t carry the message because they had made deals with Satan.  The proof of this was while they said God, none of them could say the words Jesus Christ.

Listen to that shit, none of them say Gee-zus cries.

In any case, Jesus had already returned in the form of Tupac, and was chilling in the tunnels.

When I got home I couldn’t help myself, I searched for Tha King on YouTube.  There he was, flashing his tats and spitting the hard shit. His video had been up for a year and had enjoyed a total of….437 views.  There were two fan comments from a girl who claimed to be his daughter, and by her picture looked to be about ten years old:

hi there its arie love you daddy

and,

come to winsconsen dad love you daddy love you love you

For some reason, it made me think of this:

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.

The Opposite of Bitchitude

IMG_8433 (1)

Here is something I’ve been turning over in my mind for awhile: working-class Latinos are the only people who have ever tipped me as an Uber driver.   Tipping is not expected.  Nor hinted at, by me.  It rarely happens, but when it does…its never white people.

How do I know the tippers are working-class? Because I drove them home. The more modest the neighborhood,  the likelier the tip.  In a city as diverse as Los Angeles is seems odd the blessings of gratitude should be so unevenly distributed among its peoples, but there it is.   You save someone an hour on the bus to Huntington Park, or $50 on a cab, or worse,  a potential DUI, they put a couple singles in your hand and thank you for delivering them safely.  It’s a learned behavior.

These are my happiest rides, and it’s not the money.

Latinas are chatty.  They sit up front, they want to know all about you. If she’s going to Pacoima, she will find out you live in Van Nuys and this is your last ride of the night, and she knows implicitly there will be no 30 minute dead-head return home.

“How serendipitous for you.”

You speak of your shared joy of multi-syallbic words. She tells you her brown family never played Scrabble when she growing up, they played Sorry!, but she understood, even as a kid, it was a first-generational thing.   When her son is old enough, she’s going to make him play Words With Friends as a condition of having a phone. She’s also going to be open with him about sex, in all the ways her parents weren’t,  when he’s old enough to ask.

Or she’ll tell you she was born in Nicaragua and lived her whole life in Cudahy and her favorite musician is Toby Keith.  “I should have been born white trash,” she laughs, as you weave like a tank through street fireworks in Boyle Heights on Fourth of July. ‘”I don’t care if all my friends think I’m a redneck.  Every country song has a story.”

Or she’ll talk about her commute, or her worst customer of the week,  or the worst date she ever had, or why she came back to the church.

Polite, always polite, even when intoxicated. Like their parents beat it into them.

We’re living out Uber as the ride-share it was meant to be and not the discount limo in Prius form it has become.  In a city of a dozen dialects, shift work is the common tongue. They’re just getting off theirs, I’m in the middle of mine. In recognition, there is empathy.

As California inches ever closer to becoming Downton Abbey on the Pacific, there will be a growing class of people with no knowledge of work, as it has been historically understood. Or have any need to work at all.  Or living on the dole. Then there will always be a much larger population which does nothing but grind out a paycheck.  Then there is a billionaire in San Francisco who tells the customers not to tip the driver, the tip is already included.

Proving truth can be more ironic than fiction, the billionaire grew up in the Valley.

I don’t know how this is all going to play out, or how much longer the center will hold. Recently Finder.com created a profile of the “average Californian”, drawn from statistical databases. Turns out she’s Latina, lives in Koreatown, works in retail, and commutes 28 miles a day.  That should give us all a little hope.

IMG_8421

The woman in the picture hasn’t been one of my riders, but she does take Uber from time to time.  I work with her during the day.  She also lives in K-town. Adding another layer of historical irony, she was born in the wake of Prop. 187.  Now she assists the grasping women of Brentwood in obtaining cage-free, nitrate-free, non-GMO gourmet food items.

I asked her if she would appear on a reality show if it meant she could quit her day job.  

Nah.

Not even if it meant never having to punch a clock again? Ever?

“Nope, it’s just not appealing.”

Her mama raised her right.

Ditching Beauty

Cleavage

Last night, around midnight, I got a ride request in a swank beachfront condo community.  My passengers were waiting outside the building when I arrived.  Three men, two women.  This was going to be a problem. Only four seat belts.  This happens from time to time and I’m obliged to explain seatbelt law and liability to intoxicated people, with very limited success.

But only two of the men and one of the women get in the car. The third man remained on the sidewalk talking to the second woman, sitting on the front stoop. Even in the dark, I can see she had a terrific profile.   Everyone is a bit wired.

“Okay, drive around the corner and wait.”

I drive around the corner and wait.  Much texting ensues between passengers and the guy talking to the woman in front of the condo.

“We’re trying to ditch “XXX”.  You know who she is, right?”

They named an adult film star who is broadly famous for being famous in and out of the porn world.

We waited.

“This is a kind of a reverse Ray Rice situation,” they explained.   “We’re doing an extraction.” XXX’s boyfriend had summoned them to his condo to witness her outlandish behavior and help him get her out of the building with a minimum of drama.  They told her they were all going out to a club together.  A reverse Ray Rice situation sounds like the shadiest wife beaters defense ever. But what can one make of claims to which one is not a witness?

Finally, they called the fourth passenger on the phone.

“Just pretend we’re the neighbor calling, complaining about the noise. Tell her you’ll be right back.”

The gambit worked.   He jogged around the corner and squeezed in, all steroid biceps and tribal tattoos. Off we went.

“F**k, that was intense.  Thanks for coming.”

“How many glasses of wine did she have?”

“Only four, I thought.”

“That’s not that much.”

“Not if you do them in a row,” said the girl, in pre-cancerous tones.  “Older women can’t hold their liquor. They get cray-cray.”

I drove them to a friends house while they discussed the pornstar in disparaging terms.   Earlier in the evening she gave the boyfriend a DVD of her reality show appearances.  As a relationship builder.

“You’ve seen the worst of me, now see the best.”

The four of them found this very amusing. Pathetic was the consensus verdict.

When I got home from my shift I Googled her.  She was raised by her grandparents. She started out in ballet. She went to college. Then she started stripping. And so on….and now she was a tangle of capped teeth, platinum hair and pneumatic breasts sitting on the curb on Saturday night, deserted by people who knew her well enough to no longer desire her company.

Adding to my karmic deficit, I was the wheel man.

I thought of the boyfriend, hitting the weights with youthful ardor, crunching, taking stock of himself in the mirror, dreaming of the hotties to come, who knows, maybe even a porn chick, and now he had obtained her, finding out she was more complicated than she looked on video.  Worse, old. In her thirties, practically Betty White years by industry standards.

And I thought of her appealing to her reality show appearances as a selling point: You’ve seen the worst of me, now see the best. On the face of it, yes, pathetic.  At the same time, sweetly hopeful, in my imagining.