Why Am I Living In Whine Country?

For the record, I love the Los Angeles Times, and have no intention of ever unsubscribing so long as I’m in this city and they continue to print issues.  Even if they’re consistently delivered later than any other paper, including ones that have origins in New York and Washington, and they now charge sometimes as much as more than 10 cents per page for what little news they actually print.  They still print actual out-of-town box scores for the NBA, NFL and MLB, and for that alone the cost is worth it to me.

But those opinions–especially the ones that try and make readers feel empathy for someone so egregiously out of touch with the kinds of values instilled in me, that I consider to be my essence–are precious column inches that are pure waste and not even worthy of wrapping leftover fish with.

Consider this lengthy tale told by conributor Brian Merchant in the paper’s Technology And The Internet column last week, that was introduced accordingly:

By any metric, James Jordan was an exemplary Uber driver. Starting in 2016, he worked 10 hours a day, six days a week. Over the course of 5½ years, he logged 27,000 trips and maintained a rating of 4.95.

He drove so much because he needed the cash. A 55-year-old single father of five in Inglewood, there were plenty of expenses, and Uber was his family’s source of income. Then, one day in March 2022, that source was abruptly shut off.

He had been driving in the morning when he logged off to pick up his daughter. When he opened his phone to prepare for his next shift, he got the message: He’d been “permanently deactivated” — the gig work industry’s euphemism for fired.

Merchant then goes on to discuss in detail support for the views that the column’s headline–of course, determined by the Times–pleads thusly:

Uber and Lyft’s ‘deactivation’ policy is dehumanizing and unfair. It must end

Now, as this is the way I keep a roof over my head, this caught my attention.  And when I first starting doing this, as a last resort to avoid homelessness, I was briefly suspended by one platform.  I was struggling that day, traffic was awful, and I had a cold, demanding passenger urging me to take an airport route unfamiliar to me because she feared she was going to be later for her flight.  I started to wail, completely frustrated by being so demeaned in a manner I have not been used to since I was a rising executive and being compensanted far more decently for the abusive experience than I was going to be that day.

But as Merchant goes on to detail, in his view, we should feel true empathy for Jordan because of what he experienced, which he believes is systemic.  It then presents its supporting spin with these selected facts:

new survey of 810 Uber and Lyft drivers in California shows that two-thirds have been deactivated at least once. Of those, 40% of Uber drivers and 24% of Lyft drivers were terminated permanently. A third never got an explanation from the gig app companies.

Drivers of color saw a higher rate of deactivation than white drivers — 69% to 57%, respectively. A vast majority of the drivers (86%) faced economic hardship after getting fired by the app, and 12% lost their homes.

Deactivation hit even the most experienced drivers: The report, conducted by Rideshare Drivers United and the Asian Law Caucus, found that drivers who were deactivated had worked, on average, 4½ years for Uber and four years for Lyft.

Well, I guess I was ahead of the curve.

But I also know what I did, and I didn’t use a newspaper with a clearly biased agenda, as we’ve previously written about its biotech billionaire owner Patrick Soon-Chiong having, to bitch about it.  The same paper than also gave voice to someone like this who rises up fist in air to back poor Mr. Jordan:

When the company gives algorithms the power to deactivate us without even listening to our evidence or testimony, it adds even more precarity to an already precarious job,” said Nicole Moore, a driver and the president of Rideshare Drivers United. “Unlike other workers, we don’t have the bridge of unemployment insurance to even get us through a deactivation.”

Moore relates the experience of a friend and fellow driver, sober for 20 years, who was deactivated because someone reported her as drunk. The police wouldn’t breathalyze her because no crime was reported, and she couldn’t prove to the company she was sober, and had been for decades. It cost her a week’s income.

“The companies act like we are extensions of the app,” Moore said, “but we are real people and these firings by algorithm really hurt us as people, and our families who count on the income we bring in.”

Now I can’t speak for Ms. Moore’s friend beyond what she describes.  And while it sucks that she lost a week’s income, if that’s the extent of her losses, that’s far less than Mr. Jordan’s’.  But let’s now see how Mr. Jordan, single father of five, recalls what may have contributed to his fate:

Jordan thinks it was a combination of factors that got him deactivated: The week he was shut down, three separate riders complained about having to mask in his car, which was Uber’s policy at the time. He also turned down a string of requests that would have taken him too far away to make much money. But he still can’t be sure.

Eventually, he took Uber to small claims court, where he could finally plead his case. Only there did he learn that a rider had complained about his using profanity — which he denies — and another had said he’d described a relationship in inappropriate detail. He denies that, too; so vehemently that he begged Uber to let him share his dashcam footage to prove his innocence. (Uber disputes this.)

Ultimately, it was an open-and-shut case; the judge said that while he sympathized with Jordan, it didn’t matter, because he’d agreed to submit himself to Uber’s whims when he became a driver in the first place. It’s in the fine print. Uber reserves the right to deactivate an account if it determines a driver has violated its policies.

Well, now, FULL STOP.

First of all, I can RELATE I recently had a passenger video my reaction to him–or was it her, I couldn’t be sure–when he was fidgeting nervously in my back seat while on his way to a seedy hotel near downtown, sniffing uncontrollably while I simply was checking my rearview mirror.  He–or was it she, I couldn’t tell–recorded his screaming “Mr. Steve doesn’t think I’m a lady!!  I’m getting  Mr. Steve fired!!”, and then turned the camera on me for my shocked reaction.  Well, let’s just say I’m still a five-star member in good standing, so perhaps my passenger may have been blowing smoke (hopefully, that’s all that was blown that afternoon).

Bur Mr. Jordan, you did indeed sign that contract to provide you with the income you became fully dependent upon.  I’ve been to small claims court lately myself as well, with quite a bit at stake, and a truly ignorant SOB as my opponent who mocked my very presence in the courtroom, even refusing to show up in person when protocol options allowed him to stay home, lest his precious busy schedule be disrupted.  I won my case.

You thought you were the sheriff who could demand passengers who would dare to potentially put you in danger by not wearing a face diaper was your duty and birthright.  Well, we all know now how ridiculous and unnecessary that “policy” was.   If you truly felt so threatened, you could have done what many rideshare drivers did and install plastic dividers to prevent those droplets from coming in contact with you–because, as we both know, no virus is so selective that it can choose not to transmit if someone adjusts their face diaper to take a sip of water or merely to breathe.   I’m sure even you did that while sitting in traffic, and I’m even more certain several of your passengers did the same while you were focused on the road.  So spare me that holier-than-thou attitude, PUH-LEESE.

And as for oversharing–well, sometimes, particularly when I’m feeling particularly lonely and wistful, I occasionally share my story.  But a) I only do so when someone begins sharing theirs and b) I can read a room, or a car, fairly well.  I’ve done that in my previous professions with great success.  You apparently lacked that filter.  Let me merely tell you the advice I’ve gotten from my friends and family, many of whom are in disbelief that the only way I can seem to make a living these days is doing what you built your livelihood on:

The foundation of all business is that “the customer is always right”.  Even when they’re not.  You don’t own Uber, and at the rate their stock is going I’d highly advise against wanting to.  So it’s their rules, not yours.  You drive where you get the opportunity to do so, and you accept the losses that occasionally occur.  And you STFU when it’s clear you’re dealing with people who don’t quite have your free approach to describing relationships.  For me, a telling clue is whether someone enters my vehicle with a pig snout-looking KN95 and insists on wearing it even when I gently say “you don’t have to wear that mask if you don’t want to”.  Besides, even when they do speak, it’s usually muffled.

And as for any insinuation that people of color are disproportionately targeted, for anyone at the Times or in Mr. Merchant or Ms. Moore’s world:  If we are to assume the study was designed proportionately to U.S. demographics, that would mean that 224 non-white respondents experienced deactivation, while 277 white respondents also did.   So  empiraclly, there’s actually fewer examples of such discrimination, o Asian Law Caucus geniuses.

Assuming you designed the survey as accurately as I would have.  Which I can’t seem to have much confidence in, based upon everything else presented here.

Maybe the very idea of union representation triggers me.  My dad was a member of a union, and was on strike during a summer where he truly feared for his career.  He stewed on the couch falling deeper into a mental illness than dominated him for the rest of his life, unable to find the help he desperately needed because my mom needed him to work and was unwilling to get him anything more than stupefying medication that made him a zombie and a detached father when I needed him most.  He eventually did get his job back, but he never fully regained his sanity.   So I’m not a huge fan of any sort of demand for employee rights, regardless of whether or not they are arguably justified.

I’m lucky to even have the chance to work at all, I’m so consistently reminded by tone-deaf, non-supportive well-heeled friends, many of whom think I’m insane to even drive people around bare-masked in my vehicle and who are reluctant to even leave their homes at all even now. most with no pre-existing conditions or good reason to have such a draconian view.  And yet, when I ask them for leads on other work, their physical detachment leads me only to those ever-frustrating and totally worthless LinkedIn links.  The number of rejections is now 779, FYI.

So, yes, that damned link of mine is inserted below one more time.  Once again, most sincere thanks to anyone at all who have clicked on it and have donated. I’m still waiting for certain people to do so.  They know who they are.  And if you happen to know who I’m calling out, feel free to remind this person they have one simple request for resolution.  Everything has a price.

So sorry, Mr. Jordan, Ms Moore, Mr. Merchant and anyone else sympathetic to this poor excuse for an op-ed.  You get nothing but my disgust. Just like that which I continue to receive from my petrified locked down alleged friends.

By the way, here’s Mr. Merchant’s biography:


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