Who Am I?

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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

19 September 2018

On Motorcycling

I've always owned motorcycles. Back in early 2016 I bought yet another Harley-Davidson Sportster (my third). This last one is a 1996 model which unfortunately had been sitting around unused for a long time. Outside. It looked great in the pictures, but the pictures were not current. Still, it was ride-able (at least to get it home), but...ugh...it was more of a challenge to get up and running than I'd hoped. I spent more than a year sourcing just the right parts to make it “mine.” Word of advice: Never buy a bike that's been sitting around for more than, oh, six months. I thought I'd gotten a good deal on this thing. I was wrong.

In the meantime while I was fussing and fighting with my Sportster, my friend Terry also bought a Sportster. He'd previously had one of those “dual-sport” bikes, one that you could ride on a dirt road as well as paved streets. Great bike! The trouble was that it was, well, tall. You just about needed a ladder to get on the thing. Younger riders are more limber and have the agility to swing their leg way up and over the saddle just to mount up; but 60-something year-old guys like Terry and I do not. End result: Terry did not ride the bike much.

Since he's heard me prattle on and on (and on), extolling the virtues of the Harley Sportster, he kind of casually started looking at them. And sure enough, he found one that was a really good deal over in Tallahassee, a three-hour drive to our east.

Sportster come in two different engine sizes: 883cc and 1200cc. There is no denying that the 883 has plenty of power. Back when the bike/engine combination was introduced in 1957! the Sportster was the original “super-bike.” That was then. Performance standards have changed a little with the advent of much more powerful machines. However the 883 Sportster has not changed much since its heyday. It is now considered weak and slow. Kind of like me.

However, the bigger, 1200cc engine makes the bike into something of a hotrod, and that's what most guys go for. Among the Harley cognoscenti, the smaller engine is the subject of almost universal disdain for its comparative lack of power and “oomph.” Even the stupid salesmen at the Harley dealer insinuate that the 883 is a great “starter bike,” or worse, a “girl's bike.” (Of course, they'd rather sell you a $20,000+ Super Glide than a $9,000 Sportster.) When I tell them that I'm on my third Sportster they look at me funny.

I ride alone, and I'm not inclined (anymore) to drag-racing other riders from stoplight to stoplight. So the 883 is perfectly fine for me. Would I like the extra power of the 1200? Sure, but the 883 has a significant gas mileage advantage over its bigger brother, which should be no surprise. And when your gas tank only holds 2.2 gallons, as mine does, gas mileage becomes uber-important.

The bike Terry and I went to look at in Tallahassee was a 1200, all done up in black and chrome. In pictures it looked great. In person, it really is beautiful, even I have to admit. The bike needed a little work, but it was well worth the agreed-upon price. We loaded it into the back of Terry's pickup truck and beat feet for Pensacola.

So now Terry and I both had Sportsters, and we wanted to do some riding! The one little problem was that mine wasn't exactly running. It took a while – longer than I'd anticipated. I wanted this Sportster to be “just so.” This meant undoing some of the work that the previous owner had done. People always think that the personal customizations/modifications they perform on their motorcycles add value. They do not. Often the next owner (ergo, me) has to come along and spend money replacing those parts. Which is why I got this bike so cheaply. (Not cheaply enough, it turned out.)

Anyway, my bike is finally done. It runs fine and drives great. It's ready for some nice road trips, for which Terry has been patiently waiting. Thankfully, there is plenty of riding season left – one of the advantages of living down south.

Here's Terry with his 2009 Sportster.  Not sure why the picture came out so lousy, but it's a gorgeous bike in person!

And here's my latest acquisition.  I know, it looks a lot like my last Sportster. But no, this one is completely different - it's got spoke wheels!

29 August 2018

A Most Perplexing Situation

I have a bit of a conundrum. My friend, Terry and I hang out a lot. We're the same age. And he's a lot like me when it comes to dealing with people, especially people we don't know, like those we deal with in our daily rounds (convenience stores, banks, etc.). He's outgoing and caring, lighthearted and friendly (sometimes overly so). He looks people right in the eye and speaks to them with respect, like they're human. He jokes with people like I do.

I greatly admire this about him.

In this fast-paced day and age, we tend to overlook and forego the little human niceties that make life on this planet pleasant. You see it at fast-food joints all the time: The person in front of you gets to the head of the line, and they begin barking out their order without even acknowledging the employee...the human on the other side of the counter. Those in the service industry take it for granted now. It has become customary...the norm.

But not for Terry and me! Before doing anything else, both of us always take the time to greet the person we are dealing with. A simple, ”Good morning!” We smile. We act like we care about them. Because we do. But Terry will take the time to talk (as in “extended conversation”) with service people even when there are other customers waiting behind him for their turn. This can sometimes be annoying, even for me, I'll admit. I'm, like, ”Come onnnnn...get his/her life story later. Let's eat our goddamn subs before they get cold!”

My conundrum is that Terry is often on the receiving end of some very bad vibes. He routinely comes across people who are having a truly bad day and are just in a foul mood – and they take it out on him. He often relates tales of encounters he's had with really nasty, angry people. He even went into a Chick-Fil-A one day and got a surly attitude from the little old lady taking his order! At a Chick-Fil-A!

Me, I never run into unhappy people. Never. People are always nice to me. Every interaction I have with people is always positive. I always walk away happy, a little richer for the experience. And I hope they do too. In fact, I cannot remember the last time someone was short or even curt with me, much less in an overall bad mood. I don't know what it is – am I just lucky?

On the other hand, Terry just seems to attract those who need an outlet for their anger or bitterness. They home in on him like they're guided by a military-grade radar targeting system. It's very strange. And it weighs on him, I can tell. In the moment he doesn't let it affect his mood, but afterward he'll say how much it bothered him.

When we're hanging out...having lunch someplace, say...I watch him, and watch how he interacts with others. And there is nothing that I can put my finger on that's different from how I do it...no obvious “triggers” or anything. So it's not like he's causing it.

But if someone is having a bad day, they'll find Terry.  It is most perplexing.

22 August 2018

Even More Uber Stuff

I know I'm kind of running on and on about this Uber thing, but I really love this “job.” It's fun! In fact, I surely thought driving my taxi was fun.  But this is better.  Much, much better. I feel like Howard Hughes at the end of the movie, “The Aviator.” Remember? His OCD took hold of him, and he kept going, “It's the way of the future...way of the future...way of the future...”  And so it is with Uber.

We're kind of still in a “honeymoon phase” with so-called "ride-sharing." Passengers still see it as something of a novelty. In reality Uber is exactly like conventional taxicabs. They've just managed to convince people that they're not...that Uber is something different.  Hey, people believe what they want to believe.

Sure, the method of dispatch and payment are different...and sure, you can see the cab...sorry, Uber car coming on your smartphone screen... But other than that, Uber cars are taxis. To think anything else is just not being honest. It's not “ride-sharing.” I'm not sharing anything with anyone – certainly not my car.  I wouldn't be "going that way anyway," and you're being charged!  It is Uber that shares with me the request from a customer who needs a ride.  That is all.

Nevertheless, the passengers think it's something special. Far be it from me to disabuse them of that notion.

Honeymoon phase” or not, Uber passengers expect a different experience than that of riding in a taxi. Ubers are less formal...more friendly. People are more inclined to talk to me and...strangely...sometimes they act as if we're already friends. It's quite bizarre. My taxi passengers were never so familiar and open.

It was my friend, Terry who figured it out: People don't often aspire to be taxi drivers. In fact, most people would probably consider themselves something of a failure if they were ever to sink to the level of driving a cab for a living. On the other hand, many of our Uber passengers can see themselves doing this job – as a “side-hustle” to be sure, not necessarily a full-time thing.

And so they ask questions. They want to know all about Uber, and what it's like driving for them? I always answer honestly: It's a gas! I recommend to everyone that they try it. (And no, it's not for everyone, obviously.)

I hadn't planned on going back up to Washington State this past summer. But they offered me a boatload of money to go for six weeks and do basically nothing. I may do the same thing next year. In the meantime, I drive my Uber when the urge strikes. I'm glad I don't depend on it for full-time employment, but it's good to know that I could if I had to.

08 August 2018

Minding Your Business

In a recent news story from here in Florida, we have yet another senseless shooting.  This one was the result of an argument over someone parking illegally in a handicap spot at a convenience store.

On July 19th of this year, security camera footage captured a car pulling up into a parking spot on the side of a convenience store in the city of Clearwater.  We learn that this is clearly-marked as a handicap spot.  A man (Man #1) exits the car from the passenger side.  A small child also gets out.  Man #1 and the child go inside the store. The driver remains in the car. 

Street view of handicap spot on side of convenience store

Shortly thereafter, an SUV pulls in and parks near the car in the handicap spot.  The driver of the SUV (Man #2) gets out.  He walks to the rear of the car and looks at something.  Then he walks to the front and looks.  We can deduce that he is checking to see if it had some sort of "handicapped" signage.  He then initiates an animated, extended discussion with the driver of the car.  The police report said it was a "pretty significant yelling match."  It lasted for over a minute.

Eventually, Man #1 comes out of the convenience store, without his child.  (Perhaps he'd been notified of the altercation happening outside.)  He walks briskly toward the car, apparently unnoticed by Man #2. Suddenly, Man #1 body-slams Man #2 violently enough to send him straight to the ground, hard. Man #2 then pulls out a pistol and shoots Man #1, who turns and stumbles back inside the convenience store.  Where he dies.  

Is this a "too many damn guns in this country" issue?  I don't believe so.  Let us acknowledge here that Man #2 was carrying his pistol legally.  Everyone should know by now - especially those who live here! - that Florida has rather generous rules on granting "concealed carry" gun permits.  And even if you "know" this little fact it's something of which people must be more cognizant.  You never really know who's carrying.  If you get into a fight with someone and they become fearful for their life, they just might pull out their gun and shoot you!  So maybe you should think twice before body-slamming someone to the ground, for whatever reason.  

In any event, the police have refused to charge Man #2 under Florida's famous and controversial, “Stand Your Ground” law.  Rest assured, this is not the end of this little story.  Even if there are no criminal charges pressed against Man #2, there will certainly be a civil wrongful-death suit brought by the family of Man #1.

Moving on...  Is there a racial component to this story?  Oh, but of course!  Isn't there always?  The woman in the car is black.  Man #1 is black.  Man #2 is white.  The media has already latched onto this.  Was Man #2's initial confrontation racially motivated?  

In fact, we may never know the specific motivations of any of the players for their actions in this horrible event.  But to a large degree, I think the racial element is irrelevant. What matters is this: A man confronted a woman over parking in a handicap spot. He got his ass kicked, and now another man is dead. Aside from the tragedy of Man #1's death, Man #2 will now have to live forever with the fact that he shot and killed someone for no good reason.

Wait...what? For no reason? Yep!

In telling me about this event (of which I was only vaguely aware), my friend Terry vociferously defended Man #2. "All he was doing was telling the woman not to park there!” Terry said, as if Man #2 was totally innocent and justified in his action.  (And perhaps Terry was implying that he might have done the same thing.)

I had a few questions. To wit:  Why was it important to Man #2 that the woman parked in that spot? What was his gripe?  Was he a cop? No. Was he handicapped and in need of parking there? Apparently not. Was he the neighborhood handicapped parking spot enforcer? No.

So I disagree with my friend, Terry.  My view is that Man #2 should've just stayed the hell out of it. By injecting into himself into a situation that was absolutely none of his concern, he initiated and provoked a confrontation that resulted in another man's death.  Man #2 precipitated the whole thing, and now he'll probably "get away with murder," so to speak. 

In the grand scheme of things, parking illegally in a handicap spot is not a heinous crime worth dying over.  There was no need for Man #2 to intervene. Had he simply not done anything...had he looked and walked the other way, the altercation between he and Man #1 would not have happened. Man #1 would still be alive.  Everyone would have gotten into their cars,  driven off, and lived happily ever after (we hope).

We all need to learn to MIND OUR OWN DAMN BUSINESS.

You can read the story and watch the video of the event HERE.

29 July 2018

More Than You Ever Wanted To Know About Uber Tips

In response to my last post about driving for Uber, my coincidentally-named friend Bob asked in the Comments section about tips. Tips? Heh. Let me explain...

Uber is both ingenious and diabolical. They started a taxi service (let's be honest) and convinced the general public that it could be provided more cheaply than conventional taxis. And the public readily accepted this premise, because who doesn't like "cheaper?" Uber also implied (if not coming right out and saying) that tips were "included" in the fare and that passengers didn't have to even bother with them. Uber wanted the experience to be smooth: Call a cab on your phone; get in, get out; and have it paid by your credit card on file, have a nice day. Easy-peasy for the Me-Generation.

The public, while decrying taxis as "smelly, expensive, undependable rattletraps" at the same time must have believed that all taxi drivers were getting rich on those exorbitant, usurious fares. Or maybe the taxi owners were getting rich. *Somebody* had to be getting rich for people to believe that a taxi service like Uber could be run such a discount and still make money. (Hint: It can't.)

No taxi driver is getting rich.

And of course not even Uber is getting rich. Nearly every day we hear stories on the news of how Uber is losing billions of dollars each quarter. But somehow the public believes that it's a viable money-making venture. Odd, that. The logic escapes me.

So let's get back to what a driver makes. Out of those refreshingly lower fares that passengers love, Uber takes 30% in various fees. What does that leave for the driver? Not bloody much, thank you. In fact, when you compare apples to apples (and I do), driving for Uber is just about the same, expense-wise as driving a taxi. ...Except you're driving (and wearing out) your own personal vehicle.

No Uber driver is getting rich.

Here in Pensacola the city-regulated meter rate for conventional, licensed taxis is $2.25 per mile. Uber's base rate is $1.13 per mile (plus they tack-on some extra fees). On short trips, Uber might even be more expensive than a taxi. On longer trips, Uber has the advantage.

And remember, Uber's initial, introductory rates were as low as $0.75 per mile in many cities, including here in my town. That has steadily (and quietly!) increased over time. It's the old drug-pusher's philosophy: Get them hooked first and then you can do whatever you want. Uber, being unregulated, can raise rates as it pleases. So now Uber's fare advantage is not as great as it was in the beginning. But people like the service and so on the Scale Of Importance! the overall rate drops down a notch. Or...customers just haven't noticed that using Uber is more expensive than it was in the beginning.

Uber drivers were making so little money that they pressured the company into providing a tip option. Uber resisted for a long time but finally relented. But it certainly was not due to public demand. Currently, some people do tip; some don't. And it's weird. Unlike my taxi passengers, some Uber tips are totally out of proportion to the ride.

Just today I picked up a man at a local seafood restaurant. His home was well north of town, and we had a lot of time to talk on the way. He had a lot of questions. People are always interested in what other things Uber drivers do...or did before “doing Uber.” Though I'm reluctant to say it, I gave him my spiel about how I've been a helicopter pilot for a long, long time and that I'm semi-retired now, and Uber is a way of keeping me out of the house and meeting cool, interesting people.  (Which is true.)  This sparked many wide-ranging questions from my rider as well as some oddly astute observations about aviation. He obviously knew more than he was telling.

The fare to his house was only $15.00. When we got there, as usual I said that I enjoyed talking with him, and wished him good luck in his career, of which he'd told me plenty as well. Later on, I saw that he'd added a $15.00 tip to his bill. Nice! (I've noticed this before – some people have tipped me more than the actual fare for the trip. That never happened in my taxi.)

I've noticed that if you treat people with respect, engage them in real conversation – not the fake, “How do you like this weather?” kind, and don't “talk down” to them, their tips are usually bigger.

I've also noticed that while I didn't get that many tips in the beginning back in May, more and more customers are tipping now. I'm not sure whether this is a cultural thing, as people are becoming more and more aware that they should tip, or whether it's my sparkling personality generating them. I suspect it's the former. I think we're still in the “honeymoon” phase of Uber.

On the other hand, I am learning how driving for Uber is different from driving a cab, and maybe I'm getting better at this “job.” (I'll deal with those differences in a future blogpost.)

At the end of the day, between thirty and forty percent of my riders tip. I've done 217 trips so far and have received 74 tips. (To be honest I've gotten a few cash tips but they are very, very rare.) My tips are running slightly over 30%, which is higher than when I drove a taxi, where the tips consistently hovered around 20%.

I'm always grateful to get tips. But I'm ecstatic when riders give me a five-star rating, which is important.  I'll explain why in a future blogpost as well.

25 July 2018

Uber: Work when you want!

A lot of people ask me how long I've been “doing Uber?” I explain that I drove a taxi in Pensacola for the last eight years, and then a couple of months ago switched over to Uber. Invariably, one of the next questions is how I like making my own schedule...working when I want? And I laugh. Uber seems to have convinced people that they invented this, “Work when you want” stuff.

They didn't.

I don't know of many cabdrivers in this or any other city who are required to work certain hours. Yes, when I drove a cab for a big company in New York City I had to choose a particular 12-hour shift, mainly because there was another driver who'd be driving “opposite” me. But even there, owner-operators can make their own schedule. Uber's, ”Be your own boss! Work when you want!” come-on is simply laughable. Pretty much any cabdriver can do that. The difference is that with Uber you're using your own personal vehicle as a taxi instead of a car that's set-up, metered and branded for that specific purpose.

But the reality is that for taxi drivers here in Pensacola, “work when you want” means working weekends because that's when the Navy and Marine guys and gals can get off base. There is “some” airport business (but it's dying as customers switch over to ride-share). There is virtually zero hailing of a taxi at the curb, not even downtown on weekend nights anymore. Almost all taxi trips are radio-dispatched. Finally there is “some” street business (e.g. home-to-Walmart), mostly handled by Yellow and recent upstart Lucky Cab. Even these trips are radio-dispatched.

And here we must speak delicately. You must have a credit card to use these “ride-share” services. (Although apparently Lyft allows customers to use pre-paid credit cards.) But there will always be a segment of society who either does not have a credit card, or who doesn't want to share that information with some big company. There are people who, for whatever reason simply want (or need) to pay cash for their taxi ride. Thus, Yellow and Lucky Cab still thrive. And probably always will.

Such trips are usually in the...well...let's say “less-affluent” parts of town. At the cab company with which I was most recently associated, when a trip would come over the radio with a pickup in a known...ahem...bad area, nobody would bid on it. At night, if a driver picked up a fare and indicated (by code) that the destination was “sketchy,” another driver (or two – whoever was free and in the area) would quickly rendezvous with the original car at the destination, or prior if possible.

The joke is that in the ghetto, taxis are called, “rolling ATM's.” People know we have money for the taking. So guess who wouldn't take any trips originating in the ghetto? Right, me. Call me racist...whatever. I may have mentioned before that not long ago a Yellow Cab driver I know was robbed at gunpoint and stuffed in the trunk of her car. The female accomplice kept telling her boyfriend, “Shoot her! Shoot her!” But the boyfriend did not, thank God. (They were both caught, thanks to the dashcam Yellow installed in all their cabs.)

Okay, I kind of got off on a tangent there. The point is that driving for Uber is a wonderful change from driving a taxi. There are pluses and minuses, like everything. For me, for now, the advantages outweigh the negatives.

I worried that my revenue-per-mile would be drastically worse with Uber, but so far that has not proven to be the case. I'm making about the same amount of money I was making driving a “regular” taxi, but I work less hours to do that. The best thing about working for Uber is that I can be sitting in my house, writing crap on the internet with the Uber app on (like now), and I can get a trip without having to drive a single mile.

I wish I could've done that in my taxi.

15 July 2018

Home, Sweet...Hell? (It only feels that way)

Well they said it couldn't be done...said it wouldn't be done! But done, it is. I went up to Washington on June 5th, and now I'm home safe and sound(?) in Pensacola here on July 15th. My deal with the Boss was that I'd come up and cover one of the ships that we have a on 30-day contract. Up, cover the job, and then be gone. It wasn't what I wanted, but not for nuthin' the farm manager of the customer for whom I've been working for the last seven years called and put a little pressure on me too. And so I went back.  It's nice to be wanted.

The thirty days went by surprisingly quickly.  As my departure date from Washington approached, my friend Terry remarked that I had not experienced a Florida summer in quite a while, and I might be in for a rude re-acquaintance since it's been so hot and humid this year in the Sunshine State. This is true; the last summer that I was in Florida was 2010.

And sure enough, it's plenty hot here in Pensacola today. The mid-90 degree heat is exacerbated by the 73% humidity, which makes the air feel not just hot but heavy as well. You go outside and the air just weighs down on you. But that's life along the gulf coast – I'm not complaining.  (Up in Washington today, with similar temperatures the humidity is 13%.  Quite the difference!)

Anyway, it's good to be home. Now, all I have to do is get the exhaust system on the motorcycle, get it registered (which I should have done before I left – oops!) and try to get some riding in between rainstorms.

It's going to be a great rest of the summer!