The Grind

The Grind, Repeat

Before I get back to Inger’s Finger I need to talk about something. It’s something I saw in myself and in other cab drivers when I was a yungin. We all start the same way. Young and naive, full of energy and surety that we can slay every dragon that crosses our path. We meet dragons, slay dragons, go home with the boon, rinse, repeat, for a while until the dragons get wise to us and change the way they fight. We want to keep winning so we start the grind.

This photo of Royal Enfield Bike Tours & Rentals is courtesy of TripAdvisor

The grind is exciting at first. We have our health and it feels like we can do this forever. We can’t. 60 hours a week driving a cab builds into 120 and that early taste of easy success fades with a half-life we didn’t expect. It takes every bit of those 120 hours to chase down the money we need and even then, we fall short.

Some of us start with a familiar spot in a pew, graduated from choir boy to altar boy, on the cusp of college and a bright future. Cab driving is just a summer thing to get some extra money before heading off to college and an education in defeating really, really big dragons. Then something happens. Either bad news or good, either work. And the fall start of college fades further into the future.  We start to grind, trying to save that bright future from the scorch of a dragon’s breath.

El Camino Real al Infierno

Some start with a less admirable story and try to use the cab to grind our way up from the gutter where society tossed us. Sometimes it works and we make it to the curb. Yay. This space isn’t for the ones that make it. We are the other end of the curve, down there on a rock-strewn road through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

It’s a frog in a pot thing. The heat rises in our lives, we become more frenetic, try to work harder until we collapse. Outside my cabin, on El Camino Real al Infierno, are rotting corpses of those who didn’t quit until their grind ended here. If folk are lucky the collapse gets them a ride to the hospital, jail or rehab, maybe all three. Whether their grind makes them a dragon scat neighbor of mine is determined by whether they stick with the truth that this is rock bottom and the way back up is life changing and very tough.

Wayne Ziegler’s moment came when he got hurt on the job as a contract welder. He was being paid under the table, had a functional addiction to cocaine, whiskey, and weed. He loved and left a long string of women who thought they could fix him up into the Daddy they never had. Women–don’t try this at home. Someone like Wayne will just break your heart. Go flirt with that guy in church you know. Much better.

Wayne’s Hell

So, Wayne came to Napoleon Taxicab with his health and a good head on his shoulders. But his knees were shot from welding for so many shifts. He had the usual middle-aged first world satellite of health problems–high cholesterol, high blood, high sugar, and chronic pain. He was used up.

But welding isn’t kind to old men like him. The big money jobs require physical stamina that he had lost. For a while, the three sirens–cocaine, whiskey and weed, could shout down the pain. Until they could not and he failed a piss test after getting hurt.

Cab driving was good for him while things began collapsing in. His longest girlfriend left with their daughter for a DC lawyer she met at Paper Moon. He couldn’t afford the house by himself so he moved to a no-tell motel. No job and thus, no medical insurance so his legal drug bills skyrocketed.

He started with the White Nurse. As always, it was good at first. And as always, the early good began to eat his soul. More grind. His even horizon narrowed from weeks down to days down to hours down to minutes. The addict’s choice: drugs or food, drugs or shelter, drugs or her, came down on drugs. He lost the hotel room.

The Street Doesn’t Love You

Wayne in the hospital. He couldn’t afford his drugs so his dealer said he could fight somebody for a little bit of White Nurse. Wayne, before all this, was 280 pounds of six feet eight muscle. He won bar fights when someone threw the first punch and Wayne didn’t feel it. When Wayne punched back the loser felt the punch in his toes. That was then. Now he was in the ER with a severe concussion and contusions near his kidneys. It hurt to breathe. He needed his White Nurse even more.

The ER doc called the social worker who started the intervention speech. Right, right. He was a mess but all he needed was a little taste and he’d be ok. He just wanted to get back to work in the cab. He’d be fine.

Hospitals can’t keep you if you insist on leaving. Wayne insisted. The Town Motel took sympathy on him and believed him when he said he’d have money for the room after his next shift. The taxi gods smiled on him and at 9:00 am he got a cash trip to Fredericksburg.

The street put him in the hospital and the street teased him with just enough money to get him through the next fourteen hours.

This is the end. The street doesn’t love you but it may give you what you need if you fight to stay healthy. Wayne fought to stay a step off the gutter and the street ate him. In eighteen months Wayne went from the gutter to the grave. He died from complications related to opiate addiction.

This is the Beginning

The grind is corrupt. It is evil. It wants your soul. If it takes killing you, so be it. There is a way to make the grind rock bottom. It takes discipline and strength from God. A place to start is Celebrate Recovery’s Eight Recovery Principles.

I didn’t imagine there were 1500 words on this until I met two corporate executives who were grinding at an expensive level. They worked 16-18 hours a day, flew over 200 days a year, seldom saw their families, and were shallow husks of humans. Nothing was left but the grind and it didn’t love them the way they wished it would.

400 words left. I lost my job. I am an UberX partner. It’s cab driving with better dispatch, nicer cars and shorter hours. The money is less than cab driving. I’m 58, almost 59 as I type this. I could be Wayne. No job and Medi-Share is stupid. It’s Obummer care but run by Christians, so that’s supposed to make it better. I can’t get my diabetes meds covered by Medi-Share. They don’t cover routine care. It’s only once I get sick enough to require hospitalization that they will step in. Sucks.

The right way to do cab driving or RideShare is the way the Henrico County Sherrif’s Office said they wanted to see it done. Each driver should create an LLC with its own tax id and run the money through the LLC. Do all the smart things one does to make a small business a success.

Transit Webb

So . . . out of the comforts of corporate cube rat life into the grind as a small business owner. Baugh Holding Company operates Transit Webb, which is the UberX business. In process is a second vehicle that will do Amazon Flex.

I’m too old for more cube rat life. There isn’t enough time left before I’m expected to retire to accumulate enough assets to secure my post cube rat life. Thus, I’ll go back to what I know, to the grind in a cab, with the hope that I can build a business which will pay me beyond the days when I can run 30 fares in 10 hours five days a week.

Transit Webb has been in business for only a month. There is no guaranteed outcome. I could join my festering corpse neighbors along the Royal Road to Hell. It could work and I could be fine. Time will tell.

Most of the entreprenuers I have met tell their rock bottom story. A retail fixturesmanufacturer who didn’t know that stores order their fixtures in the summer to be delivered in November and paid in December. His first year he lost $300,000.00. A brewpub owner who was a month away from breaking even and out of cash. He had mortgaged his home to start the brewpub. In a month he would either be homeless or assured of limited success. Transit Webb is limping along in a rented SUV with all my bills past due.

The stories have a theme: it is the end, the dragon is chewing us after dousing us with ketchup. All seems lost and yet, like the archetypical heros tale, something happens and we come out victorious. I don’t know yet what that will be for Transit Webb. I do know that for 16 years I get into these places where it looks like my new address will be a cot in a homeless shelter and then things work out. If you ask me how I feel as I type this I’ll tell you I feel like dragon scat. But so far, I’ve survived. More on this in upcoming posts.


Hair Ache

I have a Sunday afternoon hair ache. As 2016 came to a close I wrote “Money“. Two weeks into this year as we were all making promises to do better this year I wrote 更多錢 (More Money). In May I posted “A Fist Full of Fiscal Fears“. 4500 words or so on a topic that hurt my heart since I was a kid. I love saying we can live on less. You need to live on less. Me live on less? How about, “no“.

Hair AcheIn 更多錢 (More Money) I promised to report back at the end of 2017. I need to spill so I don’t feel my hair ache so much. How am I doing? Terrible. I’m really good at hustling when the expenditures exceed revenue, sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for FUB reasons. This, living on less when I am making a dollar an hour more than what I made in 2001, not so much.

I made all those nice resolutions about living on less right when a lot of us do. Since then I managed to pay for a flight/hotel/rental car trip for Chinese New Years, put a down payment on a redunkulous (24% for 4 years!) car loan, and not end up destitute in Mount Pleasant, SC after a road trip and hotel stay to see the eclipse. Most years, asking me to find a couple grand above my usual bills for travel would be too big an ask. It is too big an ask. I hustled, worked my ass off, and made it so.

How’s That Hair Ache?

In “A Fist Full of Fiscal Fears” I talked about the fiscal nuclear bombs set to go off in my life this spring and summer. It is the last week of August as I write this. The kids are back in school and though fall doesn’t officially start for another month we are all acting like summer is over. The bombs went off. I came out the other side still housed and still possessing my car and its loan. I made it through.

It is two-thirds through 2017. I used all my bad habits to get to this month with a better car and two big travel events in one year. So, clearly, when I want to, I can live on less. Yeah, I know, why not live on less and be a grownup? Y’know, pay down debt, save for retirement, keep my rainy day money instead of using it to buy yet more new shiny things . . . that. Tithe? Don’t say that word.

I write about money roughly quarterly. The topic keeps coming around to me and making my hair ache. This is yet another promise to actually, physically, truly be authentic when it comes to money and do what I keep saying I ought to do.

Things Work Out

Here I am again, with a Sunday afternoon fiscal hair ache on a payday weekend. One more time I don’t know how I am going to take care of myself for another 11 days. I used to start scheming, deciding who I’d boo-hoo at, pleading for money. But . . . being nearly 60 and able to work, working in fact, and the sympathy card lost its power.

But . . . as I like to say, “and then things work out“. I get in trouble and manage to come out stronger. I started 2002 a convicted wife beater, jobless, homeless, estranged from my son and his mother, and shunned by my family. As I sit in my favorite seat at Starbucks I have a house, a nicer car, better relationships with my son and his mom, and the family is grudgingly accepting the idea that I’m the titular patriarch on our bloodline. I’ve had the same job for almost 18 months. I’m doing ok.

To get here I maxed out the credit card and took money I’d budgeted for car payments to pay for my travel. Now that it is Sunday afternoon and my hair aches, I have to pay off the credit card and get back on track with car payments. I am behind with the City of Richmond so water, gas & trash collection are in jeopardy. Verizon is reminding me that I promised to pay them and I have not kept that promise. Verizon’s response? My phone is off until I pay.

Promises Are Free

Promises only gain credence in retrospect. Until they are fulfilled they are “Sed mulier cupido quod dicit amanti in vento et rapida scribere oportet aqua“. So, rather than spend another 800 words convincing you that this time I really am going to make a change I’ll just say this: it’s the third quarter and I feel like I’ve failed. I accomplished a hair ache.

If only I had a house I could accomplish my goals. Once I have a car I’ll be able to get things done. I need to make more money to enable me to achieve my bucket list. I have the house. Cars have been the way I get myself around for most of my life. This job pays about 40% more than I really need. My excuses for not living on less are evaporating faster than moonshine spilled in the Mojave Desert.

I’ve said I’d live on less for years. And for years there have been seasons of fiscal storms that give me a reason to live on more. This year, though I am making a living wage, I had to replace my car, I was behind on my bills (wtf? how?) and it felt like a ceaseless march of fiscal thunderstorms across my checking account. Each of which became a reason why I’d start living on less next payday–for 40 years.

Tipping Points

The hair ache has to get bad enough that the pain of change is less than the pain of staying the same. That is the tipping point for most of us. For 40 years I’ve been more stubborn, more willing to tolerate misery, than it takes to move me away from my bad habits with money. This has included being homeless more than once.

I can’t say why I am promising again to live on less or whether this promise is the one that will stick. I’ve seen many of my peers rise out of their homeless and criminal past to get comfortable only to backslide into another iteration of jail/half-way house/recovery. Will that be me? I hope not.

I am in a comfortable place. It is easier to slide into living on a bit more than what I make. Four decades of living paycheck to paycheck is a lot of momentum to overcome. But, quoting a Fellowship cliche, “nothing changes if nothing changes.”

Talk Walking Out a Hair Ache

My biggest grudge against God, against the church, against most everyone, is a failure to do as we say and say as we do. Virtue signaling is a venial sin. Don’t signal. Do. This puts an onus on myself. I am no better than those I accuse of sophistry if I too signal virtuous fiscal habits and still belly up to the buffet of first world resources possible with what I earn. Hypocrisy, more than a fear of backsliding, is what eats at me as each paycheck arrives and is spent.

It is the first day of September as I make this edit to the post. 2017 is nearing an end. The trend is toward another year of spending a bit above what I make. It is a “pick your moment” moment.

Goals for the second half: Tithe $1200.00. Pay off the credit card. Catch up all my bills. Complete Dave Ramsey’s “Baby Step 1”. So far, these promises are no better than Gaius Valerius Catullus‘ words from a lover. It’s the third quarter and I’m down by seven points. For better or worse, I’m stronger when I am losing. Will I win? Wait 4 months and find out.


Good Cab

Bad Cab

Oakland in the 1980’s was a bad place for a good cab. Taxi Unlimited was a front for marijuana growers. Transportation was a side business for the collective. Providing a beard to growers so they could launder money was its primary function. Even with that it failed. Dianne Wallace’s Taxi Taxi was a good faith effort at running an ethical and well managed cab fleet. She failed because the margins on the cab business are in the single digits. She was a single Mom trying to raise four kids by running a cab company. The family got through but not without damage. Bay Area Cab was shut down by the cops because it was deeply in bed with cocaine dealers. Friendly Cab replaced it and replaced Black organized crime with the Patels. Same corruption, different kings.

This is the milieu I brought with me to Richmond’s Napoleon Taxi. I came from a corrupt cab business that only cared about getting paid. The drivers I worked with in Oakland made sport of cheating, stealing and lying. The cocaine dealers paid rewards to young gang-bangers for robbing and killing us. I had to make a living with murderous customers and enemy coworkers. Punch line? I got very good at my job. I was a top earner in a market that fought me. Napoleon Taxi, in their training, felt like a breath of fresh air.

Like a good newbie I did the pre-shift checkout of the cab, got indignant when the night driver didn’t bring me a clean cab, complained about maintenance issues, and dutifully filled out all assigned paperwork. I did ok, with one week bringing in over $800.00. Then the old habits from Oakland crept in. I stopped doing pre-shift. I discovered that if I kept a handwritten waybill I didn’t need the separate lists of account work. After sending an e-mail notifying them of a problem with a cab and seeing that the e-mail was met with crickets my old cynicism about cab maintenance came back. It began to feel like Oakland and the ruthless indifference I remember.

Back Street Story

That’s the back story. Add to it my melancholy/choleric nature and it is surprising I wasn’t worse. This brings us to the triggering event. I did ok. I got myself ready, got to the garage on time, got a cab, got in, did a cursory check of the inside of the cab–meter works, tablet works, credit card machine works and has receipt paper, cab appears to be clean, good to go. Signed on, got my first fare, start driving to it and . . . discover a cell phone laying on the passenger seat.

Now, if you leave something in my cab you will probably get it back. But . . . you will get it back when I turn in the cab at shift-change. The twelve hours I have are worth $25.00/hr. to me. Returning your lost crap costs me money. No, I don’t want you to pay me to drive to your location and return your shit. You can wait. Unless . . . how much are you offering?


More things you need to know that help you understand why it ends up that this person could not wait. I was driving her cab. She owned it. She had done a night shift and had gone home–without her cell phone. The girl is one for whom her phone is a body part. Any time without her phone is like an arterial bleed. She *has* to have it. Addiction? Maybe. Only she knows that.

What this meant for me is that her phone starts ringing incessantly. Then it starts making noises different from a ringtone. She’s sending texts to it. Then my dispatcher calls me. I am to bring the phone back to the garage right ricky tick. No offer to find another cab for my fare. Nope. No consideration for the money I have to hustle that much harder for if I cancel this fare. This feels like Oakland again. So, I pick up the phone, reply to a text saying her phone is safe and to stop calling/texting it. Crime #1.

Crime #2

At the start of my shift I noticed that the brake pads on the left front wheel had worn down to metal-on-metal. This is something that can ruin suspension parts if it isn’t fixed. Folks, when your mechanic says you need brake pads, let him change the pads. It’s a lot cheaper than paying to have your suspension and drive train parts replaced. The cab company had put off replacing the pads so that now the pads and rotors needed replacing. I also noticed that the power steering was noisy. This could be as simple as being low on fluid and as expensive as a new steering rack and pump. But, it worked well enough that I could drive the car. Last, a third of the way in to my shift the transmission started slipping in first gear.

I reported the brake problem. I did not report the power steering problem or the transmission problem. In my Oakland days we would drive the wheels off of a cab. There is a reason sane people never by a car that used to be a cab. Us, the drivers, have wrung every inch of life out of that car. It is a new thing to me to have my cab company yell at me because I ran a cab for a shift when I knew it had serious mechanical problems.

My Defense

First, there are no fucks I’ll give to anyone I encounter in the cab business. Highest on my list of people for whom I have no empathy are fellow cab drivers. I learned my business from drivers who made sport of lying and stealing from each other. I am a mean cab driver. Next highest is my passengers. The quickest way to end my interest in your money is to cross the line between me and my customers. Somewhere equal to drivers is my opinion of cab company management. I’ve had to learn that Richmond is different from Oakland and I don’t have to be so mean.

Am I interested in the content of another driver’s phone? No. I gain nothing by knowing who her Facebook friends are or what her recent call history is. What I wanted is to get this annoying woman and her damned phone out of my cab so I can make money. But, according to her, I am some pervy voyeur who gets off on going through the phones of female cab drivers. Yuck.

I don’t have a defense for why I kept my cab on the road for 12 hours when I knew it was busted. The last thing I want is to come off the street and give up my time to getting the cab fixed or getting another cab to finish my shift. I’d rather drive it until it catches fire or needs a tow. Is this bad? Yes. I still do it.

Good Cab

The thing that is so odd to me and so good is that Jonathon of Napoleon Taxicab gives a shit. He cares. I got yelled at because I’d not followed policy. In Oakland, nobody cared as long as you paid for your shift. Richmond is different. Napoleon Taxicab is different. Napoleon still believes in bringing a better experience to their customers. I am happy I got chewed out and had to apologize.

Someone asked how a cab company can compete against Uber. It’s pretty simple. Uber is not a transportation company. It is a technology company that invented a way to order a ride through a phone. Their app is awesome. One problem–the quality of the car ordered and the driver working is a bit random. Uber assumes that they can overcome the skills gap of untrained drivers with their app. They assume wrong. Cab driving is a skilled trade that takes years to master.

We make it look easy. You get in a cab, mumble something about Social 52, and in a few minutes arrive outside the restaurant door. In the ten minute ride you might have confessed things that would make a priest blanch. We never skip a beat.

It is Not Easy

It’s not easy, though. The shifts are long, the pace is fast, and we can’t eat well or use the bathroom without consuming valuable time and money. We are expected to memorize thousands of addresses. We know that the Jefferson Hotel is in downtown Richmond and not in Jefferson City.

The job is dangerous. We drive around with our earnings for the shift. Cash accumulates on our person. Some see us as a mobile ATM. You threaten/hurt us and we give you money. This year a Napoleon Taxicab driver was murdered. We drive a lot of miles. The odds are in favor of us wrecking and hurting our passengers. We are expected to beat the odds and never wreck. We do beat the odds, mostly.

You would think that driving people from origin to destination would be an easy job. You would be wrong. Plenty try and fail. Napoleon Taxicab is one of the rare few who do it right.



Forgiveness is Work

#johnk. My buddy and I were kicking around the various malfunctions we suffer from/through with our kin. His Dad somehow picked up the “go away/come here” tactic of some women. It is a core belief of his that any relationship that feels like it is in “come here” mode will flip to “go away” mode right ricky-tick. So much so that he almost needs a friendship to swing between moments of closeness and moments of distance. He also talked about the substantial list of “‘spose to’s” that his brother has. His brother, then, spends a fair amount of time being frustrated because the world/people/God doesn’t come correct and do things the way they are supposed to. His family also seems to suffer from “last word” disease. This is where you can’t end any conversation with the other party unless they have the last word.
missouri-black-eyed-susanFor my part I talked about our family believing that we know what’s wrong with you and that we also know what you should do, what you are supposed to do, to fix what ails you. We are quite sure that if you’ll do it our way everything will be fine. Also my Dad’s habit of saying something provocative for his own amusement at the rise he’s able to get out of you. I carried into adulthood a core belief that I was the sacrificial lamb that needed to die so the family’s sins could be atoned for. A sacrificial lamb who became a sheep who liked the color black and has an abiding suspicion of overarching orthodoxy. Tell me the price of friendship is adherence to your orthodoxy and I tend to want to fight about it. Becoming a disciple of Christ took some doing. I had a lot of forgiving to do.

The conversation came around to forgiveness. I’m all about mercy and compassion because it is what has kept me out of jail. If I don’t forgive, don’t remain merciful to my ex-wife, I probably would be in prison and she would be dead. My son would lose his mother and his father, one to the grave and the other to the prison system. My son’s Mom is alive and well and living in Henrico, VA because I made a practice of being compassionate.

My friend was struck by these words: “forgiveness is work.” I said it because as many times as I have forgiven my ex-wife and for all the years we have been apart, I still get triggered and find myself reliving old bitterness. I have to forgive her again, pray again, do the things I’ve done for fourteen years to keep my heart pointed toward Christ again. I’ve gotten better over these years. I can do this in seconds where it used to take me several hours. Still, I am never done with the work of being compassionate, of loving my enemies. Forgiveness is still work for me. I used to believe it was a one & done sort of thing. You said the words and it was over. You said, “I forgive you.” and the power of the egregious event is gone. Then I met my ex-wife, who has a remarkable talent for holding the emotional weight of an egregious event far longer than I thought was possible.

When we separated I found that it wasn’t enough to offer an apology once, to say I forgave her once. I still felt the hurt of our destructive relationship, separation and eventual divorce. I had to do it again, do the work again, so that I could stay spiritually healthy. It wasn’t a one & done sort of thing. I’m still working at it. So far, it doesn’t look like I’m done. I’m better at it than I was fourteen years ago. But stuff happens and the work I’ve done evaporates and I find myself repeating prayers I thought I’d finished with. Still, practice has made things better. Over the years there is less that truly unbalances me and I find it easier to rebalance and refocus on Christ. If there is any message it is that you shouldn’t give up if an ill wind blows apart your life and you have to repeat the work of being/becoming compassionate. Keep at it. Things do get better.


The Twenty Percent

Old habits die hard. I’m trying in 2016 to break the habit of preaching. The ethic among those in recovery is to share. It’s a good ethic. This post is a fail in that regard. A couple years ago I was in love with yelling at anybody in earshot that if they had a dollar they could tithe a dime. Most of my ire was directed at a particular friend who had kept up his hungry maw ways. The Calvary came for him, helped out, and he iterated.

by Ken Rockwell
by Ken Rockwell©

Next month, same thing. A poor-mouth speech about how he couldn’t afford his bills and the man was oppressing him and if he could just get that one big score or the man would cut him a check, he’d be straight. Next month, +1 iteration. It got old. He has a late model Cadillac. Whatever thrift store he shops at must have friends in expensive places. His clothes have that “Pimp Daddy” vibe to them. I thought I had him checkmated with the premise that everybody, no matter how broke, can tithe a dime on a dollar. I thought this move was brilliant. It isn’t. The point then was that you can’t really say you can’t afford to tithe. So . . . how did that work for me? Not so well.

Looking at all my income sources last year, I had a decent year. I made $4,000.00 above my 7 year average income. I had that job at Bing Maps and Uber Map Improvement which paid about double what I usually make. With all my bluster about having a dollar and giving a dime, how did I do? meep. Charitable giving was 2%. I gave 2¢ on each dollar I earned.

Let’s make things worse while that turd sits on the screen and reveals me to be the hypocrite. How about savings? Dave Ramsey in his book, “Financial Peace”, recommends that we save 15% of our income. Did I save $5,000.00? Nope. There is a difference between depositing money in an account and saving. I deposited $2600 in my investment banking account. I have $8.00 in that account. In a previous post I gloried in depositing enough money in that account to have Baby Step 1 done. $8.00 of that money is left. So, I have saved $8.00 (0.025%) of my $2600.00. Woo.

Here is what I shoulda, woulda, coulda done, what you can do (sorry, sermonizing). Live on under 80% of what you make. Give 10% to charity and save the other 10%. Yeah, I have that rant in my head, that our tax burden can be a big hit on our net income. If we pay child support that can be a big hurt on the budget. Minimum wage isn’t enough, the job you have isn’t enough. My bills average about $1100.00/month, or about a 40% of what I usually make.

The other turd in my life is that every time I compare my income and expense averages the claim that I can’t afford to live on 80% shows up as a lie. Last year I spent $1200.00 on dining out. I gave fast food restaurants 10¢ of my dollar earned, five times what I gave in charity. Another fine, oft spoken trope about us spendthrifts, if we just stop with the Starbucks and McDonald’s we could easily afford a 20% cut in our spendable cash. I know, we know. It’s not about knowledge. It’s about making the choice (again) and doing it.

You and I that run from paycheck to paycheck, always chasing bills, never quite able to get ahead, perhaps envying the 1%, we have to decide. Do we want to keep being miserable this way or are we willing to invest in a little more misery for the short term to make a change? No, no, I won’t listen to a rant about how if the 1% just cut you a check you’d be fine. Go look at my “Big Score” post if you have forgotten.

I have a nice little thing running. I get a job, I get money, I spend money, the job ends, I cry wolf, the Calvary comes, we eat wolf steak for a bit, rinse & repeat. I’ve slowly climbed from a cot in a church social hall as a client of Richmond’s CARITAS to sitting in the second bedroom of a single family home with all my toys. Yes, it’s a gap time and for now, I am broke as a joke. Some bills will not get paid until I find money for them. As things sit it looks like I might lose my cable TV and wired Internet access. It’s a pause in my growth curve. But as things sit it doesn’t look like I’ll fall as far as CARITAS.

The standing question I haven’t answered, though, is whether I will rinse & repeat or I’ll break my rhythm and do what I so proudly declaim as the right thing to do? Will I live on 80% of what I make, even now, as I am broke as a joke. One of those Twelve Step clichés: nothing changes if nothing changes. I totally get you reading this and snorting with sarcastic derision at me because it’s another iteration of, “I’ll do better this time.” Will I? Will you?


Asian Fare

First Posted 04-Sep-2015

Some years ago I told my buddy James Rustler about a late night run to Sacramento from Berkeley while I was a member of Taxi Unlimited. The ride itself was uneventful, the best kind as a cab driver. My fare wasn’t very talkative. All I could get out of her is that she was a courier. She was dressed in black—black turtleneck, black jeans, black running shoes. She was Asian and striking. Clearly mid-30’s and world worn. Some courier, being paid to take a cab from Berkeley to Sacramento. I dropped her at the Best Western near Old Town. The drive home . . . not so much. I spun out while trying to avoid a head-on crash with oncoming traffic. I almost made it. The other car was a beautiful 1960’s Pontiac GTO. My cab dented the other car just a bit. Enough to sully the near perfect restoration of this gorgeous car and get me in trouble.

art car bugLately, Rustler has been between jobs so he’s soliciting writing gigs and I offered to let him write for me. He did the thing about the clap causing the apocalypse. This is his second piece for me, offered without edits or commentary. My apologies to Rustler for the re-edit of his work after losing the first version in the latest crash of my site: “It was a hot summer’s night in the Year of the Rooster. The cab’s air conditioning wasn’t working right again, and keeping the window halfway rolled down only did so much. But once the driver had dropped the fare off at the airport, he’d roll down both from windows for the long trip back across the Bay Bridge. It would be a long drive back across the bay with no return fare, but it was late, and the peace and quiet of a little break from the customers would be nice. At the airport, the man in the three-piece suit who he’d picked up at the edge of the UC Berkeley campus got out without a word, gave him an unimpressive tip, and disappeared into the terminal. Well, at least he’d paid without a fuss.
The driver got back in the cab and leaned over to roll the passenger side front window down. The window fought him every inch of the way. He almost had it down when a tremendous thud shuddered across the roof of the cab. He looked up—something big had landed on the car’s roof, though (thankfully, he thought) nothing heavy enough to cave it in. He was about to get out and inspect the damage when whatever it was – or maybe, whoever it as – came sliding off the roof by the left rear door. A second passed, and then the door opened, and someone got in the cab. The door slammed shut with a heavy mechanical clank. ‘DRIVE!!!’ The voice was a woman’s—stern, commanding, but not panicked.
The driver looked back at her in the rearview mirror, but saw only her silhouette. The words ‘Look, lady, I’m not supposed to pick up passengers here, and besides . . .’ had just managed to escape from his mouth when he noticed, behind her in the mirror, two Asian men of about thir-ty approaching the car. One was reaching under his jacket for something, and the driver had a sudden sinking feeling that it wasn’t a business card. Two seconds later, they were out in traffic, accelerating away from the terminal. They had nearly reached the highway on-ramp when it occurred to him to ask where they were going, ‘Erm, so where to?’
The woman’s voice was flat, unemotional, unruffled by anything that had happened, ‘Golden Gate Park’. Half an hour later, they were stopped in front of the Dutch Windmill at the west end of the park. The driver was still processing everything that had happened. He was happy that she’d be getting out of the cab now. He was happy that in a few minutes he’d be on his way back to the east bay to pick up his normal clientele of junkies, crazies, and gang members. Nothing bad had happened yet, but there was something about her that spelled trouble. When the door opened and she stepped out, he felt suddenly like someone had taken a weight off his back. Until she knocked on the window. He had already rolled it down before the sensible part of his brain caught up with him, but when it finally did, it screamed out, ‘What are you doing?! Hit the gas!’
He looked up at her, intending to deliver a goodbye as he stomped on the pedal. But seeing her clearly for the first time showed her to be in her mid-20s, East Asian, short-haired, and gorgeous. His resolve weakened just enough to give her the chance to say, ‘Wait here. You can keep the meter running’. He did, without really understanding why. He watched her as she walked towards the windmill. She was dressed for action – boots, cargo pants, and a tank top, with a small black bag slung over her shoulder. He watched her curves while she walked up to a very specific rock, lifted it, retrieved something from underneath it, and carefully put it back in place. She was fit without being masculine, neither too slim nor too muscular. He wondered what her legs looked like under those pants. He understood why he had stayed with no small amount of disappointment in himself.
She got back in the car, closing the door with a loud slam, ‘airport. Lose the blue Impala that’s been following us since we got off 280.’
He hadn’t even noticed it, but now, as he looked back over his shoulder, he saw it parked along the side of the Great Highway. He saw the orange glow of the tip of a cigarette through the right side of the windsheild. He realized that the two men seated in the Impala had been waiting for her to retrieve the item, and now that she had it. NOW he hit the gas. The Impala awoke and hustled into traffic along the Great Highway a few cars back. He couldn’t outrun them in this old Dodge Dart remade into a cab – to do that he’d need something like a police package Crown Vic. Even then Impalas of that vintage had Corvette V8’s as an option. Lose the Chevy how?
It was 2AM, so losing them in traffic wasn’t going to happen. He had an idea. It was crazy, but this whole situation was crazy, and this wasn’t any more so than the rest of it. They’d crossed Westlake and Daly City with the Impala never more than a few cars back. He waited, thinking about the timing this would need. Just a few seconds off, and it wouldn’t work. But there was half a chance it wouldn’t work anyway, so all he could do was hope. He pressed down on the gas pedal, asking the old slant-6 to press on through 50, then 65, then 80 miles an hour. The cab’s k-frame creaked as it waddled down its lane going faster than was wise. All the while, the Chevy kept pace, staying just out of his mirrors and a few cars back. He looked ahead, and saw the overpass near Tanforan he was looking for coming closer. From the back, the mysterious lady hissed, ‘What are you doing? You’ll never outrun them in this thing!’
‘Not trying to, honey! Hold on to your tits!’, in a flash, the cab was a lane over to the left, tires screeching as it slowed by twenty miles an hour in the few seconds it took to reach the overpass. One lane to the right, the Chevy passed them, still doing 85. By the time they reached the other side of the overpass, the cab doing a modest 65, while the Chevy smoked its brakes, waving crazily in its lane as it tried to slow down. An instant that seemed like forever passed, with the driver wondering if his plan would work. And then he heard the siren and saw the flashing blue and red lights of the CHP cruiser that he knew sat next to that very overpass every single night looking for speeders. The cruiser pulled into the lane right behind the blue Chevy. The driver slowed the cab even more, letting the Chevy and the cruiser pass by.
Whoever those dudes in the car were, they were the CHP’s problem now. The timing had worked – by the time both cars passed the cruiser, the cab had been doing a sane speed in its lane, and the driver of the Chevy looked like a midnight highway racer who had spotted a speed trap too late and tried to get out of a ticket by slamming on the brakes. That was reckless driv-ing, and somebody was going to be getting a very expensive ticket. That is, after the CHP was done talking to them. Which was going to take a while. Faced with the choice of whether to try to run, and end up in a high-speed chase with half of the CHP following it, or to slow down and let them go, the Chevy did the sane thing and slowly pulled over.
The cab continued on its way. As he looked back in the rearview mirror, he saw that some-how, without his noticing, the mystery lady had changed into a prim gray ladies’ business suit that had apparently come out of the bag she had been carrying. Her voice didn’t waver a bit when she said, ‘Inventive. I’m impressed. A few minutes later, they were back at the airport, and the driver felt a little tinge of regret as he pulled to a stop in front of the international ter-minal. Driving a cab was normally boring, except for the few moments when it could be terrify-ing. This had been terrifying, too, but not the same way that the other times had been. This was exciting.
The door of the cab opened, then closed, and he heard the clacking of high heels as his pas-senger walked up to his window. She extended her hand, and instinctively he reached out and took the wad of paper that was in it. He brought his hand inside the cab, examined what she had given him, and fount it to be 10,000 Hong Kong Dollars. ‘Sorry, it’s all I have. I’m sure you can get it changed somewhere.’ Her voice was softer now. Almost pleasant.
This better not turn out to be worth twenty bucks. I deserve more than that for all this trou-ble. She smiled, which surprised him more than anything else that had happened that night, ‘That you do. I think you’ll be happy when you get it changed’. Then she turned and started walking away.
‘You know, I wouldn’t mind having you in my cab again sometime! he shouted after her. She turned, and with an expression that told him that she wasn’t joking, ‘Don’t worry – the next time I need a good driver, I’ll be in touch.’
He tried to think of something witty to reply, with, but by the time he had come up with something, she had disappeared into the terminal, and he didn’t see her again after that. Well, at least not until . . .”


An Odd Success

First Posted 24-Sep-2015

It should be from each according to his ability and then to each according to his need. My decade long move toward a stable life is a disastrous idea. It is an odd success in conflict with the values of my pink diaper heritage. I should not, under any circumstances, seek to have my own car, my own house, enough wealth to sustain these, and all the other trappings of first-world life I have acquired.

The highest, most noble person is a lesbian, African-American, overweight, on a slew of medications for the typical satellite of health troubles–bipolar, autistic, addicted to [pick one, maybe more than one], high blood pressure, diabetes, neuropathy, sleep apnea, and for good measure, insomnia. I, sadly, am not any of the things that would make me worthy of public housing, TANF, SNAP, SSI, Medicaid, Pell Grants, an Obama-phone or a free Cadillac. Instead, I’ve had to hold down jobs for a string of evil corporations. I know, so sad, so sad.

prb logo odd successI make an awful candidate for emigration to the Peepul’s United Demokratik Free Anarchist Republik of Berkeley. It’s ok. I left in 1984 and didn’t plan on going back. It is the RePat Squad of the PUDFARB cops that has been lurking about looking for ways to get me to give up my evil capitalist ways and return to being a good hot mess. Those RePat guys are kind of pitiful. I sometimes buy them breakfast out of sympathy. Not an easy job working for a boss that is mental.

I probably could gain the accolades of my socialist friends by declaring myself 100% mentally disabled and in need of public housing, TANF, SNAP, SSI, Medicaid, Pell Grants, an Obama-phone and a free Cadillac. There is history to support this. Grandma was mental, as was Grandpa Wells. My Dad seems to have collected himself together and decided that a life in public housing on psych-disability was not a plan so he put himself through college and became an electrical engineer. My Mom is mental, having been diagnosed with depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and for the last 15 years or so, dementia. At least two of my three sisters are diagnosed with a mental illness. One is badly bipolar. The other, I believe, was treated for OCD and is doing ok. There is a lot of crazy in my family. So, it is within reason that I might be a bit touched as well. To add to the preponderance of evidence is the summer I spent in physical therapy treating a severe inability to coordinate my hands & eyes. And this personal anecdote, that the description of Autism Spectrum Disorder sounds a lot like symptoms I have.

A social worker offered me psych-disability SSI in my twenties. I turned it down. I chose then, going with my gut, to say that I’d rather work. I’d rather have the satisfaction of being tired after a day’s work knowing I’d earned my pay. I’ve suffered for the choice since then but I don’t regret the choice I made that day as I sat next to the social worker’s desk in a prison-made chair.

Odd Success

To each according to his need” is perverse. It sets up an odd dynamic where having wealth becomes a huge problem. It is how I was raised, to have great need so that I could suckle on the teat of Mrs. Uncle Sam. I bit that nipple bloody a long time ago and have struggled to feed myself ever since. Not going to apologize or return to it, nope.

For all the hard times, the four times my life has collapsed, for the wrath I incurred biting that nipple, I’d rather have this life than the other with binky, bottle and free Cadillac. It’s not been that long since I got this job and starting making a lot more than I am used to making. I’m out of the hole and able to breath a bit. As a candidate for being one of the downtrodden I’m doing all the wrong things. I’m screwing that up. But, as a candidate for membership in the silent majority, with bills paid reliably and able to enjoy many of the trappings of first world life, I’m doing well. I’d rather work for an evil corporation.


The Big Score

First Posted 26-Feb-2015

This one is as nuts as some of my recent posts, maybe more. A friend of mine, who did a long bit in prison, still wants to hit the big score and dump a bunch of cash into his neighborhood. His idea is that if the score was big enough he could buy off all the poor people and in one fell swoop, fix the problems in his neighborhood. People would love him, he’d get his (new) Cadillac, young women would want to be with him, and so on. It’s a fantasy that only works on TV or in Hollywood. In Real Life, it’s a non-starter.

diamond_dollarThese ideas come up. It’s a popular fantasy that you could dump enough cash into one locality to end poverty there. Let’s play with it for a bit. To make the score big enough we are talking $32.1 billion or so. There are roughly 26,000 people in this guy’s neighborhood. It’s a nice mix, with the median income being about $28,000.00/year. To make the math easy, we’ll say the median income is $30,000.00/year. Median age is 38. So, we are talking about $30,000/year for almost 40 years for 26,000 people. $31,200,000,000 to create enough cash that all 26,000 could spend $30,000.00/year for 40 years and not be broke. Show me a single crime that can pay off 31.2 billion in once score. IMHO, doesn’t exist. So, the size of the score is one problem.

The other concern is 26,000 instant millionaires who may not have the life skills necessary to be disciplined with $1,200,000.00. The feeding frenzy potential here is pretty intense. 26,000 to 1 that everyone would behave with their 1.5 million is lottery odds. If 1,300 (5%) misbehave that’s still $1,560,000,000.00 worth of cash dumped into the grey & black market economies. The possibilities are scary.

that’s the number in play if we are going to give everyone in his neighborhood enough money to retire comfortably. It is that much money. Enough that the size of the wad of cash starts twinkling in the eyes of the politicians and the one holding that bankroll suddenly has friends in high places he didn’t have before. It is a big impact on the social and political scene in which it appears.

That’s enough cash dumped into one zip code that it would change the character of the neighborhood. Before the money Highland Park is perceived as a a ghetto. It isn’t, actually. The medium income is decent and the majority of the folk in the area work. It’s only a small number of bad actors that get the attention and drive the news narrative about this zip code. After dumping $31.2 billion into it and just the cash makes it a desirable place to be. Suddenly lots of folks want to buy the 19th century homes in the area, driving property values and initiating the sort of gentrification that would permanently alter the character of Highland Park.

It would mean my friend could not live there and pay the same rent he currently pays. I reckon he includes himself in the group of folk who would collect their $1.2 million so maybe this doesn’t matter. My friend, in his naiveté, believes that he could do this and it would come out the way he wanted it to. People would behave, invest the money wisely, and be able to afford a reasonable income for the rest of their lives. I disagree.

This is so much cash that it would take on a life of its own. The challenge of mastering it rather than becoming a slave to it is daunting. With this much money in play could he live a disciplined life? He could totally, stupidly indulge every one of the seven deadly sins and have plenty of money left over for his philanthropic largess. Right now, he’s living on Social Security Disability. There isn’t enough money in his life for him to get into much trouble. $31.2 billion, though, is a lot of potential mischief. It’d take a remarkable person not to be drawn into at least a little excessive behavior. He’s not that remarkable. He’d do something and depending on what he did, make a mess of it, maybe a irrecoverable mess. This too, $1,560,000,000.00 given to the drug & crime lords in his neighborhood from a guy whose expressed purpose is to eliminate economic misery and the monetary motivation to commit crime. Somehow, having 1,560,000,000.00 loose in the black market doesn’t seem like a crime reduction plan. It seems like a cash fueled bacchanal that would spike crime and have the opposite result from what is intended. Then, the cash would be gone at some point and what then?

That 5% that fueled the bacchanal would have to deal with a community hangover of prodigious size. The money is gone so the lifestyle it supported would collapse. The support systems that existed before the windfall may have been pushed aside by all that cash and thus, wouldn’t be there when the hangover began. It would be an epic economic crash, an epic community hangover. You can poke around to find stories of lottery winners or others that had a sudden windfall of cash and instead of it solving problems, it creates them. I don’t see any difference here. Even if 95% of the folk who got their $1.5 million dollar gift from my bank robber friend did behave, the other 5% that didn’t would still have a big effect on the community. 2,000 people in a small geographic area who are suddenly rich and then suddenly facing Sunday morning, hungry, broke, hung-over and in trouble. Bad news, I’d say. I made much of Robert Lupton’s, “Toxic Charity“ and Dambisa Moyo’s, “Dead Aid“ last year. These two writers talk about the damage that can be done by ignorant resource dumps of the sort that my friend imagines as the answer. More money isn’t the answer. Intelligent engagement with the community and a long term plan for micro-investment to promote economic development is a better answer than $32,100,000,000.00 dropped into the ghetto he lives in. One last thing. Alongside this wish for the one big score is a core belief that he doesn’t want to do more time. If he did pull off a $32,100,000,000.00 job, he’d be prime beef for the FBI. He’s already done 30 years in prison. He’s in his 60’s. If he did this, he’d die in prison. There is no way they’d let him get away with it. So, the two don’t go together. He can’t have his big score without doing big time. The whole thing is nuts.


Asshole Filters

This is funny to me. Siderea describes asshole filters here. She finds it epiphanic that there are assholes afoot and that you can behave in ways that filter out other people to leave only the assholes. Siderea, baby, hey, yeah, uhm, I’m one of those, one who would be left in with your asshole filter.

assholeSiderea writes of Fred, who produces conferences, and his duplicitous use of a personal and conference e-mail. He asks that for matters related to a conference being produced people use an address set up for the conference. Then, he doesn’t work that e-mail address effectively so it becomes a black hole from which no action is ever taken. He compounds his troubles by revealing to certain favored insiders that they can get him to take action if they use a personal e-mail address and gussy it up with subject headings and introductions which take on a Chicken Little tone.

So . . you can attract assholes to your life and you can attract drama to yourself. This is news? This was worth a blog post and a thread of flattering comments? Wow. Siderea. I am one of those. I am that guy who has been called an asshole.

Lately, because of the mood of some, my letters, WASP, male, over 30, born of upper middle class parents, college educated, deemed privileged, I am ascribed by some as the reason for all their troubles. Whatever it is miserable that befalls them it is my fault. Worse, I am divorced from my wife because I abused her. I was convicted and served time for the two instances of abuse that the courts know about. I am that guy, Siderea, who would be the soon fired thorn in Fred’s side.

Siderea, my name is Alan Webb and I am an asshole. Those that blame me for all their troubles flatter me. It is humbling to hear that I hold such power over their lives. Though, I don’t want the power that they accuse me of having. I got older. I am more than two decades past age 30, when I realized I couldn’t do it like that anymore. I read John Bradshaw, tried AA meetings for a while, went back to church, and slowly tried to make the last night in jail remain the last time. What has worked for me best is to study church history and learn how to emulate Christ as many did in the early centuries of the church before Constantine came to Him. (Actually, of all the assholes ever, Constantine is one of the greatest. You could also argue that Jesus was an asshole to the church of his day. Herod wasn’t too fond of him either.)

Siderea’s post is funny to me. You can absolutely screw yourself by not establishing and enforcing boundaries and rules. Lately, upon return from a temp job that had full-time travel, I’ve got a backlog of personal business to attend to. One bit is my car, which isn’t legal and needs fixing to make it so. When I got home this week I tried to start it and found that the battery had gone flat. The Chicken Little tactic would mean that I’d light up my contact list with some story about a world ending apocalypse if someone didn’t drop everything and devote the next few days to helping me start my car and get it legal. That’s the asshole move.

My friends should, and did, yawn, crack open another Bud Lite and go back to watching “Let’s Make a Deal”. A few more days waiting for the things I need to jump the battery and get the car to a mechanic won’t accomplish the apocalypse I could have suggested. People do that, though. They make it about themselves and narrate the story such that everybody has to jump to attention and deal with whatever misery has befallen them lately. Though, usually, it’s just raining.

Us boomers, who were seduced by the idea that freedom from the rule of law would foster the utopia we sought–to be coddled and protected in a cocoon where we could fuck every woman who passed our way, blast loud music all hours of the day and night, consume food, alcohol, drugs, whatever debauchery flitted into our fancy, and escape all consequences of our bacchanal, we thought we could do this by ignoring the rules and declaring a reborn Eden operated by anarchy. Then we turned 30. Our failing health betrayed us. The string of women we slept with started demanding child support. Our arrest record got long enough that we no longer qualified for drug court or weekend jail. We tried to have our glory rave at 32 the same way we did at 22 and those 19 year olds started to look at us like creepy old men. There are four roads ahead of us, more hospital time, more jail time, another stint in rehab, or death. Except for death, each of these roads can lead to health and a diminished role as an asshole to society. The choice is ours to make and not all of us repent.

Siderea, guess what. The world has assholes in it. Get used to it. God’s creation includes free will, including the will to be an asshole. Because there is free will we can also make choices which push the assholes in this world away from us. A few nights ago I was approaching a street-car station in downtown Dallas, TX. There were a half-dozen street people on the opposite platform. This has all the markers of a potential mugging and a half-day dealing with the cops and maybe the paramedics. If I made my train I’d get to the airport, make my flight and get home on time. If things didn’t go well getting home would get rather expensive and take a lot longer. I’m sure there have been some in my circumstances who did get caught up in a maelstrom and got home days later, much worse for wear. Because I am an asshole, because I have learned to deal with my kind over the years, it was a nervous half-hour on that street-car platform talking to the street people (mostly drunk) and paying a dollar each to two of them. And then my train arrived and I made all my connections, eventually arriving home in the afternoon as scheduled. The trick is to shut down the will to continue to be an asshole. Disrupt the behavior right then. Make it fail. The art is in doing so in ways that preserve the ability to continue the behavior but interferes with the desire to do so. Also, to keep a merciful heart surrendered to God. We are not going away, us assholes. But we can be dealt with in a way that makes things better for everyone.