Hustle-Time Meow: A Prologue
The 19th century German philosopher and cultural critic Friedrich Nietzsche said of the latin phrase amor fati that one should not simply accept fate but to embrace it, to love it. I don’t believe in fate in the sense that my destiny has been written - I am the author of my life - but most things are out of our control and this, I believe, is what Nietzsche and the Stoic philosophers more than 2,000 years before him are talking about.
Last summer, I chose to become a rideshare driver, first exclusively with Lyft through their rental program, and two months later, after falling in love with the gig and thinking I could make a real income without sacrificing my creative endeavors, with a brand new vehicle I purchased, and so added Uber to my list of hustles. It’s not easy money. No one is getting rich in this business except the top executives and a few key shareholders, such is the way in America. Sometimes, I fucking hate this gig. It’s exhausting, people are exhausting, traffic is exhausting. But it pays the bills, and there is some meaning in this hustle beyond the financial gain. This blog is aimed at uncovering what that meaning might be, culturally, capitalistically, psychologically, humanly, and to some extent, gastronomically.
Although I’ve been driving for nearly a year now, with almost 1,700 combined Lyft and Uber rides to date, it’s taken me this long to stop talking about starting a writing project and actually write the damn things floating around my mind. It’s an interesting time to start, in part because both rideshare companies have just gone public on the stock market, promising some potentially swift changes in the way the businesses are run. Namely, I expect things to get worse for drivers, though I’ve also placed bets on the expiration date of this whole enterprise, for both myself and the industry at large. This is also an interesting time to start this project because burn out has begun to set in. Ever since Mardi Gras, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I don’t exactly work for myself but for the 20 plus people I move around each day and for the robots, the apps that work on algorithms and GPS and other intentionally opaque ways. It’s a game that’s often not in my favor. This presents the challenge of how to capture the wonder of this gig while also revealing the unpleasant realities.
The first reality is that this is a way to pay the bills with more autonomy and more dollar-per-time than any part-time job could provide and more than most hustles can drum up. I’ve been a hustler for most of my adult life, from knife sales to commission-only wine sales to visual art and cartooning to freelance writing and dog walking. I value freedom from tyranny (translation: boss) over security. So in many ways, rideshare driving is perfect for me.
The second reality is that I kinda love it. I love to drive and have since the moment I first got behind the wheel 28 years ago. Driving in New Orleans is a sport, an acquired skillI, and I’m damn good at it. Four years into living here, I’m finally getting to know this quirky city with all its one-ways and disappearing streets that reappear blocks away, and the ten different ways to get any one place, and the back routes that even lifelong residents don’t know. There’s always something new to see, which might be the single most important thing that keeps me feeling alive. A new mural, a funny sign in a window, a restaurant I haven’t yet tried, all bring joy to my day. And I love talking to people, learning about their lives, how they make a living, and how they see the world. I love to laugh with people and I love making them laugh. I get to do a lot of this while moving folks around New Orleans.
I love New Orleans. It’s a beautiful city, rich in colorful architecture, history, culture and secrets that I have yet to uncover. I love the murals and graffiti, the pockets of abandonment, the imperfections, the rawness. There’s no pretense here. “You do you” might be our official unwritten motto. We’re a small town with big city urban problems, like a teenager with a rough upbringing who’s had to look out for herself from a young age. We’re doing it our way, doing it just fine, and we don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks, but we will show you a good time and we’re happy to take your money. Most of my passengers are tourists. New Orleans sees well over 17 million visitors every year. Most of them love it here, and it’s inspiring to hear people really enjoying themselves in a place that’s like no other on the planet and that happens to be my home.
This blog will be illustrated with photos taken around the city, captured during my driving hours. The title of this post, “Hustle-Time Meow,” is from a thinly scripted graffiti on the side of a boarded up building behind a chain link fence on N. Robertson at Franklin Avenue. It made me laugh. I’m a cat owner, so the meow part makes cute sense. But to put my literary training on it, cats represent rebirth and opportunity with their mythological nine lives, and given their nocturnal nature, they also represent darkness and mystery. They’re also just fucking weird creatures, as is much of this beloved city and many of its residents. So yeah, “Arriving in 3 mins…” is about the hustle-time meow of this writer’s chapter in driving New Orleans, Louisiana.