Saturday, July 30, 2016

Hot and Homeless in Tucson- The Sunday Collage

I love Tucson, Arizona. The people are friendly, the Mexican food is authentic, housing is cheap and so is gas. (currently about 1.79 a gal.) The mountains around Tucson provide a gorgeous skyline just before sunrise and just after sunset. The mountains are littered with giant saguaro cactus poking up everywhere. Tombstone and Bisbee are close by. If you're ever in this neck of the woods, Bisbee is worth the drive. Very unique place.

So in mid July, I sold my bungalow in Boise. It was going to be three weeks before my new home would be ready. That left me in the awkward position of being homeless for three weeks with nothing to do. I had narrowed the possibilities down to Saratoga, Del Mar, or Tucson. I love Saratoga Springs, NY. It is one of the coolest places in the U.S.- especially during the horse racing meet. But finding lodging anywhere near Saratoga or Del Mar (San Diego) is just insanely expensive. At over 200-300 bucks a day, three weeks in those places was going to run about 5k figuring in their sky high tax rates as well.

I could find places near L.A. for under 200 a day but that meant fighting Los Angeles traffic.

So I settled on Tucson. I turned the high speed Elantra toward Vegas. I spent a couple of nights at Sam's Town before reaching Tucson.

Nothing too eventful happened until I arrived in Tucson. I booked a room at an extended stay hotel. The last time I stayed here, the hotel was brand new and nice. Not so much anymore. I switched rooms to a quiet corner after spending a night underneath some tweakers who apparently stomp around on the floor all night and never sleep.. The hotel is already starting to show signs of being run down. But it's nice enough for my purposes. It's very easy in Tucson to find a decent hotel/motel for around 50 bucks and there are plenty of alternatives.

The only other knock on Tucson is the heat here in the summer. It's smoking hot. On consecutive days, the thermometer in my car showed 109 degrees. I happen to be one of those people who can handle temperature extremes pretty well so I don't even turn on the a/c until somewhere after 90.

The food here has been fantastic. There is an In and Out Burger near me. I found an Italian restaurant called Ragazzi and had the sea bass. It was excellent. I found a few authentic Mexican restaurants and the truth is- they are all good. For breakfast I found a place called the Baja Cafe. I have eaten there at least 7 times. The food is very good and every dish is under 10 bucks. The staff are friendly and they are very efficient.

They have a couple of Indian casinos with live entertainment on the outskirts of Tucson. The other night I listened to a band that only plays Bob Seger music- it was fun hanging out with the 50+ crowd. There were quite a few young folks there too, because the truth is- their generational music really does suck.

Driving in Tucson is strange. There are many people here who actually obey the speed limit.

The Elantra is hard to see out of. So I've managed to bang a few things including the trash cans at my house. I have also lost the use of one eye, on and off for a year now, and I've noticed my rear bumper cover has taken it's share of abuse during that period. When you lose an eye, you lose depth perception or the ability to triangulate between 3 points. At any rate, my rear bumper cover is banged up and I have already replaced it once so I am simply gonna wait until I sell the car to buy a new one. (On line covers are only 90 bucks compared to the 650 that I paid the body shop to fix the last one.)

The day before yesterday, the cops had a robbery and shoot out with a bad guy who is now with St Peter. They closed the highway to Nogales and this caused me to seek an alternative route to the casino. Traffic was backed up and very snarled as people tried to find ways around the closure. I was stopped at a stop light and suddenly felt a thud and lurched forward as some gal rear ended me with her Subaru. Her bumper matched mine pretty well and she put another crease into my already beat up bumper cover. She was about 70 and very apologetic. I looked at her grill, my bumper cover, and announced no damage. She thanked me. When I got to the casino, I reached up and inside with a screwdriver handle and pushed the crease out.

I made some dough when I sold my house so losing a grand or so would not be a life shattering event. Yesterday, I would get it all back and then some. It's funny how things happen.

Bad beat jackpots for poker started in California many years ago. Casinos take an extra dollar from every pot won and use it to build jackpots. They are generally awarded when aces full of something is beaten by a higher aces full of something, four of a kind, or a straight flush including a royal flush. Having your aces full of jacks full house beaten by a larger hand is a pretty rare event. So these jackpots generally build over time and some get quite large. In Kansas City, four of a kind must beat 4 of a kind. That jackpot is always at 100,000 dollars plus- although I have not seen it for many years.

Generally speaking, nearly half of the jackpot is awarded to the losing hand, about 25% percent goes to the hand that won, and the remaining 25% is usually divided among the players at the table where the bad beat happens.

In my 35 years of playing, I have only seen four of a kind beaten twice. I witnessed it when a man flopped four sixes and was beaten by a straight flush. That happened 30 years ago in Vegas before I had even heard of a "bad beat" jackpot. The only other time I have seen four of a kind beaten happened last night. The jackpot was 50 thousand.

I got into the game around 8 pm. It was a small 3-6 limit game. The players were pretty tough and the pots were small. I had decided to play until the band started at 9 pm. By 9, my cards were running pretty good and I was up a hundred or so and the poker room also had a promotional drawing for a 100 bucks every hour or so which I had qualified for. So I decided to play some more. I teased the dealer and asked her if she had ever dealt a jackpot and if so I inquired- did she have proof? About 15 minutes later, there were two players left in a hand. An older gal on my right and this crazy looking long haired guy on my left. There had been some betting and calling and after the last card had been dealt- the two people left in the hand become embroiled in a "raise war." Each of them would raise, the other one would raise back, and I actually heard both of them ask the dealer if they could raise again. The board had two kings and two nines on it. I'm not sure what the other card was. After 4 or 5 raises, I think most of the players like myself thought they each had a king and would split the pot. But generally speaking, and this has been my experience, common sense minded players will quit raising when they figure out that their opponent has the same hand. These two did not do that- because both of them knew they could not have the same hand. Unbelievably, the gal with four kings was the one who quit raising. She turned her hand over. Then the guy with four nines turned his hand over. A roar went up from the table as we realized what had just happened. Players from surrounding games scrambled over to see what had happened.

It took them two and a half hours to pay us. The casino checks video to see who was in the game and that no cheating occurred, employees prepares IRS forms for every player, the room manager counts the deck down to make sure all the cards are there, and then employees obtain 50 thousand in one hundred dollar bills from the casino cage. The gal with the 4 kings received 10,001 dollars, the guy with the four nines received 20,001 dollars, and each of the rest of us in the game received 1669 dollars. The rest was split among the players in the other games.

While we were waiting to get paid, they called my name for the drawing. I won 100 dollars more. The older gal who won the hand- drank 6 Black Russians while we waited to get paid. We became friends, yakking away. After we got the dough I kissed her and thanked her for not "mucking" or discarding those kings. She was pretty drunk by that time and I'm not sure her husband appreciated me kissing her but it wasn't like I was looking to run off with her. After 40 years of marriage... well let's just say I know a few men who wouldn't have minded too much but from the look on this guy's face... he might not have been one of those.

We tipped the dealer nearly 3000 dollars. Not bad for a night's work.

Homeless in Tucson. Not the worst place to spend your summer vacation.


















Wednesday, July 13, 2016

My Last Day in Boise

Some things, perhaps all things, must run their course.

Seven years ago, this month in fact, I moved to Boise. I found a nice condo near Vista and Overland. Two years later I bought my bungalow on the bench.

Boise is a nice town. There is a tug of war here.  A lot of liberal California attitudes in the north and the east side of town. The rest it seems, lean conservative. I used to see Ron Paul bumper stickers up here on the Bench so I must have been in the right part of town.

Idaho legalized your right to carry concealed guns this year. This was always your right although most states think their laws trump the Constitution. So now, we can carry guns concealed without a note from our parents. For violent criminals- this might not be the best place to practice your trade.

Idaho did away with live horse racing a few months ago. While undoubtedly saving me a considerable amount of money- horse racing was one of the big reasons I moved to Boise. Last year during the live race meet, I had one losing day out of 15. It was like handing out free money. I found the races, the trainers, and one excellent female jockey to be quite predictable. It was a very good year. In nine months, racing was gone.

So today I sit among the spartan ruins of my home, doing last minute fixes and cleaning before the new owners arrive. The bungalows sits on a large corner lot with mature landscaping and gobs of parking. It was the lot that attracted me here 5 years ago. Tomorrow, we close the deal and I will be officially homeless. My new home in Twin Falls will be occupied until the first week of August. Oddly, that home has mature landscaping and gobs of parking.

So I am in the process of figuring out what to do and where to go for the next three weeks.

I have never been to Del Mar during the live race meet. The Del Mar meeting starts Friday. Maybe I'll just throw a bunch of clothes in the car and head to San Diego. Maybe if I get to Del Mar, I'll post up some pictures. Take the surf train up the coast- best kept secret in America. I don't know what I'm gonna do yet but I have 3 weeks to sort it out.

Brian




Sunday, July 10, 2016

It Was Never Comey's Call To Begin With- The Sunday Collage

James Comey offered another government whitewash on Jul. 5 when he declined to "pursue" the case against Hillary Clinton. That's what our government does best. They lie. And in a moment, I'll offer proof of a cover up by way of procedure.

First of all I'd like to say-  James Comey was never a cop. He is a lawyer and a political appointee. The FBI's top cop? Let me explain. The best cops in this country aren't pussies and they sure as hell don't behave like compromised political prisoners. I detest people like Comey. I always have. They are nothing but political whores- unprincipled and always for sale. Oh sure they'll prosecute some minor league player who can't hurt them, but when real danger comes calling they try to find ways to circumvent the law. Doing the right thing is never selfless. These guys always think about themselves first. In fact,  they believe that's all that matters. They never put it on the line because they are cowards. That's how folks like Comey find those lofty perches. Real cops ruffle feathers and piss people off. Real cops never make it to the top rungs because they have ethics and principles and they will enforce the law regardless of who it is that is breaking it. Their careers get derailed and so be it.

Guys like Comey are a dime a dozen.They go to school, make the right connections, spend their lives at cocktail parties, write resumes' and kiss ass. Then they spend a lifetime trying to convince the rest of us how special they are.

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/437643/fbi-director-james-comey-testimony-clinton-defense-crumbles-under-scrutiny

Now I promised you proof of deception. Comey has spent a lifetime on the law enforcement side of the law. He is a prosecutor, ugh lawyer. It pains me to say he is Irish. Probably from the north side of the isle.

Many years ago, I responded to a stabbing call. It was two Mexican males. One of them had beat the other's boy and during the heated debate that followed...one of them had pulled out a knife and stabbed the other one in the shoulder blade. The victim was taken to the hospital and via an interpreter, the victim told me that he deserved the stabbing and did not want to pursue charges. He was an illegal alien and that complicated things a bit. But he was adamant that he would not testify against his attacker.

Knowing all of this, I decided not to arrest the suspect. I mean, what's the point?

The point is- is that the State of Idaho considers felonies such as aggravated battery- a crime against the citizens of the State of Idaho. The law doesn't care what I think. My job was to gather evidence and bring the suspect before a higher authority. Prosecutors and courts adjudicate cases- not cops. My boss arrested the suspect the following day and ultimately the prosecutor dismissed the case. We had done our jobs. I had learned a valuable lesson which I pass along here.

It is not Comey's job to whitewash a case. It is his job to gather evidence and to present the case to Loretta Lynch. It is Lynch's job to prosecute, decline it, or appoint a special prosecutor to white wash the whole ordeal since she is compromised and quite honestly could be called as a WITNESS as a result of her meeting with Bill Clinton. Think about that for a second! We all know that Comey and Lynch are Obama appointees, we know Bill Clinton secretly met with Lynch days before Comey made his announcement. We don't need a road map to find the corner grocery store.

Comey knows what his job is. He has been a prosecutor his whole life. He does not have the right or the authority to decline to pursue a case. That is Lynch's job. In fact Comey not only pretended that it was his call in that Jul 5 press circus- he could only do so with the blessing of Lynch and Obama himself. Because guys like Comey advance and protect their careers. They don't take chances when it comes to their image and future. They certainly do not go on national television without the full consent and knowledge of their superiors.

Comey was bought and paid for by this administration long ago. With an overwhelming amount of evidence, as well as the vast destruction of evidence that Hillary Clinton did to that email server (not to mention her lies about Benghazi) smacks of a complete cover-up and that stretches right to President Obama himself.

Declining to pursue the case against Hillary Clinton was never Comey's call. Any cop with two years on the job knows that. Richard Nixon would be proud of this bunch.





Saturday, July 2, 2016

Want a Return on Your Money? Try Silver, Gold, and Platinum This Year

First a little background. 

My state run retirement system, which is in the top 10% in terms of funding, is on track to either lose 1% this year or break even. It's fiscal year ends Jun 30.

Most state run retirement funds are based on actuarial returns of 8% annually. This is not net of a true inflation rate which is running right around 9%. The government's wholly fictitious Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) publications which include the monthly PPI and CPI manipulations are some of the finest accounting gimmickry ever produced. They do this to keep inflation "contained" and to keep cost of living increases for SSI down to next to nothing. State retirement systems love the BLS- they cite their ridiculous numbers every year while screwing plan particpants out of cost of living allowances. Last year my state system gave out nothing- unless you had been retired for at least 5 years. They gave those people 1%.

They are bankers. They know their actuarial rates are ridiculously overstated and un-achievable. Just like this year's return. Wait until markets turn down. I can hear the howls from here.
If you want a true inflation picture, click here. http://www.chapwoodindex.com/

If you think your private or state run retirement system is secure- think again. I am seriously concerned about Idaho's and we are one of the best. Not only have these systems over stated actual returns- we haven't seen a bear market since Mar. of 09. Bond yields are negative in Europe and headed that way here. Retirement systems look for yield. They can't get it. Ultimately they are going to have to ask participants to contribute more. The stock market has run out of gas, PE multiples are sky high and earnings are flat. Without another round of QE- the market can only go sideways or down. If the market is ever allowed to trade without Federal Reserve intervention- the ensuing shit storm will wreak havoc on all investment classes, retirement systems, the worthless US dollar, and your savings- whatever they might be.

If you need further confirmation of just how shaky things are, read this. http://www.gold-eagle.com/article/gold%E2%80%99s-final-warning-impending-monetary-collapse

After the January 2016 bottom in precious metals- and 4 years of bear market manipulation- the precious metals sector has returned from the dead. I know a couple of authors who honestly don't believe commodity desks at investment banks are engaged in market manipulation. That level of naivete' is awesome. Banks have been caught manipulating every market from oil to libor, including silver. They have admitted as much. On Friday, I closed out one position on a gold and silver miner for a 130% gain in 5 months. Every one of my 100 screened metals miners is hitting one year highs or are higher than that in multiples. Gold has rallied 30% on the year, silver has rallied a stunning 40% after Fridays spectacular close, and even platinum has rallied 100 bucks. Platinum is where I am currently focused. Platinum is a screaming buy- I just can't see any scenario where platinum gets left behind as precious metals rally. It is sub 1100 now and I have plans to buy some this week.

An ounce of platinum is trading 300 dollars less than an oz. of gold. That disparity is enormous. Platinum and gold swap positions during times of uncertainty. Platinum, because of it's scarcity and utility, generally trades at a premium to gold. Central banks don't horde platinum. Platinum is used primarily in the auto industry for catalytic converters. If anyone has seen film of Beijing's air pollution- the potential market for platinum begins to take shape. It is expensive to mine and the vast majority of platinum comes from South Africa. In the United States, Stillwater Mining (SWC) is the only platinum producing mine and it's not too far from Billings, Mt. That stock is up with significant upside still. Platinum closed Friday up 33 bucks an ounce at 1054. SWC is trading at 12.25. A 25 year chart of SWC shows that it once traded for 50 bucks a share- 15 years ago. http://www.barchart.com/chart.php?sym=SWC&t=BAR&size=M&v=1&g=1&p=MO&d=X&qb=1&style=technical&template=

I own some silver and gold and I've started to add platinum. I also own shares in a South African miner, Platinum Group, or PLG. PLG was up 16% on Friday to 3.96. 

This stock has been so out of favor for so long- it's remarkable. People whine about it on the message boards because they aren't making the money they think they should. Platinum Group has some interesting property and they are within 6 months of full scale production. They did a "10 for 1" reverse split earlier this year. The base price of this stock (it traded sideways for months)- is about 3.10 a share. At 3.96, you have not missed the boat. I can easily see this at 10.00 a share before I die of old age. I am going to load up on this one if I can find a pullback point soon. My favorite gold play is up next.

Pretium is probably the single greatest gold find in the world. It's in British Columbia, it has been permitted, and they are constructing the mine. A neighboring property (Seabridge gold) trades at 15 up 350%!! Pretium (PVG) has been on fire this year. They had a secondary offering of shares at 4.50 and they are up a stunning 150% to 11.69. They have an experienced CEO in Robert Quartermain who is well respected in the industry. The breath taking part about Pretium is the assayed amounts of gold on the property. You have to do your own due diligence here. Compare proven amounts to other profitable mines and you'll get an idea of what this property holds. The only knock is the amount of over burden- but given the price of gold, the amount of gold at the mine, and future demand- I easily see PVG trading at 25. In fact, after doing a little math on proven and prove able reserves, 25 might be too low. http://www.pretivm.com/corporate/management/default.aspx

Endeavor, (EXK) Tahoe Resources, (TAHO) and McEwen Mining (MUX)  are three silver plays. I have owned these in the past and I still think Tahoe is the pre-eminent silver producer right now- it should benefit greatly from a recent acquisition, rising gold and silver prices, and decreasing overhead. 

Owning bullion doesn't hurt either. There is so much uncertainty in the world right now between Brexit, negative yields on bonds in the eurozone, collapsing currencies and central banks flooding countries with liquidity- not to mention the two nitwits running for President in the U.S.-  

I have sell targets too. The last time I sold silver it was at 40 bucks an oz. I sold 10 ounces. My next target would be 60 or so. We all have a buying plan- you should also have a selling plan. In fact, I hit my target price for Tahoe at 15.50 on Friday and sold that position.

You simply cannot afford to be 45-65 years old right now in this country and hope that everything is going to go well. If your income is tied up in retirement systems that need 8% annual returns- you are already in trouble. Social Security is a ponzi scheme as well. They will eventually ask plan participants for more money, reduce monthly benefits, or collapse into insolvency. The entire retirement industry in the United States is based on equity markets. People who don't see the utility in investing outside of equity markets may watch all of their acquired wealth vanish. At 45-65 years of age, with diminishing returns and a not so bright future, buying precious metals this year- even after the recent run up- is a no brainer. Protect yourself.

Or, you can always buy near the all time high of an 8 year bull market in equities and hope for the best. 








Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Essential Uber Driver

In January of this year, my friend Jon talked me into driving for the ride sharing service, Uber. Jon had made nearly 600 bucks in three days, half of which he made on New Year's Eve. That sounded like a pretty good deal to me. So I set about the task of trying to investigate Uber online. All I could find were a couple of cheer leading pieces telling me how lucrative Uber driving was. I suspected if people were making 50, 75, and 100k a year as some posts claimed- everyone would be driving for Uber. So I knew that was bullshit. I also found some disgruntled comments here and there. What I wasn't able to find was a comprehensive "pros and cons" type of piece written by an actual driver and not some company stooge or displaced taxi cab driver.

For the record, I am a retired police officer from small town America. Driving people around in cars comes pretty natural to me, although in the case of Uber- it's the rider's choice to take a ride rather than my decision to give them one. I like people, tolerate drunks well, and I can talk to anyone-so I thought Uber would be a strong fit for me. I decided to give it a try.

GETTING STARTED

Uber requires that at a minimum, prospective drivers have at least a 2006 model, four door vehicle. You must provide registration and proof of insurance. You must also have a driver's license with a fairly clean record and prospective drivers must submit to a background check. Your car also has to be inspected by a local shop which you will pay for- usually about 20 bucks. All communication with Uber is done using your camera phone and email. You will never talk to a human being in the Uber hierarchy- they see no utility in that. Drivers take pictures of themselves- pictures which are furnished to riders. You must have a fairly current smart phone to receive calls and map directions. I am currently using a Samsung Galaxy 4. It is easy to burn through a stock battery in just a few trips so I bought a huge battery pack which tripled my storage capacity. I still use a car charger as well. I have a three pronged set-up for passengers to use. You'd be surprised how many passengers have dead phones.

It takes 3-7 days to get through Uber's application process. There are a couple of online tutorials that will help you and give you some tips. Tips like buying passengers water- which I found to be a complete waste of time and money. If you really want to provide something passengers use- try gum instead. More on that later.

Once you are approved- you can go online.  My first call was a young gal at the airport. Drivers have 15 seconds to accept a ride. You simply touch your phone screen and then google maps locates you and gives you directions to your passenger. Once you accept a ride you can actually call or text your passenger. I use this feature quite a bit at the airport or when a passenger keeps me waiting curbside.

Google's mapping feature is far from precise. I have had five different addresses offered for the Boise Airport. Sometimes you can be an entire block off- meaning the customer is actually a block in front of or behind the given destination. Sometimes riders screw up the address when requesting a ride. Finding people in crowds is also very hard or in wide open spaces like giant apartment complexes and malls. In those types of environments, you must rely on the pin on the map which is the customer's GPS. Sometimes I use two navigation devices.

Uber does not let drivers see the trip length in advance. After arrival at a pick up point, you must swipe the "start trip" screen before you can see the destination- provided the rider has bothered to put it in. That way, drivers cannot decline a trip based on trip length.

Nothing irks me more than riders who cancel the ride after you are halfway there or riders who leave you waiting by the curb. I wait 6 minutes for riders and then I promptly leave. That happened today. I suspect she did it because the price was surging and paying the nominal 5 dollar no show fee (after a driver waits 5 mins) was cheaper than taking the ride to where ever it was that she was going. Which brings me to a few passenger tips and the two way rating system.

Anytime you have trouble with a passenger before the trip starts- especially if you are new to Uber- you are far better off canceling the trip than trying to salvage it. You can cancel as often as you like. Uber likes to call us "sub contractors" rather than employees. A huge benefit to having that designation is that you are the Captain of your ship. Anytime a passenger makes you wait too long, over stuffs your car with 5 or more passengers, tries to smoke, vape, or smuggle in drinks, asks you to haul muddy pets, or anything else you don't like- you are better off canceling the trip. Those types of trips tend to degrade and you can't stop the impending bad rating anyway- if your passenger doesn't like you at the beginning they will not like you at the end. Cancel those types of passengers. Save yourself the grief and a bad rating.

I've had people spit chew down the door, spill drinks on the seat and floor, been an unwitting party to a drug deal, and even witnessed a gal give a guy a hand job in the backseat. Check your backseats frequently. Lost cell phones and other items are common. Had I checked my back seat one night, I might have been able to mop up a rum and coke stain on my backseat before it became permanent.

RATING SYSTEM- ONE TO FIVE STARS

Let's talk about Uber's rating system. I personally believe that rating passengers after a trip is a waste of time because the data is simply not relevant. Bad passengers get us the same money as the good ones. I see no utility in giving a rider a bad rating. That's part of the job. Uber lets passengers get away with a lot. I have hauled passengers with low ratings and some deserved worse. In my 600 plus trips- I have never given any rider anything other than 5 stars. Uber doesn't care about rider ratings and even if they do- they sure don't communicate that to drivers. If you do see a ride pop up and the user has a low rating, you can choose to not take the trip. That has been the only saving grace to rider ratings.

Riders can see previous trips and the driver's photo on their application which is a nice feature. Drivers must remember names- I have a few "stand outs" which I remember- one who likes to vape in my car (vaping leaves a sticky film on your windows) and the other which used the service (and my car) to complete a drug deal including two trips to the same house and an atm. After tying up the car and being a general creep- I dropped him back off where we started from- a strip club. He immediately gave me the only bad rating I had that week. He was just a scumbag- there really is no other way of describing him, his appearance, or his demeanor. I immediately committed his name to my "no fly" list.

Riders issuing bad ratings to drivers works differently. Uber can and will shut your app down if a driver rating falls below 4.6. Drivers then have to pay for an online course and complete it before they can continue to drive. I get the whole accountability piece but the part that irritates me about the rating system is that any angry, drunk, surly, depressed, or entitled prince or princess can give you a bad rating for no other reason than they are just miserable people. Short of a functioning crystal ball, drivers can't avoid these people. A few days ago, I picked up a snotty gal who barked orders at me the entire trip. I tried to be nice to her but she ignored me while staring at her phone. I tend to remember people like "Charla."  Those types of trips can never get over fast enough- I wanted to hit the NOS. I thanked her despite her crappy attitude and waited for the inevitable bad rating which oddly, showed up a day or two later. Charla, I can guarantee you, will never ride in my car again.

When riders rate you poorly- they tend to do it right away. It will show up quickly. My personal experience is that about 1 person out of 20 will rate you poorly no matter what you do. Decent people are far more forgiving. Boise's best drivers sport a 4.88 rating. Mine is a little higher. One of the best things about driving for Uber, and one of the few reasons that I continued to drive for Uber as long as I have is that the vast majority of people are decent, interesting, and some are really fun to cart around. You are working in close quarters with strangers. I like people and Uber is a fantastic way of meeting them. Unfortunately, Uber is becoming the Walmart of transportation- enriching itself at the expense of their drivers.

THE UBER PAY STRUCTURE

I started driving for Uber in January. They had minimum hourly guarantees, rates of 9 and 14 depending on the time of day. We also had higher base fares and we received an additional dollar a ride.

By March, Uber had slashed the base fares some 35%. They did away with hourly guarantees. They also phased out the additional dollar a trip. Now we receive a base rate of 2 dollars, 1 dollar per mile, and .15 cents a minute for the time that the car is tied up. There is no additional fee for 2-4 riders- this is a fact not lost on partying college kids.

A very typical 3 mile trip in Boise will gross 6 bucks. Uber swipes 25% off the top, leaving you with about 4.50.

The average trip for a driver goes something like this. The pick up is 2.5 miles away. You take the customer 3 miles and your return trip home is 3.5 miles. You have driven 9 miles for a trip that will net you 4 bucks and change. If that sounds like a formula for financial success, Uber is looking for you.

Uber employs a strategy called "surge" pricing wherein they charge riders more at peak travel times. Surge pricing, a novelty really, has added about 400 dollars or less than 10% to my gross earnings. Most potential riders just wait 10 or 15 minutes until the rates return to normal before requesting a ride. In fact, I used to use surge times for breaks to go to the store and get gas because people just wait out surge pricing or take a cab instead.

People tip infrequently but I usually make something in tips. Maybe 5 bucks a day averaged over time. I use tips to buy gum. Many of my riders are hung over, trying to get back to their cars and homes on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Hardly anyone turns down gum and it cures cottonmouth. It doesn't hurt your rating either.

Uber it seems, can change your pay rate any time they choose with little notice. Under normal working conditions, employees in virtually any other job in this country are given a pre- determined and agreed upon wage which generally cannot go down. Apparently Uber thinks it does not have to adhere to that custom and so far- at least in Boise- they have proven that.

I have talked to other drivers from other locales. Where there is competition, Uber cannot afford to lose drivers. In places like Salt Lake City and San Francisco, drivers are still making decent money because Uber can't find a way to scalp employees and keep competitive in those markets. Here in Boise, many of us are simply quitting. About the time the competing Lyft service gets here, Uber will start paying drivers again. Given a choice, I hope Boise drivers remember what Uber did here.

COSTS 

You will need a cellphone, a data plan, a car, insurance, gas, brakes, tires, and oil. Uber does not re-imburse any of that. Writing it off on your taxes is tricky business and all costs are certainly not recoverable. Uber with holds nothing so you'll be on the hook for the additional tax bite.

The wear and tear on my car has been significant. I smoked a clutch hauling 4 of the biggest human beings ever stuffed into an Elantra. I was the small guy at 260. The clutch repair cost me 700 and two weeks of downtime. I had a tire blow up in front of me on the interstate and as I was dodging airborne parts of truck/trailer tire, I rolled over a piece which slapped up and damaged my rear bumper cover. I've also had two near collisions which brings me to a point that all drivers really need to consider.

If your insurance company finds out you are driving commercially- they will cancel you. They will not pay claims. That leaves you high and dry. Oddly, I cannot find policy terms for James River Insurance which is on the waybill as Uber's insurance carrier. My gut tells me that Uber probably insures themselves against losses incurred by drivers or passengers (liability) but I doubt that loss coverage is extended to drivers. If you were to get in a significant injury accident you would be in serious trouble- particularly if you were at fault. Brokering a commercial policy is expensive and probably the best way to go- this is something Uber should be doing. How they've managed to avoid this boggles my mind. If cities in America required Uber to adequately and commercially insure their drivers- they could probably run them out of business.

THE BIG FINISH

Uber is a great idea and probably the best thing that ever happened in the passenger hauling space. Riders love Uber. It is a car on demand anytime you need one. You know who is coming to get you, what they will be driving, how long it will take, and you can even watch them on the screen. The car is dedicated to the requesting party and cannot be hailed by anyone else. The entire trip from request to finish is logged even when a driver forgets to start the trip. The cars are generally nicer and the drivers speak fluid English. Uber costs one half of what a taxi might cost in our market although I cannot speak for other markets. No cash changes hands.

I like Uber a lot. It works. The problem is that Uber, like so many other greedy corporations, has found a way of exploiting drivers and cars. The result of this will be a thinning of the driver gene pool, so to speak. Cars and drivers will only meet the minimum standards. Intelligent drivers will quit because the math doesn't work. The workforce will become transitory, new drivers will come and go. It's a shame really because Uber is such a good idea. Eventually, the market will push back and the novelty of ride sharing will wear off. I don't think the barriers to market entry are all that great and one day I envision- an efficient and improved peer to peer application- (not unlike Tinder) may just take the place of a corporate entity skimming proceeds off the top of the ride sharing biz..

Today is my last day of Uber driving. The risk-reward ratio is just too far out of balance for me to continue. I have made 600 trips and I have only managed to gross 4200 bucks this year- about 7 bucks a trip. That total includes money from the old, attractive pricing structures, long trips, and surge pricing. Boise has two larger problems- a lack of long rides and excessive downtime between ride requests. I can't even make it pencil by only working peak times.

So it boils down to this. Find a value for your time, your car (cost), insurance, gas and oil, wear and tear, which I have priced at .90 cents a mile. (.60 for car, .30 a min. for labor or 18.00 an hr) Find your average trip length, let's say 9 miles round trip. If you didn't make 8.10 on that trip, you lost money. Uber would have paid you 4.50, before taxes. They do not count your time and mileage to the trip nor your time and mileage to return.

That as they say is the bottom line. In the end, market forces will determine what drivers make. With a current glut of math challenged drivers and no ride sharing competition- Uber is sweeping every last crumb off the table while they can in Boise. The truth is- Uber would do away with human drivers if they could. Read this piece on "driverless" cars. http://arstechnica.com/cars/2016/05/uber-to-begin-testing-self-driving-cars-in-pittsburgh/ That makes me laugh. Some riders would still find something to whine about.

Years ago when I was a kid, I got ripped off by an unscrupulous radio station that promised to pay me mileage and a dollar per delivery for coupon books they were selling. They never paid me a dime. I never forgot that lesson. They beat Uber to this punch bowl by some 40 years.

Hopefully I've been able to write the sort of comprehensive, "here's the pros and cons, this was my experience" sort of piece that I was searching for back in January. I know it leans a little harsh against driving for Uber but I think the information is generally accurate and universal. It might help people make informed decisions and perform a little due diligence on their own. Markets are different and Uber prices markets differently. Any potential driver can sort out his or her city's pricing structure. Uber up a ride and ask the driver a few questions. That's the best and most accurate information that you are likely to get.



















Saturday, May 7, 2016

The First Casualty Is the Truth- The Sunday Collage

A few years ago, I got a call from my first love. The one thing I always hated about her was her ability to white wash the truth. She is one of those people who will tell you how fantastic her life is while her house is burning down along with all of her possessions. Never, ever, would she disclose anything about herself or her life that was less than perfect.

That kind of self deception is nauseating. I hated it back in college and while we were on that phone call, she began telling me about her perfect life- while throwing a few little barbs my way. I remember thinking how close I came to marrying this gal. Marriage would have been disastrous. For just as she edits every last scintilla of awkward truthfulness about her life- I am the polar opposite.

I embrace the inconvenient truths about my life. I have no problem telling anyone my entire life story, the unedited and candid version, particularly if I think it will help them. I don't view my life as a series of events that I should be ashamed of. Should I be ashamed of living my life, making some bad decisions, and then cover them up? Is that how we learn? Is that how I grow and become a better person? By telling lies? Has that ever helped anyone?

I think a lot of families teach their members to keep the family mistakes private. In fact I believe so many people are accustomed to doing just that- that is is imprinted on our national conscience. It has become a universal truth in America that we have all tacitly agreed that lies about our personal lives are acceptable. In fact, if you tell the truth about yourself- often your peers will look at you like you've lost your mind. That's how bad it has become. So we all agree that it is acceptable to lie about personal issues because the judgers will make us feel ashamed. Sometimes our mistakes cause us to lose jobs, get divorces, lose custody of our children, and become bankrupt. Clearly, we can't always tell the truth, can we?

I have no other explanation for the rise of people like Barack Obama. Conceived by an unwed and juvenile mother- Barack Obama is the quintessential example of a person who we really know nothing about. His life is this giant mystery wherein if anyone dares look for the truth- they are castigated by the millions of supporting minions who have all agreed to the great lie. It's none of your business.

Hillary Clinton. Hillary might be the most scandalous person I have ever laid eyes on. Her entire life has been one scandal after another. I am in awe that in America- Hillary Clinton could accept millions of dollars in bribes, call them donations and put them in the "Clinton Foundation" while Secretary of State. The Clinton's foundation, a tax free charity organized in Canada, allows them to use the money any way that they wish. About 10% of the money is spent on charity- the rest is spent by the Clintons. Benghazi might be the greatest lie ever told by anyone in government- where good people fought desperately and died needlessly. We know the truth about what happened. Yet nobody is held accountable. That this woman actually stands any chance of becoming President is mind boggling.

We have a national debt that nobody ever talks about. A debt where nearly 20 trillion (on the books) is owed (and 100 trillion off the books) which is never going to be paid off- financed by a Federal Reserve Bank that is private and unaccountable to the American people. That debt will become the onerous burden of someone else.

People don't care. Not only do they not care but the majority of them have all apparently taken oaths wherein discussing the truth is akin to treason. You are forbidden to discuss certain things particularly if it involves high ranking officials. This is also the way it is in North Korea- that bastion of freedom.

So we have serious problems in America and like the good dysfunctional family that we've become- we're going to ignore our problems and hide them. Pretend they don't exist. That's how far we've fallen as a country, as a society.

The first casualty is always the truth. That has been the way of the world forever. The decline of civilizations everywhere can only be brought about after truth has been taken to the gallows. Once the quest for truth dies, then any number of lies can be offered up as replacements and accepted by a society that has found the truth to be inconvenient, useless, or even shameful.

Once again, I shall leave you with the Isabelle Patterson quote. It always seems appropriate.

Most of the harm in the world is done by good people, and not by accident, lapse, or omission. It is the result of their deliberate actions, long persevered in, which they hold to be motivated by high ideals toward virtuous ends.









Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Winter Season- The Sunday Collage

My friend Jim at Conservatives on Fire abruptly quit blogging over a year ago. He offered no explanation. Jim had always been a great supporter of mine. I missed him and worried about him. Jim was a class act. He tried to be impartial and never used profanity while writing. I have never had that sort of restraint.

Jim I think, was wiser than I- much sooner than I.

Back in 2008, I had this idea that blogging would be an excellent way to reach out and unite people. I believed that people could circle the wagons and repair our country if we could all just agree that we had a problem. I realize now, at age 55, that I was an idiot. That the vast majority of people don't care.

I can't even call them stupid because they might actually be the smart ones. Not caring might be the healthiest thing that the minions ever do for themselves. There is no saving America as we once knew it. Perhaps the best blog ever written on that topic is linked here. http://www.freemansperspective.com/wont-be-fixed/

This morning, I read that Judicial Watch had filed a Freedom Of Information Act request for Hillary Clinton's phone conversations during the period surrounding the siege at Benghazi. They struck gold. There it was- Hillary Clinton lying to our nation about some idiot videographer bashing Mohammad and Islam on "You Tube" which she alleged caused the Benghazi attack- and now we discover she was telling Saudi Arabia on the phone at virtually the same time that Benghazi was a planned Al Qaeda attack. Like her husband, she just flat out lied to America rather than suffer the shame and ridicule that her actions warranted.

The ramifications are enormous. After begging and pleading for additional staffing help, Ambassador Chris Steven's pleas were ignored by Hillary Clinton. Once the siege began with less than two months before the presidential elections, the Commander in Chief not only failed to send help that night but disappeared altogether. After Chris Steven's body was dragged through the streets of Libya- Hillary either concocted or saddled up to that ridiculous cover story to escape her wanton disregard and her dereliction of duty. She should have been immediately relieved of duty and prosecuted but we all know that ultimately President Obama called the shots that night. That this shameless sociopath has a chance to become President is testimony to the complete apathy of the American public. I can find no finer example of how far this country has fallen. Most people in America don't fucking care about this country or politics and people like Jim and I- albeit slow learners- are finding this out.

We are spoiled. America has become a nation of self absorbed, superficial, greedy, fat, unhealthy, plastic boobed narcissists who are forever wanting and thinking some material bullshit will make them happy. Many Americans actually believe we are better than other cultures. More than half this country checks out daily on prescription meds, illegal substances, and booze  or some other mindless activity involving cellphone chatter or television. They are too self absorbed to pay attention to anything beyond their inner circle.

You know why we have a huge substance problem in America? Because we don't like who we are and what we have become. Why do people use substances? They want to change the way they feel. If we really believed we were this shit hot role model for the human race- we would actually lead caring and spiritual lives with emotionally healthy coping mechanisms. We wouldn't need placebos like food, sex, booze, drugs, therapists, cellphones, and tobacco to change the way we feel. We can lie- like the Joneses' to our neighbors- but we can never lie to ourselves.

I know all of this. I finished this big blog this morning about Hillary Clinton's illegal and unethical activities because I am deathly afraid that this sociopath will become President. And then I remembered three things- people don't care, Blogger has a delete button, and that the world is perfect- exactly the way that it is. If Hillary becomes President then that is the way it is supposed to be. Acceptance is always the answer.

I'm about to share the greatest lesson I have ever had to learn.

The world is much larger than any of us. It was created perfectly. Everything that happens here is supposed to happen. People are supposed to grow old and die, some die young, and some die for terrible reasons. People make mistakes. People fail, that's what we do. It's what we learn from those mistakes and how we respond that is important. Sometimes people learn and get better, sometimes they don't. None of this is the fault of the earth or some make believe divine being who asks us to offer up human sacrifices or on occasion, sacrifices their own for the sake of us. Surely there has to be a better way of practicing faith.

Terra firma doesn't fail. It's just a platform, a stage, a place for all of this drama that we create to take place. When the time comes, a space rock will come and reset this planet. Mother Earth will shake us off like a bunch of fleas. Everything has a season and I understand that.

So why do bloggers write? Self fulfillment, ego, sometimes money. It's a damn good question and I'm afraid I don't have much of an answer right now. I have published 2030 blogs in 8 years. Some were pretty good and some were awful. I am out of topics, tired of writing about the same old stuff and tired of reading the same old stuff. A friend of mine sent me this video today. I never get tired of it.