Gig economy claims another scalp

Opinion: Columns

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By John Rice

Columnist / Staff reporter

In this crazy economy, I never know what my next career is going to be. I did rule out one job, though, driving for a ride-sharing company. That's because I had driven a cab in the '70's and had all of my cash stolen three times. I vowed to never again allow a stranger in my backseat.

Although I liked the safety and convenience of a cashless transaction, I continued to resist the ride-sharing gig. Then suddenly my cash flow slowed to cash drip. I immediately signed up and got my wife's car spruced up. 

The first day, I combined driving with a detective case. After I realized the person I needed wasn't home, I turned on my app. My first fare did not fare well. My GPS partner directed me to a fortune teller, while my passenger waited at a nearby train station. He was cool about it. He didn't even complain when I accidentally passed his house twice. My next rides went better and my last ride resulted in a delightful conversation.

The next day, I headed toward the Loop. During my cab-driving days, I wasn't allowed to pick up in Chicago. Now, I could operate anywhere. On my way downtown, I picked up a woman, who took me practically to Indiana. We talked the whole way and it took her mind off a family crisis she was facing. 

On the way back, I picked up two aspiring filmmakers and drove them to their shoot.  One connected his phone to my radio and we were blasting rap all over the South Side.

Then an engineer from Bridgeport took me downtown. This is when the craziness began. As soon as I dropped off one passenger, my phone dinged with another pick-up. It was rush hour and I reverted to my old cab-driving ways. I didn't do anything dangerous but made plenty of drivers mad.

After four hours of this frenzy, I headed home, picking up rides along the way. My wife was very pleased with my take. I had averaged $20 per hour, received a high rating and earned eight compliments. I was also exhausted and my right foot had gone numb. This reinforced my belief that cab-driving is a young man's game. 

In my 20s, I was accustomed to working entry-level jobs: nurse's aide, landscaper, dishwasher. Driving a cab had seemed like a step up, until I was doing it 16 hours a day. Someone suggested I quit the cab and become a bank teller. That was a good idea, because it led to meeting my wife.

I later quit the bank and took over the family detective business. I was doing well financially and loved being my own boss. After the recession struck, I needed another source of revenue. That's when I found my dream job, teaching and tutoring ESL students. I thought that career would last forever, but it ended abruptly after three years. People told me it was time to face reality and take any old job. 

So far, I've found ride-sharing to be much more exciting than most entry-level jobs. I've been meeting interesting people and have heard some truly inspirational stories. Thanks to my detective work, I have two skills that come in handy. I'm accustomed to connecting with strangers and I know my way around.  

I can't get over, though, how my career arc has come full circle. What could be next? Do they still need bank tellers? 

 John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries. Jrice1038@aol.com

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