Why do people work?

10013625_604662842941284_915045829_n

As I am awake as six o’clock in the morning preparing to drive pedicab for the Saint Paul, St. Patrick’s Day Parade this question is on my mind. I’ve received Social Security for my multiple disabilities for fifteen years now. There is no expectation that I have a job and for the first six years of being sick there was no way that I could work. My job was figuring out how to live but as soon as I could do anything I started working. One benefit to this is that I qualify for a Medicaid program in Minnesota designed for employed people with disabilities. Having medical coverage is essential to me and Medicare doesn’t really cover it but that’s another story.

Obviously the need for money is why many people work. It’s the driving assumption behind efforts to raise the minimum wage. People with a job should be able to survive in this modern world. For most people their job is their primary source of income but it’s hardly the only way to get money and perhaps not even the most efficient. You certainly can make more money panhandling than you can working at McDonald’s. The idea that if you work hard you will be financially rewarded for your efforts is a myth. In this modern age, for most people, working hard is essential for survival but it is no guarantee of great wealth.

Since money is essential for survival, if money is the only reason people work then the modern job is only one step removed from slavery. If money alone will get someone to do something that they wouldn’t do for any other reason, I don’t see how that is any different than bribery. That’s how I felt the other night when I had four stippers climb into the back of my cab all waving twenty dollar bills in my face. Believe me, I really wanted to help but as I explained to them, the law only permits me to transport three adults and even more important to me than the law was that I could lose my job. They were very disappointed that no amount of money could get me to give all four of them a ride. They also didn’t want to wait for another cab to arrive. They wanted what they wanted when they wanted it and thought that money was all they needed.

It is my belief that meaningful work, far more than money, is essential for human happiness. The work we do helps us form connections with other people and gives us an opportunity to make a difference in the world. Work is what gives us purpose.  Most of the work I do I don’t get paid for at all. Writing this blog is work for which I don’t get paid. Being a parent is work for which I don’t get paid. Being a friend is work for which I don’t get paid. I get paid for performing music but not any more than it costs me to be a working musician. Driving pedicab is the only work I do which makes money but if money was my only motivation, I wouldn’t do it.

So what do you think? Would you do the work you do if you didn’t get paid? If you didn’t need the money?

Advertisements

Power of love

So what really does make the world go round? Not in a physical sense, but in a philosophical sense.  I would like to believe that love makes the world go round. It’s probably a common misconception among artists and dreamers like me. A more realistic view would be to say that money and power make the world go round. A quick google search for I did for shits and giggles returned one-hundred and eighty-one million results for love makes the world go round. Money got one-hundred and sixty-nine million and Power netted one-hundred and eighty-seven million. I’m not trying to make any scientific claims by this; just to illustrate modern society’s preference for power.

The second season of Netflix original series, House of Cards started airing on Valentine’s day. I’ve been watching it obsessively ever since. It is a remarkably well written, acted and directed show. The story is captivating. The characters are complex and compelling but what has really gotten me is the overall theme. This is a show about power and power is a potent aphrodisiac. It is addictive and consuming. Money is power. Knowledge is power and if you believe Oscar Wilde, even sex is about power.

“Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.” – Oscar Wilde

To feel powerful is one of the greatest feeling in the world. I understand why people seek it. With power you can make things happen. With power you can forge your own destiny. With enough power, you can control the world and here in lies the problem. Power is a tool to create change but it has no morality; it has no conscience, it has no soul. To me, the means by which we obtain power is paramount. With money, with knowledge, with skill we can create great things but also do great harm. If what we seek is peace, all we need is love.

I cannot subscribe to the principle of, “by any means necessary”. The ends can never justify the means for in my world view, there is no end. All we have is means and if our means are not rooted in love then they possess the potential of being misguided.

There is great power in love but love is slow. Love takes patiences. Love does not control. Love takes understanding and forgiveness. Love is humble. Love is actually pretty fucking boring. Love requires vulnerability and risk. Love offers no guarantees. Love cannot make anything happen. Love can only allow nature to take it’s course. This makes love rather unsettling to modern humans.

Let’s face it, love cannot pay the rent. Love cannot put food on the table. Real people have real problems and love is not the answer.

My ability to eschew modern world forms of power in favor of love is a luxury. This is going to piss some people off. I have one friend right now who is not talking to me. To be honest, I gave up the modern forms of power because they didn’t work for me. They made me sick. I turned to love as a last resort. I turned to honesty because I had nothing left to lose. But you know what? I gained a lot. In fact everything I have I owe to love.

I’m not here to tell anybody else what to do. We are each on our own path. I’ve seen enough to know that I don’t know enough to tell anyone else how to live. Fight if you’ve got to fight. Just know that if you can’t fight anymore, like I found myself, that love has a place for you.

I will leave you with some words from Jimi Hendrix, words which have been spoken many times before and will continue to be spoken until this dreamer’s dream is realized.

Power of Love

Power of Love

Pay it forward

Since I started driving pedicab back in March I’ve been trying to figure out an economic model that works for me. I do the job because I love it, it’s good for my body and good for my soul. I need to make money doing it but if money was my sole motivation I would never do it.

My favorite rides are the ones I give for free, or at least not expecting any money. My second favorite are the ones where people totally over tip. That makes me feel good too. I usually I get a good balance of the two but one day a couple weeks ago I had a day where no one over tipped, but no one got a free ride or under paid either. Everyone paid their fair share and I made as much as I usually do. For some, that would be the perfect system and something to replicate but it didn’t sit right with me. It didn’t seem real. I want greater diversity. I want people to get rides even if they can’t afford it and I want people to feel good about paying more if they can.

What I really want is to be able to do my job without thinking about the money. What I really want is to be able to make a living by just being me and doing what I do naturally. I don’t feel comfortable accepting payment for services rendered because I consider the service to be priceless. The idea that you can get someone to haul you around on a bicycle if you give them enough money feels like bribery to me.

So I decided that no one would get to pay for their ride. I’ve saved enough money that I can do this, at least for a little while. In essence, that ride has already been paid for through the generosity of riders before them. My hope was that even though nobody had to pay me anything they would still want to. Since they couldn’t pay for their own ride I would let them pay for somebody elses. The belief being that we are all in this together and everyone does their part to support the community. It’s like I could never charge one of my friends for a ride but at the same time they have been some of the best tippers. I would just treat everyone like my friend. I thought it was a brilliant and original idea, but would it work?

Actually it’s not that original and it has worked. It’s basically the principle of “pay it forward”. Karma Kitchen and Seva Cafe work that way. There are numerous other examples of people paying it forward in real life.

Since I’ve been doing this for the past week and a half I’ve found it to be a pretty sound business model – at least for me. I’m getting the diversity of riders that I want and my income has stayed pretty much the same. Everyone who wants a ride can get a ride and everyone feels good paying what they can pay, even if that is nothing. Those that can’t pay it forward with money I ask to pay it forward with an act of kindness. Everyone has something to give and if we all do our part we can make the world a better place.

Post number 100

NOTE: This is my 100th blog post. I’ve known this day was coming for some time and have thought quite a bit about how to make it special. I wanted to do some sort of reflective piece discussing my goals and where I am on my path to obtaining them. Let’s just say that that goal, like all my other goals, isn’t following any prescribed timeline. So this post is nothing special for being number 100 although it is number 100 which is kind of cool in and of itself.  

I feel like I have some catching up to do. After taking 10 days off from driving pedicab to spend time with my daugher and focus on the benifit show I have gone back to it full force. Since last Thursday I have clocked in 46 hours driving pedicab. On top of that I spent 8 hours today delivering City Pages. That is an hour longer than it should have taken me but I was moving a bit slower having had only three and a half hours of sleep last night. My only day off was Monday and I wasn’t feeling very social. Writing is a social act for me so I hope you can understand why I haven’t written in a while.

I recall writing not too long ago about worrying that the pedicab thing might cause me to make too much money. That has not proven to be the case this past week. I actually did alright last Thursday and last night but Friday through Sunday was a downward spiral. Sunday I actually lost money. I’m sure that the company would have cut me a break on rent if I had asked for it but I’m not going to do that unless I have to. I look at this as a business and I’m in it for the long haul. Some days are going to be better than others and some days I may lose money. The important thing is that company I lease from are able to stay in business because they allow me to have a job that I can do, is meaningful and moves my life forward. Money is secondary at best.

After having a not so hot Friday night I was really tempted to take Saturday off. The weather was really kind of shitty which added to my difficulty getting in the mood. I went into The Depot for breakfast with coffee and a screwdriver. In came a group of cyclists that stopped by for a shot on their way to Tour de Fat. They were already half in the bag which is really where I wanted to be. If I wasn’t driving pedicab, that is exactly where I would have been.

I still went to Tour de Fat on my pedicab. Since it’s a biking event there weren’t many opportunities to get rides but I did get one.  It was a mother, her toddler and her friend who had come into town from Chicago to support her while her infant son was in the hospital with some serious medical problems. Along with them came a stroller, an umbrella and a couple big bags. It took an hour before they were ready to leave the bar then I drove them to the liquor store and pharmacy before bringing them back to the apartment. It was the type of service that could easily have warranted a hundred dollar tip but I refuse to be about the money. They paid me what it took for them to feel good – just like anyone else. I was just thrilled to be part of their experience. I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to be part of that moment.

I know that some of the pedicab drivers that are upset because I do some things for less money than they would and that by doing so I somehow cheapen the profession. I also take care of obnoxious drunks that other people don’t want to deal with. I also spent half an hour helping one of the cashiers at our favorite downtown convenience stores find an ATM so he could deposit money even though he didn’t have any money to give me. I also gave a ride to a homeless woman, clear across town, during bar close, because she had no idea where she was and needed to get to the shelter. I have no idea if any of this makes good business sense but it’s the human thing to do. I just feel lucky that I have the ability to do something about it. Still, at the end of the season I’m pretty convinced that I will have made as much money as anyone.

This weekend though, where I didn’t make very much, my thoughts were on how much I saved. If I hadn’t been driving pedicab and having wonderful, meaningful experiences, I would have been out drinking and spending money. I’m not saying that wouldn’t have been wonderful and meaningful as well but the economics would have been different. Hmmm… that’s got me thinking about drunk economics. I mean Freakonomics is already taken but maybe I could write a book called Drunkonomics.

I don’t know, I’m a pretty cheap drunk these days. Since I’ve been driving pedicab I’m not drinking as much, I’ve lost weight and my metabolism has changed to the point where it doesn’t really take that much to get me drunk. After working Sunday I decided to do an experiment and see if I could bar hop home without getting shit-faced wasted. I fucking love science!

Well the experiment was pretty much over after two bars and three drinks but I was still committed to seeing it through so I grabbed my self some White Castle and kept going. I don’t know why but as long as I’ve been a vegetarian I still crave shitty fast food sometimes. Okay, maybe being drunk had something to do with it, but still… gross.

Next I hit The Otter for some Karaoke. I requested to sing “Use Me” by Bill Withers but had finished my beer and whiskey before they called my name – probably a good thing.

From there I had my choice of bars to hit but I knew that it would be a good idea to put some distance on my bike before drinking any more. Jimmy’s seemed like a good call and it did wind up being a good time. Oh yeah, there was kind of a side experiment going on to see if I could get drunk enough to hook up with a random stranger. I was totally there but apparently not everyone was running the same experiment so I moved on. I had one more stop before I had to head home.

I did wind up getting picked up at the last bar. I can’t really say how that went south but I have a feeling it had something to do with drunkommunication. Anyway, I wound up back at the bar and biking home. I made it home just fine. I was pretty wiped out from the weekend but I was home safe… except I didn’t have my keys to get in the house. FUCK! I had them when I unlocked my bike.  Where could they be?

I tore through all my bags and pockets until I was convinced that I didn’t have them. I contemplated breaking into my own house. I contemplated calling the police because I was concerned for my safety. Crazy, disabled, drunk people shouldn’t be left outside alone at night… but then I realized that we are all the time and that I really was on my own.

I knew that my keys had to be somewhere between my house that the bar which was three and a half miles away. Chances were that I dropped them when I unlocked my bike so I headed back to the bar. I made it to the bar but couldn’t find my keys. I collapsed on the stoop feeling completely defeated when the staff started filtering out of the bar.

The bartender asked me, “What’s wrong J?”

“I can’t find my keys.”

He looked around the bike rakes and picked something up and said, “Are these them?”

“Yes, yes, yes. Oh thank you soooo much!”, and I gave him a big hug.

Feeling all energized I made it back home although I really was still running on fumes and swerving all over the road.

Oh well.

All’s well that ends well, right? Okay, so maybe drunken pub crawls can’t be part of my lifestyle these days. I’m also concerned that getting drunk is not a solution to lack of sex but that is why we run experiments. I’m still convinced that science holds the answer.

People before profits

* Oops, forgot to post this before I left yesterday.

This has been an amazing weekend driving pedicab. The weather was great even if it was extremely windy at times. The Basilica Block Party was going on Friday and Saturday and Kenny Chesney was playing Target Field on Friday night so there were tons of people downtown. It was one of those weekends where you didn’t have to look for riders; they were lining up begging for rides. I gave a lot of fun rides and made pretty decent money. There are so many stories I could tell but I can’t fit it all in here. Still, let me see if I can sum up what I took away from this weekend in a few words.

This job has done wonders for me in so many ways. I’m in the best shape of my life. Every week I get stronger; hill that used to push me to the limit now barely cause me to break a sweat. It’s also improving my social skills and my ability to connect with people from all walks of life. These are both skills that I’m going to need as I move forward with my dreams.

Where I’m still struggling is with the issue of money. I’m making enough doing this that I’m worried about losing my Social Security and more important my health insurance. My motivation for doing this job is not the money but it is so tied to the job that at times it can be hard to separate the two.

After the Basilica Block Party let out there was a line of people wanting rides. All the pedicabs was called down to the concert but we couldn’t get cabs there fast enough to meet the demand. Figuring I would only be able to get one ride out of there because I was coming from the complete opposite end of downtown I decided to not take a ride for less than $20.

Before I could even pull up I had two couples wanting a ride. The first couple asked how much to Brit’s Pub and I told them $20. They thought that was too much which perhaps it was but tried to explain the economics of the situation. Taking a pedicab is a luxury, not a necessity. It’s something that you do for fun even though you could walk. They decided to walk.

I told the next couple the same thing and they also balked at the price. I’m sure that within five minutes I would have found someone that would have paid that or more but I was already feeling bad for not taking rides so I told this couple they could pay me whatever they wanted.

We were only going about five blocks but with all the traffic leaving the concert location it took some fancy driving and creative thinking to maneuver around and through all the cars. I was still hoping to be able to drop them off quickly and get back for another ride.

At one point the guy in my cab said to his wife, “he’s all about business”. I think he meant it as a compliment but it told me that my mind was not where I wanted it to be. I wanted my mind to be on giving my current passengers the best ride I could, not on my potential next ride. I quickly refocused and put my attention on my passengers. In the end he still tipped me $20 and when I got back to the Basilica everyone had cleared out and there were no more rides. Things turned out exactly as I thought they would but it didn’t happen by focusing on money. It happened by caring for people.

Instant karma

Man I was spacey yesterday. I just didn’t seem to be able to get it all together. At no point was this more prevalent than when I was backing out of the parking spot after grabbing some food at Subway. I don’t know what I was thinking about or where my head was at but the next thing I knew I heard a crunch behind me and my van came to a stop. I looked back to see that I was butt to fender with a big blue SUV. I pulled back into the parking spot I had just attempted to leave and got out to talk to the driver of the other vehicle.

Out came a very distraught young hispanic woman. I told her how sorry I was and asked what she wanted to do. As it turned out it wasn’t her truck that she was driving so she got on the phone to call the owner. I stood by waiting to find out how this was going to play out. I was concerned because I was on my way to pick up my daughter from an appointment and I had no idea how long this was going to take.

It actually didn’t take very long at all. The SUV was blocking traffic that was trying to leave the parking lot so when I saw her pull out onto the street I figured she was just going to find a place to park so that we could finish our conversation. Instead she just drove away. I waited for a good five minutes just to see if she was going to return but she never did.

I felt bad because I really wanted to make things right. This wasn’t something that needed to be an insurance claim; considering that both of our vehicles were already a bit banged up it seemed pretty unlikely that there were going to get the minor dent fixed. Still, I would have liked to give her some money or something.

Yes, I was relieved that now I could now go get my daughter but I carried with me an unsettled feeling that karma was out of balance. I knew that I would have to do something to make things right with the universe.

Fortunately I have one of those jobs that gives me countless opportunities to help people. While biking down 3rd Avenue in my pedicab on my way to see if I could give rides to the theatre crowd when Pride and Prejudice let out I passed a woman crossing the street.

She hollered out, “How much do you cost?”

I circled back around. She was carrying a huge garbage back that probably contained everything that she owned.  “Whatever you can give me”, I answered.

“I don’t have anything.”

“Well, I guess it’s free then.”

I hate it when people ask me for a free ride, I just think that is rude, but I love giving them whenever I can. This woman was so overwhelmed that someone would stop and help her while expecting nothing in return. She simply couldn’t believe it. My attitude is that I am here to help as many people in any way I can and trust that the universe will provide me with what I need.

I must of spent half an hour with this woman. She didn’t know exactly where she was going and her phone had died so she couldn’t even look up the information or call anyone. I took her to Noodles & Company in Northeast Minneapolis which I noticed had outlets available where she could charge her phone. I waited with her until her phone charged enough that she could call her friend and then I waited with her until he arrived. She really wanted to give me something. I said that she could give me a hug which she did. Apparently, that was not enough because she began digging through her purse until she found a dollar to give me. I accepted it but later that night I gave the dollar to another person who was homeless and asking for money.

Five minutes after leaving my new friend I picked up a couple outside of The Bulldog NE. They wanted to go to the Gay 90’s for the drag show and wondered if that was too far. I told them, “Not at all, I would love to give you a ride to the 90’s”. They hopped in and off we went.

Once we reached their destination they asked me how much they owed me. I gave them my usual pitch about giving what they’ve got to give. The woman asked if a hundred dollars would be good. I said a hundred dollars would be very good. The man reached in his wallet and handed me one hundred and fifty dollars for the ride – the biggest tip I have received to date.

At this point I could have called it a night and gone home. It would have been a $60/hour night. But that’s not the way karma works. You don’t do one good deed for one person and the next person repays you. It’s an ongoing thing so I kept going. I took that love and gratitude and spread it around downtown Minneapolis for the next five hours. In the end it wound up being a $34/hour night which is still well above average.

 

For love or money

I miss you, blog. Sometimes it feels like you are my only friend. Obviously you are not, but you are always there when I need you – can’t say that about anybody else in my life. Of course all of my other friends are real people with real lives and you have no life other than the one I give you. Perhaps one day you will grow up and have a life of your own, but for now, you are all mine and I need to write.

My pedicab gig got cut short today as a result of the weather. Around four o’clock today it started down pouring,  a tornado watch was issued and more thunderstorms with forty mile an hour winds were expected. I thought that I could wait it out but the company was concerned about my safety and the safety of the cab.

I didn’t feel like I was in any position to argue, plus I remembered the tornado that tore through my neighborhood on this weekend two years ago. As it turned out there were no tornadoes and the winds that would have sent a pedicab sailing down the road all by itself never materialized. Still, it was a good call to come pick me up – you never know with Minnesota weather.

Back at the station I was talking to Colin, the 22 year old owner of the Pedicab company. The conversation started with me informing him that I would be in Chicago next weekend for a wedding and not working. He elated that this was one of the benefits of the job – you get to work when you want to. That is totally one of the things that makes this job work for me. There are very few jobs that I can actually do and I am very pleased to discover that pedicab is one of them.

I think the people who run the company are really pleased with me. I think that they appreciate that I am not just in if for the money but that I really enjoy what I do. Of course they also want me to make money and routinely remind me that I could make a lot of money doing this. In our conversation, Colin informed me that if I worked consistently, I could be making $1,000 a week.

Okay, even if you could do that every week of the year, which you can’t in Minneapolis, that would amount to $52,000 a year which I don’t consider a lot of money. After expenses and taxes it would be much less – probably $20,000 less. That still might seem like a lot of money to a 22 year old but to someone with a house and a family, it’s really not that much money.

When I was 30 I was making $80,000 a year and it didn’t seem like a lot. I think it has more to do with lifestyle than money. If you love what you do, then money doesn’t matter; if you hate what you do, money is all that matters. One caveat to that statement is that it doesn’t apply if you don’t have enough money to survive. Personally, I don’t understand how that can happen in a country as rich as ours but it does. Discussion of that will have to wait for another day.

I think Colin was curious as to why I would leave a job making 80K with full benefits to become a pedicab driver. His assumption, which was a good assumption, was that I didn’t want to do that kind of work. There may be some truth to that, but the way I see it: I loved my job, it just wasn’t the job for me. I believe that I wound up with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia because I was not being true to myself. I don’t want other people with disabilities to feel that they are to blame for their situation but in my case, getting to take personal responsibility, is what allows me to move forward.

I could see the gears turning in his head. I know it must be confusing how someone who doesn’t have the strength to handle a desk job can haul 400 pounds of beer filled art and music lovers around Northeast Minneapolis for 13 hours. It’s confusing to everyone; it’s confusing to me but it is the reality.

It was a long road to get here and I can do a lot more than I used to but I still can’t do a desk job. I can do amazing things if I am driven by love and passion but very little if I am driven by money. I’m not going to make $52,ooo a year driving pedicab;  I’m still hoping to make about $6,000. But thanks to social security (money paid by you and me) and the value that I have found in kindness, I can make that work.

%d bloggers like this: