Modern Horrors

Could the sharing economy produce a new line of horror stories? After all, its basis tosses to the wind every caution under which older sensible Americans were raised.

Don’t get into strangers’ cars. Don’t let just anybody into your home.

So what are the two attractions best fueling the quasi-barter economy? Gig drivers and homeowners turning into hostel keepers.

Of course money has Americans chucking prudence. What won’t we do to make another buck? How soon until this rationale allows us to abase ourselves absolutely? Oh. Wait. I forgot about reality TV. There the truly talentless and extremely vain cavort and caper injudiciously before cameras hungry for ever lower levels of humiliation from those seeking tawdry glory and transient celebrity.

Two attributes which quickly molt into notoriety.

And aren’t these figures quite admired? In a mixture of amazed disgust and envy that is.

Besides earning another dollar, the surreptitious economy, I mean sharing economy, permits absolute amateurs, people bereft of any bona fides, to offer goods and services at steep discounts. One more age-old slogan Americans have cast aside: you get what you pay for.

Gig drivers have severely cut into livery services throughout the country. Any joker with any demeanor can now provide rides to passengers. On one side, the driver can earn beer and gas money. On the other, fares less than what professionals charge lure riders.

This is the kind of safety endangering calculations that make economists whose theories remove human elements warm and muzzy. The only entities truly profiting from this labor and the service provides are the companies’ shareholders. Sure, the drivers, here contractors, might earn plenty. However, real life far more often than not gives the independents the short end of the stick.

Sometimes they even get beaten with that stick.

All ride share companies do is broker rides between drivers and passengers. That’s it. After they take their cuts of the fare whatever passes afterwards solely rests on the driver/owner/operator. Whoever sits behind the wheel is responsible for fuel, maintenance, repairs, and if truly legit, higher auto insurance costs because the vehicle is now being used for commercial purposes.

Yes. Gig companies do trap the unwary with promises of imminent riches. Drivers had better be raking in pretty bucks because everything is ultimately all on them. Including unforeseen situations.

Wonder if the car breaks down? What to do with the passenger? Gig drivers can’t phone a yard and have a rescue vehicle dispatched for the passenger as well as a tow for the balky vehicle. And no, it’s highly unlikely gig drivers have emergency roadside service memberships. The flimsy nature of the business doesn’t provide an organization’s safety net. There are countless numbers of gig drivers. How many of them are in contact with one another in order to provide some semblance of assistance?

The only rescue would be to contact a livery company to pick up an otherwise stranded passenger. That adds time, inconvenience, and the expense hoped to have been avoided. Plus if the initial trip is delayed doesn’t that knock whatever dependability had been claimed?

The price of independence could be costly all around, no?

Since the ride share enterprises don’t bother with due diligence when it comes to drivers, their equipment, and whether car insurance has been upgraded, exactly who sits behind those steering wheels? Thanks to their employers being liable, at least livery drivers undergo vetting. Real bosses damn sure want to know about the people representing them to the public.

If you operated a business, wouldn’t you?

The gig drivers’ criteria for employment are simple. In fact, so simple applicants mustn’t even deal with humans. What part of the hiring process isn’t done electronically? The main hurdle is the automobile’s year. It’s condition. The later the model, the more pristine, the more better. As far past employment, driving record, possible criminal record, drug usage, fairly immaterial.

After all, since there are no face-to-face interviews, why bother checking the potential hire’s background? Therein lay the value of personal contact. Animals as humans basically are, we can often intuit aspects of those across from us.

The internet is good for masking what would’ve been clear red flags apparent across a desk.

Failure to vet gig drivers has put the riding public at risk. These next two instances may appear as apocryphal, or even propaganda, but each is quite true. Two casual at best acquaintances informed me of them. What reason did they have to lie? Especially when the latter witnessed it and an associate of the former a victim.

Here in Las Vegas, a limo driver on a night off decelerated at a bar. Occupying a stool beside him a man with his cell in clear sight and quick reach. Although the establishment a bar, the limo driver really didn’t find the other’s phone prominence odd. These days, entire segments of Americans seemingly can’t wean themselves from instantaneous communications. To these addicts it’s their favorite drug.

A barfly next to the limo driver hit the sauce hard. Shots and chasers. His observer’s estimation: somebody must’ve had a rough week.

An hour or two into the limo driver winning and losing playing video poker while solving his world’s problems one slowly sipped, one slowly enjoyed cocktail at a time, the other man’s phone notified him. He exulted. He joyously signaled the bartender in order to settle his tab.

Crumpled dollars piled atop the bar.

Curious about the other’s rejoicing, the limo driver asked the reason behind his celebration. Hurriedly and sloppily getting himself together, the subject responded he drove for a ride share company. He’d finally gotten hailed by a nearby passenger.

Afterwards, tipsy, he stumbled heavily from the premises into the dark Mojave. The limo driver’s coda: that was not an isolated instance.

If you use ride share services, if you swear by them, maybe that driver had been dispatched to collect you.

The second occurrence happened in Los Angeles.

Besides gig drivers who’ve lost their cools with passengers, become belligerent, and pummeled or sexually assaulted them, other perils exist for penny wise/pound foolish riders. One’s property could be at stake.

A pal of long standing blew into Las Vegas from the Coast. A senior production assistant, she’d landed several weeks of work here on a project.

Since the seasonal change had cooled the Mojave, we met and conversed over drinks at an outdoor spot. Our vantage also awarded us a full range of unguarded pedestrian humanity. Our table had views angled upon the establishment’s valet.

Taxis lined the curb from the sweeping entrance. Guests, visitors thronged under the awning’s shadow. Any sense of expedience might’ve had the latter filling the former and traveling – if not already having arrived – to their destinations. Instead, idlers crowding the front beneath the overhang were immobilized by hand held devices. Heads bowed, they anxiously followed the progress of whatever ride share car had been dispatched. When the right vehicle pulled up, its fare detached him- or herself from the waiting pack and entered who knew what.

This calving occurred continuously. No need to imagine the chagrin of the waiting and watching cabbies.

My drinking companion, a woman with whom I share plenty of sentiments and gray hair, queried about what we witnessed.

“When did money become more valuable than our time? When did we stop valuing our time?”

Questions she and I never would’ve been capable of pondering in our twenties.

That prompted me to give her possible scenarios. Prefaced by stating all those who use ride shares swear lower prices for the service are the main reason they’ve forsaken livery cars, let’s wonder if society in general obeyed that same trend. Wonder instead of engaging the certified, experienced, reputable, professionals, consumers and clients turned to any ol’ Joe or Jane who claimed he or she could perform the same task for less?

Why go to school or fulfill courses of study? Why bother with a degree? Since bona fides are becoming more and more meaningless, why not just claim as a complete amateur, no, not even an amateur, a pretender, a particular career?

People who can balance their checkbooks should market themselves as CPAs. Like to snip articles and glue them into scrapbooks? That should lead to a future in couture or tailoring. Someone who filets meat exceptionally well ought to be seen as a surgeon. Score high on video games? Why not advertise as a defense systems analyst?

My exaggerations roused her sought after laughter. She told me a Los Angeles story. Perhaps the tale could’ve occurred anywhere, but I like the idea of making it specific to Los Angeles. A New Yorker, I struggle to see Angelenos anywhere near as grounded and suspicious as those of us from the big city.

A younger colleague of hers was leaving town and heading to the airport for a flight to a film location. One of those distant sites selected more for favorable tax breaks than exotic scenery. As more and more of those involved in lower rung film production do, she hailed a ride share.

My friend’s associate is a stranger. Maybe she’s just talky. Or maybe flying makes her nervous and to ease her jitters she prattles. Likelier she saw the gig driver on a rung below her. Voila! A peon she could impress. She allowed vanity to motor her mouth. In any case, the woman spilled a whole bag of beans.

Her destination. The length of her stay.

Upon returning home, she discovered her house had been burgled. The B&E squad investigated. Among the usual questions, had she mentioned her impending absence to any strangers? I don’t know if she racked her brains, but the gig driver sat somewhere on the list.

Following procedure, the detectives checked those named. Lo and behold, the gig driver popped up filthy dirty. His criminal record ran the length of a proverbial arm. Moreover, burglars comprised his known associates.

Who knows how hard the cops sweated him? Doesn’t matter. He rolled over.

The driver had been specifically tasked to suss out prospective targets through his gig work then relay leads to the heavies for their evaluation. Precisely aware of homeowners’ absences, the gang took its sweet time, planned methodically, and executed fearlessly.

Until being apprehended, authorities calculated the thieves had made significant hauls throughout Greater Los Angeles. Unsaid remained the unknown number of other criminal operators using gig drivers to copy the same means of theft.

Both of us eschewed ride shares. Something about feeling safer with men and women who view livery as a livelihood rather than casual opportunities to earn beer and gas money. If it’s seen as a job, the task is taken with greater importance. Sidelines seldom match the same urgency.

We know this from being adults.

What we’re also getting to know is private homes being pimped by their owners into vacation or short-stay rentals. In this we’re of two minds.

I have severe doubts about the whole scheme. She’s a believer. In fact she’s subletting a house here in the Big Mayberry for her project’s duration. Should’ve been in town during July or August when she could’ve gotten way more use of the pool.

Historical and personal reasons cloud my favoring these person-to-person home rentals.

On one hand, utter strangers inside my home without my presence repulse me. On the other, inside strangers’ residences while they’re absent revives this former ink-stained wretch’s innate sense of snooping. What beats thumbing through strangers’ nooks and crannies to form pictures of the missing residents!?

Also, aware we now live under greater scrutiny, who’s to say the property owner hasn’t set up some sort of surveillance system? One not so much to detect intruders and protect investments but to spy on at-ease and unwary guests. Recording devices have been designed to be inconspicuous. They can be artfully concealed.

And while who doesn’t want to experience sleazy motel room fantasies throughout a nice, well-apportioned setting rather than a ratty hourly rental, do we really wish having such escapades available for cheap or free downloading? Admire the work of Chas Ray Krider as many do, just as many or more have no desire to be involuntary subjects under the sweaty lenses of voyeurs deluding themselves being on par with a noted fetish photographer.

Or on a more nefarious bent, let’s say some guests book a private residence through some online facilitating agency. Once inside they recognize those walls, the amenities within, will appeal to a particularly discerning type of visitor. Say, people like themselves.

While the owner may’ve been blind to the properties less savory potentials, these renters possess sordid sight and bad intentions. They’re the ones who set up the spy cameras. They affix a transmitter to amid the roof clutter, then leave, sit back and gleefully anticipate what antics future habitants may stage for their viewing pleasure.

If the apparatus is uncovered, the onus falls on the owner, no? Investigators aren’t known for being imaginative. They habitually go where evidence leads them. Possible third-party involvement would strain their deductive powers.

Little of the above is farfetched, is it? After all there are so many monsters among us. Today it’s also easier for them to ruin and destroy.

Technology and the indifference it’s bred have increased the possibility of thoughtless exposure. Once we were circumspect. Proximity to others’ potential embarrassing situations used to make us turn away. If that impossible, then internally suppress another’s horrid moment.

These weren’t the sort of occurrences casually dropped in conversation.

But today rather than submerge, or at least put the best faces on such incidents, our society seeks to upload, disburse, and, if possible, monetize them as well. Prospering from cruelty is becoming more prevalent in our times.

With so much of society’s private, okay, intimate, lives being funneled onto the internet, possibilities are rife that our unguarded moments could become content for a global audience of one-handed viewers. And in those instances, who among the involuntary subjects recorded will ever remain anonymous for long?

My friend, however, remains nestled in complacency. For her it is beyond imagining her image, her actions spread outside spaces she’s deemed contained and secure. The privacy we take for granted lessens daily. The people we expect to respect it feel less and less obliged.

The new game is to make hay from the most mortifying circumstances available. Yes, these have reaped a lucky few undeserved celebrity and riches. However, the wages of incalculable numbers of others snared in similar binds are unearned shame.

If it isn’t my friend eventually caught in such straits, it might be one of yours. It may even be you.

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