Maintaining Dignity in the Gig Economy

I deliver food to rich people.

Well, I’ve finally done it. I’ve become a participant in the gig economy. I signed up, went Downtown, a nice man took my photo and gave me a prepaid credit card; and now I have a special app on my phone. When I start to feel real bad for myself and my lack of expendable income, I just open up the app, swipe “online,” and I deliver food.

The people who use this app are much like you and me. In fact, they probably are you and me. They’re the me that ordered the tallest bong for under $100 one Saturday at 12:30 a.m.

They’re the you who is craving tacos from a place on the opposite side of the city—but you’re either just high enough or PMS’ing hard enough or maybe someone else is paying or maybe you’re just a rich bitch—and you NEED those five tacos so; you’ll gladly pay $45 for me to deliver them in less than an hour.

I develop an alter ego when I’m out driving.

For a while it was lonely, I’d come home, and my boyfriend couldn’t understand.

Now I’ve got a friend working for the company. Like old cab drivers in New York City, we pass the hours complaining to each other on the phone.

The restaurants we pick up from are generally a bit hostile. Rightly so, as we’re not allowed to tip the staff on our pre-paid credit cards. I could give them my own cash, but seeing as I’m not guaranteed a tip nor am I garnering an hourly wage, it’s risky.

I develop a slight disdain for almost everyone I deliver to. I wonder how people can be so lazy. How they can justify spending an extra $10 to have a run-of-the-mill vegan burger driven to them from eight miles away? Then I become grateful, as I remember that it’s benefiting me, and I’m in no place to judge someone based upon what they will or will not spend money on. The thing is, I’m jealous. I can’t wait to become them again.

In my civilian life, I’ve begun to see people as if they have dollar amounts floating above their heads, defining their worth, like we’re all in a video game. It’s a self-defeating mechanism, meant to inspire me. Instead I’ll panic and look into graduate degrees I have no interest in pursuing.

Stephen Levine, a spiritual teacher known for his work with death and dying, once said:

Which is to say, all of the people I’m so cripplingly envious of right now, those who can afford to pay for whatever it is they’re craving, those people I hide from at expensive Italian restaurants whose careers I envy—they’re most likely suffering, just as I am.

My employment situation, as a keen reader sees reflected in my current financial situation, is in a constant state of flux. A choice I of course made for myself, currently finding camaraderie among the other Hollywood creative types who drive around in battered old Priuses, delivering food, rides, groceries, and weed to the people they hope to someday become (or the people they, sigh, once were). It’s a privilege to be able to participate in this set-your-own-hours racket, no matter how much of a toll it may take on my self-esteem. Please note, I use the world privilege lightly, as in another forum I might find the enthusiasm and audience to decry the exploitative nature of the gig economy and the inhospitality of capitalism. But, there’s a time and a place, I realize this.

Anyway, as my boyfriend reminded me the other night, using words similar to what was once uttered from a young John Mayer’s puffy mouth,

So I get back in my car, and I hold my head up high. I turn on the damn app, I call up Logan, and I spend my evening helping to alleviate other people’s “suffering.” On an okay night, I’ll get insight into some former-alt-rockstar’s diet. On a good night, I’ll get to eat some French fries that were mistakenly given to me… and on a great night, I’ll be able to go home, get super stoned, and pay for someone else to bring me tacos.

Danielle Leibowitz is a writer and artist who cracks herself up in Los Angeles.
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