Free Enterprise

Life is Funny That Way

One of the recurring themes I’ve noticed in New York City is that all my drivers have a few parking tickets under their belt. One driver told me he once pulled over to close his eyes for a few minutes, and woke up to find a piece of paper stuck to his windshield without so much as a courtesy knock. Other times, they tell me that, especially when they drive at night, they have to wait to park until 7 a.m. when parking is allowed again. 

My last driver, Anuj, has had surprise tickets happen so frequently that he refuses to stop for anything when he’s anywhere on the island of Manhattan — and some parts of Queens. He is somewhere in his mid-twenties with a case of bottled water and a six-pack of Red Bull in his trunk, so he doesn’t need to stop when he’s in the city. I can only guess as to his bathroom situation. It’s not uncommon to see men pulling over and attempting to cover up as they relieve themselves on the side of the street, in broad daylight, before carrying on with their work. 

Anuj was a long-haul truck driver for about a year. He’d drive for twelve hours, then swap out with his co-driver and catch some shut-eye in the back of the cab. His route was New York City to Los Angeles. But for all the time he spent driving back and forth, he said the pay was hardly enough to get by. 

At first the math didn’t quite add up in my head. He was paid something like $0.65 per mile, which was split between himself and his co-driver. Over the course of six thousand miles (there and back), which he said he’d cover in a week, that sounded like a pretty decent payday. “That’s nearly four grand between the two of you, for a week!” I said. But as it turns out, since there have been shortages lately, his time was spent not driving across the country but waiting in one place for days and weeks for there to be enough cargo to make a trip. 

He told me driving for Uber is the best option for him to make money right now. 

Unlike most drivers, he asked me what I do for a living right away. I often struggle to describe my job, even to my parents, because it’s not very normal. I usually end up just saying I’m a lawyer with ideas. He told me about the “million dollar pay” lawyer in New York, charging refugees forty-thousand dollars to handle their cases. 

I tried telling him I wasn’t that kind of lawyer, but he carried on anyway. I think he understood already, but sometimes people just want to talk to someone who will listen, so I sat back and let him talk. He told me about someone named “Millie” or “Margy” or “Margaret,” (I’ll just call them “Marge”), a New York attorney that takes care of traffic tickets for a flat fee around $150. “You don’t have to go to court or talk to a judge or anything. You just take a picture, send it to [Marge] and it’s done — you’re done.” I had heard of this kind of thing in Houston, where the attorney bundles multiple tickets together and simply makes a deal to have them dismissed, but it was interesting to hear this as a backup option drivers rely on to take care of the inevitable barrage of tickets. “Everyone knows about Marge,” he told me. 

But he also told me that even with Marge’s help, when you drive a whole shift with $6 here and $5 there, a $200 traffic citation or parking ticket can turn your whole day’s work into a wash. 

As we arrived at a restaurant where I was meeting some friends, he told me, “It’s funny how life is that way. I have all kinds of people in my car, and I help them. One guy was looking for a job, and I told him ‘Your English is good. Call this number. They’ll train you. They’ll send you to California. They’ll teach you to drive.’ And now, he’s texting me that he’s driving for them now!” 

I guess he’s right. It really is funny. But to me, it’s funny how much people can teach you about the world if you’re willing to listen.