My path forward, through the mists, maybe, probably not

Climate crisis


Fig. 1. Cartoon by Matt Pritchett in the Telegraph, November 3, 2021, fair use.

I think it’s generally understood that the the Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26) needed to accomplish something besides generating ever yet more hot air about the climate crisis. And George Monbiot has already noted the discrepancy between deeds and rhetoric.[1] But when even a cartoonist for the conservative Telegraph sees that discrepancy, you gotta know it’s bad. Really bad.


Pennsylvania

Despite my ongoing extreme frustration and rage with the job market,[2] it is, personally, a good thing I moved to Pittsburgh. My immediate family and I had moved here when I was in the middle of the fourth grade and then back to San Francisco a little before I finished the sixth grade; moving back here has helped me to resolve a number of lingering questions, some of which I didn’t even realize I had, about my life and about this place. I understand myself and my own personal story a little better for this odd little window into a time I was old enough that I actually still remember it reasonably well.

After over two years here, I have mostly re-learned to drive, so Pittsburgh driving isn’t quite as stressful. An old lesson from California is to never, ever be the fastest driver on the road, and I stick with that here, but here as in California, some speed limits are a lot lower than they need to be, and it’s nice to know I can safely ignore them—everybody else here does. For all the mistakes I’ve made—and some have been doozies—I’ve yet to get a traffic ticket. But the Pittsburgh Left?[3] Yeah, that’s still a tough one.

And one consolation of driving for Uber and Lyft is that I have actually learned my way around Pittsburgh fairly well, a feat that would astonish my mother, who grew up here. She tells me that when my father first moved here for graduate school—this is when they met and he ultimately washed out of his Masters’ program—he would get in a car with two friends. Between the three of them, one would drive, one had a map to navigate, and the third was tasked with watching for all the signs. Yes, Pittsburgh is that kind of a place. Still.

But Pennsylvania politics are distressing. I felt Governor Tom Wolf did a reasonable job with the pandemic—I’d have been stricter—but voter backlash has trimmed his emergency powers.[4] What I see is a bright Trumpian red ring enclosing mostly the city of Pittsburgh with Dormont, Mount Lebanon, Wilkinsburg, Sewickley, Millvale, and probably—only probably—Bellevue and Avalon. Even in Upper Saint Clair, where I live now, I look out my kitchen window and see two thin blue line flags, on two separate properties. My landlord keeps a Donald Trump campaign sign in his garage below my apartment.

It appears the margin of those municipalities is enough to keep Allegheny County Democratic.[5] And indeed, Pittsburgh elected Ed Gainey mayor.[6]

But while I’m glad I moved to Pittsburgh, that doesn’t mean it’s where I want to stay. If I do, and I ever have the money, Sewickley is a lovely town with a vegan-friendly-enough Chinese restaurant and I think that’s where I’d buy a house. As it is, I’m closer than I particularly want to be to that vegan restaurant in North Strabane run by a Jewish family whose patriarch is a brilliant chef but gets his news from the same sources as anti-Semitic white supremacists.

I’m not sure I want to be anywhere near Pittsburgh if Trump or his ilk wins in 2024. The Trumpian “fuck your feelings” and “make a liberal cry” ethos with testosterone pickup trucks[7] being driven recklessly down Route 51 is now only barely in abeyance. In combination with the gun nuttery, it feels like a lot of people here have an archetypal Wild West mentality.

Then there’s the lumberjack version of incomprehensibly toxic masculinity: There are a lot of places around here where you can go to get drunk and throw axes. Kids celebrate birthdays rarely by going to a deafening Chuck E. Cheese pizza joint, more often to a deafening “escape room,” where I gather they can engage in simulated combat.

You’ll have to forgive me if I alternately pine for civilization and a place deep in the spectacular Pennsylvania woods where I can ignore my neighbors. The latter is unlikely; I want better Internet access than is likely to be had there.

With the voting trends now in evidence,[8] if I stay in Pennsylvania, I wonder if I should move closer to Philadelphia.

Deb Erdley, “Red wave in Western Pennsylvania ring counties leaves Allegheny a blue island,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, November 6, 2021, https://triblive.com/local/westmoreland/red-wave-in-western-pennsylvania-ring-counties-leaves-allegheny-a-blue-island/


Public restrooms

Driving for Uber, I find myself holding it. A lot.

Yeah, I know where the convenience stores are that have restrooms. Yeah, I keep a supply of disposable urinals that I can use if I find a sufficiently remote location where I can also reasonably be assured of finding a trash can a few minutes, but not immediately because time is needed for the chemicals to do their thing, down the road.

But mostly, I’m in a sufficiently precarious situation as an Uber/Lyft driver that I don’t dare take a break. So it isn’t just a question of who we permit to be in public, as Elizabeth Yuko rightly points out,[9] but how we treat even those people we depend upon.

The answer to the latter question is, frankly, like shit. The pay and precarity are quite bad enough.[10] But the restroom situation[11] reinforces a sense that we are disposable, to be flushed down the toilet when passengers are done with us.

Elizabeth Yuko, “Where Did All the Public Bathrooms Go?” Bloomberg, November 5, 2021, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2021-11-05/why-american-cities-lost-their-public-bathrooms


  1. [1]George Monbiot, “Groundtruthed,” November 5, 2021, https://www.monbiot.com/2021/11/05/groundtruthed/
  2. [2]David Benfell, “About my job hunt,” Not Housebroken, n.d., https://disunitedstates.org/about-my-job-hunt/
  3. [3]Katie Blackley, “How The Pittsburgh Left Became Embedded In City Driving,” WESA, July 28, 2020, https://www.wesa.fm/post/how-pittsburgh-left-became-embedded-city-driving
  4. [4]Ballotpedia News, “The State and Local Tap: Pennsylvania voters pass constitutional amendments to limit governor’s emergency orders,” May 22, 2021, https://news.ballotpedia.org/2021/05/22/the-state-and-local-tap-pennsylvania-voters-pass-constitutional-amendments-to-limit-governors-emergency-orders/
  5. [5]Deb Erdley, “Red wave in Western Pennsylvania ring counties leaves Allegheny a blue island,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, November 6, 2021, https://triblive.com/local/westmoreland/red-wave-in-western-pennsylvania-ring-counties-leaves-allegheny-a-blue-island/
  6. [6]Julia Felton, “Ed Gainey declares historic victory with commanding lead in Pittsburgh mayoral race,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, November 2, 2021, https://triblive.com/local/gainey-grabs-early-lead-in-pittsburgh-mayoral-race/; Charlie Wolfson, “Pittsburgh elects its first Black mayor,” Public Source, November 2, 2021, https://www.publicsource.org/gainey-pittsburgh-mayor-announces-victory-moreno/
  7. [7]Angie Schmitt, “What Happened to Pickup Trucks?” CityLab, March 11, 2021, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-03-11/the-dangerous-rise-of-the-supersized-pickup-truck
  8. [8]Deb Erdley, “Red wave in Western Pennsylvania ring counties leaves Allegheny a blue island,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, November 6, 2021, https://triblive.com/local/westmoreland/red-wave-in-western-pennsylvania-ring-counties-leaves-allegheny-a-blue-island/
  9. [9]Elizabeth Yuko, “Where Did All the Public Bathrooms Go?” Bloomberg, November 5, 2021, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2021-11-05/why-american-cities-lost-their-public-bathrooms
  10. [10]Bryce Covert, “Can Anyone Stop the Uberization of the Economy?,” New York, October 18, 2021, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2021/10/can-anyone-stop-the-uberization-of-the-economy.html; Laura Forman, “Uber and Lyft Need a Sharper Turn,” Wall Street Journal, April 13, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/uber-and-lyft-need-a-sharper-turn-11618311794; Laura Forman, “Ride-Hailing Companies Get Some Drivers’ Ed,” Wall Street Journal, August 17, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/ride-hailing-companies-get-some-drivers-ed-11629200461; Laura Forman, “An Uncomfortable Proposition for Gig Economy Investors,” Wall Street Journal, August 23, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/an-uncomfortable-proposition-for-gig-economy-investors-11629754144; Laura Forman, “At Uber and Lyft, Ride-Price Inflation Is Here to Stay,” Wall Street Journal, October 4, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/at-uber-and-lyft-ride-price-inflation-is-here-to-stay-11633345381; Laura Forman, “Gig Companies Can’t Take Everyone for a Ride,” Wall Street Journal, October 30, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/gig-companies-cant-take-everyone-for-a-ride-11635602401; Andrew J. Hawkins, “California labor commissioner sues Uber and Lyft for alleged wage theft,” Verge, August 5, 2020, https://www.theverge.com/2020/8/5/21356096/uber-lyft-california-labor-commissioner-lawsuit-driver-classification; Steven Hill, “The broken business model of Uber and Lyft is taking a heavy toll on society,” Fortune, December 19, 2020, https://fortune.com/2020/12/19/uber-lyft-business-model-proposition-22-worker-benefits/; Sam Levin, “Uber drivers often make below minimum wage, report finds,” Guardian, March 5, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/mar/01/uber-lyft-driver-wages-median-report; Farhad Manjoo, “The Uber I.P.O. Is a Moral Stain on Silicon Valley,” New York Times, May 1, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/01/opinion/uber-ipo.html; Dhruv Mehrotra and Aaron Gordon, “Uber And Lyft Take A Lot More From Drivers Than They Say,” Jalopnik, August 26, 2019, https://jalopnik.com/uber-and-lyft-take-a-lot-more-from-drivers-than-they-sa-1837450373; Alexa Noel, “Revised MIT Study Says Uber, Lyft Drivers Make About $8 or $10 per Hour,” Points Guy, March 8, 2018, https://thepointsguy.com/2018/03/revised-mit-study-says-uber-lyft-drivers-make-about-8-or-10-per-hour/; Edward Ongweso, Jr., “Uber and Lyft Can’t Find Drivers Because Gig Work Sucks,” Vice, July 8, 2021, https://www.vice.com/en/article/7kvej4/uber-and-lyft-cant-find-drivers-because-gig-work-sucks; Jeong Park, “Fact check: Will Uber, Lyft drivers get paid less than minimum wage under Proposition 22?” Sacramento Bee, September 24, 2020, https://www.sacbee.com/article245931545.html; Jeong Park, “Court rules California gig worker initiative is unconstitutional, a setback to Uber and Lyft,” Sacramento Bee, August 20, 2021, https://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article253647838.html; Kari Paul, “Uber drivers plan shutdown over ‘poverty wages’ as company goes public,” Guardian, April 25, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/apr/24/uber-drivers-strike-ipo; Kari Paul, “Uber and Lyft drivers to join day-long strike over working conditions,” Guardian, July 21, 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2021/jul/21/uber-lyft-drivers-strike-app-based-work-gig-economy; Preetika Rana, “California Ballot Measure That Classifies Uber, Lyft Drivers as Independent Ruled Unconstitutional,” Wall Street Journal, August 20, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/proposition-22-is-unconstitutional-california-judge-says-11629512394; Rida Qadri and Alexandra Mateescu, “Uber and Lyft: woo drivers with stable pay, not short-term honeypots,” Guardian, June 20, 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/jun/20/gig-economy-companies-uber-lyft-drivers-pandemic; Margot Roosevelt and Suhauna Hussain, “Prop. 22 is ruled unconstitutional, a blow to California gig economy law,” Los Angeles Times, August 20, 2021, https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2021-08-20/prop-22-unconstitutional; Faiz Siddiqui, “Where have all the Uber drivers gone?” Washington Post, May 7, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/05/07/uber-lyft-drivers/; Faiz Siddiqui, “You may be paying more for Uber, but drivers aren’t getting their cut of the fare hike,” Washington Post, June 9, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/06/09/uber-lyft-drivers-price-hike/; Faiz Siddiqui, “California judge rules unconstitutional the measure classifying Uber and Lyft drivers as contractors,” Washington Post, August 20, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/08/20/uber-lyft-prop-22-unconstitutional/; Faiz Siddiqui, “Lyft built a brand on being the nice gig work app clad in pink. Its drivers paint a different picture,” Washington Post, September 21, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/09/21/lyft-driver-shortage/
  11. [11]Elizabeth Yuko, “Where Did All the Public Bathrooms Go?” Bloomberg, November 5, 2021, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2021-11-05/why-american-cities-lost-their-public-bathrooms

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