Friday, August 1, 2014

It's Not About The Mustache... Except When It Is


The Pink Mustache
Okay, let’s talk about the pink mustache. First, you have to earn the fucking thing. They don’t just give ‘em away. You gotta give thirty rides before they mail it to you. It’s not hard to give thirty rides—by my third day I’d done almost forty. It took another week to arrive, wrapped in plastic in a fancy cardboard box. They included a phone mount and a charger. I think that’s it. I left it all in the fancy box and threw it in the corner of my living room with all the other boxes. So what’s the big deal? Why don’t I“rock the ‘stache,” as the die-hard Lyfters say in the official Lyft Driver Lounge on Facebook? Or at least place it on the dash, where it looks like what you’d find on the floor after a fluffy convention?
When passengers ask me about it, my answer varies. It depends who’s asking. I’ll say I forgot it at home. Sometimes I say it’s dirty. Or if it had been raining, I say I took it off so it didn’t get wet. Or I just came back from the airport. Once I told these two drunk girls that I’d attached it one day, drove over the Bay Bridge during a wind advisory and never saw it again. After which I pointed out that the mustache came with explicit directions: don’t drive over 40 miles per hour. Which of course is impossible to avoid if you live in a city with a freeway.
The real reason, though, is that the pink mustache, despite its nauseating ugliness, has become the perfect symbol for the backlash against all “ride-share” services, not just Lyft, but Uber and SideCar as well.
The term “ride-share” itself is such a completely and utterly outrageous misnomer that it would be laughable if so many people weren’t buying into it. The entire concept of the shared economy is based on deception so the founders can avoid regulation. Everybody knows it. The companies know it. They call themselves tech companies, not transportation companies. Particularly when the shit hits the fan. The taxi drivers who protest the loss of their monopoly know it. The state legistlature knows it. This whole sharing economy could easily dissipate like a puff of smoke from an e-cigarette with one pen stroke. But instead, they set up what’s called Transportation Network Companies to give them a name more appropriate to the paid service they provide. Venture capital firms, of course, don’t give a shit. They’re just gambling on whether unfavorable laws will be upheld or reversed. Like betting on the ponies, but with politicians and lobbyists. Not to mention that Mayor Lee likes tech. Some of his detractors claim that Big Tech has him in their pocket. He certainly hasn’t done much to reel in the tech companies that have begun to infringe upon the rights of San Franciscans. Mayor Lee has pissed off a lot of people.
A few months ago, I began noticing RECALL MAYOR LEE bumper stickers on cabs. It’s not clear whether they are protesting the surge of ride-share vehicles or just his policies in general, but it’s undeniable that the cab companies and drivers have been hit hardest by the emergence of Uber and Lyft. Cabbies make about 30 grand a year. They lease their vehicles from the cab companies and usually start their shifts 100-150 bucks in the hole. Faced with a major threat to their livelihoods, they have been fighting back. And despite being regarded as less significant than Uber, the Lyft pink mustache is usually on most of the placards waved during protests outside City Hall. Circled and crossed out.
The fact is undeniable: the pink mustache is the ultimate symbol of an unregulated, scofflaw challenger.
Before I drove for Lyft and was just a passenger myself, I got a ride from a guy who had a pink shirt tied up to look like the puffy monstrosity on his dash. He said a taxi driver had ripped his mustache off the grill of his car. Since becoming a driver, I’ve read several posts on the Lyft Facebook group about cabbies yelling at Lyft drivers and taking pictures of their license plates to report them to insurance companies, or so the posters speculate. No matter what the motives of these cabbies are, it’s understandable that they would be upset. And I can hardly blame them. It’s one thing to know that these rideshare companies exist, but the pink mustaches most definitely add insult to injury.
That’s the thing about symbols: they can go either way. They mean one thing to the supporters and another to the opposition. There are a lot of Lyft drivers who happily drink the Kool-Aid and parade around town dressed in pink, waving their pink mustaches in the air as a counter protest to the cabbies. They defend their right to not just drive for Lyft but to promote the Lyft brand by brandishing the mustache at any opportunity. It boggles my mind how grown adults can be so proud of something so ugly. Do they not realize how stupid they look on cars? I’ve spent my entire adult life avoiding the need to wear a uniform and look like a jackass. I see no reason to start now. And the way I see it, I started driving without a mustache, so why not keep going without one? Passengers have a picture of my car and my face prominently on their phone. They know who they’re looking for. I can see them and know who I’m looking for. I greet each person that gets in my car by name. Most passengers do the same. There is no need for a mustache to enter the equation.
In fact, I’d say that 90% of the people I’ve talked to in my car about it say they prefer cars without mustaches. There will always be drunk girls who feel cheated when they get into a car that doesn’t have one, but they are easily distracted by something else shiny or bright.
“If you don’t want to rock the ‘stache, then maybe you’re on the wrong team.”
I’ve seen this comment in the Driver Lounge as a response to queries on whether to use the mustache. These Lyft drivers have no qualms about adhering to a group mentality. Most are also major sports fans, as evident in their profile pics and comments during major sporting events. So it makes sense that they would root-root-root for the home team.
But maybe they’re right. Maybe I should drive for Uber. Their drivers use a subtle neon blue “U” that illuminates oh so elegantly from their windshield. I have to admit, they look classy as fuck. But I’m sure my car would qualify. I’ve heard they have stricter limits on which cars are eligible. My Jetta is four years old. But it’s still in great shape and it’s the California Edition, so it has leatherette seats, a spoiler, 17” alloy rims, an iPod jack build into the dash. There’s a chance I could pass their requirements. But I’m lazy. And I don’t deal well with change. Also, the owner of Uber is supposed to be a real asshole. Maybe if I were to get called out for not using the mustache, or the mustache becomes some requirement—that is, if they are able to program the app to detect one on your grill—then I might switch services. I have absolutely no loyalty to Lyft or any other corporation, regardless of how they want to frame their corporate image.
That’s why I don’t use the mustache. Because I am the mustache.

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