Baseballs in the street

Driving down Twyckenham last weekend, at the corner of Angela Boulevard, outside Notre Dame’s center field fence, I saw baseballs littering the street as though they were red Solo cups at Legacy Village on Sunday morning. If that’s too esoteric, let’s just say “off-campus party” and you get the picture.

It’s strange to write a college piece twenty years after being in college.

What would a collegiate writer say about baseballs in the street?  Something more esoteric?

Would my college self be concerned to know that twenty years later I’d still be unsure whether the balls were laying or lying there? Or would my future self worry him even more if he found I still did not care? That I would look it up only halfheartedly and with a sense of obligation to the long-dead masters of our craft? Would he mind that I would begrudge him for not having learned it then? (Obviously not, because he didn’t.)

Would he have picked up the baseball? Or let them all lie like sleeping frat brothers on Sunday morning? (Yes; No.)

I  steered my car over, popped the door open while waiting for the red light, picked a ball up like a sea turtle eating an immortal jellyfish (not esoteric if you read my blog frequently). Brought it home, put it on my desk. Thinking about how there just isn’t much profound here. I found a baseball and brought it home because that’s what you do. It’s what I always will do.

Maybe the key difference is that my quest for profundity is changing. I used to want it so badly. The atmosphere, I mean the very sky, was laden with it. It lies heavily upon a campus. Brick buildings dated in the early 1900’s do that to you, when they’re covered in ivy and you’re still roughing out a beard. So you want to chew that profundity like a piece of bubble gum, over and over, until it’s flavorless, and spit it by the weeds grown up along the backstop. It’s still gum. Like, profundity is no worse the wear, though you’ve sucked out the flavor.

Maybe I’ve done that. Life is profound, sure. But a baseball in the road just means it’s spring. I’ve seen roughly twice as many now and they are all pretty good. You still pick up your balls and carry on, but it doesn’t really mean anything that spring has returned. At least, it doesn’t mean anything more than it used to mean.

Also, baseballs never grow beards. So they’re symbols of youth. Who cares.

I still like baseball, but it’s been years since I just went to a whole game and sat there and drank it in like … hell, never mind what it’s like drinking. I just get deep droughts, you know. Metaphors are for people who chase profundity.

I need to go watch a ballgame, and I know it, because last week my son and I stopped for a moment at my alma mater to watch the boys play. This is what I see: Our side is batting, guy Strikes out, with a man on first. Then a grounder gets through the right side. Next, a line drive scores the lead runner. I turned to some men and ask them what score, what inning. I can’t read our dinky scoreboard. We are watching from the far left field corner, the scoreboard is in right. Bottom of seven, two outs, after that last hit, we trail by one, they say. A double into left center. Tie game. A play at the plate! We win! We win!

I jumped, arms in the air. With two outs my alma mater trailed 8-6, scored one, then in a matter of another ten seconds managed to win 9-8, and I was caught up in the moment. Now their record is 17-27, but 9-9 in conference. They are not particularly good, but it was a great seventh inning. Maybe that was enough baseball to satisfy those thirsts. I don’t have to drink as much spring anymore to remind myself of its cool, cold-brewed Rocky Mountain flavor. (Not a metaphor, just a longish adjectival phrase.) I never got drunk on it, anyway.

Finding a baseball in the street reminds us we can still get caught up in the moment. It’s not so bad.

Saturday night I picked up two guys. One played for Boston College. Left field. Lost to Notre Dame, I think, or maybe they won, who cares. Drunk, he talked with his buddy about his girlfriend who wants a ring. If I had to bet, I’d say he will marry her. How well will it work out? I don’t know; do you really consider an 82-80 record a winning season? The rest of what he said I figure is reserved for the sanctity of the Uber-confessional.

Maybe someday he will find a baseball in the street and scratch his beard and say to himself or even to his wife, well shit, look at that, wouldja. It’s spring again.

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Should I tip my ride-share driver?

Here I come in my Lambo with Godzilla, trailing flames. In my other life as a super-hero, I drive at night on weekends for a popular ride-sharing platform, keeping regular citizens safe from their worst enemy– themselves. The platforms say “no tipping” as a policy, and while I may have some vested interest in this, here are a few reasons why you should be prepared to tip your driver. I’ll also give you some suggestions, er, tips, for how much is appropriate.

Ride-sharing platforms are an interesting blend of free-market agorism (libertarianism) and raw, unabated, greed-driven capitalism. They fight against the legal system to allow anyone to turn their car into a business. They say it isn’t a cab and part of their argument could be founded upon the fact that nobody’s really making more than expenses. If they have to, in court, they could demonstrate that, I’m sure of it. The South Bend airport features a motto that “there’s no stopping an idea whose time has come” and ride-sharing has arrived. People want it. It’s not going away.

In that way, you’re really “sharing” the car, as if it was a carpool. But we all know it isn’t a carpool. It’s rare that I pick up a rider who just happens to be going my way. I’m not out at 2 A.M. to just have fun or to find someone going my way who will help cover some of my expense. I’m there to make money. But the platform pays enough to cover expenses, and that’s about it. What this means is I can make my car payment and take care of the vehicle, then write it all off, and that’s about all I get. Which is great. For now…

The way I figure it, the profit’s all in tips. If I drive 30 miles in an hour and get $15 for it, that’s covering my expenses. If I was charging you cash, I’d be asking for $30/hour. Even that’s break-even money if we’re zipping along a highway doing 60-plus mph for that entire hour.

Here’s my tipping suggestion. Carry some singles, and always give your driver a minimum of $2. A lot of riders in my market go only a mile or two. Might not sound like a big deal, but I can only do about five of those in an hour, since it almost always takes ten minutes to go complete a pickup, and deliver them a mile away, if not a little more. The longest part of the trip is often waiting for them to get in the car after I’ve arrived. Be ready to go and communicate your location clearly. (last weekend, when I requested a more accurate location, a rider texted me that they were “outside” and I replied that “‘outside’ is a very big place”.) At normal (non-premium) rates at that distance, I’m grossing $2-3 per ride, and that’s $10-15 in a really busy hour. I drove about 17 full hours last weekend, and only two of those hours paid out more than $22.

Add $1-2 if you’re in the car over ten minutes, or five bucks if you ride over twenty minutes to a half hour. A longer ride, say 45 minutes, you may want to consider $10. Remember, your driver has expenses to come pick you up, which may be equal or greater than the expense of taking you somewhere (that all depends how remote you are and how far you go). Either way there’s no compensation from the platform for going somewhere to make a pickup, which is not a big deal if the driver is five minutes away and you ride for 45 minutes, but it’s a big deal if you take a short ride. Five short rides in an hour means almost half of that hour is uncompensated.

Pay attention to how long it takes your driver to arrive. They are not dawdling. If it takes more than ten minutes, it means they’ve probably spent $2-5 to come get you. If you then take a short ride (under ten minutes) it’s almost certainly a loss for the driver. That means you’re what I call “remote”, and you may want to consider increasing your tip appropriately, another $2.

I know that the whole idea of ride-sharing is you don’t have to carry cash, and it’s nice that you aren’t obligated to tip, but until the platforms significantly increase how much they pay the drivers, it’s the right thing to do … and it will keep good drivers in business.

What I mean by good drivers is this: people who are conscientious and take pride to do their work well. Once the ride-share platforms begin to attract only the lowest level workers, people who can’t do math and realize they’re losing money; people who don’t care about you getting where you need to be in a safe, efficient manner, you’re not going to get much in the way of great service, either. Tipping will keep good drivers on the road. Tipping will make this a job people want to have, not just a job people do because it’s the only thing available to them.

Don’t let a driver tell you they won’t accept tips. They are taught to say that. Insist, and believe me, they will accept it. Leave $2 on the seat if you must. They will not throw it away.

Consider being ready to tip a larger amount in the event that you get excellent service. There are ways people can go above and beyond. They sit in a drive-through with you for ten minutes? Yes, the meter is running, but the pay for time only isn’t much. You can offer to buy tacos, and your driver may accept, but cash is king. They help you load something heavy into the car? They get you somewhere in the nick of time? What’s it worth to be treated like family to you?

Should you tip if prices are surging? I’m a little ambiguous on that. If it’s at 1.5 x, maybe yes. If it’s over 2 x, maybe not. Or maybe you should figure that it helps compensate for the hour or two that driver sat, doing nothing, just to be available when things got hot and you suddenly needed a ride. If that driver is your super-hero of the moment, then compensate accordingly.