When it comes to employment, I’ve been fortunate. For the majority of my life, I’ve been able to make a living while enjoying a great deal of autonomy.
In my younger days, I was a musician who helped make ends meet by working as a bicycle messenger and photojournalist. I got out of those endeavors just in time to get into tech where I created a popular website which was eventually bought out by a large IT company. This allowed me to weather the dot.com bust and to be quite selective about who I worked for/with.
A couple of months ago, however, I decided that it was time to look for a “real” job. At least one that didn’t require me to more or less take care of every detail and solve every problem related to every project. I completed the last couple of contracts I had running with my media company of 10 years, and I decided to close it out. I was sad, but it was time.
You see, I pined for a “company” job. One where someone delegated tasks to me and let me solve those tasks while paying me X number of dollars and providing me benefits. A job where I could sleep all weekend and take vacations without having to worry about the company going bankrupt. I didn’t really want the stress anymore.
With this in mind, I began looking for a job in July.
Oh my, what an eye opening experience.
I sent out resumes, got a bunch of replies, and went on a couple of interviews. I quickly realized that the insincerity of general life had crossed over into the job market, and I found myself in the midst of employers looking for a “ninja” this or a “rockstar” that. Procuring a job seemed more dependent on shamelessly hyping oneself than just being a good person and wanting to do a good job.
This was a problem for me. I am, quite possibly, the worst self-salesman on the planet. Let me give you an example:
I went on one job interview, and the person interviewing me asked “Why do you think you are the best person for this job?”
I thought for a moment, and then said “I don’t know that I am … I have no idea who else applied for the job.”
My reply made perfect logical sense, but the guy looked at me like I had three heads. He seemed genuinely confused. Apparently, I was supposed to say “because I am a team player with amazing organizational skills and a rockstar ninja attention to detail!” I was, quite frankly, expected to bullshit, and this made me uncomfortable. Perhaps I am a victim of my own sincerity, but I just can’t compliment myself to a stranger with a straight face. I don’t even know what half of those buzzwords mean. I mean, what exactly is a “team player” in a non-sporting context? The entire process just wreaked of phoniness and I quickly became very discouraged.
At the end of two months of searching, I received a couple of offers, and I accepted one of them. Days before starting, I backed out. I just didn’t think that it was a good fit, and I didn’t feel that it met my needs.
When it comes to spending 40 hours a week doing a particular thing with the same group of people, I’m picky. Probably pickier than I should be in the midst of the Great Recession Redux. If I was going to completely give up autonomy, it had to be for a job that I was feeling, and I wasn’t feeling it.
It didn’t look like I would be able to get a normal job with benefits. Perhaps I will never realize my dream of being a normal person with a normal life. It looks like I am destined to die of a stress-induced, insomnia-fueled heart attack at the age of 45.
And so, at the end of last month, I got the incorporation forms together. I am once again going to do my own thing. This time, however, I’m going to scale it down a bit. I’m going to keep it small. I’ll work with myself and two other people for a year or so, and max out with a team of 5 or 6. In doing so, I will concentrate in two areas.
1) Web Development. I started doing this as a hobby in the early 1990’s, and I went on to do some pretty cool things over the years. I think it’s time to once again perfect the craft.
2) Mobile Application Development. Mobile is clearly where it’s at. It’s the future of computing. As an Android geek extraordinaire with about 9 months of mobile Java experience, I think I would find this rewarding. Perhaps I’ll hire a more experienced developer for complex projects, and maybe even add an iPhone coder or two.
I may still take a writing gig here and there, but for the most part, I’m going to focus on these two areas.
New businesses take time to become profitable, though. At least a year, and possibly longer. It would be kind of cool to have something running during the setup and formation period. Something that doesn’t conflict with the business I am creating. Something that doesn’t require me to think too much. Something that would allow me to set my own schedule, work my own hours, and not have to answer to someone when I need to devote full attention to my startup. Something that provides complete autonomy. Most importantly, something enjoyable.
Tall order, huh?
Does such a job even exist?
At one point, I thought about busking. I considered buying a battery-operated practice amp, getting a permit at Pike Place Market, and purchasing an extra-large bucket for the huge tips that were sure to come my way. Then reality set in. This is 2011. People don’t want to listen to a 40-something guy belting out Mudhoney tunes while they stand around sipping lattes. They want something they can dance to, or at least something that doesn’t suck.
I combed the recesses of my mind. I thought back to my favorite job of all time … working as a bicycle messenger. Man, I’ve never loved a job as much as I loved that one. When you are a bicycle messenger, you have an organic relationship with a city that few other people can ever hope to have. You’re the eyes and ears of the streets. When someone in the city farts, you’re the first to smell it.
For a few days, I began preparing myself. I dusted off my messenger bag, wrapped tubes around my frame, yanked my 25lb chain lock out of storage, and began checking out courier companies.
Eventually, after some council with family members, I accepted the fact that I was too old to ride around the city on a bicycle all day. Thus far, I’ve been able to evade hair-loss and middle-age spread, but I have nowhere near the agility or stamina of my 19 year-old self.
There had to be another option, though. You can take the messenger off the streets, but you can’t take the streets out of the messenger. We can’t all get off the bike and go on to sit behind computers for 12 hours per day. What, exactly, is the 40 year-old equivalent of being a bicycle messenger?
I thought, and thought, and then it came to me. There is, indeed, a natural progression of the game. People who feel most alive when they are out on the streets, interacting with people from all walks of life. Cab drivers.
It’s more or less the same gig, although without the raw physical exertion. It brings the entire city under your purview, from the Downtown core to the outer fringes.
Not only that, but driving a cab also tangibly and directly allows me to affect the city in an overwhelmingly positively way. The job is a form of mass transit which instantly removes private automobiles from city streets, which in turn relieves traffic, reduces air pollution, and helps fight inflation by lowering oil prices. On a daily basis, one taxicab eliminates roughly 40 private vehicles from city streets. In some circumstances, a single taxicab can be a bigger benefit to a municipality than a single city bus.
The lightbulb was lit. I wanted to try it. I had to try it. My family balked. Driving a cab tops many lists as the most dangerous job in the USA.
They knew, however, that when I make up my mind, it’s hard to change … and considering my previous inclination, they decided that it was the lessor of the evils.
And so, I did it. I spent the thousand or so dollars in fees, sat through the 40 hours of classes, passed the oral exam (I was careful not to use my teeth), passed the physical, passed the written exam, passed the background check, passed the DMV check, and purchased the business license.
That was the easy part, though. Given the severity of the recession, cabs were hard to come by. Everyone wanted one, and some cab companies were not shy about exploiting this. One company demanded a $500 cash bribe just to get into a lottery, which at some point in the future might have afforded me the ability to pay them to lease a cab.
Finally, last week, I got going. I have a friend who has been influential in the Seattle cab industry for a long time, and he helped me navigate the maze. Long story short, I now have my very own car. A cool one at that, and over the past few days, I have tricked it out into a full-fledged iTaxi.
I mounted a Samsung Galaxy tablet to the dashboard which spits out data feeds 24/7, and I have it mounted so that I can easily type on it while parked or at a stoplight. I have my MacBook Pro riding shotgun at all times, and I have the front seat and steering wheel positioned so that I can comfortably work on my laptop while stopped. To top it all off, I have installed a 4G router in my cab that provides wireless broadband anywhere in the Seattle Metro area at roughly 5Mbs down/1.5 up. It’s the ultimate mobile office.
In addition, since my 4G router supports up to 8 users at once, I am now the only cab in Seattle that offers free Wi-Fi to all of my passengers, and if they so desire, I can turn on the front-facing camera and allow them to video chat with friends and relatives while riding to the airport.
But wait. There’s more.
Within the next week or so, I’m going to create a channel on Ustream (or a similar service) where I will broadcast audio and video live from the streets of Seattle in real-time. If passengers so desire, I’ll turn the camera on while they are riding, and they can participate in this little experiment by interacting with viewers.
I’ll have stories from passengers each day (I already do), and I’ll get pictures from all over the Puget Sound. If you think about it, it’s the absolute ultimate blogging gig.
Most importantly, at least for me, I’ll be out on the streets each and every day. I’ll stay in touch with the city on an organic level, and I’ll really be able to kick up my own coverage of the city. From SeaTac to Shoreline, from Magnolia to Redmond, I’ll be in every neighborhood at least once per week. I’m kind of excited about adding to my Seattle multimedia catalog. It’s my goal to have the largest and most complete individual catalog in the world, and I think I will be able to meet that goal. I’ll also be able to send up live photos at the touch of a button. The photos on this page were taken over the last week from my windshield camera.
My car runs on CNG (compressed natural gas) which means that when it comes to pollution and gasoline prices, my vehicle exceeds the benefits of the 40 cars it replaces.
This gig also gives me the ability to help people in the community whenever I possibly can. Yesterday, while waiting at a stoplight, it began pouring rain and I looked over to see an older lady standing at a bus stop … getting drenched. I coaxed her into the cab, and drove her to her home in the Central District, free of charge. Take that, Phoenix Jones.
On Friday, I got a couple from Dallas in the back of my cab who had me drive them to Fremont. It was their first time in Seattle, and they were early for their dinner appointment, so I drove them to the Troll, to the Statue of Lenin, and to Gas Works Park … free of charge. I have the chance to make a positive impact on the city, on people’s experiences, and on the fledgling cab industry which is already suffering from a crisis of confidence.
Also, while in my cab, the mother of all Seattle cabs, riders can choose to watch any video on YouTube, or they can listen to any song ever recorded by Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Screaming Trees, Love Battery, and about 50 other Northwest bands.
In any event, if you happen to see the Rexmobile out and about on the streets of Seattle, and you think you have what it takes — by all means, throw your hands in the air and wave them like you just don’t care.
If you’re lucky, and I mean really, really lucky — I just might stop to pick you up.