Sometime in February—I’m not sure of the precise date—it will have been 21 years that I’ve been seeking work. And sometime similarly in April, because they gave us two months notice, it will have been 21 years since I’ve held a real job. I was 41 when this search began. I am 62 now.
In that time, I have returned to school, finished a B.A., an M.A., and a Ph.D. But the only job I have been able to find is driving for Uber and Lyft.
I’m now in Pittsburgh, where I can afford rent (with my mother’s help), but the potholes destroyed the car I drove across country in, leading me to fear for the new car I just bought, and so I’ve been considering a move to Erie, where even with generally older surfaces, the roads are in notably better condition. I’ve also observed that the Erie area seems to suffer far less Trumpist madness.
I’m out of my field here but I think there are two reasons the roads are better in Erie, even with harsher winter weather: First, they seem to be somewhat obsessive about sealing cracks in road surfaces. Second, based on my most recent trip, they seem to use a lot less salt, which may limit the freeze-thaw cycle that is so destructive to these surfaces, but means I am doing a lot of driving in low traction. It’s very hard driving and I’m thinking this is not something I can really do, day in, day out.
There are a number of reasons I find driving for Uber and Lyft intolerable. First, these are companies that show no sign of ever being profitable which means that they will surely someday, probably sooner rather than later, fold, leaving me entirely unemployed. Second, the low pay means I have no life beyond driving for Uber and Lyft; I am compelled to work every day. Third, the job takes a toll—something approaching 70,000 miles per year—on my vehicle, even without the risk of collisions, even without the potholes, and I do worry that I will end up with a vehicle that becomes unusable while I’m still making payments on it. This is not, in any sane reckoning, a sustainable situation. But fourth, having earned that Ph.D., I am clearly capable of something better. That I’m stuck driving for Uber and Lyft crushes my soul.
My situation is also what is called a “total situation,” because it takes so much of my time that I cannot effectively seek alternative employment or develop a network that might help me seek such employment. Not that that matters; I’ve gotten very few interviews in all this time and those were blatantly so that employers could claim to have interviewed someone besides their preferred candidates. In one interview I had for a faculty position, I was asked the very same questions they would ask a janitor and, bright fluorescent red flag here, not a single question about my dissertation or ongoing research.
Employers’ recent but incessant whining about a “labor shortage” when they still won’t even consider me merely adds insult to injury.
I cannot imagine that I am really this bad at job hunting. I cannot imagine even with rampant ageism in the workforce that I could not find a real job by now. But whatever the reason for this failure—and I don’t really know what that reason is because employers are all too chickenshit to tell me why they won’t even consider me—I need a way past it. Not knowing what it is, not knowing if it is even surmountable, I am stuck, in complete despair about what I should do.
Whether because of the car or because of my age, there will be a day when I can no longer drive. But it seems I am doomed. It was clear that no one in my old network cared: “Keep applying,” they said, some five years ago when it had been sixteen. “It doesn’t work until it does.” It is equally apparent that no one cares now. I am forsaken.
And so I am wondering, really wondering, what the hell I am alive for. If you’re thinking you should be calling suicide prevention, you need to be telling them or somebody that I need a real job. I don’t need excuses. I don’t need platitudes. I don’t need whatever fucking systemic bullshit it is that’s been keeping me from getting a real job. I need a real job.
- Alan Brubaker, “How do potholes form and why are they the worst in the spring?” Summit County Engineer, n.d., https://www.summitengineer.net/faqs/How-do-potholes-form.html↩
- David Benfell, “This is not a business plan,” Not Housebroken, January 8, 2022, https://disunitedstates.org/2021/06/20/this-is-not-a-business-plan/↩
- David Benfell, “About that alleged ‘labor shortage,’” Not Housebroken, October 26, 2021, https://disunitedstates.org/2021/05/09/about-that-alleged-labor-shortage/↩
- David Benfell, “To my friends,” Not Housebroken, May 14, 2021, https://disunitedstates.org/2017/04/01/to-my-friends/↩