Thursday, February 09, 2017

Laboring in the Chick-Fil-A Vineyard

I think one of the more interesting parables of Jesus' is the one found in Matthew 20.

In it, a vineyard owner goes out to hire workers to harvest his crop. Early in the day, he hires a group of workers, and promises to pay them a certain wage (a denarius), as he puts them (gladly!) to work.

But about noon, he decides he needs more workers, so he goes and hires more to complete the second half of the day, also promising to pay these a denarius.

Finally, with only about an hour left before quitting time, he then goes out a final time to hire a final group of workers. These he also graciously promises a denarius to join the (labor) party.

At the end of the day, when all the workmen gather around to receive their wages, those who started first are (someone understandably, to my twisted way of thinking) unhappy about the fact that those who only had to work an hour, were paid the same as they. But you know the story: The vineyard owner says, "Why are you grumbling? Didn't I pay you what I promised? Isn't what I pay those others my own business?"

I guess my struggle with this scenario has been the seeming inequity of it. A workman is worthy of his hire, after all. It seems unfair of the vineyard owner to pay some more than others, to pay some people a full day's wage for just an hour's work, when others have worked hard all day for the same amount.

I think the source of my discomfort comes from the fact that the workers are working for the vineyard owner. And we realize that, in this scenario, the vineyard owner is God. Does God truly reserve the right to distribute His grace unfairly?

One Long Night at the Chick-Fil-A

Recently our friends Jason and Hannah Comerford told us about an opportunity to win 52 free meals at Chick-Fil-A. The Christian-owned fast food operation (known for its solid Christian values) just built a new restaurant here on South Hill, and they always celebrate such openings with a promotion called #CFAfirst100. The first 100 people to show up before 6 a.m. on the day they open each get 52 free meals with a discount card good for up to a year! Sweet.

Jason and Hannah love Chick-Fil-A and they were excited about being among the first 100. The trick was, typically, people start lining up 24 hours in advance of the Grand Opening, which is when they open the Chick-Fil-A's parking lot and bathrooms to campers who get in line.

Jason and Hannah wanted to be sure they were in the first 100, so they showed up before 6 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 8. (Grand opening was 6 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 9.)

You may recall what Feb. 8 was like ... it was cold. And wet. Piles of mushy snow still on the ground. So, picture sitting in these miserable conditions for 24 hours, waiting for Chick-Fil-A to open, just so you can win free chicken meals for a year! But, that's what they wanted to do. So they packed up a tent, cots, sleeping bags, and lots of warm clothing and claimed their spot in the cold, wet, Chick-Fil-A parking spot. And they found themselves within the first 10 winners!

Later that day Martin and I were planning on having lunch, and on my way I stopped by to see how they were doing. When I arrived, shortly before noon, I learned that the usual crowds hadn't materialized and there were still about 50 slots open in the #CFAfirst100 promotion! Since I was hungry and the smell of mouth-watering Chick-Fil-A filled the air, I decided to grab my camping gear and join them.

After lunch, I arrived with my gear at about 2 p.m. and became #CFAfirst100 winner #52. Now all I had to do was survive about 18 hours of bitter cold, wet weather. (Mind you, by this time Jason and Hannah had already been on scene for more than 8 hours!)

Later that night, about dinnertime, we learned there were still a dozen or so slots available. So we began "phoning friends." One of them, Rebekah McKenzie, said she would like to join, but it wouldn't be until later that evening.

We joked about how seemingly unfair that would feel ... now that we had suffered through hours and hours of cold, wet temperatures (6 hours in my case, and 14 hours in Jason and Hannah's). That's when Hannah first said: "Yeah ... that would be kind of like Christ's parable of the vineyard workers, wouldn't it?" The lightbulb began to go on ...

... then it went off until 5:30 a.m., when loudspeakers began urging us to arise and claim our final prize. When I dragged my sorry carcass out of my warm (but slightly damp) sleeping bag and headed for my place in line, there was Rebekah! And also Samantha Naron! They arrived about the time I bedded down the evening before. And Rebekah said she was winner #100!

So Rebekah and Sam had to put up with about 8 hours of nasty conditions in order to get their 52 meals. I had to put up with about 16 hours ... but Jason and Hannah were there 24 hours!

As we talked about that, it occurred to me how starkly like the true parable of Christ's that was. In some senses, us hanging out in Chick-Fil-A's parking lot was work. But it was also fun. And, it was definitely a blessing. They had games, and good food, and there were great people to hang out with. I renewed several old acquaintances and made some new friends as well. (I'm still amazed at how many people Jason and Hannah already knew in that parking lot!)

Perhaps even better was the sense of grace and blessing. Rather than be jealous for Rebekah and Sam's good fortune (relatively speaking), I found myself excited for them. We all got the exact same reward, no matter how long we had persevered.

Jason and Hannah were there a lot longer than I was, of course ... which also made me realize how blessed I was to get the 52 free meals without having to actually suffer the full 24 hours of "parking lot life" for it.

It's not really about the work, is it?

This new analogy of God's grace has given me a renewed appreciation for Christ's parable. I really don't think His focus was the same as mine was, on "the work" completed by the vineyard workers. In reality, the day's wages was a blessing for all who received the denarius. And work itself is a blessing from God! Rather than grumble about the seeming disparity, the earlier workers should have been grateful to the Lord of the Harvest for being included in the party at all. And the newer workers of course should have been overwhelmed with blessing at their good fortune.

Grace all around!

Eat more Chickin'!


This event has also given me a new appreciation for Chick-Fil-A. This wonderful business is bearing witness to the culture in so many ways. Everything they did during those 24 hours was excellent and "in order." We even got to go indoors for a few hours, where it was nice and warm ... to pack meals for local homeless! (They supplied the materials, and the venue, and we supplied the labor. It was A LOT of fun! Not to mention their nice, clean, warm, spotless bathrooms!)

And the entire time, they had music and entertainment going. I noted with interest that the music seemed to mostly be instrumental versions of popular worship songs that I enjoy! Interesting.

Something else my new appreciation for Chick-Fil-A is doing for me ... it's making me hungry! Time for lunch. Chick-Fil-A, here I come!!! One down, 51 to go.

* * *

P.S.: Here's a fun article in the Puyallup Patch about the "First 100" event. The photo features my good friend and World Vision colleague Jack Laverty, who just happens to be the son-in-law of Elimites Gordy and Linda McCoy!

(So, if you want to eat more chickin', spend some time hanging out with the McCoys, and maybe it will happen! Don't come a-knockin' at my door, though ...)

P.P.S.: I apologize to Rebekah that in an earlier version I got her arrival time wrong ... I blame sleeping standing up. (And I'm still not exactly sure when Sam arrived!)

Monday, February 06, 2017

Uber Vs. Lyft

I have been driving for Uber since October 2016 (nearly five months now). Recently (about three weeks ago) I was accepted to also drive for Lyft. Simultaneously, I was certified to drive in King County, Washington, as well as my native Pierce County, for both Uber and Lyft.

Many people have asked: Which do I like better, Uber, or Lyft? And what's the difference? I thought I might use this blog post to try and answer that question.

Driving for Both Uber and Lyft

I can drive for both Uber and Lyft because I am an independent contractor, a driver for hire. Each company has very similar requirements, though in this county, Lyft is probably more stringent. (They require licensing in both Seattle and Tacoma, whereas Uber just requires Tacoma. Lyft also requires a Washington State business license; Uber does not. Both require a federal defensive driving course certificate, and also city knowledge courses, as well as passage of a vehicle inspection and background security check.)

The Seattle business license is more than twice the price of the Tacoma one. But now that I have a driver for hire business license in both Tacoma and Seattle, I can pick up riders in both Pierce and King Counties. Which means I don't necessarily have to "deadhead" it back from an airport fare, but can pick up riders on the way back. (This sounds great in principle, but I have yet to find any riders returning from the airport. There is a long queue for both Uber and Lyft drivers at the airport.)

Both Uber and Lyft use sophisticated apps for drivers. It is easy to tell the app you are available for riders. I typically turn both apps on at the same time, and wait for my first rider. If the pickup is within 20 minutes, I accept the fare, and turn the opposite app off for the duration.

What I Like About Driving for Both Uber and Lyft

Both services give you a great deal of flexibility. If you want to work, you simply turn on the app. When you are done, you just turn it off, and that's that. As an independent contractor, you are basically your own boss.

With both services, I've found you have the potential to make between $10 and $20 per hour. They both advertise that more is possible, but I have yet to figure out how to actually make more. So much simply depends on the luck of the draw: The fares you get, how quickly you get them, how far away they are (your drive to the fare's pickup location is totally on your own dime), what kind of gas mileage your vehicle gets (you pay for your own gas), whether or not the fare is picked up in a "surge" area (more about surging later), how far the fare is traveling, etc.

What I Don't Like About Driving for both Uber and Lyft

My main frustration about both services is that neither tells you (until your fare is in the car) exactly where you are taking them. For all you know, they're going to Montana, and once they are in your vehicle and you discover this, you are pretty much committed to taking them there. This is (obviously) a major problem for drivers.

One Sunday afternoon I wanted to do a little driving. My first fare was to the SeaTac airport, a 45-minute ride up from Graham. I got paid (minimally) for the 45 minutes up, but the 45 minutes back were at my own expense. (This is called "deadheading.")

My next fare wanted to go to Seattle. I made a little bit more on the ride up, but now the deadheading back took an hour.

I decided to take one more fare, and prayed it would be local. It was nearly dinnertime and I was quite tired. But they wanted to go to a restaurant north of Seattle. It took more than an hour to get there, and at least that much time (unpaid) back.

I had invested more than 5 hours of driving the three fares. I made a little over $100, but my gas was probably $30, so $70 for 5+ hours of driving. Barely over minimum wage, and I was exhausted.

What's worse is when you drive out a half hour to puick someone up, only to discover they want to go 2 miles. (They could have walked.) You make the five or ten-minute drive with them, get paid about $5, then have to drive a half hour back to your point of origin. You've invested over an hour (plus about $5 or $10 in gas) for a $5 fare.

This could all be prevented if both Uber and Lyft would simply tell you (before you accept a fare) their destination. But neither do, because they want you to accept every fare, even if it means you as the driver get the shaft in the process. Both services obviously care more about riders than they do about drivers.

Pros and Cons of Each

This major drawback is partly alleviated by something Lyft does which they call "destination mode." If you go to the airport, you can move into "destination mode," which means you tell it you only want fares that are heading your direction (home). You get far fewer fares, but at least you don't wind up with someone who wants to go north of Seattle while you are trying to head south toward home (and dinner).

But, in this county at least, Lyft has far smaller market penetration than Uber. This means you get fewer requests, and that you have to travel further for the few you get. I frequently get pings from Lyft to ask me to pick up a fare a half hour away. My personal cutoff is 20 minutes, but I have no way of telling either Uber or Lyft this, so I end up denying a lot of requests, and they chastise you for this (if your "acceptance rate" is "too low").

However, most drivers (and riders too) seem to like Lyft better than Uber. I think this is because their customer service is a little better, and there are a few things they do that make more sense for both drivers and riders (like allowing drivers to filter according to destination).

Lyft also allows riders to tip using their credit card, and Uber does not (although we drivers can accept cash tips from Uber riders).

Because Lyft's market penetration is lower (at least here in Pierce County), that also means Lyft riders experience longer wait times for a ride than Uber riders do. Which is probably frustrating, since they are paying a little bit more than Uber riders.

Surging

"Surging" happens when a supply-and-demand algorithm determines that there is a higher demand for drivers than there is supply in a given area, and therefore prices for the riders increase. I have seen surge pricing go as high as four times the normal fare, and I've heard it can go even higher than that under extreme circumstances.

In this area, Uber surges daily. I have yet to see Lyft surge anywhere.

But even Uber's surges are very unpredictable and temporal in nature. Surges often last just a few minutes, much quicker than you can typically get there. And by driving into a surging area with your app on, you may change the supply-and-demand balance. I've frequently seen surges evaporate in front of me as I drive into surging areas with my app on.

Also, the services inform riders about surge pricing, and they are often savvy enough to know that if they wait a few minutes, the surge might evaporate. So I've had the frequent experience of driving through a surging area, only to get fares as soon as the surge has ended.

This experience leads me to believe that surging is primarily a gimmick to entice drivers to get out there and drive. It's a rainbow to chase, that you can rarely catch. I have (by sheer luck) gotten one or two surge-priced rides, but such things are rare. So, mostly I've learned to ignore surging, and just drive when I am available to drive.

Conclusion

For me, the jury is still out. Both services are so similar, though there are slight advantages (in different respects) to each. As a driver, I'm perfectly happen doing both Uber and Lyft, at least for the time being.