Rick Hess’ Uber Driver Speaks Out

Our guest author is Leo Casey, Shanker Institute executive director emeritus.

 I was out pounding the streets the other day, and a ride for Rick Hess at the American Enterprise Institute popped up on my driver’s app. Geez, I thought to myself, not him again. But I have to put food on the table and clothes on the back of my kids, so I headed over to AEI.

Ten minutes late, Rick jumps into my car, and starts in. “I want to ask you about…” I interrupted him: “Rick, before we get into what you want to talk about, I want to ask you a question first.”

“Minneapolis just passed this law which established a minimum wage for Uber and Lyft drivers. I thought that since you are always writing about me, you might want to write something about how we could use a law like that here in DC. It’s really hard for me to make a go of it as an Uber driver, even as a second job -- lousy take home pay for the hours you put in, lots of wear and tear and upkeep on my car, no health insurance, no pension. A minimum wage that I could count on would be a big help.”

“Well, I am pretty busy,” Rick said. “I have an essay I am working on about how namby-pamby women teachers aren’t tough enough on kids. It’s the time of year for me to write my annual jeremiad about the AERA. Lots of important stuff on my plate.”

“And do you really think,” Rick went on, “that a minimum wage is a good idea? Uber and Lyft might decide that they would rather do business somewhere else. I hear that is what they are going to do in Minneapolis. Maybe we should let the law of the marketplace decide these things.”

“But Rick,” I replied, “isn’t what Uber and Lyft are doing a strike? You told me that you were dead set against strikes.”

“Those are strikes by teachers,” he emphasized. “I am not against strikes by corporations: that's just the marketplace at work. Don’t you know that I work at AEI?”

Before I could respond, Rick was off on one of his questions: “What do you think about Biden forgiving billions of dollars in student loans to these privileged college graduates?”

I could see where he was going with his leading question, because even though the guy fancies himself a modern day Socrates, he’s not that subtle. But I just couldn’t play along on the long shot that he might tip me this ride. The thing is: I am driving Uber as a second job, on top of my day job teaching, because I have fifty thousand dollars of student debt, and the rate of interest makes it next to impossible to pay off.

So, I came clean: “I think it’s a great idea, Rick. It might make it possible for me to ditch this crummy job, and spend more time on my teaching and with my own kids at home.”

Rick clearly wasn’t expecting that answer. “Bbbbut, didn’t you take out these loans? I mean, no one forced you to do it, right?”

“Loans were my only path to a college education,” I told him. “My parents were working class immigrants from Ecuador, and they struggled to make ends meet. They taught us that education was the most important thing in life, but they didn’t have the means to pay for the education of their children. If I wanted to fulfill my life’s dream of becoming a teacher, and have a better life for my children, I had to do the loan route.”

“But if you hadn’t gone to a fancy education school where they spend all their time teaching critical race theory and talking about John Dewey and Paulo Friere,” Rick sputtered, “you wouldn’t have all these loans.”

“Not everybody goes to the Harvard Graduate School of Education,” I told him. “I went to Morgan State.”

We were getting close to Rick’s destination, but I had something on my mind. “Rick, something’s been bothering me, and I wanted to ask you about it.”

“Shoot,” he says.'

“Well, I remember when Florida first passed its 'Don’t Say Gay' bill, and you told us it was just common sense, because it was limited to little kids in the early grades who should only have age appropriate instruction. At the time, I was skeptical, because the author of the bill was saying in the Florida legislature that he wanted to make sure kids didn’t see books like Heather Has Two Mommies, and I couldn’t see what was wrong with a book like that. But I decided to give Florida the benefit of the doubt, based on your advice.”

“But when DeSantis and the Florida Department of Education extended 'Don’t Say Gay' to all of K-12, it was pretty clear that it had nothing to do with age appropriateness, just anti-gay animus. It’s been a while now, Rick, but I have been wondering would you write something saying that you were mistaken, and that DeSantis and Florida are wrong for their attacks on LGBTQ kids. You could even make it a dialogue with me.”

“Sorry, gotta run,” Rick says as he jumps out of my car. “We will talk about this later.”

I still haven’t been tipped.

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