5835cc958f9c1-magnifiedDriving his Mazda 3 through the streets of Salinas, Mark Gurley, a 54-year-old fond of Hawaiian shirts, watches his smartphone chirp as he is flagged by a customer through the Uber app. He picks up his customer then drives them to their destination. This is a pattern he follows, around 18 times a day, every day, for nearly 100 hours a week.

“I love Uber,” Gurley says enthusiastically. “It’s one of the best jobs I’ve ever had.”

His use of the word “job” is loaded. That word is at the center of a controversy with 240,000 Uber drivers in California and Massachusetts who filed a class-action lawsuit against the company, arguing they should be classified as employees rather than independent contractors, and should be entitled to recover mileage and expenses.

Uber came to a $100 million settlement with drivers last spring. That settlement was then rejected in August at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and Uber drivers were directed to settle their claims through independent arbitration.

Read more at Monterey County Weekly…

I stood along the starboard rail of a fishing boat trying to guard myself from the icy wind and the frigid waves crashing on board. I kept stomping my feet and shaking my hands to keep them from going numb. We were on the Washington coast in late January working on a seemingly endless string of Dungeness crab pots. It was only 20 degrees, but the steady 30-mile-per-hour wind made it feel much colder. The pots were coming up stuffed with crab, but those crab had long stopped looking like little dollar signs. I was a world away from my old life, my old girlfriend, my old cubicle at the newspaper where I once worked.

It was 2:30 a.m., and I had been up for nearly 24 hours. All I’d eaten that day was three frozen burritos and a Styrofoam cup of ramen noodles. I’d forgotten what day of the week it was, because days of the week don’t matter when you’re fishing. The three of us on deck hadn’t said a word in hours. We retreated into our minds to cope with the misery of the night. I kept asking myself, “What the hell am I doing here?”

Read more at Salon…

Thousands of people mobbed the streets when I arrived in Skagway, Alaska in mid-September. Nearly all were nicely-dressed older folks taking pictures of the historic false-front buildings and the powerful snow-capped mountains that lined the horizon. I wanted to hike the 33-mile Chilkoot Trail then head up to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory for a night or two and back to catch a ferry out. I had less than five days, and to my dismay public transit ended service a week prior. I weighed my options as I sat observing scores of gray-haired cruise ship tourists wondering the streets of the historic gold-rush boomtown—most of whom would only walk the main street of town in search for a souvenir to take back to their luxurious ship.

A little more than a hundred years prior, tens of thousands of men and women came through this tiny outpost in Tlingit country attempting to escape high unemployment—as high as 14.5 percent—and a depressed economy brought on by a heavily indebted public, erratic monetary policy, foreclosures and the bursting of market bubbles unleashed by the wild animal spirits of Wall Street during the Panics of 1893 and 1896. No other time since then had the gap dividing the nations richest and everyone else been as large—that is until today.

I was like most stampeders, adventurous, highly indebted, educated and yet without great job prospects. I could have easily been one of those who struck mad with the prospects of quick riches outside of Dawson City, in the Canadian north. Like them I did go to the north to settle my financial problems, but instead of chasing gold I was chasing fish.

Continue reading “The Chilkoot Trail: A walk through history illuminates the present”