Speaker by Various Artists

246

Talking past each other: Ideological silos and research

by Rebecca Gray

Last week I went to two evening launch events that had some subject matter in common. 

The New Zealand Initiative hosted a panel debate relating to its new report, The Health of the State, which sets out to examine the evidence for “lifestyle regulations”. The panel featured report author Jenesa Jeram, Treasury Chief Economist Dr Girol Karacaoglu, Maori Party Co-leader Marama Fox, and former ACT party leader Jamie Whyte.

Perhaps unsurprisingly for an industry-sponsored think-tank with a libertarian bent, the New Zealand Initiative’s report comes to the conclusion that taxes and restrictions on products that cause health problems (sugar being an example) are a bad idea or not justified by a strong enough evidence base.

The following evening, Unity Books hosted a launch for Dr Robyn Toomath’s new book, Fat Science.  Perhaps unsurprisingly for an endocrinologist, diabetes specialist and longtime advocate for action to stem New Zealand’s increasing obesity rate, Dr Toomath comes to the conclusion that a lot of the factors leading to obesity are genetic. The modifiable factor, in her view, is that the current environment promotes obesity so it is very hard now for those predisposed to it to avoid weight gain and related problems, and therefore there should be changes to the physical and market environment.

I’m not going to go into too much detail about the findings (or about the implicit assumption that being fat = a problem. I totally agree that shaming people for being overweight is awful and counterproductive - but I don’t think that was happening in either of these cases). The thing I am interested in is the framing: both sets of authors and publishers talk about choice and personal responsibility, but go off in completely opposite directions. They both talk about economic theories about choice and market regulations, but come to different conclusions.

Robyn Toomath says that “making weight an issue of personal responsibility is not only ineffective but harmful to overweight people and has allowed industry to get off the hook”. The New Zealand Initiative are of the view that any “paternalistic” regulations or “policies to protect people from themselves” should be questioned as threats to liberty. The foreword states: “until recently the assumption still remained that in principle, at least, consumers should be free to choose for themselves. This general principle now seems under threat by increasing attempts to regulate lifestyle choices”.

The threat, according to the New Zealand Initiative, is the government intervening too much (spurred on by pesky “interventionist” public health lobbyists using dubious science to justify their claims?). The threat, according to Robyn Toomath, is the rampant marketing of unhealthy products which the government is doing far too little about (held back by their ties to business-funded lobby groups?). These two are never going to agree. I know whose analysis I have more faith in. But I think it is worth considering both points of view.

I haven’t seen a huge amount of reaction to Robyn Toomath’s book yet, apart from some Radio NZ interviews and an opinion piece by National Party pollster David Farrar disagreeing and saying that personal choice was the point. But the reaction to the New Zealand Initiative report was quite predictable.

They got support from people like alleged Dirty Politics proponent Carrick Graham and pro-smoking/ anti-regulation writer Christopher Snowdon. Meanwhile Radio NZ presented the report’s claims within an article showing both sides of the debate, and attracted a bunch of comments along the lines of “of course they’d say that, they are a corporate lobby group, why are you even giving them airtime”.

This was the general vibe among left more left-wing politicians such as Green Party health spokesperson Kevin Hague too. Some commentators did address the report’s assertions as well as the organisation’s assumed inherent bias: Geoff Simmons from the Morgan Foundation promptly provided a succinct rebuttal of the main claims

There was not a lot of overlap in terms of the attendees at both events, which I thought was a bit of a shame. The sad thing, I think, is that people on each side of these kinds of debates are so ideologically opposed to each other that they can’t respect each other as people let alone as intellectuals.

Maybe that’s why I believe that the person whose ideals I relate to did a better job of presenting the relevant evidence? My tribal bias kicking in? I hope not, but I’m sure my experience at each launch event influenced my willingness to engage with the writing.

The New Zealand Initiative event certainly achieved the stated aim of provoking debate. I was appalled by pretty much everything Jamie Whyte said (possibly more appalled by the smug, “Richard Dawkins minus the science”, way he said it). I found the debate interesting but trending towards a debating club-style “let’s make clever arguments” vibe rather than addressing the actual health issues.

Some hostile undercurrents seemed to come through whenever a libertarian-aligned audience member addressed Marama Fox and her efforts to use personal reflection from her community to explain her position on health policies.

Robyn Toomath’s impassioned concern and Andrew Dickson’s personal and professional endorsement of her work the following evening came across as more genuine - but then, I was more relaxed at that event, standing in my favourite book shop surrounded by friends and colleagues.

The New Zealand Initiative ran their report by a number of academics and industry people before finalising it, but none that I could see were public health specialists - and certainly none of the 70 professors who recently called for a sugary drinks tax  were consulted. But I wonder whether those professors would even have agreed to be involved if they were asked?

The New Zealand Initiative do state that they are keen to talk to anyone who wants to discuss their findings, and to develop more networks in new (for them) topic areas such as health. I applaud this aim, but I wonder whether they will be able to overcome the suspicion of their motives that many experts and commentators outside their network hold.

I don’t think that anyone who produces research for a business-aligned organisation goes to work rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of sacrificing the proletariat’s well-being on the altar of big business. Neither do I believe that the “interventionists” among the public health workforce live for opportunities to impose their puritan morals onto the populace by curtailing their choices.

It’s a shame when we reduce each other to caricatures. Those of us on the public health side risk falling into self-parody if we keep blaming everything on “neoliberalism and corporate cronyism!!" just as those on the other side may fall into self-parody by overusing complaints about “nanny state” and “political correctness gone mad!!”. We do usually have a bit of common ground, but we're not going to find it by standing on opposite sides of an ideological divide throwing buzzwords at each other.

Rebecca Gray blogs at Choose Your Story.

127

Confessions of an Uber driver

by Ben Wilson

My first confession is that I'm an Uber driver. Actually, it's my only confession. It's been 65 days since my first Uber passenger.

It's a confession that has to be made, mostly because it surprises anyone who knows more than nothing about me. I'm not your typical Uber driver. Uber passengers point this out to me, pretty much every ride. I've heard every euphemism for "middle aged white man", and also for "not a middle aged white man", you can imagine as passengers struggle to convey their surprise that I'm ... "normal".

Their bafflement only increases as it becomes plain that I'm intelligent and educated and not broke, and don't have any (obvious) unusual personality quirks or physical attributes that would make other employment difficult. There's typically an "aha" moment when I divulge that I'm a student, although the bafflement tends to return once it gets down to what I'm a student of, and what I did before I was a student.

It's been a very strange part of the job to be finally doing something where practically every person I come across is interested in what it involves. Even more strange to be intensely grilled about my life as if I was the most fascinating person on the planet. It's through the rabbit hole to then get a 5 star rating and a nice comment about how much they enjoyed the experience.

So what's being an Uber driver like? I can honestly say, no joke, that it's most fun job I've ever done. Basically, I spend hours in conversation with people from all walks of life, listening to music, finding out what's going on and where, hearing about their careers or lives or whatever it is they want to talk about. Then I get paid for it.

Oh, and I drive people to where they want to go, for a very reasonable price, in a timely manner, safely and comfortably. That's the most basic part of it, the fundamental function, of course – but you knew that. That's the bit that I can't stuff up, the bit I absolutely have to get right. That's the bare minimum. That's the part that's so automatic, I kind of forget to mention it.

I've never been in a position to steer conversations so much as I get every night in my car. Oh, sorry, minor detail – I drive mostly at night, particularly the busiest nights, Friday and Saturday. Let me steer you guys now, to where this ride is meant to go. This, strangely, is not the first Uber ride where I've been the one to pick the destination, as the driver. Not even the first one this week.

So how about these massive price drops that happened on the other day? In case you didn't know, Uber made a whole bunch of changes in Auckland and Wellington last Thursday, all announced simultaneously. As drivers we found out no sooner than our riders, that as of ... that instant ... all Uber rides were now 20% cheaper than the day before.

Yes, I found out about my 20% pay cut only hours before it came into effect. Some of my fellow drivers found out about it in the middle of their shift. They suddenly discovered that the smallest possible ride they could give was now for $4, before costs, where earlier in the shift it had been $4.80.

These rates are being trialled. It's only for a month and, simultaneously, they brought in something I found interesting: 'Guaranteed' Hourly Rates. Auckland-only.

Also brought in simultaneously was an announcement that they had lowered the standards for driver entry. This is not just for Christchurch, where they had already done that. This is in Auckland and Wellington too, where up until yesterday, drivers had basically the exact same compliance standards and costs as taxi drivers, with only one exception: Uber runs the meter.

This was always of dubious legality in this country, but no one has yet been successfully prosecuted. This is hardly that unfair, since the meter Uber does run is a very fair and extremely competitive one, which is also back-checked against the meter held by the customer in their own pocket. It's pretty clear to anyone but the most petty bureaucrat that, as a metering system, it's a good one, and the law just hasn't kept up.

Furthermore, it's an opt-in system. You had to call the Uber to you using the app. You had to agree to the terms and conditions to even install it. In every fair sense, there is an agreement between the customer and the provider about what the fare structure will be, which is all that is technically required for a Private Hire Service.

In the letter of the law, however, this kind of service is meant to agree to a fixed price beforehand, or an hourly rate. Metering the kilometres traveled is not allowed. Only taxis may do that. The definition of a taxi is very strict.

How do I know all these rules? Therein lies what I really wanted to bring to your attention. To become an Uber driver, I had to get a P endorsement. It's not a particularly difficult thing to get, I just had to pass a course, have held a full NZ drivers license for two years, pass the practical driving test again and pass a full police check which involved scrutiny of my driving record. (Both here and overseas - I had to get all my records from my time in Australia 16 years ago, both from VicRoads and from the Federal Police. It took a few months, and cost about a thousand dollars, $400 of which were reimbursed by Uber.)

The course itself was a two-day affair, and naturally very simple. I had to learn what the law was for passenger drivers. All of the laws, including laws that don't cover my situation. I had to learn the laws of shuttle buses, and tour buses and school buses, and dial-a-driver services, and taxis, as well as Private Hire Services involving Small Passenger Vehicles, which is what Uber does here. The most complex of these by far is taxis. A great deal of the course was about what they are and are not allowed to do.

Quite a bit of the course was also dedicated to the simple issue of customer service and rights, particularly the rights of the disabled, and how they should be dealt with. Also, a lot about how to fill out log books and all the dangers associated with tired driving, and a whole lot of very stern (and righteous) warnings about the severity of the punishments you can face by not complying with log book laws and other compliance matters.

As of yesterday, drivers for Uber are no longer being required to get a P endorsement. I'm curious what you guys all think about that.

Uber drivers, from now on, could turn up without the proper license that the law says they must have, in a vehicle that also does not have the certification that the law says it must have. It will be enough to have a WOF, where I had to get a COF for my car. They no longer need to drive under a Transport Service License (TSL). They will not need commercial insurance. They will not need to keep a log of their driving hours.

Well, so says Uber – although obviously NZTA and the police beg to differ. Their position is that they will fine the hell out of people doing all that, anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 for the first offense. I'm really quite nervous about what tonight is going to be like, despite being as 100% compliant as it was possible to be yesterday.

For interest, a COF was really easy to get for my car, because it's a sedan - I only had to make one alteration, disabling the kiddie locks (or I could optionally have put a red sticker on the door saying it had a working kiddie lock). I glued them up, proved to LTNZ that I had a proper TSL that I was working under, and they gave me a COF, and I began work that day. Modifications to non-sedan shapes are bit more onerous. Vehicles like Priuses (which are most of the Uber fleet) have to have a proper certified luggage barrier to prevent luggage killing passengers in the event of an accident. Seven-seater vans need to essentially have the sliding door seat removed to make the entry way clear enough that passengers can be got out easily in the event of an accident.

As of yesterday, no such assurances will be necessarily made about a vehicle you book with Uber. You will have to check for yourself, if you are worried. Hint: It's called a Certificate of Fitness, not a Warrant of Fitness. If it has one of those, it's functionally the same as a taxi. If it doesn't, all bets are off.

The pay cut, I have no real objection to. Not yet anyway. It's a suck-it-and-see moment. Maybe the rising demand will cover the 20% less earnings per trip. I'll be working 20% more, but since I enjoy the work, I'm not expecting that to be that much more terrible. Although this nagging back pain that's reared its ugly head might temper that some, if I pretty much won't be able to spend as much time outside of the vehicle as I used to.

But these safety related cuts ...? Guys? Just to get drivers on the road faster, we're now going to be breaking the safety laws? Because the neverending stream of people signing up for Uber at the office every time I go there just isn't enough? Or is it the cost of reimbursing them for the course?

The changes are naturally, welcomed by most riders. The Herald responded fairly positively, although the reporter also noted that the Government has undertaken a sweeping review, and reports the proposed changes, but unfortunately only mentions the things that are already the law. The actual changes remove some of the lesser requirements.

Unfortunately, there's a bit of a disconnect between Uber's policy and all of this. Ridesharing is specifically mentioned in this Ministry of Transport Q&A, and it specifically says that the service must pass all the same compliance as any other Small Passenger Service. In other words, drivers will still need P Endorsements, COFs, an organisation that is their employer, etc.

These changes, of course, have not yet come into effect. Probably in 2017. So right now, the law is still as it was. It's still illegal to drive someone “for hire or reward” without having a P Endorsement in this country. All Uber drivers, up until Thursday, had one of those. I have one.

I'm going to cut this ride off here. You can have another one if you like, there's plenty more to say about this strange phenomenon known as Uber, and no time to say it. Please leave a comment! I want to know what the hive mind thinks about this, so I won't mediate with my own opinion on it – you have some of the facts now.

It's my intention to make this the first of a series of posts on the topic of Ubering, should enough interest be generated. Future possible topics: uberASSIST. Surge Pricing. How much we get paid. Tricks and traps. Best ride anecdotes. The future. The perfect playlist. Taxi Wars. Is it safe? The rating system.

Cheers guys. Have a mint. Please, don't chunder in here. 5 stars are given out liberally.

33

Banking on a relationship

by Colin Jackson

Dear Kiwibank,

It’s not you, it’s me. I guess I wanted more from our relationship, and I thought you were serious, but I see now that it could never have worked. My mistake, and I’m sorry. I hope we can both move on.

When my previous business credit card went off with someone else, I didn’t just go for the first one on the rebound. Maybe that was a mistake. Instead, I wooed you, and it was a lengthy chase, but anything worth catching is worth chasing, right? And I liked the idea that you are owned in New Zealand. In a way, you were mine already.

Of course there were problems as we got to know each other. My wife wasn’t at all happy that you put “Number 2” in the middle of her name on her copy of the card. But we gradually got comfortable with each other, despite the odd harsh word and awkward moment.

After a few months we had a nice thing going, or so I thought. I finally got my regular bills moved over to pay from your card, and I took your card with me as I travelled overseas to some of the unusual places I work in. It worked just fine.

Fast forward to March this year. We had got comfortable with each other. I went to Canada on a business trip, used your card to get from the airport just fine, then a few days later tried to check out of my hotel. Big problem – the card was declined, the hotel bill wasn’t paid, even though I had the money available. No matter, I knew you’d wouldn’t let me down – I’d call you to ask you to sort it out. You were asleep, then you went on holiday for Easter. My flight was the next day. What to do? I’m not used to having someone I trust abandon me among strangers.

You didn’t answer my email for days, but when you did you sounded reasonable. You didn’t quite say sorry, but you wanted me to see it from your point of view. Even though I’d travelled with your card before, you said you weren’t sure why I was away and you thought it safer to to wait until I called you. You said you’d tried to call me on a landline I haven’t had for years, no matter that I’d given you my up to date number and email when I asked you for the card. You told me that your Daddy doesn’t give you enough allowance to afford to support your cards all the time like the other banks. I sort of accepted that, even though I was still hurting from your rejection.

A week or so later I got a bill from Spark. It had a late payment fee on it – you had dishonoured my card when Spark was trying to get payment and Spark charged me for it. I asked you if you would at least cover the extra cost you’d put me to – never mind the anguish. You said no.

Other banks refund costs they cause people when they make errors. Obviously you aren’t prepared to do that. Perhaps that’s another aspect of the folksy New Zealand brand you like to show off, along with not providing out of hours support. From my point of view, it makes you not just someone with bad service, but an actual problem to be managed. I have enough of those already, I don’t need any more.

I’ve tried as much as I can in this relationship. I’ve bent over backward. But you don’t see that. I I realise now that you see me as someone to be dealt with from 9 to 5 after a long call centre wait, looked after in a haphazard fashion, and really not anyone worth troubling about at all.

That’s not enough for me, it really isn’t. After what we’ve been through, I want more. I expect you to care a bit. That’s obviously not happening.

So, this is it. I’m sorry it had to come to this, I really am. I’ll be looking for another card as soon as I get back. Like I say, it’s my fault – I probably expected too much.

Let’s try to stay friends.

18

Banning begging will be about as effective as banning breathing

by Six

Auckland mayoral candidate Mark Thomas has promised to introduce a new bylaw to prohibit begging in Auckland. Banning begging will be about as effective as banning breathing.

Not only is it the last bastion of the broken and bent, but human nature means most of us also want to help.

From my observation, Street People are as cunning as a Remuera rat and as wily as a Penthouse fox.

Not all are receiving a benefit or appropriate mental health care or addressing addictions. A lot of homeless people are not literate enough to read this rant, let alone comply with Work and Income paperwork.

Street characters are not generally on the streets because they are socially compliant.

Some Streeties are pathological, antisocial parasites.

Many others, however, are just disenfranchised, separated from their community and lack the support needed for any success. 

Most of these people are simply trying to pass time in the most profitable manner possible.

Sure, take away begging. No one wants to see or surrender to soliciting. 

But give the central city rough community a hub, a marae-style centre where anyone can go to learn artisan skills such as knitting, weaving, pottery and music.  Second, find a vacant warehouse and enlist some of our skilled graduates as mentors, tutors and admin.

Start by promoting existing free courses, and have people on the streets to talk to people and point them in the way of something more productive for the entire community.

Surely we would rather buy a handcrafted beanie or scarf, kit bag or candle than throw a coin into cup?

To remove begging and poverty you have to give people options.

Adjunct:

According to information released under the Local Government Official Information ACT, The Counci's The Long Term Plan (LTP) 2015-2025 allocated $360,000 for year one and two (2015/16 and 2016/17) and $110,000 for year three ($2017/18).

The funds are to support emergency housing and homelessness initiatives.

To date, the Council has given $25k to the Auckland City Mission, allocated a further $35k to be divided between The Salvation Army and consumed an operating budget of $58k.

Six has lived on the streets at various times and writes about that and other things at Tranzspotting.

37

Her outdoors

by Six

Other than it being night, I have no other reference to day, week or month.

It is either mid evening or mid week, autumn or spring, judging by the light or lack thereof, the scant activity on the avenue and a balmy breeze from the west. 

It could even be early dawn.

And by dawn I mean dusk.

Days melt into weeks, weeks to months, months to a lifetime. Day fades to night, night breaks into daylight and it all rolls over again and again. It is all the same, merely the players that change.

Base camp, outside Merge Cafe on Karangahape Rd, had to be abandoned due to wet weather. It leaks like an old man under the awning outside said stoop.

It is drier and better sheltered outside the dispensary further east. 

It is unfortunately a pedestrian highway which attracts anyone and everyone who wants to skulk, stagger or saunter.

Next door are two kebab stores, a bottle shop, a convenience store and twin nightclubs.

The whole area has more cameras than the Playboy Mansion.

It is a hotbed of hookers, drunks, deviants and the despicable.

Police patrols and private security guards secure the streets and give me some degree of safety.

My only real problem is privacy.

Because I'm sleeping in plain view, I can't discriminate.

Anyone and everyone joins me on the green nylon otherwise known as home. 

For better or worse, I buy most of my kit from the Army Surplus store. Ex-army gear is usually of a high quality, affordable and olive.

I've had a NZ flag sewn onto my bivvy bag, an outer weather-resistant nylon skin.

Hopefully this will stop drunks urinating on me.

Sometimes I think of myself as an urban commando.

I pack, repack, remove and refine.

All day, every day.

I'm wearing black Levi stovepipes, cherry red 18-hole Doc Martens and a light singlet.

It is a constant question: 'Do I need this?'

I weigh 80kg and 5kg of that is hair, pack weighs about 35kg (give or take) and guitar and amp tip the scales at around 18kg.

Anything not used daily is discarded.

I am constantly arguing with myself about the guitar. But I figure it is only a matter of time before it is stolen so I might as well enjoy it.

I'm a firm believer that music creates positive vibrations. 

Sometimes when you are homeless the hardest thing is to be positive. Music helps.

The only clothes I carry are the ones currently worn. Underwear is a luxury, and not part of the commando couture. It is a constant war against weight.

Being unable to secure personal belongings means you lose stuff.

You have to either stash your belongings and risk their removal, or carry your load like a turtle or snail.

The number of times I have seen grown men, and women in tears after losing their loot. Hard men and hardened wenches, men who've been working this rodeo some time, in complete despair.  Women who wield weight in the underworld, stripped of whatever comforts can be carried.

When you don't have a lot, it is easy to lose the lot.

Sometimes it is other street people raiding another's plot or Council contractors clearing out anything deemed undesirable. Opportunist thieves, scumbags, scags and slags scalping the bald. 

Why be homeless? 

Accommodation options for the Auckland discarded, disenfranchised and disheartened are limited and secure locker space prohibitively expensive, unavailable or untenable.  

Not many, if any, leaseholders want to take on an unemployed, dysfunctional or otherwise undesirable flatmate.

Numerous street people have mental health issues, drug and alcohol addictions, poor literacy and a lack of basic social skills.

Many others don't.

Some streeties are postgraduate students, former professionals, academics, artists and idealists.

One K' Road character has more than half a million dollars in the bank. Yet living with terminal illness, he chooses to sleep rough so as not to waste money on rent, and experience as much as life has to offer, all day, everyday.

If homelessness is a choice, it is a choice of few options.  

According to the Lifewise and Auckland City Mission report on homelessness 2015, almost 400 people are sleeping rough within a five 5km radius of Sky City.  A higher density of doorway dwellers than New York or London.

The reality for many low and no income earners is a room the size of a hen house for up to 90 per cent of your benefit or daily hustle.

An accomplished panhandler can hustle more than $400 a day. Most probably make enough for a few drinks and poison of preference.

Most, if not all, fundraising will be spent on illicit activities and dodgy deals.

Personal experience, tales from the trenches and the tell-tale scabs of the regular suspects tell me the average central city hotel, hostel or boarding house will offer you the company of pedophiles, junkies and drunks, hookers, lice, bed bugs and all manner of objectionable activity. 

Once you have enjoyed the comforts of the average boarding home, hostel or hotel, the asphalt starts to appeal.

Great outdoor-outdoor flow. Free wifi (if you can convince the kebab store to give you the password), air conditioning, free sky . . .

The trick is to have an address to give to WINZ, so you can still get an accommodation allowance.

Sleeping rough does not preclude you from receiving a benefit.

A single person living hard is entitled to around $170 per week.

An accommodation allowance can bump that up to more than $300.

You need someone who is not on a benefit to say you are living with them. Otherwise cross referencing will result in a benefit adjustment for all parties concerned.

But sleeping in public view comes with pitfalls and problems.

You have no privacy and are unable to evict uninvited guests.

I've learned to simply snuggle in my sleeping sacks when company becomes cumbersome. I just pull the hood over my head and snooze, until the wearisome wander off. 

J is my latest fan.

And by fan I mean stalker.

She is clearly drunk, and more than likely on amphetamines.

“Why do you hate me, Six?” she whines.

“I don't hate you. I think of you as little more than a drug-fucked sex worker with nothing better to do than pester me. Some fellow street character I must endure to remain secure,” I mumble through the comfort of my comforter.

“What the fuck.”

“Fuck off J. I just wanna sleep,” I use my miffed tone.

“Fuck you,” says J, cuddling up next to me and borrowing my rain-poncho for shelter.

The warmth of her body is a welcome reprieve from the cold concrete. She smells nice. She finally stops chatting.

I like J when she crashes. She is much easier to ignore when she stops talking. I worry about her. The track marks on her arms paint an ugly picture. 

I wake with a jolt.

Someone is tapping me.

I open my cover and a drunk is waving a kebab in my face.

 “Cha bra, hunguss?” Or something.

 I think he is giving me a kebab and I accept with grace.

To decline an offer of kindness is to decline the giver the gift of giving.

I was once too proud to accept a stranger's charity. But then I realised I was being rude.

Some people are very sympathetic to the plight of fellow man, many are blind, and a minority despise you.

Some people offer cash, a fellow street swab usually swings by with drinks or narcotics, and a proportion of public are very generous.

Not everyone is happy to ignore or indulge and prefer to antagonise. 

“Get a job,” spits a young adult pedestrian.

“Thanks man. Great idea. I so wish I'd thought of that. Tell ya what, you tell me where they are handing out the jobs to middle-aged, over-qualified transgender women and I'll be first in line. When do the doors open?,” I ask with sincere interest. 

“You could be sweeping the footpath now,” volunteers Don Johnson look-a-like.”

“That is Roger's job. He works all through the night and drops me off all the drugs he finds on his route. Then I sell them to the school kids on their way to college in the morning,” I explain.

“Suck this faggot,” says 1980s pastel pink sportscoat with rolled-up sleeves pointing at his crutch.

“OK”, says I. “Drop ya daks. I told you I was looking for work.”

After an evening of insults, assaults and assailants, I wake up with the first of the commuter buses.

A passerby hands me a hot coffee.

“Thanks man. Have a great day,” I yell at his diminishing figure.

Roger the cleaner laughs when I ask him where my drugs are. He does however give me a few cigarettes to kickstart the day.

“I telled you”, says Roger. “What are drugs? What you want that for? I don't know. I don't think I ever seen anything like that.”

“Come for a coffee later,” I say.

“I will be there for lunch,” says Roger.

“Bring me any drugs you find. Or gold.

“Or anything shiny,” I offer as an afterthought. 

By 9am, I'm serving breakfast at Merge Cafe, a not-for-profit restaurant on Karangahape Rd providing breakfast from as little as $1 for porridge or cereal and toast, eggs with beans and snarler for not much more and hot lunches from $4.

Since failing to find work after graduating with a pg dip in comms studies, I offered my time to Lifewise. I thought maybe I could teach literacy skills.

A colleague from Fairfax, comes in to give me back my portfolio.

“Hey L. Eggs on toast?” I ask with a smile.

“No, not this morning Six. I just called by to return your portfolio. I'm sorry, Six. I really went to bat for you but the reality is it is just a very competitive industry. And I hate to say it but you don't fit the profile. You're not female, not under 25 and still living with your parents at home in Remuera. That's the truth of the industry unfortunately,” says L.

I am female.

–––

Six blogs periodically, and mostly truthfully, at Tranzspotting.