Sakhr Sharafadin was making $8 an hour in the kitchen at a Little Caesars, during his senior year of high school, when friends started telling him about their work as Uber drivers and food deliverers for an app called Caviar. Though he’d been promoted to night manager just six months after he started at Little Caesars—the location’s youngest manager ever—the job had begun to feel like a dead end. As high-school graduation neared, he needed more money for his share of the rent, for books and tuition, and to pay for his car. When he was 15, he and his younger brother had arrived in Oakland, California, as immigrants from Yemen, leaving his mother back home in a country on the brink of war and joining his father, who worked behind the counter at a liquor store in San Leandro, California. Many of his friends were young immigrants like him, with lofty dreams for their futures. At 18 years old, Sharafadin was too young to drive for Uber (the company requires drivers to be twenty-one), but not too young for Caviar, so he downloaded the app and signed up. Driving for ride-share companies had become popular in the Yemeni community, in particular, because it didn’t require purchasing a taxi medallion, speaking advanced English, or acquiring expensive training or a degree from an American university; all Sharafadin needed to sign up for Caviar was a license, a car, a social security number, and a smartphone.
Sharafadin spoke English well himself, and had aspirations to graduate from college, but he wanted more hours, better pay, and a shorter wait to get paid. At Little Caesars, it took two weeks to receive a paycheck. “With Uber, you can get paid instantly; they just drop the money in your account right then,” he said. Who hasn’t wished, at some point or another, that he could snap his fingers and see that day’s pay appear in hand? On his first day working for Caviar, as he zig-zagged throughout the Bay Area, double-parking in front of packed restaurants, racing inside to pick up to-go bags, and dropping them off at homes, the amount he’d earned from each assignment flashed on his screen. After eight, then nine hours, he didn’t want to stop; the app was like a video game, encouraging him to keep going. From that first ride on, he worked full-time for Caviar. And as soon as he turned 21, he began driving for Lyft and Uber too, and making deliveries through Amazon Flex, while working toward his associate’s degree at Laney College, a community college in Oakland.