There’s one thing 32-year-old Jodie Collins always keeps in the trunk of her car: a blanket. That’s because sometimes, in the middle of her marathon workdays, she needs to take a little nap so she can keep on going.
For the last three years, Collins has commuted nearly two hours each way from Sacramento to San Francisco on weekends to work as a mobile stylist. She gets gigs doing hair and makeup for clients through apps like Glamsquad and StyleBee. Between appointments, she drives for Lyft.
"I work 18-hour days sometimes on Saturdays to make the long drive into the city worth it," she explains.
This cobbling together of gig work to make a living is a reality for a growing number of people like Collins. They're super commuters, traveling more than 90 minutes for work each day.
San Francisco is an especially popular place to find these types of jobs because people who can afford to live in the city are more likely to use on-demand services. The irony is that those who perform these services often cannot afford to live in the city, so they commute from more affordable places, like Modesto, Stockton and Sacramento.
The 18-Hour Workday
On a typical Saturday, Collins wakes up at 4:45 a.m. She arrives in San Francisco by 8 a.m. for her first gig. The day I met with her, she was doing hair for a wedding party. Collins says she typically packs in as many clients as she can to make the trip worthwhile.
At around 6 p.m. she stops styling hair and starts driving people around the city until midnight. Sometimes, she admits, the pay isn’t worth it. People have thrown up in her car, and sometimes she worries about her safety.
“The drunker people get, the more issues you run into," she says.
After Collins finishes driving for Lyft, she either crashes in the city for the night or heads back to Sacramento. She often gets into bed around 2:30 a.m., nearly 24 hours after she first woke up.
This isn’t the life she envisioned for herself.
“I’ve got really, really, really big dreams,” says Collins. “As an entrepreneur, I have big dreams for a business called Jodie’s Little Gems.”
From the time she was a teenager, Collins dreamt of being a stylist. But with $20,000 in cosmetology debt looming over her head, Collins is just trying to stay afloat.
“Highs are really, really high, but lows can be really low with these apps,” she says. “At the end of the day the pressure all falls on you.”
Collins has gotten speeding and carpool lane violation tickets, and once her car was stolen while she was doing hair for a bridal party. What’s more, some of the apps charge her if she misses an appointment.
"People like me really do need a little stability and help. Health care is expensive. Taxes are expensive," she says.
A full-time job offers a stable income and insurance, but it won’t give her the flexibility she needs to take care of one of the most important people in her life, her older brother, Jeffrey.
“He’s had over 28 brain surgeries,” Collins says. “Nine hip and femur surgeries. His cerebral palsy was so bad at some point it was just curling his legs and making them go [cross-legged].”
Jeffrey, who is now 40 years old, was not supposed to survive birth. When Collins' mom was pregnant with him, she developed listeriosis, an intense bacterial infection that can cause birth defects.
For most of his life, Jeffrey has been in and out of the ICU, which means for Collins, holding down a full-time job is nearly impossible. She says she’s lost many jobs because she had to abruptly leave work to help her brother or her mom, who recently had a double mastectomy. Her father is also struggling. He recently had quadruple bypass surgery.
"I felt a very strong obligation to him," says Collins, about her brother. "It was always like he’s going to die. They prepare us for death. It made me so strong. I am not scared of much these days."
Jeffrey spends his life in a daybed. Collins helps change his diapers and move him to refresh the bedding. Jeffrey can’t say much, but he loves music. He has a radio on the table in front of him. He turns the dial in search of the songs he likes. When he finds one, he dances with his hands.
Collins sometimes wonders where her career would be if she didn’t have so much responsibility at home. She thinks she might have been a little farther along, or at least not in so much debt — in a place where she didn’t have to rely on gigs.
“I think I would have been better off in a certain sense,” Collins says. “But then again not, because I wouldn’t be the actual person with the morals and values and goals and work ethic I have.”
What Collins does wish is that she didn’t have to choose between being there for her brother and having a full-time job. As long as that’s the case, she’ll keep being an on-demand super commuter, heading to the Bay Area every weekend to make ends meet.