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Ding-Dong! The Bro is Dead

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Travis Kalanick at the Third Annual Breakthrough Prize Awards on Nov. 8, 2015 at NASA Ames Research Center Mountain View, Calif. (Drew Altizer/Sipa USA/TNS)
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Sometimes, I feel like a piano player on the Titanic, rambling on and on about my personal life each week as I try to come up with yet another bawdy tale that’s fit for print. Which, incidentally, isn’t easy. These columns don’t write themselves. Most taxi shifts are either mind-numbingly dull or so scandalous the SFMTA would probably revoke my A-card if I documented them faithfully.

Meanwhile, all around me, the driving-for-hire industry is going down the drain. Uber is getting crucified relentlessly in the media. Reports of sexual harassment in the workplace, using software to evade authorities and stealing trade secrets from Google, to name a few, dominate headlines and news stories.

“It’s been a bad year for Uber” has become a constant refrain.

Not that any of it seems to be hurting their bottom line. The taxi industry is still in free fall, as cab companies struggle to reinvent their outdated business models to be more like Uber. Drivers continue to move on to other jobs, leaving behind a small army of grunts who have no other options, a bitter faction of Prop. A medallion holders with six-figure loans to pay off and a stubborn pack of old-timers determined to prove that taxis will rise again and that Uber is merely this generation’s Loma Prieta.

With toplights blazing, they maintain a presence in the streets, an antidote to the endless wave of inexperienced Uber and Lyft drivers who converge on The City from all over California like locust, streaming across bridges and pouring in from the Peninsula to perform their clumsy gigs and create massive congestion.

I see them all the time, in their shiny new cars, faces full of hope and determination, soon to be crushed by an irate passenger when Waze gets confused on an elevated roadway and determines they’ve reached their destination, despite being on the freeway.

I know what it’s like. I’ve been there myself.

On my first day as a Lyft driver in The City, a woman who’d entered the wrong location in the app chastised me for not knowing the Showcase Square gallery that she was standing in front of. Since she refused to pay the $5 cancellation fee, all I could do was frantically try to find BoConcept in Apple Maps. “Is that b-e-a-u-x?” I asked. “No, it’s b-o,” she snapped. “What’s wrong with you?” If my next fare hadn’t been so kind and reassuring, I would have driven home right then and there and filled out an application at Trader Joe’s.

So much of this job is dealing with people. Being friendly with strangers and staying calm when confronted with total douchebaggery. That’s why I’ve always found it odd that an uncouth, socially awkward, bro-y bro like Travis Kalanick was the face of the transportation revolution. If he were an Uber driver, he would have been deactivated long ago.

But how it seems the chickens have finally come home to roost …

On Tuesday, a contingent of Uber’s board of directors forced Kalanick to resign as CEO. His departure isn’t much of a surprise. It certainly solves Uber’s PR woes. Without Kalanick at the helm, Uber has the potential to become another faceless tech company with a weird logo. And everyone can go back to using the app with a clear conscious.

Perhaps Eric Holder’s assessment of the company recommended not just firing bad-boy execs like Emil Michael, who should have been axed immediately after he threatened to go after PandoDaily’s Sarah Lacy, but also the ultimate poster boy for founder’s syndrome himself.

After all, Kalanick is not just Uber’s biggest liability. He’s also the perfect fall guy.

As Uber 2.0 emerges from the rubble of his reign, the new CEO can easily blame the old guard for past transgressions.

Internally, Kalanick will be praised as a “great founder,” and if Uber ever goes public, he’ll become an insanely wealthy man. But for now, it’s time for him go on an “Eat, Pray, Love”-type pilgrimage.

Of course, Kalanick’s resignation doesn’t really change much. He keeps his seat on the board and will no doubt wield considerable influence behind the scenes. But his dismissal is, at the very least, a referendum on bro culture. It sends the message that you don’t have to be an asshole to succeed. And that rampant sexism in the industry needs to be addressed and — more importantly — eradicated.
Whether any of that will happen is anyone’s guess. But knocking Travis Kalanick down a rung or two is certainly a step in the right direction.

Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. His zine, “Behind the Wheel,” is available at bookstores throughout The City. Write to Kelly at piltdownlad@gmail.com or visit his blog at www.idrivesf.com.

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