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Why I hate being mistaken for an Uber driver

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Before the advent of Uber and Lyft, the idea of sitting behind the driver when the front seat is readily available was absurd. (Courtesy photo)

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In a city where over 50 percent of the population relies on some form of public transportation, having wheels can make you rather popular. Especially among friends eager to avoid Muni and BART, those who get off work after midnight and ones who are just lazy.

It seems like someone is always looking for a ride. Naturally, as a taxi driver, I’m used to carting people around. Even on my days off, I often give rides in my Jetta. Free, of course. Since there’s not a taximeter mounted on the dash. And I’m not an Uber or Lyft. On that latter point, I tend to be a bit touchy.

Back when I first started driving for Lyft, it annoyed me when passengers wouldn’t sit up front. Dudes in particular. After switching to Uber, everyone rode in back and I quickly began to feel like a servant — or an underpaid taxi driver. That was one of the main reasons I decided to go to taxi school.

If you’re going to be treated like a taxi driver, I figured, you might as well get paid like one.

In the normal way of the world, the protocol for riding in someone’s personal car is to sit up front. Before the advent of Uber and Lyft, the idea of sitting behind the driver when the front seat is readily available was absurd. Anyone who did that would have been considered a total douchebag. Like, who do you think you are, the King of England?

Not that long ago, riding shotgun was the next best thing to being at the wheel. In high school, a typical after class ritual was to race to your friend’s car in order to get dibs on the front seat, otherwise you’d be relegated to the back, usually reserved for fast food wrappers and empty soda cans.

Now that we’re in the golden age of the passenger, the traditional methods of riding in cars are all topsy-turvy. These days, it’s perfectly normal to see two grown men squeezed together in the back of an unmarked Kia while the front seat remains empty.

As crazy as it may seem, the grim reality is that all those vehicles flooding the streets of San Francisco – the Kias, the Priuses, the Mercedes-Benzes, the 4X4 pickups and windowless Econoline vans – these are the new taxicabs. And why would you sit in the passenger seat of a cab unless there are more than three passengers?

Even when friends ride in my taxi, I encourage them to sit in back, just to make the process easier. When it comes to my personal car, though, I do everything to avoid looking like an Uber driver …

A few weeks ago, I’m in the Jetta, taking care of some errands in The City, when I run into a friend outside Thrillhouse Records. During our conversation, I ask where he’s heading. Since his destination is along the way to my next stop, I offer to give him a ride. As he reaches for the handle on the backdoor, I shout, “Sit up front! Not in the back!” I can tell by the look on Richie’s face that my reaction was over the top.

“I’m just putting my bag down here,” he responds. “You all right?”

“Sorry,” I stammer. “I’m just… Oh, never mind.”

“Maybe lay off the Jay Reatard.” He points at my copy of “Blood Visions” as he sits down in the passenger seat. “That shit’s going to your head.”

I just hate feeling like an Uber driver.

When we brought our daughter home from the hospital, Irina sat in the backseat. Which made sense. Two weeks later, though, she was still doing it, and I started asking why. Since Teddy got restless in the car, Irina sat in the back to keep her calm. Okay. But after three months, I really began to complain. “I look like an Uber driver.”

“Nobody thinks you’re an Uber driver,” Irina countered.

Six months later, we’re in L.A. for a funeral. When I pull into the parking lot at Mount Sinai, the attendant senses my momentary confusion and asks,

“Are you Uber, dropping off?”

“No!” I snap. “I just have a crazy wife!”

Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. His zine “Behind the Wheel” is available at bookstores throughout The City. He is a guest columnist. Write to Kelly at piltdownlad@gmail.com or visit www.idrivesf.com He will be reading from his new zine at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 6 at Alley Cat Books in San Francisco along with guest columnist Denise Sullivan.

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