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Insanity is a full-time job

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The life of a service worker has gotten so bad that even drug dealers have to work long hours to get by. (Courtesy Douglas O’Connor)


“I really hate sober people,” Mr. Judy says. “Not because they’re lousy customers — I mean, there’s that, obviously — but mostly because I don’t trust them. Non-smokers, too.”

“Uh huh.” I fill the empty spaces in his monologue with grunts and polite chuckles while slowly cruising down Clipper Street toward the Mission.

“Which reminds me. Where’s my mace?”

“Don’t worry,” I tell him. “You’ll get it back.”

I’ve taken Mr. Judy, and his can of mace, hostage. After nearly spraying a guy in the face at a liquor store, I decided he wasn’t ready to be released back into the wild just yet. So I’m driving him around and listening to David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World,” hoping he’ll soon relax.

“That guy in the liquor store had it coming. I’m telling ya. Asking the price for every bottle of booze. If you can’t afford alcohol at a liquor store, plan ahead and go to Costco, you stupid fucking moron!”

I agree that while certain people probably deserve to be maced, “You can’t get 86’d from another place. Soon, there won’t be anywhere left for you to go.”

Heading down Valencia, we pass one bar after another, shuttered for the night, even though it’s only 11 p.m.
“Where the fuck is everyone?” I wonder aloud.

“It’s Wednesday night,” Mr. Judy chimes in. “There should be some people out.”

“Where are the bartenders and restaurant workers?” I ask. “Have they all relocated to Vallejo or Pinole? Maybe they’re just too broke to go out after working longer hours to afford the rising cost of living …”

Unless pandemonium is what you’re after, San Francisco’s service industry is in the toilet. Morale is a joke.

When I talk to food servers, bartenders and other hospitality workers, the story is always the same: The squeeze is on. And it’s transforming nightlife.

While other service industry workers continue to eke out a modest existence, taxi drivers are starving to death.

Before Uber and Lyft, you could net between $300 and $500 on a decent night. Hell, when I first started driving for Lyft less than four years ago, the rates were high enough that I could earn $400 in six to eight hours on a Saturday night. Easy.

Now, whether you drive for an app company or a cab company, to even get close to that number, you have to work 16-hour days. With the oversaturation of vehicles creating a supply that surpasses demand, you’re lucky to make $200 on a Saturday night.

Each year that I’ve been driving, I’ve earned progressively less. And yet my expenses keep rising.
Uber and Lyft didn’t “disrupt” the taxi industry. By providing the exact same service as taxis, all they did was disrupt semantics, municipal codes and the ability to earn a living wage.

In the process, they’ve helped transform San Francisco into a city of worker bees. You either have your nose to the grindstone or you’re trying to monetize your free time and any available resource.

In this new paradigm of “always by hustling,” where does getting drunk and doing some lines on a Wednesday night fit in?

Unless you have amazing rent, you can’t afford to live in San Francisco and work in the service industry. That’s why people from all over the Bay Area and beyond are pouring into The City to perform these jobs. The problem is, they take their earnings out of the local economy back home with them.

I do the same thing. Since I live in Oakland, I’m not taking San Francisco taxis on my days off. I’m not eating at San Francisco restaurants or drinking at San Francisco bars.

Since service workers tend to support other service workers, there should be no mystery why it’s getting harder and harder to survive as a taxi driver in San Francisco. There just aren’t enough service industry workers living and playing in The City to support the large number of service workers trying to make a buck there.

It’s gotten so bad, even drug dealers have to work long hours, seven days a week to get by …

As I pull up to the bar, Mr. Judy surveys the crowd in front.

“Look at these polished turds,” he sneers. “These new kids on the block are so boring. So clean and tidy. So perfect. But inside they’re chock full of shit. Every last one of them.”

“Alrighty then.” Since he doesn’t seem ready to deal with the public yet, I turn the meter on again and merge back into traffic.

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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