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The poor man’s taxi driver

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When instinct kicks in, cash is king. (Sibuet Benjamin/Shutterstock)


Shortly after midnight, I’m cruising down Polk Street. It’s been quiet since the Orpheum broke, and the last of the autograph-seekers lined up outside the stage door on Market have wandered off, making room for the homeless to curl up in a warm, dry place.

My prospects for a fare are slim until I cross Bush and see a tall man in the middle of the street with his hand in the air. Just as I’m about to congratulate myself on taking a chance on Polk Street against my better judgment, I notice the front of his pants are soaked from crotch to hem, with his shoes, no doubt, a receptacle for what didn’t spill onto the ground.

Before speeding away, I pause to consider the circumstances … It’s likely that he’s only pissed the front of his pants and his backside is relatively dry … And with the windows down, it won’t smell too bad … And he’ll surely appreciate the ride home, since no other cab will pick him up anytime soon … Maybe he’ll even reward me for my benevolence …

Fortunately, instinct kicks in, and I keep driving. Sorry, buddy, if you’re so drunk you can’t control your bladder, it’s the wingtip superhighway for you.

Later, I pick up a live one outside Martuni’s. From the moment the guy gets in the back of my cab and tells me his destination in Glen Park, he starts talking a mile a minute.

“How’s business tonight?” he asks.

“It’s kinda slow,” I say. “Been driving empty for almost an hour.”

“Must be all the competition.”

“Perhaps …”

I try to point out that there aren’t many people out tonight, but he immediately goes off on a tirade about how taxis are relics of the past.”

“Then why are you in one?” I laugh.

“’Cause I needed a ride, and there you were. I didn’t feel like waiting.”

He asks if I ever thought about going over to the dark side.

“I don’t own a car,” I tell him, adding that Uber and Lyft drivers aren’t making money either. “There are too many of them on the road, and they have to give so many more rides to earn what I do in a taxi.”

“It’s better than driving around empty, though, right?”

“Well, I prefer driving a cab.” In an attempt to divert the conversation, I say, “Honestly, I’d rather deal with more than just one demographic of The City. Uber and Lyft only provide transportation for certain members of society, excluding the poor, elderly and disabled.”

“What are you talking about?” he exclaims. “Taxis are way more expensive than Uber! And if you use the ‘Pool’ option, it’s even cheaper.”

After making a bizarre argument that people who don’t own smartphones can save money on rides to the airport by acquiring a burner at Walgreens, he tells me, “Part of what I love about Uber and Lyft is that they’re affordable to everyone and not just the wealthy. Ask around. Most people could never dream of riding in a taxi regularly. Now, they’re riding in cars — nice cars, too — from their doorstep to work for only 3 to 5 bucks a pop.”

As he continues making privileged judgments about how poor people should behave, I bite my tongue. This guy has no clue what it’s like to be poor. And just because the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development makes some announcement that Bay Area households earning six figures are now considered lower-class, that doesn’t mean the spoiled brats who find public transportation beneath them are actually broke. For most working-class folks, taking a cab is a luxury, not a right.

The more I think about his nonsensical ideas, the more my head feels like it’s going to explode. There’s just not enough time left in the universe to explain all the many ways his viewpoint is wrong and fucked up.

Finally, I pull up to his location.

He concludes his rant with, “Taxis only serve the rich. Uber and Lyft are for everyone.”

Whatever, dude.

The meter reads $16.70.

He hands me a $20 bill and says, “You really should consider switching over. You’d make a good Uber driver.”

I’m tempted to roll down my window and tell him to shove his entitled opinions up his ass, but instinct kicks in. Instead, I fold the $20 into my shirt pocket and enjoy the peace and quiet of driving empty.

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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