The other night, after a long 14-hour shift, I’m standing outside the dispatch office at National, smoking a cigarette with a couple of drivers and complaining about the latest injustice to our livelihoods: management is raising the gates on 24-hour leases from $103 to $123 per day.
As one driver disappears into the night and another arrives to take his place, conversation fluctuates between outrage and indignation until someone brings up my column, much to my chagrin. He wants to know why I don’t use the forum to blast our adversaries.
Since this is such a common inquiry, especially among taxi drivers, I’ve become adept at brushing it off with offhanded comments like, “Because Uber and Lyft are boring.” Or, “I’m under doctor’s orders not to discuss Uber.”
This time I went with, “Nobody cares about this stuff except taxi drivers.”
My response isn’t good enough, though, and the guy tells me I’m wasting a perfectly good opportunity to help the industry resist the onslaught of the ridehail companies.
“Tell me,” I respond, taking a drag from my American Spirit. “Do you guys actually read the column?”
“Uhhh,” the first guy stutters. “I’ve read it before. In the past.”
The second guy shrugs, while the third guy just smiles.
“So how do you know what I write about, then?” I laugh. “Whatever. If I wrote the column just for taxi drivers, nobody else would read it.” With that, I take a final drag, pitch the butt and walk away.
Besides my proclivity for dramatics, regular readers of this column may have noticed I try to focus on the positive aspects of driving a taxi, by writing about the infallible and unique characteristics of San Francisco, and documenting my experiences and interactions with the people who inhabit and visit The City. Which isn’t to say that I’m unaware of the negative features of the job. Because there are plenty. And the worst part, without a doubt, is the existence of Uber and Lyft.
Whether screwing up earning potential or the ability to navigate The City without encountering a clusterfuck around each corner, the profusion of Uber/Lyft drivers is the bane of my existence. But while it’s easy to blame the drivers, they wouldn’t be here if the demand for cheap rides weren’t so high.
Many a night I’ve come home and resisted the urge to make a public statement like, “If you support Uber and Lyft, you’re the cause of all suffering in the world and you might as well just go club baby seals and start a fracking company or poison the public water supplies of every major city and fill the ocean with plastic and styrofoam and oil that’ll kill all the baby birds and all the baby fish and all the baby turtles, because when you use Uber and Lyft, you’re pretty much killing babies.”
Still, one must be pragmatic.
As Irina pointed out the other day when I was griping about her friend taking a Lyft to our house to see the baby: “Get over it. Nobody thinks about anyone else’s needs except their own. People will complain about Amazon exploiting workers and killing retail, but it’s not like they’re going to stop using Amazon. Same with Uber and Lyft.”
To this day, the number one question people ask me, whether they’re trying to start a conversation in my taxi or when they find out a drive one, is the same question I’ve been asked repeatedly since I first started driving a taxi:
“So uhh… How’s this Uber stuff impacting your business?”
Barring extreme hyperbole or vociferous pontification, I’m never sure how to respond to such a loaded question. Do they really want to know? Or is it just idle curiosity?
Last week, I finally remembered to take a pair of boots to the John Fluevog store on Haight to see about getting the soles replaced. In the process, one thing leads to another and I end up trying on a new pair that costs $300. They look fantastic and feel even better.
Still, the price tag is daunting.
“I’ll have to run it by the wife,” I tell the sales clerk.
While trying on the boots, she notices my taxi badge and asks how things are going with Uber …
“Well,” I say, taking a few pictures with my phone to show Irina, “I guess you’ll find out next week, if I come back to buy these boots.”
Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. His zine “Behind the Wheel” is available at bookstores throughout The City. Write to Kelly at email@example.com or visit www.idrivesf.com.