Categories: I Drive SF

Stranger than fiction

Even though I actively avoid reading negative comments online, a “friend” recently tagged me in a Facebook comment on an Uber/Lyft group, and my curiosity always gets the better of me. That’s how I ended up stumbling upon these doozies:

“Dude is a cabby so he’s got zero to do but make stuff up that sounds gritty cool tough guy-ish.”

“Funny how this guy have (sic) new drama story ev (sic) couple day. He write (sic) some fiction and not ver (sic) interest kind.”

“He says the same shit every month.”

These opinions don’t really bother me at all. In a way, it’s probably better some of my stories are perceived as fiction. You know?

It’s interesting, though, that Uber/Lyft drivers, who cover much of the same terrain as taxi drivers, seem to experience a side of San Francisco that’s limited to the activities of their sheltered passengers.

That’s why Uber/Lyft drivers stop in the middle of traffic and block bike lanes: They’re following the exact GPS location of their passengers, who can’t be bothered to walk half a block from the restaurant or bar, lest they encounter something unpleasant.

In the process, they rarely deviate from these established routes. And since their ride requests are spoon-fed to them, they don’t have to troll the streets of the Tenderloin looking for junkies running late to meet their dealers before they turn into pumpkins.

In the 11 months I documented my experience driving for Uber and Lyft, most of what I recorded were studies in vapid entitlement.

As soon as I started driving a taxi, though, all that changed. Nowadays, many encounters aren’t suitable for the general public. I save the really wild rides for my zines, where I have more freedom.

Without a doubt, San Francisco has changed. Drastically. But the biggest difference, it seems to me, is that the new citizens actively sequester themselves from the urban experience. It happens in Oakland, too. The new city-dwellers take private cars whenever they leave home. Everything is delivered. They don’t interact with the masses.

As the new gilded class, looking down on us plebeians from their glass towers, they only see one side of The City, the one that jives with their delicate sensibilities. Anything that conflicts with that vision is what they seek to eradicate. Not change. Not improve. Not make better. They just want to remove the unsightly aspects of city life so they can keep pretending they’re back in suburbia.

That’s why I focus on the other side of The City, where there’s so much more to see and plenty of action to document …

I’ll take the crackheads anyday, or the dope fiends and the dealers and the Capp Street call girls who offer you a survey of the goods for a warm place to sit for a while.

I’ll take the gutterpunks and their street dogs, the homeless folks who tell you right away they don’t have any money but promise to pay you back the next time they see you.

Give me the disabled senior citizens with their stories of living in The City that last longer than the short ride from their living facility to the doctor’s office.

Give me the lost tourists who only know that their hotel has the word “park” in the name. Or the bridge and tunnel dudes looking for an after hours club — not a ride, mind you — just a nudge in the right direction.

I’ll take the workers waiting at the Muni stops on Mission, when it’s long past midnight and the 14 is nowhere in sight. Yes, I’ll flip around to save you the extra dollar instead of going around the block. And if you’re going to Daly City, we can work out a deal.

Give me the folks who insist on paying up front, even though I only take the cash to be polite, slipping the folded bill into the slot on the taximeter “for safe keeping until we settle up at the end.”

Give me the food runs. The grocery store runs. The drug runs. Of course, I’ll wait for you to go upstairs and feed your cat. Since it’s your birthday, I’ll even pause the meter.

I’ll even help the frightened girls from Marin County locate their Lyft driver. Because there’s always something going on, and it may not all be crazy, but even that’s a good thing.

Sometimes, an uneventful shift is the greatest thing you could ever hope for. But since they’re usually few and far between, I’d probably have to make up those rides.

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.

Kelly Dessaint
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Kelly Dessaint

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