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Struggling to keep your work on the road

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A Lyft “glowstache” rests on a dashboard of a car at the company’s San Francisco headquarters on Monday, Jan. 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

After a night of driving in The City, the need to purge the experience from your brain is like the impulse to puke from drinking too much cheap booze. I assume most, if not all, full-time drivers go through this same predicament, regardless of whether they drive for Uber, Lyft, a limo or a taxi. Or any combination thereof.

Driving isn’t an easy job. It takes a toll on every aspect of your life. That’s why we flock to Facebook groups and Twitter and start blogs to express our frustrations, air grievances, share the occasional positive anecdote and offer advice to newbies. If you’re smart, you spare your loved ones the mental garbage you collect during the long shifts.

The need to release the pressure that builds up from transporting people around a city is what makes this job different from others. Sure, everybody talks about their co-workers at home or relates some funny incident that happened, but generally you forget about work at the end of the day until you have to deal with it again.

Driving gets inside you. And it’s almost impossible to get out.

Colin told me a while back that you had to be a little off in the head to drive a cab. At the time, I took it as a compliment. Now I’m not so sure.

When I first started driving for hire, I had no clue I was stumbling into a cesspool of festering absurdity. How was I supposed to know a battle was raging in the streets? I just wanted to make some money and explore San Francisco. I figured I’d get a few good stories out of the experience, make a zine about it and move on.

That was a year and a half ago.

As I delved further into San Francisco’s vehicle-for-hire debate, I realized the story had legs. And I was in the front seat. Even though I had a book deal and should have been working on the manuscript I agreed to deliver to the publisher three weeks ago, the Uber-Lyft-Taxi debate was an irresistible distraction.

From the beginning, I was astonished at how the narrative practically wrote itself. I was like a prospector who’d struck it rich. I just held my pan in the creek and collected nugget after nugget of golden material.

Most of my passengers didn’t know their words and actions had any significance to me. But they were actually telling the story of the new San Francisco. And I was there to document the vapid attitudes of so many of these new transplants who complain about the weather, the fog, the hills, the filth, the bums, the dating scene, the tech scene and the fact that there aren’t enough restaurants open late at night. But they love the money. That’s all most people talk about.

One night I was driving up Franklin and this guy stuck his head out the window and screamed, “I made $30 million so far this year!” Then commandeered my stereo and really got the party started.

A New York Times reporter contacted me once, wanting to know what I thought of the taxi versus Uber and Lyft debate. At the end of our interview, she just sighed. I was actually relieved she took the story in a different direction. I didn’t know what to tell her. How do you make sense of something so ludicrous as people using their personal cars as taxicabs?

I had assumed the whole “rideshare” phenomenon was a passing fad. And figured since it’s technically illegal, how long could it possibly last? Maybe in a few years, people will be laughing about how they used to ride in the backseat of some random dude’s Honda Fit chewing on Starbursts. But now we can only hold our breath.

Despite the hardships and the sacrifices drivers have to make to survive these days, the story of the San Francisco taxi industry is far from over. Uber and Lyft are just beating the cab companies at their own game. A game they invented. It might be comical if all the drivers in The City, taxi and otherwise, weren’t rats on a sinking ship.

Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver.

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