Last night, I get home from work at 2 a.m. After a grueling 12-hour shift, I stop by Walgreens to pick up some Advil, a jug of water and a couple candy bars: the breakfast of champions.
I’m the only customer in line, but the cashier is M.I.A., and the security guard is preoccupied with a phone call, forcing me to look for someone in charge. I find a likely suspect in the hair products aisle.
The woman is apologetic and mentions something about being tired and distracted.
“It’s totally not a problem,” I say, handing her one my hard-earned 20s. “I work nights, too.”
“Yeah, I got off early today, but I usually work until 6 a.m.”
“What do you do?” she asks.
I can tell by her accent she’s Ethiopian or Eritrean, and thus most likely has more than a few relatives and friends involved in the taxi industry. But that doesn’t prevent her from expressing surprise.
Before she can inquire further, a panhandler outside the store gets into a shouting match with a second panhandler encroaching on his turf. While the security guard grudgingly puts his conversation on hold, I take the opportunity to skate past the melee and beat it home.
As soon as I enter my building, the familiar wail of my 1-year-old reverberates down the hallway. How the neighbors don’t hear her late-night shrieking is a complete mystery, but whenever we ask, they steadfastly insist it’s inaudible. They’re obviously just being nice, since you can’t really complain about a child crying.
For the next hour or so, I hang out with my daughter as she toddles around the apartment until she’s yawning and rubbing her eyes. I strap her in the BabyBjorn and rock her to sleep to The Kinks.
After putting her in the bed with Irina, I go out back for a few smokes and then try to bang out a few words before I’m yawning and rubbing my own eyes.
Finally horizontal, I pull out my phone and scroll through Twitter, passing up the constant barrage of outrage and indignation, the vitriol, the atrocities, the injustices, the braggadocio and the dumb jokes. I click on a few taxi-related articles.
As a general rule, I never read comments. Especially comments on my own stuff, either on the Examiner site or social media. But when someone tags you in a Facebook post, it’s hard to avoid the nastiness so common when there’s a computer or smart phone screen in the way.
That’s how I stumble upon this bitter perspective:
“I guess writing this column is the only reason you still drive.”
I instantly click reply, “What the fuck does that even mean? As opposed to doing what? Getting back on track with my fledging astrophysics gig?”
Does this person think I’m independently wealthy? That the Examiner is paying me the big bucks for my 700 words a week, which I invariably turn in late because I’m too exhausted from driving a taxi all week to write about driving a taxi?
Before clicking submit, though, I delete the response. Type out, “You sound like my wife.” Then replace “wife” with “mother-in-law.” And delete that, too.
Instead, I turn off my phone and roll over. As I watch my daughter sleep under the muted glow of a nightlight, my mind spins, processing this notion that I’m supposed to be more than a taxi driver. Why? Because I’m white? American? Male? College-educated?
Who makes up these rules?
I know why my wife’s family thinks what I’m doing is a waste of time. They emigrated from the Soviet Union. To them, success is measured in how much money you make, your job title and the name brands on your possessions.
Irina is more Americanized, but she still freaks out because she’s a new mother and afraid that if we don’t have enough money, we’ll end up on the streets. Her frustration is fully justified. She hasn’t been able to work as much while taking care of the baby, and taxi-driving doesn’t always fill the gap. There are good weeks and bad weeks. And the longer hours put more of the burden on her. And I don’t get to see my kid as much.
At the end of the day, all I can do is reassure her — and myself — that all this matters, and the sacrifices made today will pay off in the future. Most of the time, she tries to believe me. But try telling that to my mother in law. Or assholes on the internet …
Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. His zine, “Behind the Wheel,” is available at bookstores throughout The City. Write to Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his blog at www.idrivesf.com.