For several years, while living in Los Angeles, I was a personal assistant for a screenwriter. Except we never used that job title. The guy was staunchly anti-Hollywood and referred to me as “a friend” who occasionally “helped him out.” For money, perks and invaluable life lessons. Such as, “Never become a screenwriter.” Over the course of our “friendship,” I witnessed enough backstabbing and cutthroat Hollywood behavior to heed this advice.
One day I “helped him out” by taking his Cadillac to the dealer. On my way back to his house in the Hollywood Hills, I was maneuvering the land yacht through the narrow, winding roads when his wife came around a bend at high speed and slammed into right me. Surprisingly, her Mini Cooper only had a few scratches on the bumper, but the Cadillac was smashed up pretty bad. Unfazed by the accident, she sped off, saying she had an important meeting but she’d call her husband to explain.
When I got to the house, I wondered what to do next. Should we call his insurance company or mine? Take pictures? Make a report?
“Since I own both cars,” he said, laughing. “It’s like I just punched myself in the face.”
In a way, I was the one who punched him in the face. Or, at least, assisted in the act. But hey, what are friends for?
The next day I took the car to the body shop and within a week it was if nothing had ever happened …
I can’t help but think about this incident — and the semantic artifices — whenever the dispatcher at National hands me a parking citation from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. Seeing as how taxi drivers are licensed and regulated by the SFMTA and their logo graces my a-card, it’s not that much of a stretch to view them as a kind of employer. They definitely boss us around, with mandatory drug tests each year and annual permit fees, as well as requiring us to adhere to strict guidelines.
Which is why getting a $110 ticket for following those guidelines can feel like I’ve been punched in the face, and why paying the fine would be the same as doing it to myself.
For one thing, I wasn’t parked. The citation was mailed to National because, as noted, I was a “driveaway.” In the comments section, the parking control officer added, “Fine includes mandated state fees. Posted. Shuttle bus… Photo on file.”
To figure out this alleged infraction, I look up the address on San Jose Avenue, which is behind the Safeway on Mission, and remember a week before pulling over to text a regular about a ride. After clicking send, a couple shuttle buses approached my location, but I was already taking off and quickly forgot about it. Until, that is, receiving the citation.
I immediately return to the scene of the crime and notice freshly installed signs designating about 20 yards of curb space behind the grocery store as a shuttle drop off zone from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Okay, good to know. But again, I wasn’t parked. My foot was on the brake during the 30 seconds or however long it took me to type, “Hey, when you gonna be ready?” That’s how I got the “driveaway” designation, which has been written on each of the tickets the SFMTA has mailed to my cab company.
As a taxi driver, though, isn’t it my job to, you know, drive away? Over the course of a 12- to 16-hour shift, I pull to the curb repeatedly to pick up and drop off, then drive away. I never use bike lanes. If there’s nowhere to pull out of traffic, I may stop momentarily as a passenger gets in or out, then drive away. I always drive away. While transporting the citizens of San Francisco and its visitors, I do everything in my power to follow the law and respect the rules of the road. Including the one about not texting while driving.
On numerous occasions, I’ve have PCOs creep up on me when I’m pulled over in my cab texting or scrolling through the Hackers message board. If there are parking restrictions, they usually just chase me off. But not always.
Honestly, I don’t know what compelled officer “J.S. 0282” to screw with a taxi driver already struggling against so much unfair competition, but something is seriously broken in this system when you can’t even pull over to send a text without financial consequences. So from one SFMTA lackey to another: Please, go punch yourself in the face and see how you like it.
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 www.idrivesf.com.