Over the course of writing this column for the past five years, I’ve never missed a week. I’m often late sending in my copy, but still manage to turn something in each week.
It isn’t always easy. After working four long taxi shifts and co-parenting a child, there are some weeks when my deadline hangs over my head like a hundred pound boulder as I frantically try to cobble together my thoughts into coherent prose. In moments like these, I begin to doubt my ability to write at all, and giving up seems like a valid option. But I persist and eventually the story comes together.
Even though I may contemplate throwing in the towel, there are multiple reasons why I’ve never given up. Not least of which is the money. Equally important is a loyalty to readers. Especially those who make an effort to email me and share their own experiences, even though I rarely have the time to respond to them.
More than anything else, though, my biggest motivation to write this column is a commitment to maintaining a working class voice in the media.
One Friday afternoon, overwhelmed by the onslaught of rush hour traffic, I decide to take a break from fighting the congestion downtown. After dropping off at 16th and Valencia, I find a vacant spot on 14th Street, just past South Van Ness. I pull over in front of an auto body shop that’s closing up for the day. One of the workers looks at me. Through the passenger side window I ask him if it’s okay for me to park there. He nods and goes back to cleaning up the garage.
After jotting down some notes in a Moleskine, I take in the street scene around me. Men and women in uniforms walk briskly past my cab. Most likely heading home from a long day at work. A lady slowly pushes a cart full of grocery bags from Foodco up the sidewalk, while two young children walk alongside her, their tiny fingers holding onto the cart.
In the midst of this afternoon migration, a guy meanders down the street taking pictures of murals with his phone. Periodically, he stops to stare into the screen.
What’s he up to? I wonder. Probably Instagramming the gritty street art of the Mission to his followers, if I’ve figured anything out from looking over people’s shoulders on BART.
This assemblage makes me think about how our society perceives itself. For some reason, blue-collar workers are often overlooked in the media, with most of the attention placed on the young people who work in and perpetuate the tech industry’s influence.
If you were to only see the world through social media, you’d think millennials are the only ones who matter. Or even exist, really. But despite being ignored, there is still a vibrant working class in San Francisco. I don’t know the numbers, but the tech industry can only represent a small percentage of Bay Area workers. And yet, that’s all anyone really talks about.
Using this column as a platform, I’ve always made a concerted effort to document an alternate reality, that of blue-collar workers.
Which is why it’s somewhat painful to announce that “I Drive S.F.” is no longer a weekly affair, thanks to the AB 5 bill that passed in September.
Besides classifying gig workers such as Uber/Lyft drivers and other independent contractors who work for delivery apps like Postmates and DoorDash as employers, AB 5 also impacts freelance writers who submit more than 35 articles a year to the same publication. Since being on the payroll of The Examiner in order to write one article a week doesn’t make any sense, this column will now come out every other week.
The irony is not lost on me, that a bill meant to limit the reckless business practices of Uber and Lyft would have such a negative impact on the only taxi column in a major newspaper. But I’m trying to look at this change as a blessing in disguise. Perhaps now I’ll have more time to work on other writing projects.
Maybe I’ll even get around to finally answering all those emails.
Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. He is a guest opinion columnist and his point of view is not necessarily that of the Examiner. His zine “Behind the Wheel” is available at bookstores throughout The City. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.idrivesf.com.