On the prospect of driving an SF taxi again

With the bread and butter of the business gone, should I attempt to get behind the wheel?

I must be a masochist. Willing to torment myself for no real gain. Why else would I consider driving a taxi again?


As if the world couldn’t be any more apocalyptic nowadays. We’ve already been living a dystopian nightmare. Why not throw some of the deadliest fires in California history into the mix?

For the first few days, the light through the smoke around Oakland and over The City had this ominous glow. With the sidewalks mostly empty, the scene was like that 80s flick “Night of the Comet.”

Although, given how the streets are filled with heaps of consumer detritus and an ever-growing number of homeless encampments, and there’s a madman celebrity leader/wannabe dictator supported by millions of rabid followers in office, it’s probably more akin to “Idiocracy.”

Meanwhile, across the nation, the protests against police brutality are gaining traction. In the streets, rioting, looting and murder. Of course, the protesters are blamed for everything. Even though I witnessed the Shoe Palace on Telegraph get ransacked in June and nobody in that heavily organized crowd was holding a placard demanding equality.

But still…

It’s part of the latest “up is down, left is right, and your own eyes and ears are just deceiving you” marketing campaign that’s sweeping the country.

Politicians keep getting arrested. And the rich just keep getting richer.

And in the midst of all this insanity, a week ago, Uber and Lyft threatened to suspend ride-hailing services in California rather than designate their drivers as employees.

Whenever I spoke with taxi drivers about the prospective shutdown, we’d just laugh and laugh…

But still…

Was this the time to eschew caution and get back behind the wheel?

Never mind. Just another false alarm.

For a minute there, it seemed as though laws might mean something, and taxis would finally have their comeuppance. A last-minute reprieve put the kibosh on that illusion though. Now, there’s no telling what the future will hold for those drivers who still want to drive for hire and avoid the tyranny of working for an algorithm.

But still…

The Uber/Lyft debacle made me ask myself repeatedly, Do I still want to drive a cab?

My A-card expires in October. So I have a few months to decide whether to piss in a can for the SFMTA again…

For most of the past six months that we’ve been living with the COVID reality, the idea of going back to the old ways seemed ultra-depressing. A major letdown. I had hoped something better would come out of all this mess.

But still…

I need a job. Now that the PUA has dried up. But am I ready to get back behind the wheel?

I’ve spoken with several drivers over the past few months who stopped working due to the virus. We ask ourselves the same questions:

Do we go back to our respective cab companies and see about picking up some shifts?

Do we renew our A-cards?

Do we try to figure out a new way to drive a taxi now that all the old ways have disappeared?

But still…

What about the virus?

For the first two months I drove a cab, I had a persistent cough and sore throat. I figure it was from being exposed to all the germs inside the vehicles, from less than sanitary drivers and the hundreds of passengers who moved through them each week. Eventually, I got better. And haven’t been sick since. Not physically anyway. Perhaps my immune system is stronger than I think.

But still…

The bread and butter of the taxi business is gone: tourists, businessmen, the theater/concert/sporting event crowds and conventioneers. Two weeks ago, while staying in The City, I drove around Union Square and the Financial. Most of the hotels were boarded up. Office buildings too. The few that were open looked deserted. It was not very inspiring.

At SFO, I’ve heard there have been moments of increased business. When the few dozen cabs sitting in the holding lots are exhausted, Ground Services have actually been calling cab companies to send more taxis to the airport.

But still…

What’s left of the job besides transporting die-hards and enjoying the view?

Although, as the world comes to an end, what better place is there to see the mushroom cloud than in the front seat of a taxi, driving straight into the apocalypse?

Kelly Dessaint, a San Francisco taxi driver and veteran zine publisher, is the author of the novel “A Masque of Infamy.” His long-running Behind the Wheel zine series is collected into a paperback “Omnibus,” available through all book marketplaces or from his blog, idrivesf.com. His column appears every other week in the Examiner. He is a guest opinion columnist and his point of view is not necessarily that of the Examiner.

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