I never really wanted to drive a car. I was happy enough being the passenger, riding under glass, watching the stars come out of the sky and seeing the city’s ripped backsides.
Even growing up in the 80s in LA, the Mecca of car culture, I was perfectly content to stroll through my neighborhood, always mindful not to break my mother’s back. And if the destination was beyond the sneaker superhighway, there was always the RTD. If I had some pocket change.
At 15 years old, I moved to a small town in Alabama that didn’t have sidewalks. Just ditches on either side of the road. This presented a challenge, but I quickly sought out friends with automobiles.
Later, right before I started college at a university thirty miles way, my foster mother forced me to get a driver’s license and gave me her beat up Tercel.
I resisted at first, but soon realized the freedom that came with owning a car.
For the next four years, my friend Jody and I explored every inch of asphalt in Calhoun County. Most of the dirt roads too. There wasn’t much else to do in the sticks except cruise the backroads while blasting punk and thrash metal. We eventually got bored of our home turf and began branched out to Tennessee, Georgia and into the Smoky Mountains. It seemed like there was no place we couldn’t go as long as we had wheels underneath us.
After college, I packed all my things into the Tercel and drove to New Orleans. Slowly but surely, the car fell to pieces on the pothole-riddled streets. So I got a beach cruiser with a cup holder on the handlebars.
That summer I traveled across the country via Greyhound, Amtrak and thumb. My destination was San Francisco, with its vibrant atmosphere and expansive public transportation system. For eight months, I spent my days wandering through The City, too broke to afford the bus, unless I found a discarded transfer on the ground.
Back in LA, I was a personal assistant for eight years. My job unusually entailed driving from one side of town to the next in peak rush hour traffic.
Because that’s the kind of grunt work you pay someone else to do if you can afford to pay people to do your grunt work. It was tedious and demoralizing.
Especially in summer. During those incalculable hours stuck in gridlock, I would dream about returning to San Francisco and becoming a passenger again.
Ironically, when I did make it back to The City, I ended up driving for hire.
First in my Jetta doing Uber and Lyft, then in a taxi.
These days, there’s not much difference between driving in LA and driving in the Bay Area. Except drivers down there know you can’t beat traffic, while up here, most people still think they have a chance.
The only way I was able to survive behind the wheel was by accepting the futility of it all and embracing the congestion. But it still drove me nuts.
For the past few months, I’ve only driven a cab a handful of times. It just became too painful, both physically and mentally, to be confined inside a metal box for long periods of time, dealing with the horror of The City’s streets for less than minimum wage.
My stay-cation is over with now, though. We’re out of money. But it’s baseball season. And the tourists will soon return. So it’s back to the cab yard I go. Whether I like it or not. Despite my overwhelming reluctance.
Even if the thought alone twists my intestines into a knot. Or my knees get all wobbly when I make that trek down Telegraph Ave. to MacArthur BART. I have to do it.
Until then, at least I’ll be a passenger for a little while longer.
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