It may seem easy to follow GPS directions while driving, but it doesn't always provide the most efficient route.

Feeling the pulse of The City

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I work the night. No matter whether I ride to San Francisco in style with Colin or drag my weary bones down Telegraph Avenue to the MacArthur BART, I leave my apartment each afternoon when the sun is on the wane and rarely get back home to Oakland until the sun is rising the next day.

From rush hour to the small hours, I feel the pulse of The City on the streets, constantly moving until the midnight-to-last-call doldrums, when business dies down long enough to take a prolonged break.

Last Friday, I’m smoking on Valencia when I run into Jimmy Flowers, the Haight Street Gardener. We chat about his recent memorial plot to Jim Morrison and the struggle to maintain one’s convictions in today’s San Francisco, whether you’re fighting off tech workers or the Russian mafia.

After 2 a.m., I head to the ad hoc cabstand at Public Works, seven cabs deep. Trevor, the street ninja, is in front of me, sitting on the roof of his Desoto/Flywheel Escape, house music thumping from the stereo. I get out to stretch my legs and watch the Phonies on the sidewalk gyrate to the beat and then dance toward the cluster of four-door sedans blocking the flow of traffic on Mission.

“Are you my Uber?”

“No, I’m Lyft.”

Like most weekend nights, it’s about four Uber-Lyft pick-ups to each taxi ride. So what else is there to do but have a little party with a contingent of the SF Hackers?

Thomas pulls in behind me. A few minutes later, Irina Borisovna shows up. And what would an ad hoc cabstand outside a DJ club be without Mary, one of the best landsharks on the road?

Standing outside our cabs, we joke and talk shop as an endless stream of Uber-Lyfts, trusting GPS more than what’s before their very eyes, charge recklessly into Erie Street, a dead-end alley that serves as a smoking area for the club.

A group of guys who live in the apartment building across the street hang out on their stoop drinking beer and cracking up each time one of the grossly untrained drivers realize they’re about to slaughter a crowd of zonked out clubgoers, slam on their brakes and slowly reverse back into traffic, creating more congestion.

Once I’m finally on the throne, a couple climbs into my backseat.

“Follow that Uber!” the girl directs me.

I turn around and calmly say, “One, I don’t follow Ubers. Two, where are you going?”
She rattles off the address of a familiar after-hours club. I assure her I can get her there effortlessly.

“But my friend in that Uber has the code.”

“You can’t just meet her there?” I ask.

“Please,” she implores me. “We can’t get in without the code!”

Knowing this to be true, I reluctantly get behind the beat-up Astrovan. When the light at Division turns green, the driver takes a right.

“Where is he going?” I wonder aloud. “Is he really getting on the freeway?”

“Are you sure that’s the right Uber?” The guy with her seems to be taking my side.

“Yes! I’m positive.”

As we careen down the Central Freeway onto the 80, I complain bitterly about how far out of the way we’re going. “Is he headed to Oakland now?”

At the very last second, the van swerves across two lanes and goes down Bryant to Third, driving at a snail’s pace. I have to pull over a few times and wait for him to catch up.

When we finally reach our destination, the meter reads $15.05. With a tip, I make $18 on what should have been a ten-dollar ride.

As I race through the empty streets, I rethink my policy on following Ubers. I’ve always prided myself on using the most efficient, fastest routes to save my passengers money and time, but perhaps I could be making bank by just following the path laid out by a computer.

Hey, the future of driverless cars is now.

Back at Public Works, the line is longer. I pull in behind Barry, get out to stretch my legs and make fun of the clueless Uber-Lyft drivers until I’m on the throne again, ready to head out into the night one more time.

Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. Write to him at piltdownlad@gmail.com and @piltdownlad.

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