“From the very fountain of enchantment there arises a taste of bitterness to spread anguish amongst the flowers.” — Lucretius
You know it’s probably time to call it quits when you’re waiting for the light to change at a stop sign, and after sitting there for almost a minute, your passenger rousts you from your daze by saying, “Uhm, my place is a few more blocks up ahead.”
“Oh, no wonder the light isn’t changing.” I laugh, realizing my error. Adding, “It’s been a long weekend.”
After five shifts in a row, my brain is mush. Even now, as I write this, with only one day of rest, I’m still recovering from working SF Pride.
I wish I had a funny or crazy story to relate from the experience, but all I have to offer is frustration and disappointment.
On Saturday, I drove up and down Market Street looking for a fare. The sidewalks were crowded with cheerful revelers. It was great to see The City alive again. I can’t remember seeing that many people out and about since New Year’s Eve, but inside I felt a growing desperation. I wanted to see hands in the air. I wanted people in my cab. I wanted to share in this experience. But nobody seemed to need a taxi.
And why would they? The streets were jam-packed with Uber and Lyft drivers taking advantage of hourly guarantees. Which meant, regardless of how many cheap rides they provided, they still made up to $40 an hour. That’s a damn good deal, since earning $250 during a 12-hour shift in a taxi is considered a profitable night these days.
I was hoping to do better than that with a massive event like Pride, but at the end of my shift on Saturday, I made $50 less than I did two Saturdays ago.
The theme of this year’s corporate-sponsored Pride parade — racial and economic justice — seems to have been lost on most of the participants, who had no qualms supporting companies that exploit their workers, companies that destroy the livelihoods of honest, hard-working San Franciscans and, in the case of Uber, a company that takes $3.5 billion from Saudi Arabia, a nation that punishes acts of homosexuality with death, life imprisonment, castration or flogging. And that’s if they don’t fall victim to vigilante executions.
How is that any kind of justice?
And then Sunday night, when the guarantees expired and surge pricing dried up and all the Uber-Lyft drivers went home, abandoning thousands of inebriated partiers looking for rides, who came to the rescue?
San Francisco taxi drivers. As always.
While it was joyous to move through The City without the usual nincompoop drivers in the way, I couldn’t help but feel spiteful about being a last-ditch option.
Uber and Lyft claim dynamic pricing creates an incentive for drivers to hit the road when there is high demand, but what’s the incentive for us to stay out until the break of day, working the after-hours clubs and searching for stragglers wandering the darkened streets of SoMa?
It certainly isn’t the gratitude from the passengers who try to exit the cab without paying.
“Oh, hahaha, I thought I was in an Uber.”
After a while, that joke just isn’t funny anymore.
From about 1:30 a.m. to 4:30 a.m., I have to constantly remind my fares, wasted on molly and booze, to pay me.
As I drop off one guy at his high-rise apartment building and he opens the door to leave, I politely, almost apologetically, say, “Hey, uhm, this isn’t an Uber …”
“You flagged me,” I remind him. “This is a taxi.”
“So … I have to pay you now?”
“Yeah, that would be ideal.” I chuckle to alleviate the awkwardness.
“I can’t use my phone?”
“No, only cash or credit card. Sorry.”
“There’s nothing I can tap with my phone?”
He hands me a debit card. I run it through my Square reader and ask if he wants to leave a tip. He adds two dollars and goes up to his apartment in the sky.
I head back to the clubs, hoping to find more business, now that my expertise — and a rate that doesn’t increase when people are desperate — is finally needed, until it’s time to return my cab, wipe the glitter off the backseat and go home to drown my bitterness with vodka and a sense of pride in … what, I don’t know. Honestly, I just don’t know.