“In the end, everyone in San Francisco will get evicted.”
The guy in the back of my taxi is in the middle of an epic rant.
“Regardless of how many generations deep you are, how much money you got, where you work, whether you’re famous or living in a tent – none of that matters. When you die, they’ll box you up and relocate you down to Colma. Or dump your remains in the Bay. Or whatever. Because nobody gets to stay in The City forever.”
Stuck on the lower deck of the Bay Bridge, in traffic moving like a funeral procession, it’s hard not to think about death. Especially as this guy’s negative comments rack up faster than the clicks on the taximeter.
“Yeah, I guess so,” I mumble.
Fifteen minutes earlier, third up in the cabstand at the Hyatt Regency, I watched my current passenger climb into the back of the first taxi. A few seconds later, he got out and approached the second cab. Then he walked towards me.
Rolling down my window, I anticipated the worst.
“Oakland?” he asked, from several feet away.
“Sure,” I said. “As long as you’re cool with a 45-minute drive.”
“I just want to get home and I’m in no mood for BART.”
As he gave me detailed instructions to his destination near Piedmont Ave, I mentioned living in Temescal.
“I kinda know my way around Oakland,” I said, chuckling good-naturedly.
“So how long have you been part of the problem?” he asked.
The question caught me off guard for a moment. “Oh. About five years.”
“Then you really are the problem, huh?” He laughed.
“Well, the only thing worse that being part of the problem is not knowing you’re part of the problem.”
Even though my inclination was to point out that when we were looking for a place to live in Oakland, my wife and I consciously avoided anything that might have been a site of displacement, and that apartments in our building had been generally rented out to Cal students, it was obvious he had me in a trick bag. So I just kept my mouth shut.
Fortunately, he redirected his acerbic commentary at San Francisco natives.
“The constant posturing by natives and the obsession with generational bonafides is repulsive. You know where else they were obsessed with lineage? Nuremberg.”
“I realize that’s a controversial statement.”
“Perhaps.” I chuckled nervously.
“Yeah, well sue me.”
He then went on to the lack of cemeteries in The City …
Once we get through the tunnel, traffic picks up on the eastern span and his diatribe comes full circle, back to the damage I’m inflicting upon Oakland.
“You know, I’ve never been accused of participating in gentrification before,” I say. “I mean, can poor people even gentrify a neighborhood?”
“Of course. Historically, hip, poor white people are the first wave of gentrification, once they start moving into traditionally black and brown neighborhoods.”
So now I’m hip?
I consider mentioning the demographics of the city where I was born and raised, east of downtown Los Angeles, were predominantly people of color, and that, growing up, we were the only white family around. Which is why I’ve always felt more comfortable in culturally diverse places like Oakland. Or that it’s unlikely our apartment would suddenly become affordable if we moved out, since the rent on comparable units in the building have gone up almost $1,000 in the five years we’ve been living there. But again, it’ll only make me look like an outsider with a chip on my shoulder.
Finally, we get to the Broadway Auto Row exit. As I pull up to his destination, my passenger apologizes for his long-winded polemic.
“I’ve had a bad week,” he tells me, handing me a credit card. “Go ahead and add ten bucks on there for yourself.”
On the long journey back to The City, I continue thinking of excuses to justify my existence in the Bay Area. When there’s so much competition for any available resources, you can’t help but feel guilty for taking even the smallest share. So it’s better, I guess, to know you’re part of the problem then. At least that’s a start.
Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. His zine “Behind the Wheel” is available at bookstores throughout The City. Write to Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.idrivesf.com