Author: Kelly Dessaint aka Piltdownlad
I found this intriguing little zine-like booklet at Thrillhouse Records in the Outer Mission district.
This narrative zine is one of three personal accounts of a columnist who drove for both Uber and Lyft, documented over 3,000 rides; and now drives a cab – and for good reasons! Which you will find reading his blog and zines.
The author of idrivesf.com, who goes by the name of Piltdownlad, writes for the S.F. Examiner appearing every Thursday. You can read more about him here.
Back Cover Summary:
The third installment in the Behind the Wheel series is a ribald journey into the reality of driving a bonafide San Francisco taxicab. Gritty and raw, the view from a cab is not for the faint-hearted. From facilitating drug deals to abetting prostitution to just getting people home safely from clubs, the job of a night cabbie isn’t over until the sun comes up.
Where I read it and how long did it take:
In bed over Christmas break, taking a very relaxed approach – about 3.5 days.
Stand Out Passages:
Still… the most troubling part of driving for Uber and Lyft, though, was the realization I was subsidizing multi-million-or, in Uber’s case, multi-billion-dollar companies. And for what? Empy promises and a sense of community?
What bullshit. I never felt like anything but an underpaid, untrained, and unregulated taxi driver.
From the beginning, I was appalled by the self-entitled culture that spawned the phenomenon of “ridesharing” and the consequences on the livelihoods of cab drivers.
It wasn’t easy participating in the destruction of the blue-collar industry. After all, I’m a descendant of coal miners, janitors, store clerks, and army grunts. Being an Uber/Lyft driver was not in my nature. To be successful at it requires personality traits I’ll never possess: the ability to cheat and scam. And a complete lack of conscience.
Since the only time you make decent money is during surge pricing, you have to take pride in ripping people off. The rest of the time, you’re barely making minimum wage, so you must be somewhat stupid as well…
You’re basically running your personal car into the ground and hoping to luck out with a ride that’s more than five bucks.
Some Drivers have figured out how to game the system and earn more money by referring drivers than actually driving themselves… but isn’t that just a bizarro take on the pyramid scheme?
Despite Uber’s political spin or Lyft’s cheerful advertising campaign, using your personal car as a taxi is not sustainable. Each time I got behind the wheel of my Jetta and turned on the apps, I had to overlook the absurdity of what I was doing. It never ceased to amaze me that people would be so willing to ride in some random dude’s car. But since my passengers acted as if the activity were perfectly normal, I went along with it…
Sometimes, it seems the history of San Francisco’s taxi industry is the history of San Francisco itself.
Slowly, as the fire dwindles, people disappear into the darkness and those who remain huddle to stay warm, until the sky brightness and the hardliners begin to arrange rides home, and easy task in a cab yard.
If no one is heading to the East Bay, I get dropped off downtown.
Waiting for the first Pittsburgh/Bay Point train at 8:15 am, I roam Market Street, empty but for the few remaining street people who call out from the shadows, “Good morning,” knowing I’m a working stiff, not some mark.
That’s when the madness of driving a cab dissipates. And for a few moments, before I descend into the BART station, The City feels like… home, maybe.
First of all, Kelly Dessaint is a great writer. He has a casual way of prose that makes you feel like you’re shooting the shit over a beer, or a cup of coffee… or that you’re in some indie film and his voice is the narrative. It’s the kind of writing I strive to achieve, a casual coolness, with an effortless touch of the keys…
After reading this zine, it moved something in me, especially after the first passage above, and many other rants like it that followed. Dessaint really puts into perspective the absurdity behind the lack of training Uber and Lyft drivers have. Further into the story(ies) he talks about his cab training from an actual driving school, and it really made me think more critically about who we are trusting ourselves with, and the effects corporations have on the livelihood of The City. In his training, he explained that it covered a lot of ground including SFMTA taxi regulations and traffic laws, ADA requirements, and how to navigate The City’s unique streets efficiently. There was even sensitivity training and instructions on safety and protecting their clients and themselves as workers. Lastly, after taking an exam, the final step was to get fingerprinted at the DMV.
Midway through the zine, I started to take cabs instead of using my ride-share apps. What I found was that I could catch a ride much faster than waiting for an Uber or Lyft — they always seem to fake you out with how many minutes you have to wait; as soon as you commit to a ride, they tack on about 5 – 10 more minutes!… that always peeved me. I also found that the prices were about the same, if not cheaper, and I didn’t even have to share the ride.
I hardly ever carry cash on me, and paying with plastic never seemed to be an issue. Not to mention each cab driver lived up to the mystic characters as described in Dessaint’s stories… long time residents of San Francisco, with interesting views on The City’s current changes and impressive navigating skills through alleyways; the best part was watching them interact with other cabbies and random people on the street, making you feel as if you were suddenly a part of The City’s subculture. They could tell you the dish on that one business owner who bought out that one hotel on the corner, and that one piece of scum from LA who thinks he can buy the whole dam block… the stories and attitudes were priceless.
A must read, especially for San Francisco residents. It brought back the San Francisco edge in my mind’s eye, the edge that has been disappearing slowly as gentrification has been taking over. It will encourage you to join the resistance.