Author Archives: piltdownlad

About piltdownlad

S.F. Examiner columnist, author, zine maker, LA native exiled in Oakland, aspiring luddite, proud papa.

Dispatches from Behind the Wheel: The Omnibus

The Complete Zine Series about Driving for Hire in San Francisco

The Behind the Wheel zine was created by longtime zine maker Kelly Dessaint to document his experiences driving for hire in San Francisco. The first two issues chronicle driving for Uber and Lyft, before he goes to taxi school and becomes a bonafide taxi driver. The third issue features the unexpurgated “I Drive SF,” based on his weekly column for the San Francisco Examiner. The fourth issues contains five long-form essays about driving a taxi in San Francisco while living in Oakland, writing for a newspaper, dealing with a complicated marriage, hostile encounters with Uber/Lyft drivers and the prospect of bringing a child into a world that’s completely out of whack. Combined, this collection presents a vivid, voyeuristic tapestry of The City, which is a constant backdrop throughout the stories – essentially the main star – followed closely by the author himself.

paperback original
364 pages
5.5″ x 8.5″
duotone cover
fully illustrated in b&w


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Dispatches from Behind the Wheel: The Omnibus

The complete zine series about driving for hire in San Francisco... This 364 page paperback contains the definitive versions of all four issues of Behind the Wheel, expanded and updated with new illustrations and additional content. Two-tone cover, fully illustrated in black and white. Free shipping via USPS media mail.

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When the Wheel of Fortune Takes You for a Spin

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I Drive SF column published in the S.F. Examiner on May 1, 2019.

“Oh, Fortuna, blind, heedless goddess, I am strapped to your wheel… Do not crush me beneath your spokes.”

— John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces

My first day back in a cab after a month long sabbatical transpired with more than a few bumps in the road. Ninety minutes into my shift last Thursday, I’m rolling down Castro towards Market, where a big rig is blocking the lane. Undeterred, I follow a minivan around the massive obstruction, but misjudge the amount of space between my taxi and the vehicles in front of me.

To avoid impeding traffic, I veer to the right as much as possible, until my tire scrapes the side of the truck’s loading ramp. Seconds after feeling the thud, my dashboard lights up and the distinctive whomp-whomp-whomp reverberates off Hot Cookie’s glass storefront.

I mutter a string of expletives and find a safe place to pull over. While waiting for the tow truck, I wonder what the universe is trying to tell me. As much as I want to give up and scamper back to Oakland, the rent isn’t going to pay itself. So after the tow truck takes me and the cab to the Yellow garage, where one of the mechanics immediately replaces the tire, I start all over again.

This time, Fortuna smiles on me. I get a ride from the Mission to the Omni hotel. From there, I fight traffic through the Financial to the Hyatt Regency. I hear the doorman’s whistle from a block away and charge into the hotel driveway. When I pull up, a couple is waiting with suitcases.

Read the rest here.

This Cab’s on Fire

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I Drive SF column published in the S.F. Examiner on April 25, 2019.

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.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

The I Drive SF Sticker Pack

get-sticky-all8

Now available: a smorgasbord of adhesive propaganda.

Eight anti-corporate/pro-taxi/San Francisco-centric bumper stickers for five bucks.

The I DRIVE SF Sticker Pack

Eight stickers, each measuring 8.5" x 1.5" EXCEPT the last two, which are 4.25" x 1.5" Made with high quality, long-lasting, weatherproof vinyl - perfect for car bumpers or anywhere else you want to get sticky. All orders include a free mini-zine: "The Way of the Taxi," along with other extras. Free USPS First Class Shipping!

$5.00


You can also order them through Etsy by clicking here.

Get Sticky!

The Last of the Late Night Cab Drivers

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I Drive SF column published in the S.F. Examiner on May 9, 2019.

There for a while I seriously questioned my decision to leave National to drive for Yellow, even though the defection was far from spontaneous. Prior to walking down Upton Alley to try my luck at another cab company, I mulled over the prospect for several months. Like Gregory Hines in the movie White Nights, as he planned an escape from the Soviet Union, I wasdetermined and reluctant at the same time.

Unlike most Refuseniks, though, I was riddled with regret and consternation shortly after making the switch, convinced it was a huge mistake. The transition to Yellow has been anything but smooth. Besides the flat tire and broken window detailed in last week’s column, I had a blowout on the Bay Bridge during my first shift in a Yellow cab. Three weeks later, I got into a minor no-fault accident on Mission Street.

Then there were the Yellow policies, which took some getting used to. Unlike National, everything at Yellow is by the book. Taped to the cashier windows are signs with statements like “No exemptions!” That’s how I ended up over-drafting my bank account in February: paying up front for 24- hour shifts and not getting reimbursed for credit card/Paratransit transactions until a week later.

Once my finances were completely out of whack, the despair and economic hardships overwhelmed me and I had to take a break to regroup. At first the anonymity of driving a Yellow cab was appealing. But I quickly began to feel isolated. Whenever I ran into a National/Veterans driver on the streets, I eagerly inquired about the company. Who’s still in the office? What’s going on with the meters? Have they fully transitioned to Flywheel yet?

The Flywheel deal was always a dealbreaker for me. When rumors first to began circulate that National was going to replace their hard-wired taximeters and two-way radios with the Flywheel app, I railed against the idea of an app-based dispatch system and letting a third party take over the mechanics of running a cab.

Nowadays, if you don’t want to run the Flywheel app, you need to be in a Yellow cab.

Still, I don’t handle change well. I’m a very habitual person. Part of growing up a welfare case: after bouncing around foster homes, group homes and relatives’ homes as a teenager, I craved stability as an adult, always seeking a temple of the familiar.

Read the rest here.

How to Become a Taxi Driver

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My column for the SF Examiner published on April 17, 2019 is about the exhaustive procedures to become a taxi driver versus the simple process of driving for Uber and Lyft.

One of the major “innovations” Uber and Lyft have unleashed upon the world is a low barrier of entry in recruiting drivers. Since their inception, Uber/Lyft lobbyists have argued in City Hall and Sacramento that putting too much pressure on potential applicants would discourage them from signing up.

It worked. And to this day, there are still news stories about former criminals becoming Uber/Lyft drivers and perpetuating new crimes.

Remember when Uber claimed to provide the safest ride? Yeah. They were forced by a court of law to stop spreading that obvious lie.

As I’ve mentioned in my last two columns, regulations exist for a reason: to protect the public. Uber/Lyft boosters often overlook this fact when defending their transportation choices.

During 11 months that I did the Uber/Lyft thing, I seldom felt safe. The only thing more terrifying than all the potential scenarios one might face on the road was how little support Uber and Lyft offered their “partners.”

I always felt alone on the streets. While I couldn’t possibly rely on passengers to have my back, I didn’t trust other Uber/Lyft drivers either. Because I knew how easy it was to become one.

Read the rest here.


 

The Uber/Lyft Trend

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My column for the SF Examiner published on March 21, 2019 is about trendoids and their transportation choices…

You can learn a lot about the current state of transportation in the ad hoc cabstand outside Public Works at 3 a.m.

While waiting in line for 30 minutes or longer for a fare, you have a unique perspective on how the new San Franciscans get around these days.

And it’s not pretty.

As dozens of Uber/Lyft vehicles scrimmage on either side of Mission, some charging headlong into the smoking section on Erie, packs of club goers stand around the makeshift concession stand at the end of the dead end alley waiting for their rides.

For each cab taken, there are approximately 15-20 Uber and Lyft pick-ups. The process is slow going. Obviously, most of these young urbanites are willing to brave the precipitation and frigid night air in their skimpy club attire than get into one of the available taxis.

Meanwhile, every 15 minutes, a 14 bus roars by, blaring its horn out of frustration at the vehicular morass.

Even though you can easily get from Public Works to Monarch or Club 6 on the 14, or take the 9 to Halcyon, the Great Northern or 150 San Bruno, no self-respecting hip city dweller would be caught dead on Muni.

Or a taxi, for that matter.

Most recent transplants prefer to ride in some random dude’s Camry than take public transportation. Regardless of the price. Because getting around today isn’t about saving a buck. Or even convenience.

It’s about trends.

And taxis, like buses, are relics of the past.

Read the rest here.