Category Archives: Behind the Wheel Zine

Looking for a Story with Wheels

i-drive-sf-column-examiner

Five years ago, on May 1, 2015, the first I Drive SF column appeared in the S.F. Examiner. Below is an excerpt from the zine Behind the Wheel #4: The Thin Checkered Line about how I landed the column…


Looking for a Story

After my horrendous first night as a Lyft driver, back in February of 2014, I just wanted to give up, go home and fill out an application at Trader Joe’s. But the decision to use my personal car as a taxicab in San Francisco was about more than just making a few extra bucks.

I was looking for a story.

What started out as a lark rapidly took on a life of its own. Originally, I wanted to document the Uber/Lyft trend, explore San Francisco, have some interesting adventures to write about, make a zine about the experience and move on with my life. But as I delved further into the vehicle for hire debate, I found myself in the front seat of a story that was bigger than just gypsy cabs.

The city was going through a period of major upheaval. The extravagant displays of tech money only served to magnify the abject poverty that was laid bare.

The tension was palpable. On my first day driving for Lyft, there was a five-alarm fire in the Mission Bay. As I desperately tried to navigate the city and figure out the app, a small trail of smoke over a construction site quickly spread across the sky from Mission Bay into SoMa, downtown and the Mission.

It all seemed to make sense.

The confusion. The madness. The fires.

San Francisco had become a war zone.

There were battles raging across the city. Between long-term residents and fresh transplants. Between tech workers and non-tech workers. Between renters and owners. Between people leasing their apartments to strangers on the internet and the neighbors who didn’t want to live next door to Airbnb flophouses. And between tradition taxicabs and these new services that paired random drivers and passengers through apps.

Inspired by Gonzo Journalism, I charged headlong into the fray, with a stack of Moleskins. The narrative practically wrote itself. Like a prospector who’d struck it rich, I just held my pan in the creek and collected nugget after nugget of golden material.

My passengers had no clue their words and actions had any significance to me. But they were actually telling the story of the new San Francisco as they complained about the weather, the fog, the hills, the filth, the bums, the dating scene and how there aren’t enough restaurants open late at night when the bars close.

Most of all, they talked about money. VC capital. Billion dollar valuations. Funding rounds.

Everyone had an app.

It was 2014 and startup culture was all the rage. Overly hyped apps were popping up weekly to make people’s lives more convenient. And commerce was the driving force behind this new tech boom.

One night I was driving up Franklin and this guy stuck his head out the window and screamed into the wind, “I’ve made thirty million dollars so far this year!” Then he commandeered my stereo and really got the party started…

Despite its popularity, I assumed the whole “rideshare” phenomenon was a passing fad. Since it was technically illegal, how long could it possibly last?

Around the time I was finishing up the first Lyft zine, I had a dream that City Hall passed a law outlawing Uber and Lyft. I woke up in a panic. All my work! The writing! Designing a 60-page zine! Wasted!

In reality, this was only the beginning of a massive shift in public transportation, as well as employment, by changing how those two things are defined.

The rise of Uber and Lyft was founded on a semantic loophole. By creating a new denotation for taxis – ridesharing – they were able to barge into cities around the world and disregard local regulations. Since they claimed to be a technology company and not a taxi company, the rules governing taxicabs, they argued, didn’t apply to them.

Utilizing doublespeak, these young entrepreneurs disguised their nefarious intentions behind innocuous smokescreens. Like, “sharing.”

Of course, nothing is shared when you Uber and Lyft. Or when you Airbnb. If you’re paying someone to drive you to work, whether it’s in an unmarked sedan or a multi-colored vehicle with a toplight and a phone number on the side, if a meter is running, you’re taking a taxi. The same is true if you’re charging people money to sleep in your bed.

Now that it’s been a few years, anyone with half a brain knows the “sharing economy” is just a predatory business model designed to push workers’ rights back to the 19th century. But its proponents were able to sustain their bullshit long enough until the services were entrenched in the public mindset. By the time politicians were able to include these new definitions in transportation laws, the concept of riding in strangers’ cars had become such a huge part of daily city life that it was too late to eradicate Uber and Lyft.

The will of the people ensured their success.

While this drama played out in the media and in courtrooms and boardrooms and wherever else dirty deals go down, I tried to document the experience on the street through zines and multiple blog posts.

After blogging on several platforms, the editor at Disinfo.com approached me about contributing to their site. Then, a few months later, I started writing for Broke-Ass Stuart’s website.

When “Night of the Living Taxi,” a blogpost about Flywheel’s successful attempt to beat Uber and Lyft at their own game on New Year’s Eve went viral, several media outlets contacted me, including Joe Fitzgerald-Rodriguez from the San Francisco Examiner.

We must have had a good chat because a few weeks later, he asked if I was interested in writing for the newspaper.

Michael Howerton, the Editor in Chief at the time, was looking to revive the Night Cabbie, a column from the Nineties written by an anonymous taxi driver. Howerton’s idea was to present a modern take, from the perspective of an Uber driver.

By this time I’d already switched a taxi. And it was becoming obvious that nobody cared about taxi drivers. People wanted to read about Uber and Lyft drivers. The hip new thing.

I didn’t want to lose my shot at a column, though. So I read everything online by the Night Cabbie. Most taxi drivers around the National/Veterans yard were familiar his work. As it turned out, he actually drove for Veterans. Used to be finance guy. Late Night Larry, who also worked in the Financial prior to driving a cab, was the one who encouraged him to drive a taxi when he got burnt out and needed a change.

Once I revealed the possibility of reviving the column, everyone had advice, usually criticizing some aspect of how the Night Cabbie documented the taxi driving experience and pointing out what not to do.

Since the only way to pull off the column would be to present both sides of the reality, I cobbled together a counter pitch:

“I Drive SF is a hard-edged take on the current state of driving for hire in San Francisco, from the perspective of a nighttime taxi driver who chose the cabbie’s life after ten months of driving for Uber and Lyft. With comparisons between the ride-hail and taxi experiences, interesting rides and encounters, unavoidable commentary on the impact of the latest tech boom and various historical and cultural observations on the changing city. Sprinkled with maybe too much personal information: accepting a life in Oakland, my high blood pressure, thrash metal, manic interactions with longtime cab drivers and the wife’s existential quest to find a job with meaning… A portrait of the Bay Area in flux.”

Two weeks later, I met Michael for coffee in Mint Alley.

The first installment came out on May Day. We both agreed that May Day was the perfect date to inaugurate a newspaper column about driving a taxi.

Just like that, I had my story, along with a forum to reach a wider audience. And that’s when things got really ugly …


[Excerpted from the zine Behind the Wheel 4: The Thin Checkered Line, available here. Also compiled in the Dispatches from Behind the Wheel Omnibus, available here.]


San Francisco Postcards – Street Scenes from Behind the Wheel

Now available for sale, a set of twenty-four postcards featuring San Francisco street scenes taken from behind the wheel…

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San Francisco Postcards

Set of twenty-four 4″x6″ postcards of San Francisco street scenes taken from behind the wheel. Printed on high quality card stock by MOO. Free US shipping.

$20.00

The Behind the Wheel Omnibus

BtW-postcard-front-03

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.


Available directly from the author:

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.

$20.00


Also wherever else books are sold…

AmazonBookshop.orgB&NEtsy


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


BUYING OPTIONS:

PAYPAL DIRECT:

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.

$20.00


SQUARE DIRECT:

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INSIDE THE BOOK:

The Thin Checkered Line – eBook Version Now Available

BTW4_zine2-30

Piltdownlad #11

Behind the Wheel 4: The Thin Checkered Line

PDF & ePub Digital Download

Includes a PDF of the zine, so you can see the layout and artwork that accompanied the stories, as well as an .epub file to view on your favorite eBook reader. The PDF is a printable version of the print zine. It’s 64 pages long, illustrated. The ePub file does not include any images besides the cover.

Get it here.


“The Thin Checkered Line” is the fourth installment in the Behind the Wheel series – a week in the life of a San Francisco taxi driver living in Oakland, a newly minted father and newspaper columnist who’s always on the prowl for a good ride and an even better story …Over the course of these five narrative essays, I document the gritty details of the 12-hour taxi shift while exploring the rapidly changing landscape of present day San Francisco; .

As I attempt to explain how the taxi system works, I answer the eternal question: why I drive a taxi, and describe what it’s like driving a taxi in the age of Uber and Lyft …

Along the way, I also speculate on the future of transportation and wonder where the hell we’re going, and whether or not the destination is meter and a half …

Review of Behind the Wheel 3: From Uber/Lyft to Taxi

urban-suburban-girl-zine-review

The Urban Suburban Girl blog reviewed the third issue of Behind the Wheel. Can’t ask for better praise than this:

“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.”

Check it out here.

Lots of other good stuff on this blog as well, with a focus on SF and the Bay Area.

Get your copy of Behind the Wheel 3: From Uber/Lyft to Taxi here.


[image via]

NEW ZINE: Behind the Wheel 4: The Thin Checkered Line

BTW4_cover-flat-web

“The Thin Checkered Line” is the fourth installment in the Behind the Wheel series – a week in the life of a San Francisco taxi driver, erstwhile Angeleno living in Oakland, newly minted father and newspaper columnist who’s always on the prowl for a good ride and an even better story …

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

Pt. 1 – The Way of the Taxi

Pt. 2 – A Story with Wheels

Pt. 3 – Navigating the Uber Effect

Pt. 4 – The Death of Cab Culture

Pt. 5 – San Francisco Ain’t Never Been What It Used to Be

Over the course of these five narrative essays, I document the rides that were too risqué for The Examinerand chronicle the gritty details of four 12-hour taxi shifts while exploring the rapidly changing landscape of San Francisco during the latest tech boom.

As I attempt to explain how the taxi system works, I answer the eternal question: why I drive a taxi, and describe what it’s like driving a taxi in the age of Uber and Lyft …

Along the way, I also speculate on the future of transportation and wonder where the hell we’re going, and whether or not the destination is going to be meter and a half …

This half-sized, staple-bound zine features a wraparound cover and sixty-four pages of text, illustrated with b&w images of San Francisco street scenes from behind the wheel. Also includes a “taxi driving is not a crime” bumper sticker.”  

taxi-driving-not-crime

The price is $7.00 postpaid in the US. 


ORDER HERE:

Behind the Wheel 4: The Thin Checkered Line

“The Thin Checkered Line” is the fourth installment in the Behind the Wheel series – a week in the life of a San Francisco taxi drive. This half-sized, staple-bound zine features a wraparound cover and sixty-four pages of text, illustrated with b&w images of San Francisco street scenes from behind the wheel. Includes a "taxi driving is not a crime" bumper sticker. The price is $7.00 postpaid in the US.

$7.00


ePub and PDF versions available from the Piltdownlad Etsy store.

A Kindle version is available here.

 

Listen: Crashing the Tech Industry on the Two Paychecks Podcast

two-paychecks-podcast-kelly-dessaint


A few months ago I was a guest on the Two Paychecks Podcast, an anarchist podcast out of the Pacific Northwest.

We talk about my gonzo adventures documenting the Uber/Lyft experience before going pro as a bonafide taxi driver. From recording the vapid attitudes of the new urbanites to going full-on Jerry Springer on a panel at a tech conference, this rambling exchange covers a lot of ground.

Check it out on SoundCloud or listen below:

The Two Paychecks Podcast is also available on iTunes.


 

New Mini-Zine: The Way of the Taxi

way-of-the-taxi-promo-web

The Way of the Taxi

A PILTDOWNLAD Mini-Zine

“Cab to the Yard”
b/w “Gridlock Is My Business”

This one-sheet mini-zine is a preview of the next Behind the Wheel zine, subtitled “The Thin Checkered Line.” The two short pieces here describe in gripping detail the start of a taxi shift, from getting off BART and walking through the Mission to the National Yard, then heading out into the maelstrom of afternoon traffic and people during rush hour.

8.5” x 11” – essentially, one sheet of paper, folded in quarters.
b&w illustrations

Get Behind the Wheel here.


ORDER HERE:

 

The Way of the Taxi Mini-Zine

The two short pieces in this mini-zine describe the start of a taxi shift, from getting off BART and walking through the Mission to the National Yard, then heading out into the maelstrom of afternoon traffic and people during rush hour. Measures 8.5” x 11” – essentially, one sheet of paper, folded in quarters. Includes a sticker and a taxi card (selected at random – or you can request specifics when ordering). Postpaid. (Be sure to include mailing address.)

$2.00


way-of-taxi-centerfold


my-other-ride-is-taxicab

Includes the “my other ride is a taxicab” sticker.*

Or choose one of the following:

“What would Herb Caen say?”
“taxi driving is not a crime”
“kill your smartphone”
“gentri•fuck•ation”
“your uber driver hates you”

Get Sticky here.


Also comes with a taxi card.*

(Image selected at random, or choose from one the images below.)

assorted-business-cards-web


* This is a limited time offer, while supplies last.

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