Bizarre Love Triangle

BtW-postcard-03-web

Originally appeared in the S.F. Examiner on Feb. 20 2020.

“Wow, I can’t believe I’m in a real taxi,” the girl in my backseat slurs, her words as boozey as her breath. “I didn’t think taxis even existed anymore.”

“Oh, there’s still a few of us around,” I respond absently, wondering how anyone could fail to notice the numerous multi-colored vehicles circling The City all day and night. I resist the urge to point them out as we head down Mission towards Bernal Heights from South of Market.

There’s one… There’s another one… And another…

“So why did you guys flag me?” I ask.

Originally, a guy was with her, but after she turned down his offer to keep the party going, he handed me a $20 bill, told me to drive her home and jumped out at the light to take an Uber instead.

“Getting a cab is just so…” her voice trails off. “Aggressive. We had to yell and wave to get your attention.”

“Well, I wasn’t really expecting to see anyone in front of Moscone at 1 a.m.,” I say in my defense.

Prior to speeding down Fourth Street, I had been working the Dark Star Orchestra show at the Warfield. After taking a fare to Russian Hill and a second to the Inner Richmond, I went back for a triple dip, but only a few deadheads remained, zonked out on hippie crack. A couple so high on mushrooms they couldn’t figure out how to get to the Hampton Inn around the corner wanted a ride though. Since the hotel was just a meter drop away, I declined payment, in cash or psychedelics, decided to call it a night and headed towards the bridge.

I ask the girl again why they took a taxi.

“That fellow who got in with me, Conrad, is the sweetest man,” she tells me. “He’s been in love with me for over a year. And I’ve treated him horribly.”

Her voice quivers and she begins to cry.

Read the rest here.


[Image from the San Francisco Postcard Collection – Street Scenes from Behind the Wheel.]

 


 

 

Death by Airport

BtW-postcard-32-web

Originally appeared in the S.F. Examiner on Feb. 6, 2020.

Lately I’ve been trying to avoid the airport. Now that we’re even deeper into the thick of winter, taxi business is absolutely dismal. At SFO, the wait times are longer than ever.

There was a momentary respite from the bleakness two weeks ago when the JP Morgan conference rolled into town, but since then, driving a taxi has been mostly an exercise in futility.

I start my shifts before the sun comes up, canvassing the hotels downtown for any signs of life. Without tourists or suits, though, demand is minimal. You take anything you can get, while fighting the urge to deadhead to the airport.

At least you know there’ll be something decent at the end of the queue. If you’re lucky, that is, and don’t get stuck waiting several hours to reach a terminal.

That’s what happened to me last Tuesday night…

After dropping at the W, I check the TaxiQ app that provides information about what’s going on at the airport, including how many cabs are in the holding lots and how many flights are arriving each hour. Since the numbers look good, I jump on 101 and head south.

Three and one half hours later, I finally pull up to terminal two, frantically hoping for a decent fare. Fifteen minutes later, the starter directs someone with luggage towards my cab.

“Where you heading?” I ask the guy.

“The Marriott in Burlingame.”

Crap. A $14 short.

Fortunately, with short rides, you can go to the front of the line upon returning to the airport. But when I get back, there are seven shorts ahead of me. And only a few more flights coming in.

It takes 30 minutes to reach terminal three. This time, though, I get a ride within seconds, but after stashing the woman’s suitcases in my trunk, I’m dismayed to find out her destination.

“San Mateo, please,” she says. “Poplar Ave.”

Another short.

Disappointed, I can hardly talk during the ride. I drop her off and race back to the holding lots.

There’s only one flight left. And the short line is five cabs deep.

After 20 minutes and no movement, I give up and drive home. Dejected and angry.

This is what’s referred to, in Hacker parlance, as “death by airport.”

Read the rest here.


[Image from the San Francisco Postcard Collection – Street Scenes from Behind the Wheel.]

 


 

 

 

Welcome to the Jungle

BtW-postcard-30-web

Originally appeared in the S.F. Examiner on Jan. 23, 2020.

After pulling up to terminal three and stowing the young girl’s suitcase in the trunk of my cab, I get behind the wheel and look over my shoulder to find out her destination, but, to my surprise, she opens the front passenger door instead.

“Hop in back,” I tell her. “You’ll be more comfortable.”

“I’ll just hold onto it,” she says, assuming I was referring to her backpack.

“OK then.” I quickly adjust the seat, since it’s pushed all the way forward.

“So, uh, where to?” I ask, hitting the meter.

She gives me an address on Turk Street. I ask her to repeat it since there are no hotels or apartment buildings on that block.

“In the Tenderloin?”

“I guess,” she says. “I’ve never been there before.”

On the freeway, I make subtle inquiries. She’s from Wilmington, North Carolina, taking a gap year in The City.

“That means you’re what, 18 or 19?”

“I’m actually 20 years old,” she replies, somewhat defensively.

She looks much younger.

Her explanation of the building where she’s going to be living for the next year is a bit convoluted, but it sounds like a hybrid hotel/apartment building with dorm rooms. So, basically a hostel.

Read the rest here.


[Image from the San Francisco Postcard Collection – Street Scenes from Behind the Wheel.]

 


 

 

 

“As Far as $53 Will Take Me”

BtW-postcard-02-web

Originally appeared in the S.F. Examiner on Jan. 8, 2020.

“I just need to hit a lick or something, and everything will be OK,” the guy in the back of my taxi tells me, bringing a torrent of dismay to a semi-conclusion. “It’s not like I’m asking for the world, you know? I mean, something’s gotta give. I can’t keep building cardboard forts to stay out of the rain. You know what I mean?”

Even though most of his statements end with questions, I realized soon into the ride that he wasn’t seeking affirmation. He just wants to talk. Been on a roll since I picked him and his black Labrador up outside the Whole Foods on California Street.

At the time, I was on a radio call, looking for someone named Sylvia. While he didn’t fit the description, he was the only one around who wanted a taxi.

I sensed right away that he was on the skids. A reality he also knew was unmistakable, which is why, after making sure I was cool with the dog, he immediately handed me a wad of cash.

“How far south can I go for $53?” he asked. “That’s all the money I have to my name.”

Read the rest here.


[Image from the San Francisco Postcard Collection – Street Scenes from Behind the Wheel.]

 


 

 

 

Can Taxis Survive a Global Pandemic?

BtW-postcard-38-web

Originally appeared in the S.F. Examiner on Mar. 19, 2020.

Welp, it’s the end of the taxi industry as we’ve known it and, honestly, I don’t know what to feel anymore. I haven’t driven a cab in two weeks. After the RSA conference, when normal business started to tank, there didn’t seem to be much of a point. Without the airport and tourists, the only way to make money in a cab is via luck. And I’m just not that lucky.

Since then, things have only gotten worse. With no end in sight to the downward spiral.

During my involuntary sabbatical, I’ve been talking to drivers who are still out on the streets. The situation is dire.

Wait times at SFO are anywhere from five to seven hours. Cabs are sitting in front of the Hyatt Regency and Marriott Marquis for two or more hours. Street flags are non-existent. And dispatch orders are few and far between.

And that was before the shelter in place order went into effect on Tuesday.

Now… who knows what to expect? Every day, things are different.

Even though taxis are still considered essential during the lockdown, demand wasn’t very high before everyone was put under house arrest, so how many people will actually need rides over the next few weeks if they’re not supposed to go outside?

For gate and gas drivers, it seems to be the end of the road. It’s just not worth the risk of going out and barely covering your expenses. But how do we make money in meantime?

Read the rest here.


[Image from the San Francisco Postcard Collection – Street Scenes from Behind the Wheel.]

 


 

 

The Luxury of Being Bored

BtW-postcard-12-web

Originally appeared in the S.F. Examiner on Apr. 2, 2020.

It goes without saying that the past few weeks have been a whirlwind of emotions: fear, isolation and the uncertainty of when/if things will ever be normal again. Based on social media, though, which is the only way to really interact with anyone these days, one of the most pervasive sensations shared by the general public seems to be boredom.

As we enter the third week of sheltering in place, my Facebook and Twitter feeds are inundated with people looking for ways to alleviate the stagnant existence our lives have become while trapped indoors.

Not to diminish anyone else’s experiences, but if you’re bored, consider yourself lucky.

Imagine being stuck in a tiny, cramped one-bedroom apartment with a rambunctious three year old who’s constantly bouncing off the walls.

It starts from the moment she opens her eyes, with a brief respite at naptime, if we’re lucky, until she finally lets me rock her to sleep to Joy Division or Echo & the Bunnymen at some point between 10 p.m. and midnight.

Even before they closed the playgrounds, when we try to take her outside, she immediately gravitates towards other people and touches every available surface and puts things in her mouth. She’s a very active and social three year old. She doesn’t know any better, and has no grasp of the dangers of germs.

Children never – ever – do what you want them to do. I don’t know how people survived with kids during historical disasters like sieges or natural disasters. There’s no way my child would remain chill under adverse circumstances. Like, say, hidden in an attic in the Netherlands. By day two we would’ve been caught and shipped off to the camps.

We keep her indoors as much as possible. A process that has been frustrating and infuriating, for all of us. And definitely not boring.

Read the rest here.


[Image from the San Francisco Postcard Collection – Street Scenes from Behind the Wheel.]

 


 

 

The Lost Art of Getting Around

BtW-postcard-23-web

Originally appeared in the S.F. Examiner on Dec. 27, 2019.

She gets in the back of my taxi at the United terminal, wearing Beats headphones. A clear signal: do not disturb. Which is fine. After finding out her destination — the Proper hotel — I keep my mouth shut. I don’t feel like talking anyway. Until the freeway turns into a parking lot and I kind of need to explain why we’re taking an alternate route.

According to the electronic traffic sign right before the split, it’s 50 minutes to downtown.

Fortunately, I know a shortcut.

In the age of Google Maps, Waze, et al., there aren’t many secret ways to get around The City anymore. Almost everyone relies on GPS nowadays. I use it too, but only to find out which way not to go.

When Google Maps suggests a route, I know that’s the one to avoid, because if they’re telling me to go that way, they’re directing every other driver that way too.

It’s a no-brainer, really. If you want to beat traffic, you have to carve out your own trajectory.

Read the rest here.


[Image from the San Francisco Postcard Collection – Street Scenes from Behind the Wheel.]

 


 

 

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…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


 

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


Banging My Head Against a Taxi Shift

yellow-cab-marriott-fishermans-wharf

Originally published in the S.F. Examiner
on July 11, 2019.

There was something in the air last week, and not just the glow of fireworks pulsating through the dense fog that shrouded most of The City on the Fourth of July…

Equally ominous, but even more unsatisfying, are all the empty streets, devoid of fares. Except in the Wharf, where thousands of visitors congregate for the official pyrotechnic display, only to leave disappointed.

Before the show is over, a mass exodus begins. Around 9:45 p.m., I head up Columbus, hoping to pick off from the herd without venturing too deep into the morass of vehicles for hire operated by drivers just as confused as the erstwhile spectators wandering the streets like refugees from an active war zone.

“You can’t see a thing!” exclaims a group of women from West Virginia.

“Happens every year,” I tell them.

“So what’s the point?”

“No clue.”

After depositing them at the St. Francis, I head back to the Wharf for another load.

“The fog’s too thick to see the fireworks,” complains a mother of two sons.

“But you can hear them,” points out the younger one.

“It’s like this every July,” I say.

Read the rest here.


Wanna Go for a Ride?

Just released: Dispatches from Behind the Wheel: The Omnibus –
The Complete Zine Series about Driving for Hire in San Francisco

A Phony Lid paperback original. Includes all four issue of Behind the Wheel, revised and expanded with additional content. A Lyft Driver’s Log • Notes from an Uber/Lyft • From Uber/Lyft to Taxi • The Thin Checkered Line

Get all the details here.