Last Wednesday night, I participated in a panel discussion for the annual Laborfest called “Uber, Worker Rights, Tech and the Public.”
I suppose it’s beneficial to continue informing the population about Uber’s impact on the San Francisco taxi industry, as well as the thousands of drivers who propelled the juggernaut to its $62 billion valuation. Despite all the talking between the panel and audience, though, there weren’t many solutions presented other than prolonged lawsuits. Or just holding your breath until enough people realize Uber is a public threat and/or they run out of drivers willing to work for peanuts.
The following afternoon, I start my workweek feeling mostly pessimistic. Disheartened, I make it through my shift, but something happens the next day that brightens my mood …
Traffic is beyond horrible. Epic. Worse than any normal Friday in recent memory. As I slug through the congestion, passengers keep asking, “Is there something going on this weekend?”
“Not that I know of.”
I have to be aggressive to circumvent the melee of vehicles, most of which are Uber-Lyfts. As I make my way down California Street toward the Financial, a line of cars tries to use the cabstand in front of 555 Cal to turn right onto Montgomery, only to wind up stuck behind a few waiting taxis. Seeing as how I’ll be trapped anyway, I fight my way into the cabstand.
Before I can pull up behind a Town Taxi, someone knocks on my window and opens my back door.
Well, at least I’m getting paid to deal with traffic as I drive my fare to the St. Francis. I just have to get out of this cabstand.
I inch forward, forcing my way into the flow of traffic I just struggled to escape from. There’s an Uber to my left. I make a move. He pulls forward, not wanting to let me in, but I keep going. When he realizes I’m more than willing to let him hit me, he lays on his horn and starts screaming.
Whatever. I’m back into the stream of cars heading toward Montgomery. But the Uber driver is still upset. I ignore him. He pulls into the cabstand to the right of me, rolls down his window and continues shrieking. I just keep my eyes forward. La de da, la de da …
He tries to get behind me again, but there are too many cars. I see him a few spaces back, still bellowing and shaking his fist at me.
His fulmination draws the ire of a taxi driver in the cabstand who tells him to shut up. The Uber driver then alternates his fury between the two of us.
Meanwhile, I just keep slowly moving forward. Next thing I know, there’s a guy tapping at my window.
“I just wanted you to know that you’re driving like a total asshole.”
“Oh thanks,” I say. “Have a nice day.”
As I roll the window back up, the guy stands there for a few seconds before walking away. In my side mirror, I watch him return to the Uber I cut in front of.
“That’s too funny,” I say out loud.
“Is traffic always this bad in San Francisco?” my fare asks me, seemingly unfazed by all the turmoil I’ve caused.
“It fluctuates, but yeah.” I chuckle.
For the rest of the night, I can’t help but smile whenever I think about how I pissed that Uber driver off so badly his passenger had to get out of the car and call me an asshole.
It’s the little things, you know?
I wasn’t even trying to make him mad. I was just doing my job.
Is it my fault that, as a professional driver, I spend so much time behind the wheel of a taxi, stuck in traffic, fighting congestion, going to absurd lengths to get people where they need to be that I’ve developed the expertise and knowledge to drive with intent?
How else am I supposed to get anywhere?
Over time, I’ve learned to keep my cool amid the madness of vehicular clusterfucks because I know I just intentionally drove into said clusterfuck. That’s like jumping into a pool and getting mad at the water.
These days, horns blaring at me sound like birds whistling in the trees. Near-collisions are just that. They only count if they happen. And all the dirty looks and aspersions form an elastic blur.
I’m a taxi driver, goddamn it!
I own these streets.
Originally published in the S.F. Examiner on Aug. 5, 2016.