Tag Archives: lyft

Kelly Dessaint on the “Drinks with Tony” Podcast


I was a guest on Tony DuShane’s eponymous podcast/radio show, Drinks with Tony. We discuss the craft writing, how I ended up driving a taxi, my experiences with Lyft and Uber, how I landed a gig writing a column for the S.F. Examiner, the pandemic and how a little bit of success can lead to a whole lot of despair.

I think. We talked for a while, and I kinda hoping he edited a bunch of stuff out…

Anyway. Not sure what Tony was drinking, but I had a seltzer on ice.

Check out the podcast here.


That Time I Was a Lyft Driver for Halloween

Ah, the memories… Even if I try to forget, Facebook always reminds me of the stupid shit I did in the past… And wrote columns about…

The increasingly blurry lines of driving for hire

By Kelly Dessaint 

published on Nov 6, 2015

I was a Lyft driver for Halloween.

The idea came to me at last week’s barbeque. For some reason, driving around San Francisco, picking up fares with Lyft’s iconic trade dress on my cab, seemed like an absolutely hilarious prank. Even if I just caused confusion, at the very least it would be a noteworthy social experiment.

So that Saturday, once it got dark, I fastened the fluffy pink Carstache Lyft sent me when I first signed up to the grill of National 182 and attached the Glowstache I’d received as a top-rated driver to the dash.

I created a Pandora station around The Cramps, Misfits and Ramones.

To augment my trickery, I planned to tell my passengers I didn’t know where I was going and that it was 200 percent Prime Time all night.

I figured everyone would laugh and throw piles of money at me for having such a clever costume.

On 16th Street, a girl dressed as a spider flagged me down.

“Can you take me to Geary and Fillmore, please?”

“Sorry, I’m a Lyft driver,” I said merrily. “I don’t know where that is.”

“It’s easy,” she responded in all seriousness. “I’ll direct you.”

“…”

From Japantown, I crawled down Polk Street behind a beat-up white limo. A few cab drivers looked at me like I was committing the greatest sin by “rocking the ’stache,” as they say in Lyft parlance.

Trevor, the Street Ninja, impersonating Travis Bickle, cruised past me at one point cracking up.

“I’m a Lyft driver!” I yelled out the window. “Where am I? What street is this? Are we in SoMa?”

I stuck to the more congested parts of The City, where I knew my caricature would get the most exposure. Some Lyft drivers scowled at me. Others blew their horns or flashed their high beams.

The majority of my passengers, though, didn’t seem to notice or care. They just told me where they were going, and off I drove with my mouth shut.

So much for being a friend with a cab.

After dropping off a group of revelers at Bar None, I was heading deeper into the congestion of Union Street with The Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog” at full blast when a guy darted out of the crowd.

“You!” He pointed at my cab, laughed and jumped in the backseat.

Barreling down Gough, we talked about irony and thrash metal. When I dropped him off on Valencia, he almost took off without paying.

“Hey, I’m only pretending to be a Lyft,” I reminded him.

On my way to the Haight from the Mission with a fare, Other Larry pulled up next to me on Guerrero in Veterans 233.

“Nice fucking mustache!” he shouted.

“Look at me!” I jeered. “I’m a Lyft driver and I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing!”

“Does it ever get old?” the guy in the backseat asked.

“What?”

“Making fun of Lyft.”

“No.”

On a ride through the back roads of the Western Addition, I tried to explain to another guy the tension between the Smartphone Hailed Internet Transportation Services and cab drivers and why the Lyft mustaches on my taxi were so hilarious.

“You mean you can’t do Lyft in a cab?” he asked. “I always assumed you guys were all the same.”

The same?

Sure, the lines are blurry these days: Flywheel is an app and a taxi company; most Uber drivers are Lyft drivers and vice versa; decommissioned Yellow cabs are used as Uber-Lyft cars; Towncar drivers slap fake TCP numbers on their bumpers to access commercial lanes; out-of-town cabs come into The City all the time and pick up street hails; and now Uber-Lyft drivers are putting toplights on their Priuses.

According to a recent study from Northeastern University, the streets of San Francisco are congested with more than 10,000 vehicles for hire on average. During a holiday like Halloween, that number is considerably higher. But only taxicabs are required to follow rules and regulations. Everyone else is free to play make-believe all they want.

It doesn’t even matter if the portrayal is convincing. The general population just wants the cheapest and most convenient ride available. Who provides the actual service, whether they’re knockoffs or the real McCoy, is completely irrelevant.

Especially on Halloween.

____________________

Originally appeared in the S.F. Examiner.

In Traffic We Become Something Bigger

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Originally published in the S.F. Examiner on August 14, 2019.

Everything hit at once last weekend. Besides Outside Lands, the Giants were at home and, on Saturday, there was the Pistahan parade and festival.

Combined, it made for a hectic few days of cab driving…

I started my week on Thursday afternoon. Caught a Millbrae train to New Montgomery, and surfaced just as a 9R is idling a few blocks away. I luck out with a seat in the back. As we pass Civic Center, though, a person nursing a crushed can of Old E nods off and hits the deck.

A woman looks up from her iPhone and screams, “Somebody call 911!”

“Forget that!” the guy next to me shouts. “I’m gonna be late for work.”

“But he could be dead!”

The guy shrugs.

Just as the passengers begin taking sides, the bus turns onto 11th Street and comes to a stop. Even though the man is back in his seat, sipping on what’s left of his beer, the operator refuses to continue.

“Come on! Let’s go!”

The grumbling grows louder, until the lights flicker off and it’s obvious we must disembark.

A few minutes later, another 9R turns off Market. Circumventing the first bus, I notice the man has followed us. Barely able to stand, holding onto the back of a seat precariously…

Read the rest here.

[photo by Douglas O’Connor]


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.

 

A Vacation at the Airport

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Originally published in the S.F. Examiner
on July 18, 2019.

In San Francisco, it’s always open season on taxicabs. Sometimes it boggles my mind how driving a taxi can inspire so much scorn from the general public. But then, on any given day, Bay Area drivers seem to be in direct competition with each other, racing towards the next red light for the grand prize of absolutely nothing.

Except maybe new brakes.

So when a professional driver enters the equation, with access to transit-only lanes, plenty of road experience and a deep knowledge of how to maneuver the lights, it must frustrate all the speed demons to get owned by a taxi.

Last week, I’m heading south on Potrero in the red carpet lane. At 24th, where it ends, I merge into the flow of traffic. Since letting any car in front of you is akin to slander, a beat up Mazda almost causes a multiple car pileup changing lanes to cut me back off. Which I let him do when he finally speeds up. It’s not like I’m trying to drive like a jerk. There’s a paying customer in my backseat with a meter running. I’m just doing my job, getting passengers where they need to go as efficiently as possible.

And yeah, I know a taxi driver complaining about traffic is totally cliché, but when you spend as much time driving as we do, it transcends a mere occupational annoyance and rises to the level of an existential grievance.

Normally, I just accept my fate and deal with the constant abuse from other drivers. But last Thursday afternoon, after spending 20 minutes on Townsend, trying to reach the Caltrain cabstand, only to find it filled with unmarked sedans, it occurs to me that there’s an alternative to the hassle of working the streets.

When the train pulls in, I get a fare going to Glen Park, but instead of subjecting myself to congestion in the Mission on the way downtown, I get on the freeway… SFO bound.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Douglas O’Connor]


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.

 


 

 

 

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


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INSIDE THE BOOK:

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.


 

Driving Women Under the Influence

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I’ve written extensively about the fear and confusion that defines a particular kind of ride: the intoxicated woman. You got mean drunks and happy drunks. And you have the unknown

Whether they’ve had too many drinks or had something put in their drinks, women who get wasted in public at night are easy targets for predators.

Even though one of the major selling points of Uber and Lyft is providing safe passage for the most vulnerable, when people are leaving bars and clubs at 3 a.m., they’re not always aware enough to read a license plate, or make sure that the thumbnail in their phone matches the dude behind the wheel of an unmarked sedan in a sea of unmarked sedans. 

Lyft’s color-coding system is a step in the right direction, but every attempt they make to implement safeguards only makes them more taxi-like. And since their inception, Lyft has resisted any resemblance to taxis, lest they end up being regulated like taxis. 

Last week, in my column for the S.F. Examiner, I wrote about the benefit of taxis in the urban landscape and brought up the proliferation of fake Uber drivers who prey on drunken women and how the Uber/Lyft model seems to encourage predators.

This rubbed a few readers the wrong way. So this week, I decided to double down and explore the problem in more detail.

I’ll never forget my first wasted girl. The young woman was probably 19 – 20 tops. So intoxicated, she couldn’t remember where she lived. Somewhere in the Inner Sunset. That’s all she was able to tell me.

I had just started driving for Lyft and the person who ordered the ride didn’t know her. There was a house party, she must have taken something and, yada yada yada, she was my responsibility now.

I was more than a little freaked out. Especially when her first garbled attempt at an address proved futile and she climbed into the front seat of my Jetta.

At this point, she was bawling nonstop. I was on the verge of hysterics myself. Besides the frantic attempt to get her home, I’d already ended the trip through the app, so it was a free ride.

Forty-five minutes later, to my great relief, she finally recognized her building. I managed to help her inside, with only a few more crying jags between the car and her door.

A few months after that, while driving for Uber, a young woman jumped into my car at Market and Eighth Streets and instantly passed out. When the actual person who ordered the ride called me, I had a momentary panic attack. But I managed to figure out where the woman in my backseat lived and get her home.

Over the years, I’ve found myself in similar situations on numerous occasions. And while I had the routine down to a science by the time I started driving a taxi, the immediate fear that grips you at the onset of these incidents never really goes away.

Most people don’t seem to realize just how vulnerable you are on the streets at night, whether you’ve been partying, or driving for hire.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

Getting Called Out by an Uber/Lyft Shill

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When your email address is posted online each week in a major newspaper, you’re bound to get some crappy messages from readers and/or trolls. Over the past five years that I’ve been writing about the Uber/Lyft/Taxi thing, all sorts of rude crackpots have tried to take me to task for my commentary. 

Case in point:

Last week I got an email from “mfereno24@gmail.com,” who took issue with my latest column in the SF Examiner, in which I listed a few recent assault cases that involved attackers impersonating Uber and Lyft drivers. 

To make a point that taxi drivers have also been accused of sexual assaults, mfereno24 sent me several emails, each with a link for a rape case that involved a cab driver. One was from 1999, another from 2013. One was in 2015. The most recent case took place in 2017.

I rarely give a shit what opinionated twits like this have to say, but my column was about the fear of raising a daughter in a world with less regulations, and how, as a father, that future terrifies me. So it seemed really inappropriate for this blowhard to send me a bunch of links about rapes and then tell me to “Enjoy” reading them.

A loathsome enough act to warrant a heavy-handed response. So, in the words of mfereno24@gmail.com, Enjoy:

Continue reading

The Future of Lyft is So Bright You Gotta Wear a Blindfold

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When you live with a rambunctious two-year old in a cramped one-bedroom apartment, ignoring background noise is the only way to not go insane or end up with “Baby Shark” stuck in your head all day.

So as my daughter plays in the living room while watching a Curious George DVD, I do my best to block out the voiceovers and read the news about Lyft’s recent IPO. That is, until I hear the Man in the Yellow Hat shout, “Taxi!” Soon enough, I’m following the exploits of the inquisitive monkey gone wild.

Apparently, the Man and George were heading to an important business meeting when George got off the bus to grab a free map. As the Man chased after him, he accidentally left his portfolio behind.

This leads to a series of misadventures that includes the Man taking a taxi to catch the bus and find George, who’s now riding in a bike messenger’s saddle bags.

“You’re taking a cab to catch a bus?” the cab driver asks, his deadpan delivery emitting a cantankerous disdain. “And you want me to find you a monkey on a bicycle? Buddy, I’m just a cabbie.”

This archetype of the surly cab driver reminds me of the genesis for a character in another beloved children’s show, Sesame Street’s Oscar the Grouch, whose voice was based on a grumpy cab driver the actor encountered on his way to the audition.

It seems taxis are everywhere when you’re a kid. In books, puzzles, cartoons and toys. Anything to do with transportation or life in the city usually includes a brightly colored, easily identifiable taxicab.

Or as my daughter refers to them, “Dada’s car.”

Just like fire engines, police cars, buses, delivery trucks and streetcars, taxisare a part of the urban landscape.

When the titular character in Little Blue Truck Leads the Way heads to the big city, she has this bit of advice for the speeding taxi, “You may be fast, and I might be slow, but one at a time, is the way to go.”

Even though she’s ridden in taxis her whole life and been raised in an urban environment, my daughter still points out commercial and transit vehicles on the road. Just like the kids from small towns in Union Square and the Wharf, who stare in wonder as I drive past them, or chirp with excitement when they get to ride in the backseat with their parents.

And yet, if companies like Lyft and Uber, along with investors and supporters, have their way, taxicabs in the city will soon be a thing of the past. In their dystopian vision of the future, any vehicle on the road should be a form of conveyance.

Where’s the fun in that? And how does one represent that image for the preschool set?

Read the rest here.


[image from the children’s book “The Taxi that Hurried”]