From one ride to the next, I follow the whims of my passengers and take the path of least resistance. Although my trajectory is usually determined by the luck of a street flag or what awaits me at the end of a cabstand, I am the captain of this journey.
At each intersection, I face the same quandary: What happens if I turn left? Do I dare turn right? After dropping off at the Marriott on Columbus, should I head down to Jefferson and roll past the tourist trap emporiums, or go straight to Pier 39 and hope the line of cabs isn’t spilling onto The Embarcadero? Do I try the Financial District, even though it’s late for the suit-and-tie crowd? Perhaps I’ll run into a straggler burning the midnight oil, like the Mormon banker I picked up last week in front of the Gold Club, who walked down from New Montgomery because he knew a strip club is the best place to get a cab.
Tonight, it doesn’t seem to matter where I drive. Nobody wants to get in my taxi. The dispatch radio is quiet. Not a single arm in the air. Outside the clubs, partygoers stare at their phones. Everywhere I look, I see four-door sedans with glowing pink mustaches and U placards in their windows, double-parking and making illegal turns with reckless abandon.
It’s obvious who owns the streets tonight. And every other night. Or so it seems…
When I drive empty for too long, I tend to get morose.
As I’m heading down Battery, two guys flag me at Jackson. I greet them warmly. They’re heading home to Potrero Hill.
Right away, the first one asks me, “You’re not going to talk about Uber are you?”
“I wasn’t planning on it,” I say.
“Good. Our last taxi driver ranted about Uber the whole way here. It got uncomfortable.”
“I mean, we’re in a taxi,” the second one adds. “We obviously want to support you guys.”
“We know it has to be excruciating for old timers and medallion holders to see their investments squandered,” the first guy says with authority.
“The City sold them out. But they can’t take it out on the passengers all the time. It gets old.”
For the next five minutes, we complain about cabdrivers who complain about Uber. Until finally, as I enter the roundabout in Showcase Square, I break my vow not to mention the origins of Potrero Hill street names. It hasn’t been good for my tips to correct people who seem to know more about World War II battleships than when states were admitted into the union. But hey, it’s a better point of contention than Uber.
I think my friend Colin got it right when he joked at the last barbecue, “The worst thing about Uber is that nobody says anything interesting in my cab anymore. Used to be, I’d hear the details of someone’s latest sexcapade or how they planned to murder their boss. Now, it’s just Uber, Uber, Uber.”
I try to avoid the subject myself. It’s bad for my high blood pressure. Of all the topics to discuss in the Temporary Autonomous Zone, aka, the backseat of a cab, I can’t think of one more boring than Uber.
I rarely tell passengers about my
time as an Uber-Lyft driver. It’s not something I’m proud of. I’d rather pretend to be a hapless doofus who wandered into a taxi by mistake. Especially when people get in my cab and gleefully ask about Uber’s influence on my bottom line. And then offer the brilliant solution: “You should drive for Uber!”
Still hoping for an encounter I’ll remember fondly in the morning, I cruise down Valencia, blasting Johnny Thunders to ward off despair. I pass the kids standing on the curb outside the bars with their phones out, shivering in the fog and looking up and down the street for their discombobulated drivers to show up. Meanwhile, dozens of cabs stream by, their top lights burning bright.
At 16th, I decide to try Folsom Street again. Maybe I’ll find some action this time around. The night isn’t over yet.
Kelly Dessaint is a former Uber and Lyft driver turned taxi driver. In his real life, he’s the publisher of the personal narrative zine Piltdownlad and author of the forthcoming memoir “No Fun: How Punk Rock Saved My Life.”
I go where the night takes me.