New stickers: What would Herb Caen say?
New stickers: What would Herb Caen say?
I’m rolling through the Bayview on Jerrold, heading back to the Mission after dropping at Third and Newcomb, when the order goes out over the radio.
“11th and Folsom. Drivers, 11th and Folsom.”
Artur repeats the cross streets for several minutes, his voice becoming increasingly irate.
I grab the mic. “This is 233. I’m by the yard but can probably get there in 10 minutes.”
“Thank you, 233. Go to 320 11th Street.”
Since rush hour is on the make, I figure Rhode Island over Potrero Hill is my best bet. I down-shift and take the inclines with gusto.
Despite making great time, there’s gridlock on Division. And forget about making a right onto 11th at Bryant. So Harrison it is.
After finally getting through the intersection at 11th, I flip a U-ey in front of Slim’s and pull up to the address.
A few minutes later, a guy emerges from the liquor store. He’s on crutches. His clothes are in tatters. There’s a giant cast on his left foot that looks like a kindergartener’s papier-mâché project gone awry. And he’s holding a gas can.
[photo by Christian Lewis]
Every year, it takes me by surprise …
While dropping off Mr. Judy last Wednesday, I notice a scraggly-haired dude and two girls with shaved heads walk past the bar and can’t help but stare. They’re sexually ambiguous and rough around the edges, all tattooed and dressed in black T-shirts, denim and leather. The kind of freaks you don’t really see in San Francisco anymore.
“Look at that,” I say. “Where did they come from?”
“I don’t know,” Judy responds, equally transfixed. “Maybe we should find out where they’re going.”
A short while later, I’m picking up Simone at Lucky 13, tying to make sense of the latest parking restrictions on Market, when I spot some more freaks.
“What’s going on?” I wonder.
“Are you serious with this shit?” Simone asks with a cackle. “It’s Pride. Hello?”
Oh, that’s right.
“This weekend is going to be a shit show,” she says bitterly. “And I have to work.”
“Well, at least they’re enriching the cultural landscape for a few days.”
“Fuck that,” she snaps back. “I need to make some money.”
On Thursday, the streets are filled with people, freaks and non-freaks and everything in between. Anticipation for Pride is like a jungle beat in the distance.
[photo by Douglas O’Connor]
I knew she was going to run.
From the start of the ride, I could tell right away something wasn’t right. But that didn’t prevent me from offering her the same quality service I provide paying customers …
Need a phone charger? Sure.
Oh, you have an Android. Hold on. Let me arrange my cables here …
Warm enough? Yeah, it’s freezing out there tonight. That wind is brutal.
While the Brian Eno in the CD player is most likely not her preferred jam, when accommodating passengers, paying or otherwise, you have to draw the line somewhere. Besides, it’s a perfect night for Eno …
[photo by Christian Lewis]
It was one of those nights, when you’re out late, chasing ghosts all over The City, even though the streets are as empty as the backseat of your cab, and there’s nothing left to do but follow the faint glow of your headlights and hope for the best, despite knowing you should just head to the yard, pay your gate and call it a night, because at 3:30 a.m., if your luck hasn’t changed for the better, it probably never will…
After one last circle through Union Square, I take Mason down to Market. Waiting for the light at Fifth Street, two Yellow cabs blow past me, toplights blazing. I hit my turn indicator. At least Soma is one neighborhood closer to the Bayview.
Like an apparition, she appears from behind a plume of steam billowing from the grates in the middle of the street. She walks straight towards me.
“You available?” she asks through the half-cracked window.
“Yeah.” I quickly unlock the doors.
“I was going to call an Uber,” she says, once inside. “But… you probably don’t want to hear about that.”
“Where you heading?”
“Redwood City. I’ll have the address for you in a second.”
I hit the meter and head towards the freeway. Guess I was wrong about that whole luck thing.
[photo by Christian Lewis]
The first three issues of Behind the Wheel together for $15 postpaid!
That’s 3 zines, 5 bucks each, and free shipping.
With over 180 illustrated pages of misadventures, discoveries and altercations, you can experience the harrowing and raucous trajectory of a confused yet weary Lyft driver turned disgruntled Uber driver then freewheeling taxi driver working the streets of San Francisco.
Behind the Wheel #1 was reviewed favorably in Razorcake Magazine:
Clocking in at fifty-six pages of pure text, Dessaint’s accounts offer a unique perspective to these rideshares that many people forget: the driver’s point of view. I found myself worried that overly drunk riders would vomit in his car; I cringed when a couple used his backseat as their own personal makeout haven; and I clenched my teeth while reading the conversations between tech bros and conservative republicans. I commend Dessaint for his ability to navigate the waters, as these situations all seemed like torture to me. Above all, Dessaint is inarguably enamored with the idea of San Francisco: the art, the culture, the history. Yet, his experiences tell tales more of frustration with what the city has become in recent years, rather than the happiness of being in the city he’s always loved. He and his wife live in nearby Oakland, as they cannot afford to live within San Francisco due to the influx of tech workers raising rent prices. The fact that his dream city is still a bridge away is a source of bitterness for Dessaint. I’ll drive myself around, thank you. –Ashley Ravelo
A review of the first two issues by V. Vale:
If our future looks like San Francisco, what with its impossibly sky-high rents, employment at Google/Twitter et al for the 1%, and the rest of the population grimly hanging on to “real” jobs or trying out the “freelancer economy” working for Uber, Lyft, TaskRabbit, Airbnb and other “disruptive” start-ups… one thing is certain: “real” workers are gonna get royally screwed. It’s almost as if the 20th-century advances of labor unions, more economic justice, widespread health care, are already becoming a dimly-remembered mirage […] We wondered, “If Jack London or George Orwell were alive today, what would they think of the recent headline “Being Ubered: The Unstoppable Rise of the Freelance Economy”? UNSTOPPABLE? Don’t we still have a government with a SPINE?!? Government is our only defense against the rise of the New Economy Wreckers/Law-Breakers of Civilization. We say (again): spending money is a political act. […] Send writer/publisher Kelly Dessaint cash, money order or trade for these 2 brimful-of-“truth” publications.
Razorcake also had some nice things to say about Behind the Wheel #3:
In this third volume of Behind the Wheel, our author/driver has gone from Uber, to Lyft, to now taxi driver. This series is an inside look at what it’s like to be a Bay Area driver. We meet passengers seeking drugs, sex—and more often than not inebriated—and mistaking the poor taxi driver as a Lyft or Uber. I especially loved the guest stories from “Late Night Larry” because they involved either passengers who puked and had to pay up (a hundred dollar fee!) or wanted to have sex in his car, to which he seemed okay with either? The life of a cab driver doesn’t seem like something I’m brave enough to take on, but I certainly appreciate those who can do it, and the craziness that they encounter every day! –Tricia Ramos
A positive review of Behind the Wheel #3 appeared in Broken Pencil magazine:
Dessaint loves his city of San Fran but he’s seen it with its makeup off. He’s lost count how many times a young girl has gotten into his cab and passed out because she’d been roofied. Part of his vocation is keeping those young women safe. The taxi industry often runs hand in hand with passengers who use intoxicants, sex workers, and people coming back from good (and bad) dates. Watching Dessaint navigate these worlds while keeping his personal code makes for very entertaining reading.
As with any vocation, Dessaint recognizes that his career does not exist in a vacuum. He comes from a long line of cabbies whom he respects and admires. Every Sunday he goes to the cabbie BBQ in the junkyard by the cab station. He hears and tells stories, gathers advice and shoots the shit. Throughout the zine he splices in stories told by a veteran cabbie, Late Night Larry. They are some of the funniest tales in the zine. Dessaint writes strong narratives and convincing arguments against Uber/Lyft. As a result, I’m now done with Uber and I hope to be lucky enough to ride in Dessaint’s cab one day. (dustan j. hlady)
More praise for Behind the Wheel #1:
I read this zine in one sitting, but don’t let that fool you; this is a text heavy zine. The zine has over 50 pages of Kelly’s experiences as a Lyft driver. As Kelly tells us stories about the people he meets, you also learn more about him as a person. I like how he handles his shit. He seems like a cool and nice guy. I appreciate like how neat and clean the zine is made, as I can’t stand sloppy zines.
In most of Kelly’s other zines he is what is changing; in Behind the Wheel, San Francisco is what is changing. Kelly moves from LA to the Bay area and quickly finds that the SF he knew has disappeared. He begins working for Lyft, a social media ride sharing business. He documents his life as a modern day cab driver and those he shuttles around the city he can’t afford to live in. Tech companies are one of the reasons SF has changed and yet Lyft is one of those companies. Kelly recognizes the inherent conflict and the potential for being part of the problem. This zine very much captures a time and place and shows changes technology and social media have created.
I love insider information! Like, anything that starts with “Confessions of…” I’m probably going to read. Behind the Wheel is a taxi-cab confessional of sorts, from the driver’s perspective. Kelly goes behind the pink mustache and shares the highlights and woes of being a Lyft driver. Whether he’s talking about how he learned the streets of San Francisco instead of relying on GPS, or griping about the stench of alcohol and cigarettes some passengers leave wafting through his car, Kelly’s laid-back style is engaging and readable. Best of all, he recounts passengers’ thoughts about the influx of “brogrammers” and other techy people into San Francisco. This makes Behind the Wheel a slice-of-life snapshot at the height of Tech Boom 2.0. Plus, he weaves in stories about his own life, letting us get to know our narrator better. When his soundtrack (like Bad Brains and Iggy Pop) plays in your head, it helps to beat down that dread you feel when he gets pulled over. At 54 pages, this zine is rich in detail and well-worth reading. Let Kelly give you a Lyft!
Alright, I’m done. Just buy the damn zines already!