My eye twitches as I try to locate the source of the call reverberating down Sutter Street. It’s been 20 minutes since the bars let out, and I’ve been driving empty just as long.
Cater-corner on Powell, a woman is waving. I acknowledge her, and she barges into traffic, prompting me to stop in the crosswalk behind a police cruiser outside Lori’s.
“It’s fucking impossible to get a cab down here,” she says. “Now … where can I get some food?”
“Well, there’s —” I start to take off, but miscalculate the distance between my front end and the back of the police cruiser. Even though it’s just a tap, the vehicle jolts forward, and my heart jumps out of my chest.
“Anywhere but fucking Lori’s,” the woman snaps.
“Sure.” The cop car is empty. Seizing the lucky break, I drive away. “What about Cafe Mason? Grubstake?”
“Fuck all that. Take me to Jack in the Box.”
As I turn onto Mason, I check my rearview and see a black-and-white SUV make an illegal left off Powell. Oh shit! Did they see anything? My chest starts pounding again.
“I’m in a fucking taxi!” the woman yells at her phone. “Go to Jack in the Box. Tell your driver. What the fuck do you mean, ‘which one?’ There’s only one!” She hangs up. “Which Jack in the Box … You gotta be fucking kidding me.”
“There’s one on Bayshore and—”
“And one in Bakersfield, too,” she says brusquely, in that distinctive Frisco accent: all daggers and sarcasm. “Not much good it does us seeing as how we live in Pac-fucking-Heights.”
“Fair enough.” I keep checking my rearview for flashing lights, navigating the congestion of cars and pedestrians in front of Ruby Skye. I pull over next to Jack in the Box, where the sidewalk is teeming with drunken revelers, spectators and hustlers.
“You’ll wait for me, right?” the woman asks, though it doesn’t feel like much of a request.
“Sure.” I’m still preoccupied with justifying my tap and run … It’s not like the cruiser was in pristine condition. If there’s one fleet in The City more rickety than National/Vets, it’s the San Francisco Police Department.
A few minutes later, Hester pulls up in Metro 1557. He gets out of his cab and peers into the windows of Jack in the Box.
I join him. “What’s up?”
“I just picked up this girl from New Century who tried to pass a fake C-note. I told her no way, and she got uppity. Said she was going into Jack in the Box to break it and prove me wrong. Left a jacket as collateral. Claimed it was worth $200, but it’s from The Gap.”
“Is she in there now?”
“Nah, she’s probably long gone.”
While we calmly survey the madness, a Yellow cab pulls behind me and lays on his horn.
“What’s his fucking problem?” Hester gestures at the driver. “Go around!”
On the corner, amongst drunken couples struggling to stay on their feet, a guy is pointing at me. He doesn’t look familiar though.
“Hey, Kelly! You gathering material?”
With all the commotion, it’s hard to hear anything, but when my passenger emerges from Jack in the Box, her voice rises above the din.
“Where’s this fucking taxi driver?”
“That’s my fare,” I tell Hester, relieved the woman’s ire is directed at the Yellow cab and not me.
“You’re not my favorite person right now!” she yells at the driver. “How do you not know where the fuck Jack in the Box is? Don’t talk to me about Bayshore anymore, goddamnit!” She hands him a credit card.
They spew a bunch of expletives at each other, and the woman goes back into Jack in the Box. I chat with Hester until she returns with her friend.
On the way to their place, my cab is ripe with the smell of fast food.
“I’m so hungry,” the woman tells the guy, tearing open condiment packets. “And Lori’s was full of cops. So I obviously couldn’t go in there.”
I glance in the rearview.
“It’s not what you’re thinking, driver,” she says. “My brother’s a cop. If anyone on the force sees me even a little tipsy, I never hear the fucking end of it.”
As I contemplate what their reaction would be if they found her drunk in the back of a taxi that just hit — err, tapped — a squad car, I chuckle nervously. Then, I notice the meter’s not running and groan. Goddamn it.
“I think we’re freaking out the driver.” The guy giggles.
“No, it’s just the full moon,” she says.
Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. His zine, “Behind the Wheel,” is available at bookstores throughout The City. Write to Kelly at email@example.com or visit his blog at www.idrivesf.com.