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A night of stragglers

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During the holidays, when the transplants go home, San Francisco is left to those of us who have no other home. (Courtesy Trevor Johnson)
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http://sfexaminer.com/category/the-city/sf-news-columns/i-drive-sf/

Lately, I’ve been playing with days, trying to carve out a schedule that’s not just lucrative but also conducive to the mind, the body, the kid, the wife and BART.

As part of my experimentation, I take a chance and work the day before Thanksgiving. Business is respectable during the first part of my shift, but after midnight, the streets are deserted. No cars. No pedestrians. No panhandlers. Just the occasional straggler. And Mr. Judy and me, rolling from one bar to the next, pulling up and looking through the doors for any signs of life … 

“It’s really dead,” I say. 

“I love it like this,” Mr. Judy responds cheerfully. “This is the San Francisco I miss.”

Despite the lack of paying customers, San Francisco is magical during the holidays — and Burning Man — when most of the transplants have gone home, leaving The City to those of us who have no other home. For a change, the majority of people you see out and about look like they could be your friends.

Once Mr. Judy gives up and I take him home, a regular calls me. She needs to drop off the keys her boyfriend accidentally left at her place in the Mission.

When I pull up, she climbs in the front seat, which is her wont, and plugs my aux cable into her phone.

“I’m so annoyed right now,” she says, manipulating the settings in the cab’s stereo.

“Where are we heading?” I ask.

“Outer Richmond. Take the long way.”

As I meander through the night, she doesn’t say much. The music plays, and we watch The City stream past.

On my way to drop her back home, I pass a flag on Valencia. Once free, I quickly swing around the block. The guy is still there. He gets in on the left and sits right behind me.

“I’m so glad you picked me [up],” he says, “Otherwise, I might have done something stupid.”

“Oh yeah? Like what?”

“Well, I’m just drunk and stoned right now. Oh, and I’ve been doing blow all night. But if you hadn’t got me out of there, I would’ve ended up smoking crack and doing crystal … and that … that would be bad.”

“How so?”

“When I smoke crack and snort meth, I always seem to let some dude give me head.”

I’m not sure how to respond, failing to see the problem.

“I’m not gay!”

“Oh.”

“I swear, man. I’m not gay. It’s just that … When I smoke crack …”

“You make poor decisions?”

“Yeah!”

“It’s cool. We all make poor decisions.”

“It happens to me all the time though!”

I laugh.

“I’m not gay, though,” he continues to insist. 

“Who’s judging?” I point out.

“This is why I take cabs. I feel like I’m in confession and can tell you anything …”

“And we’ll never see each other ever again …”

“That’s right.”

With another $20 in my pocket, I’m ready to throw in the towel and head to the gas station at Army and South Van Ness. While filling up, the dispatch radio crackles, and Jesse calls out my cab number.

“233. You still working?”

I grab the mic. “Sure am.”

“How fast can you get to Sac and Laguna?”

What self-respecting taxi driver wouldn’t stretch in these circumstances?

“Eight to five minutes,” I say, knowing full well Jesse can see my cab on the map and that I’m a solid 15 minutes away. 

“Hurry up. She’s waiting outside.”

I jump behind the wheel and take on the lights up South Van Ness. Once I get past Market and hit Franklin, I’m making good time. When I finally pull up to the location, I see a woman in the street with a suitcase.

I jump out, apologizing profusely for being late, and throw her luggage in the trunk.

“My flight leaves in an hour and a half,” she tells me, obviously annoyed. “I’ve been waiting 20 minutes.”

“I’m really sorry about that,” I say, racing down Bush. “We’ll be at SFO shortly.”

“I just don’t understand why the dispatcher would lie about the time.”

Although I could just throw Jesse under the bus, I take the blame. “I might have been overly optimistic.”

It’s not like there are many other options. I’m one of the few cabs still working.

And it’s Thanksgiving Day now. What’s wrong with a little optimism on Thanksgiving?

Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. His zine, “Behind the Wheel,” is available at bookstores throughout The City. Write to Kelly at piltdownlad@gmail.com or visit his blog at www.idrivesf.com.

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