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The convention of the high streets

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(Courtesy Christian Lewis)


“Always say yes.”

During a recent Recitation of the Waybill, a bunch of us were standing around the National office as Late Night Larry offered up some of his incontrovertible advice.

“No matter the question,” he snarls. “The answer is always yes.”

I’ve implemented many of Larry’s words of wisdom over the years, but sometimes it’s my own rules that save the day. Like that Friday night when I was inbound on Columbus at 3 a.m., waiting for the light to change at Pacific.

Behind me, the neon lights of Broadway are diffused in the fog like the setup to a Scooby-Doo mystery, while stragglers lurk in dark corners. Just as the signal turns green, a young black guy and an older white woman approach my cab. Besides the overwhelming stench of booze that’s almost palpable, their eyes are spinning in their sockets, suggesting other intoxicants.

“Hey! You’re cute!” the woman screeches at me. “Can I touch your hair?”

Less of a request and more of a warning, I try to dodge her grasp.

“Let’s not molest the driver,” the guy says with a giggle. “Yet.”

“Uhhh … Where to?” I ask hesitantly.

“We need snacks!” the woman shouts. “Pronto!”

“Driver, do you know where we can get some snacks?” the guy asks calmly, as if his companion’s exclamation wasn’t clear enough.

I suggest Union Square. With several 24-hour diners, fast food and a 7-Eleven, it covers all the bases for late night snack options. And close enough to get this rascally duo out of my cab. Pronto.

“What about a deli or gourmet bodega?” he asks.

“I don’t know about that.” I hit the meter and start driving.

“What are you talking about?” the woman yells. “I want snacks!”

She groans loudly as the guy presents a drawn-out plan that involves going to his friend’s apartment that’s “close by” to grab a couple bottles of wine and then locating a grocery to procure an assortment of cheeses, nice crackers, prosciutto and stuffed olives.

Whatever drugs they’ve taken have obviously led them down two very different paths. She’s amped up. He’s laid back. She wants food. He’s looking for an adventure.

“And then we can all go back to my office in SoMa,” the guy says. “Have some nibbles, drink wine and then the three of us can go to the EndUp and dance.”

Wait. While wondering how I got roped into this merry little adventure of theirs, I’m rolling through the flashing red lights on Montgomery to reach Union Square as fast as possible.

“Get some grapes, a baguette …”

“A baguette?” The woman cries with laughter.

I start laughing too. Where is this bodega of your dreams that sells baguettes at three in the morning? I’m inclined to ask.

“I just want snacks,” the woman whines. “Let’s go to Cafe Mason.”

“But that’s a meal,” he points out. “Driver, what would you consider a snack?”

“Semantically, it could mean anything that’s edible, I suppose. Depends on what you’re in the mood for.”

“Cafe Mason,” the woman states flatly.

“Well, cheese and crackers are the very essence of a snack. Wouldn’t you all agree?”

“Sure.” I take a right onto Sutter.

At Powell, we pass Lori’s. The woman tells me to pull over.

“This’ll do,” she says, opening the back door.

“Now hold on a second.” The guy grabs her arm and demands that we at least consider his proposal. “This is a democracy, after all. Right, driver?”

I shrug, thinking of another one of Late Night Larry’s axioms that seems to preface most of his insane taxi stories: “There are no rules in this cab!”

Before I have a chance to claim Terra nullius, though, the woman scoffs.

“This is getting old,” she says.

“Let’s vote on it at least,” the guy insists.

“Fuck this. I want food.” The woman gets out of the cab and walks into the diner.

I stop the meter at $6.80.

Grumbling, the guy reaches for his wallet and hands me a credit card.

I run it through the Square reader on my phone.

“You know, if you’d taken my side on the snack issue, we could’ve had some fun. I would have let you go down on her AND tipped you $15. But now …” He hands my phone back. “All you get is $2.”

“Thanks.” I don’t know whether to be horrified or relieved.

Before he closes the door, he leans back in and smirks. “Good night!”

“Enjoy your snack,” I mumble to myself and shove off to find my next fare.

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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