There are days when I don’t even want to think about driving a taxi. Days when I’d just as soon contemplate anything but what goes on behind the wheel of a cab at night in The City.
Today is one of those days.
Given the option, I’d rather discuss this psychotic election cycle, the hunger strike outside the Mission Police Station, the fate of Syrian refugees or even my fucked up life. Anything but taxis. But this is supposed to be a column about driving a taxi … so taxis it is.
Last Friday, I’m waiting outside the Art Bash at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art when a hip, young couple get in. They’re going to the Outer Richmond.
While they relax in the backseat and reflect on the highlights of the party, I turn left onto Market and right onto Turk. I catch all the green lights through the Tenderloin. I know I can’t beat the red at Franklin, but push on to Masonic, where I’m stopped again, then over to Arguello, where I take a left and cruise down Folsom, adjusting my speed to catch all the lights.
As I turn onto their street, they point out their building, and I pull into the driveway.
“OK, thanks for the ride.” The guy gets out and walks around the back to open the door for his wife.
I roll down my window and sheepishly say, “Uhm, this isn’t an Uber.”
“Oh, I’m sorry!” he exclaims as he fumbles for his wallet. “It was such a smooth ride I forgot we jumped into a cab.”
While I run his card, his wife laughs, and I reassure him this happens all the time and not to worry about it, that it used to feel like an insult but now I take it as a compliment.
What they’re saying is I’m not the stereotypical cab driver. I keep my car clean. I wash the outside and vacuum the interior each day before I leave the yard. I use aromatherapy to fill the air inside with peppermint and citrus. I don’t talk on my phone while I drive. I don’t blow the horn at other drivers (as much as I’d like to). I don’t drive recklessly. I’m not argumentative. I gladly accept credit cards … so yeah, I can see their confusion.
Sadly, I’m held to the standards of each shitty cab driver that came before me. And what’s worse, I’m competing with most of them every night for the few fares left because most people prefer to take Uber and Lyft. And who can blame them?
There are days when I ask myself why I do this job. I’m so exhausted. It’s almost impossible to get enough rest between 12-hour taxi shifts, when the previous night hangs heavy on my soul as I try to reconcile the absurdity of what I’m doing.
There are days, technically mornings, when I walk through my front door after a long and wretched shift, exhausted and terrifyingly sober, head straight for the freezer with a tall glass and fill it full of ice, vodka and a little San Pellegrino. What follows is anyone’s guess.
I drink and fight the inevitability of sleep. Because now I’m alive! I’m no longer scrunched up in the seat of a cab. I’m free! Free to rage against the dying of the light!
Sometimes I go on drunken Twitter rampages, post misguided rants on Facebook, text or call friends with normal schedules or end up babbling incoherently to a neighbor in the hallway at 3 p.m. on my way to buy a pack of cigarettes at the liquor store.
I usually wake up later and piece together my activities through time stamps as I delete posts and tweets and send apologies to whomever I’d been texting or talking to on the phone.
It can get a little embarrassing.
Of course, nothing tops Colin’s naked escapade at his girlfriend’s house. He apparently passed out and then sleepwalked into the kitchen, au naturel, grabbed a yogurt from the fridge and sat down to eat it in front of the TV. That night, his girlfriend’s mother was visiting and discovered him mid-spoonful.
Poor Jane. His argument that it was just an unfortunate side effect of exhaustion fell on deaf ears.
This is what happens when cab driving and life converges. It can get ugly. And truth be told, that’s not anything worth exploring.
Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his blog at www.idrivesf.com.