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Driving amid heartache and hardships

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“On my first night back in a cab, I didn’t even make my gate. I ended up $31 in the hole. I spent most of my shift driving aimlessly through The City, trying to make sense of it all. ” Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner

I don’t know if it’s possible to drive a cab in San Francisco and have a nervous breakdown at the same time, but with rent coming due, I guess I’m about to find out. There’s no other choice.

Right after my wife left, I made it through one 10-hour shift. But the next day, I was only behind the wheel for two hours when I drove back to the yard. I handed the medallion over to Ben and said, “I can’t do this today. Can I get a cab to the BART station?”

I took a few weeks off to collect my thoughts. Which is to say I went on an epic bender. And why not? I figure if your wife of seven years runs off with your best friend, you’re entitled to circle the drain for a while. Then it’s either time to get back to work or just keep going until you end up living under an overpass.

On my first night back in a cab, I didn’t even make my gate. I ended up $31 in the hole. I spent most of my shift driving aimlessly through The City, trying to make sense of it all. Moments of clarity gave way to anger and then regret. In the meantime, I got a couple fares. I wore my mask well. If anything, my passengers assumed I was the quiet type. I was afraid to talk much, in case my despair slipped out inadvertently.

Since Irina took the car, Colin drove me home that night.

The next day, my preferred cab, 182, was making too much noise. So I got 233. As Katherine gave me the medallion, she noticed my hands were shaking. I hadn’t eaten much in the past three weeks, and it was catching up on me.

“I think I need to eat,” I told her.

Katherine reminds me of my mother. She’s been driving a cab long enough to have seen her fair share of walking disasters. She insisted on buying me lunch. As we ate together, I told her about my marriage.

That night, I went home with $11 after paying my gate and back gate. I hung around the yard until BART started running. At sunrise, Mary drove me to the Civic Center station and I rode the sleeper coach back to Oakland.

On Saturday, they gave me 727, which was covered in a thick coat of road grime. But I couldn’t wash it. The water had been turned off. Supposedly to keep drivers from washing their Uber cars in the yard.

I hate driving a filthy cab. But my head wasn’t in the game yet anyway. So I drove to the Sunset and met some friends for coffee. I just needed to talk. And not to random strangers. In a cab, therapy usually only goes one way.

I didn’t hit the road until midnight. The late-night party crowd was easier to deal with. They were in their own worlds and I was in mine. Despite my internal turmoil, I still made idle chitchat.

As soon as I had my gate, I drove back to the yard for the weekly barbeque.

It was taco night. The Grill Master was cooking up steak. All the fixings were lain out.
My return felt like a homecoming. While working on my manuscript for the past two months, I’d been skipping out early on Saturdays. I missed my friends and the tonic of the Recitation of the Waybill. Even though my biggest ride that night was my personal life, they let me get it out.

“Just forget all that other stuff,” Late Night Larry said. “Focus on the finances. Money changes everything.”

Chucky offered to loan me a car. Colin promised to keep giving me rides. Detroit broke down the number of shifts I’d need to drive to pay my rent. Sometimes it seems there’s no problem a cab driver hasn’t faced and solved along the way.

This week, I think I ended up paying National to drive a cab. But I survived three shifts and that’s what mattered. I’m back in the saddle. I just need to keep driving. And maybe I’ll find redemption along the way.

Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver.

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