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Driving in my sleep

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It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve driven the streets of San Francisco; when you’re exhausted, everything is a blur. (Courtesy photo)
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I’m cracking up. With a 3-month-old baby who’s already teething, consistent sleep has become a distant memory. And while I can usually navigate the streets of The City as if on autopilot, the synapses that control my sense of direction begin misfiring on Friday night.

My previous shift on Thursday was one of those rare occasions when the taxi gods smiled down on me. In the wet and blustery weather, business was booming. By the end of the night, I was exhausted — and not from the usual boredom and angst, but from actual exertion.

It felt good.

With just a few hours of erratic sleep, though, I’m back in the taxi and not feeling very good at all …

After dropping Mr. Judy off at work, I troll the Mission for a fare. On Valencia Street, outside Community Thrift Store, a man flags me.

“It’s not a long ride,” he says apologetically. “I’m just going to the Lookout.”

“That is close.” I hit the meter and turn right onto 17th.

After I cross Mission, the man asks me if I know where the Lookout is.

“Of course,” I say confidently.

“Well, I’m pretty sure it’s around Market and 16th.”

“What is?”

“The Lookout.”

“No, it’s right …” As I point toward the Uptown, the bar on the corner of Capp, my amnesia perplexes me more than the actual location of the Lookout. “Market and 16th?” I wonder aloud.

“Yeah. It’s in the opposite direction.”

I quickly turn left on Capp and head toward the Castro, promising to adjust the fare. Fortunately, I’ve only gone a few blocks out the way and the man is chill about the mixup.

As we chat, I furiously try to conjure up a memory of the Lookout, but it’s not until we cross Guerrero that an image of the bar, prominently located on the second floor of a building right on Market, with “LOOKOUT” in large, red neon on the front, finally pops back into my head.

“Oh, the Lookout!” I exclaim. “Now I remember!”

The man chuckles dubiously.

“I’ve actually been there a few times,” I add. “Back when it was the Metro. I used to buy acid off a guy who hung out at the Squat and Gobble.”

By the time we get to the Lookout, my journey off course is a thing of the past …

A short while later, I pick up a lady in Hayes Valley who gives me an address on Grand View.

“Where?” Even though I’ve had an energy drink from Whole Foods, trying to use my brain is like reviving a rusty combine from the 19th century.

“It’s around Douglass and 21st,” she says, offering to guide me.

Despite her directions and having driven on Grand View numerous times — it’s a memorable street, the arterial equivalent of a contortionist — I still get lost in the hills.

“Don’t worry about the fare,” I tell the lady. “I’ll knock a few bucks off at the end.”

Around 10:45 p.m., the curtain goes down at the Opera House, and I pick up a family of three going to the Ritz-Carlton.

“How long have you been driving a taxi,” the mother asks me as I cross Van Ness toward Larkin.

“A little over three years,” I tell her.

“So you must know San Francisco pretty well, then.”

“Oh yeah,” I say, taking a left on Larkin and then a right on Fulton. “Like the back of my hand.”

On Hyde, we hit congestion. “Hamilton” is letting out. With the ballet breaking at the same time, there aren’t enough taxis to serve the throng of theatergoers. People are practically jumping in front of my cab before realizing I already have a fare.

“What’s going on?” the father asks, nonplussed.

“It’s ‘Hamilton,’” I say, more surprised they don’t know about the biggest musical in the country.

While deftly maneuvering my way through traffic and taking a left on Market, I try to explain why a musical about Alexander Hamilton is so popular.

After Fourth Street, I pull over. “Here’s your hotel.”

“This isn’t our hotel,” the father says.

“What do you mean?”

“This is the Four Seasons,” the mother points out. “We’re staying at the Ritz-Carlton.”

It takes a few seconds for my latest snafu to register. All I can do is sigh and stop the meter.

“Don’t worry,” I say, speeding toward New Montgomery. “I’ll adjust the 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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