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Driving into the future with one headlight

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(Joe Manio/2003 S.F. Examiner)

It’s a Nick Cave kind of night. But not the dark, crooner years. Despite the last tinges of heartbreak, I’m listening to his newer material, after he seemed to find a little joy. Because if it can happen to Nick Cave, I figure I might have a shot at something close to happiness, too. But let’s not talk about redemption yet.

After dropping off at 26th and Alabama, I head up to Valencia, hoping a few tourists have wandered into the Mission for dinner. I make it all the way to 18th without a single flag. As I idle in double-parked congestion, an Uber driver in the opposite lane tells me one of my headlights is out.

Oh, that must be why people kept flashing their high beams at me the night before. I check the reflection on the shiny bumper of the car in front of me and, sure enough, I’ve neglected to follow one of the many lessons Ruach taught us in cab school: Always make sure everything works on your cab before you leave the yard.

But now that I’m out on the streets, what can I do? When I turn in, Jesse, the window man at National, will make sure it’s replaced before my next shift.

So I’m one-eyed Joe for the night. A little risky, but even with my bad luck, it’s doubtful I’ll happen upon the only two cops in The City with nothing better to do than harass a cab driver over a fix-it ticket.

Still, I worry. I worry about everything these days. Mostly about money.

The first of the month is rapidly approaching, and with it, rent and the relentless fear that I won’t be able to survive as a cab driver in San Francisco much longer. Even living in Oakland. This apartment is too rich for my blood. It’s impossible to sustain what had been a dual income household on my meager earnings.

This summer, usually the busiest time of the year for taxicabs, has been dismal. Business is at an all-time low. I made more money during the supposed slower months of winter when I was a green pea.

And it’s not just me. Most cab drivers I speak with are feeling desperate from too much competition. Most of it unfair.

All my bills are way past due. I’ve defaulted on my credit cards. The cable and Internet are cut off — not that it matters. I haven’t watched TV since she left, and my computer is still at the Apple Store, as if in hock, waiting for me to cough up the money to pay for the repairs within 30 days.

Detroit asked me the other night, “Why don’t you move into an SRO like other cab drivers?”

I suppose I could dump most of my stuff and squeeze what’s left and the two cats into a flophouse room, if I were able to find one with a vacancy. I know more than one homeless cab driver living in a broken-down taxi in Upton Alley because of the housing shortage in the Bay Area.

My circumstances are far from unique.

I guess I could move deeper into the East Bay. But then I’d have a longer commute. Currently, if I don’t catch a ride with Colin, it takes me about an hour and a half to get from Oakland to the yard in the Bayview, using a combination of BART, Muni and hoofing it through the minefields of human feces underneath the 101.

“You ever thought about considering a more worthwhile profession?” a cab driver asked me the other night. “Or going back to college?”

I get this a lot. And I always say, “Just because I look young, that doesn’t mean I’m floundering.”

I know it must sound absurd, but cab driving is one of the most profound experiences of my adult life. As much as luck and determination play into it, I have an army of drivers on my side, coaching me, providing leads and sending me in the right directions. And sure, they all have their doomsday scenarios about the fate of the taxi industry, but until the eviction notice is taped on my door, I’m going to keep trying to do the impossible: Drive a cab and live in the Bay Area.

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