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Felicia the freeloader

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If a passenger keeps the meter running too long, a driver will do whatever it takes to make it end. (Courtesy Trevor Johnson)

http://sfexaminer.com/category/the-city/sf-news-columns/i-drive-sf/

I’m sitting on the throne at the Hilton Union Square, watching the madness of rush-hour traffic in front of the hotel as cars trying to drop off and pick up contend with a single interloper who didn’t utilize the loading zone properly, forcing every other vehicle behind him to wait in the street akimbo while the 38 bus, followed closely by a 38R, comes barreling down O’Farrell with horn blasting, and all the stymied doormen can do is push around empty luggage carts hoping that somebody — anybody — will need help checking in, but the tourists move through the bedlam fearlessly, phones held aloft, like seasoned globetrotters.

Then, Artur calls out a radio order for Market and Sixth. Since there’s a break in the congestion, I check in.

“233. O’Farrell and Mason.”

“233. Check. Go pick up Felicia.”

Artur sends the order to my tablet, and I head down Ellis to Jones. As soon as I cross Market, a woman waves me down.

“I need to go to the Travelodge on Valencia and Market,” Felicia tells me.

“Sure thing,” I say, merging into traffic and taking a right on Mission.

“Hey, aren’t you the guy who writes for the paper?”

“Oh, you read the Examiner?” I respond.

“Oh wow! I can’t believe it’s you!”

I’m never sure what to say when passengers recognize me from the column. It’s not something I advertise in the cab and rarely — if ever — bring up.

“You better not put me on blast!” she says with a protracted cackle.

“Now, why would I do something like that?” I laugh.

“Oh, I’m just so nervous. I’m trying to find my step-brother. Well, I call him my step-brother, but he’s really my brother. How do I look?”

“You look all right.”

“Do I smell like booze?”

“Not that I can tell.”

“I can’t believe you’re the guy from the paper … Oh, man, I remember one of your stories about this … uh, this lady and she did … oh man, I forget what she … then, something else happened to her …”

When I turn onto McCoppin, Felicia has me stop next to some tents and asks the people inside if they’ve seen her brother Pickle. They have not.

“What about Droopy?”

“No.”

She gets back into the cab. “Can you take a left?”

I turn onto Stevenson.

“Go slow.”

She looks between the parked cars.

As I approach the skate park, she tells me to stop. “Hey!” she calls out to a skater jumping over the fence.

“You seen Pickle?”

The guy shrugs and walks away.

“OK, go to the end of the alley.”

Before I get to Duboce, Felicia asks another seemingly random guy. “You seen Pickle? What about Droopy?”

The guy walks to the passenger side of the cab. They talk for a minute, and she asks me for a dollar. “I’ll reimburse you.”

At this point, I’m ready for this ride to be over and willing to do what it takes to make that happen.

“OK, take a right,” she says. “So slow!”

I cruise past the dog park while she looks through the fence. Then, she wants to go right.

Halfway down the block, she screams, “STOP! There he is!”

I slam on the brakes.

“Don’t leave! Please don’t leave!”

While Felicia talks to the guy, she holds the door open. So it’s not like I can take off, even though I really want to.

“Oh my god, I can’t believe I found him,” she gushes when she gets back in the cab. “That’s my brother. Well, we’re more like kissing brothers.”

“That’s cool and all, but …”

“Can you just wait a little bit? He’ll be right back. Please?”

After a few minutes, though, she gets out of the cab and wanders off down Stevenson.

I immediately take off and clear the meter, which is up to $18.40.

For the rest of my shift, I keep thinking Felicia’s shenanigans were all for my benefit, but then later that night, around 2:30 a.m., Jesse calls out an order on the radio.

“Sixth and Market,” he says. “Who’s for Sixth and Market. 474, I read you. Anyone else?”

474. That’s Mary. I wonder what Felicia has in store for her.

About 15 minutes later, I hear Jesse on the radio again.

“Yeah, 474. What’s going on?”

Since we can only hear the dispatcher’s side of the conversation on the radio, it’s not until I’m back at the office that I find out Felicia stiffed Mary, too.

“I told her not to call us anymore,” Jesse says. “She’ll never get a cab again.”

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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