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A fleeting sense of worth when demand surges

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Professional drivers in San Francisco rejoiced last week when a pickup truck drove onto the BART tracks in West Oakland, shutting down the Transbay Tube for nearly two hours. (Courtesy BART)


Wednesday looked to be a promising night for taxi driving. With Phish playing their third gig at Bill Graham and a reported 8,000 Pokemon Go enthusiasts roaming The City on a gamers bar crawl, it seemed there would be plenty of business to go around. Plus, given the numerous — often hilarious — mishaps surrounding the Pokemon Go craze, maybe some notable shenanigans along the way.

Little did I know a different kind of mischief would play out.

Around 7:30 p.m., someone managed to drive a pickup onto the BART tracks in West Oakland, shutting down the Transbay Tube for 90 minutes. How it got there was a mystery at the time. Maybe Pokemon was to blame after all?

The disruption in service at the end of the day’s rush-hour commute was an unexpected boom in business, as most taxis and Uber-Lyfts rushed to Market Street and the surrounding areas to transport the stranded East Bay-bound travelers across the Bay Bridge. This led to a vacuum in the rest of The City and, for me, a massive flurry of rides.

I tried to make it to Market and score myself a long fare out of the melee of desperation, like Colin, who texted me that he had back-to-back Oakland rides, but the closest I got was Sansome and Pine before I was flagged by a businessman going to the Marina.

On my way to Broderick and Chestnut, though, I pass what I assume is a group of lost kids playing Pokemon. They wave at me desperately as I drive by.

Figuring their chances of getting picked up by another cab are slim to nil, I drop off my fare and double back. They’re very happy to see me. As they pile into my cab, thanking me profusely for returning to pick them up, I realize they’re not kids playing Pokemon but two young girls and two very short adults from Sydney, Australia, who are freezing to death.

“I knew you were going to come back for us,” the girl who sits up front tells me, shivering as I turn on the heat.

“How can it be so cold?” the mother asks. “We were trying to escape winter!”

I drop them in Chinatown and immediately head to Pier 39, where I’ve heard, via the Hackers group, there are 70 people looking for cabs. I’m not able to verify that number since I’m quickly flagged on Powell and redirected to Russian Hill.

A few blocks from that stop, I come across a foreign couple who want to take a detour to their hotel down the “curvy street.” Normally, I’m delighted to run up the meter and cruise down Lombard nice and slow, giving my passengers all the time in the world to take in the experience, but with the high demand, and knowing how brief it can be, I’m slightly more abrupt.

“Get your camera phones ready cause here we go,” I say as we wind down the red brick road, rattling off historical details and incidental facts, then racing to their hotel in the Wharf.

Next, I’m driving past the Marriott when two groups of people charge my cab.

“This is our taxi,” a woman with a German accent snarls at two guys who retreat to the bus stop across the street.

“I’m not fighting over a cab,” one of the guys says.

“Someone else will be along shortly,” I yell at them, apologetically.

The German tourists are missing a member of their party. To expedite finding a taxi, they’d fanned out to cover more distance. Now, one is lost.

“Have him describe his surroundings,” I tell the woman on the phone with him.

“He says there’s an Applebee’s … and a gas station.”

“Ah.” I race down to Taylor and rescue a visibly distressed man who jumps into the backseat shivering with the others.

Once BART service is restored, things go back to normal. I.e., driving around empty.

For a moment though, it felt good to be appreciated again, as if my presence as a taxi driver in San Francisco was more than just an unavoidable nuisance. As midnight approaches, dozens of cabs start lining up on Grove Street, waiting for Bill Graham to break and what should be another spike in business, however short-lived.

Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. Write to him at piltdownlad@gmail.com or visit his blog at www.idrivesf.com.

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