I knew she was going to run. From the start of the ride, I could tell right away something wasn’t right. But that didn’t prevent me from offering her the same quality service I provide paying customers …
Need a phone charger? Sure.
Oh, you have an Android. Hold on. Let me arrange my cables here…
Warm enough? Yeah, it’s freezing out there tonight. That wind is brutal.
While the Brian Eno in the CD player is most likely not her preferred jam, when accommodating passengers, paying or otherwise, you have to draw the line somewhere. Besides, it’s a perfect night for Eno …
In the small hours, Potrero Hill is all but deserted. Just a random garbage picker or late-night dog walker. Newspapers and pieces of trash roll down the street like tumbleweeds.
I’m westbound on 16th, waiting for the light to change at Potrero, when I spot her. She’s standing in front of the Muni stop, but the 9 is nowhere in sight.
She raises her arm, almost dubiously, but I pull over anyway. Her reluctance to get in the cab seems odd.
Once inside, she exudes an overwhelming sense of desperation. She’s nervous and acting cagey. Her behavior signals an alarm in my lizard brain.
Still, I go through the normal motions anyway. Because… What if my instincts are wrong? I’d really feel like a total asshole.
“C-c-c-can you take me to…” she stutters and pauses. “Uhm, can we go to… Powell and Pacific?”
Along the way, I ask if she has a preferred route. No? Okay. I take Ninth to Larkin. Once we cross Market, I catch all the lights through the Tenderloin. After California, I ask, “You want to take Pacific or the tunnel?”
“The tunnel, please.”
At Broadway, I glance at the meter. $9.55. It’ll probably be $10.65 by the time we get to her destination. Losing eleven bucks is not a big deal. Unless…
The thought crosses my mind that worse things can happen than not getting paid for a fare. Much worse.
A few weeks ago, a National driver was robbed at gunpoint. Lost almost $300. Shortly before that, a Yellow driver was attacked by a passenger who proceeded to steal the taxi and then get into an accident, killing herself in the process. All over a fare dispute.
In my younger years, I thumbed my nose at the prospect of danger. I rarely had much to lose. Certainly not money. The thought of getting robbed was a joke. Once in New Orleans, walking home from work, a couple kids pulled a gun on me. I had enough booze in me to find the situation amusing. I pointed at my Fluevogs, scuffed, scraped and layered with grease and béarnaise sauce. “Do I look like a fucking millionaire to you?” I held out the contents of my pockets: 47 cents, a rubber band and an errant black bean from that night’s special. “You can have the change, but the bean’s mine.”
Now that I’m older and have a child, the stakes are higher. Getting robbed is no laughing matter …
At Powell, I take a right.
From the corner she directs me onto John Street.
“Alright,” I say cheerfully, turning into the alley.
“This is good.”
I stop in the middle of the street and pause the meter.
“How much is it?” she asks, her voice quivering.
I point at the highly visible taximeter. “Ten bucks.”
“Oh.” As she fiddles with her purse, something falls between the seat and the door. “I dropped my… Can I?”
I unlock the doors. “Go ahead.”
She opens the door, pretends to look for whatever fell and gets out of the cab.
I’m almost inclined to wish her a good night before she takes off. Then she leans back into the cab.
“Psyyyyyche!” She giggles and runs away.
As I watch her turn the corner onto Powell, I’m flabbergasted. I’m… I’m pissed off. I… I… I kinda want to chase after her and… and what? Then what?
I mean, yeah, I knew she wasn’t going to pay me, but did she really have to say, “Psyyyyyche?”
“Psyyyyyche!” Like she conned me?
Honey, I would’ve given you a free ride if you asked. I was even willing to give you a free ride without asking. Before running away, you could have said, “Sorry, I have no money.” Or just take off without a word.
Enraged, I drive around Chinatown and North Beach for a while trying to think of a proper clap back for “Psyyyyyche?”
There’s nothing. Goddamnit! She psyyyyched me. Psyyyyyched me good.
Now that I’m all psyyyyyched out, there’s nothing left to do but wander back into the night.
Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. His zine, “Behind the Wheel,” is available at bookstores throughout The City. Write to Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his blog at www.idrivesf.com.