Without the fireworks and traffic along The Embarcadero, last Sunday night would have felt like any other weekend night. That it was New Year’s Eve only seemed incidental…
By midnight, I’ve already forgotten about the holiday. Walking into the Hilton on O’Farrell, I’m taken aback by the small but rowdy crowd in the bar/reception area counting backwards.
In the restroom, it hits me.
“Oh yeah,” I say aloud, my voice echoing off the tile.
I’m not alone though, as a flushing toilet drowns out the cheers from the lobby.
Back on the street, the doorman at the Nikko flags me and deposits an older couple in my backseat.
“What’s going on?” the gentleman in the leather suit asks me.
“It’s the New Year,” I reply.
“Yes.” He laughs. “But where are all the people?”
“Still home for the holidays?” I suggest.
They’d been at Bix, where they’ve celebrated New Year’s Eve for the past 20 years.
“We always book months ahead of time,” he says. “But this year, the bar was only half full.”
“It was very odd,” the woman adds. “We left early, thinking the traffic would be dreadful.”
Ahead of us, Market Street is wide open, hardly a vehicle on the road and barely a soul on the sidewalk.
Earlier, the owner of Emperor Norton’s said this was the slowest New Year’s Eve he could remember.
From the Tenderloin to SoMa to the Castro, almost all the bars look empty. In the Mission, the vibe is more Tuesday night than year-end celebration. Even the Guitar God of Valencia Street isn’t torturing his ax like he normally does. Instead, he’s lamenting the loss of several effects pedals, including his beloved loop station, stolen from his rig when he wasn’t paying attention.
“That loop station had years of my work on it!” he tells me. “And nobody cares!”
He waves his hand toward the empty street.
“I do so much for this neighborhood. I care about everyone. But who gives a damn when I’m hurting? Who?”
Bored of practicing his pool game and feeling unnecessary, Mr. Judy goes home early.
“What’s the point of staying out any longer?” he says.
My presence hardly seems significant either, but I’m determined to push through, hoping the DJ events and after-hours parties will make up for the previous lackluster six hours…
This is the new normal in the new San Francisco, as the demographic shift becomes more and more apparent.
The night before, working the airport, I get a ride to Fremont. After dropping the family at their Airbnb, I look for gas, get lost and end up on the Dumbarton Bridge. While cruising past Facebook’s headquarters, marked by the giant thumbs up sign, I’m flummoxed by the glass structure going up along the Bayfront Expressway. Even though it’s still under construction, the finished building looks more like an amusement park than an office building.
Like the new Apple headquarters that resembles a spaceship, I can only imagine the extravagant perks their workers receive, which makes me think, “If every day is like a party, what’s the point of going out, like we once did, and looking for a party?”
Into the small hours, I line up with the other taxi drivers outside the DJ clubs, waiting for Uber to surge or iPhones to die or whatever it takes to compel kids to get into one of the waiting taxis.
Of course, they always want more than a ride.
“Do you have an charger? Put on 106.1.” The giggling couple riddles me with requests, after telling me they haven’t been in a taxi in years and suggesting I must hate Uber.
I suppress my desire to respond, “No, I just hate you.”
Then there’s the half-naked girl who sits in the passenger seat, grabs my water bottle, asks, “Can I drink this?” and then proceeds to gulp down the last drop before I can even respond.
Or the guy who also gets in the passenger seat and says, “You’re driving me home.” Except he doesn’t tell me his address, just that it’s in South City. On the way there, he gives me vague street names that I barely understand through his drunken brogue. And once we finally reach his place, I have to argue with him to pay me, since he, naturally, assumes he’s in an Uber/Lyft.
After getting my fair share of abuse, I finally call it quits and head back to the yard.
While waiting to hitch a ride back to Oakland with Hester, I’m cleaning out Veterans 233 and spot a wad of cash lodged between the seat and floorboard.
Well, at least they tipped me. In their own special way…
Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. His zine, “Behind the Wheel,” is available at bookstores throughout The City. Write to Kelly at email@example.com or visit his blog at www.idrivesf.com.