When a hard rain is falling, it’s hard not to complain. As if, once the waterworks start, you can’t hold back the deluge …
Heading to the Dogpatch down 16th Street, I take full advantage of the new taxi/bus lanes, while the girl behind me talks about growing up in San Francisco.
“I remember being a kid and going to my grandparents’ house,” she says. “Right where you’re taking me now. 16th was a completely different street back then. My grandfather built the house right after the earthquake and fire in 1906. Over the years, the area got worse, but he never left. Since then, it’s all changed, and I often wonder what he would think of what’s become of this neighborhood …”
She takes a long pause. It’s hard to know what to say. As the windshield wipers scrape across the glass, I look around at the ultramodern condos, the state-of-the-art UCSF Medical Center and children’s hospital and, looming in the distance, the menacing shell of the new Warriors stadium in mid-construction.
What do you say about unbridled progress?
“I’m sure he would have hated it,” she asserts.
Later that night, I’m rushing across town to grab a burger from Sam’s on Broadway before they close. But as fate would have it, a block away, I see an arm in the air. She’s just going to the Tenderloin. A short ride, but it’ll pay for my dinner.
“I live on Ada Toilet,” the woman tells me. “You know where that is? On O’Farrell between Hyde and Leavenworth.”
“I usually walk or take the bus,” she continues. “But not is this weather.”
“It’s really nasty out there,” I concede. “At least the streets are getting rinsed off.”
“It’ll take more than a little rain to clean these streets.”
“That reminds me of a line in ‘Taxi Driver,’” I point out. “‘Someday, a real rain will come and wash all the scum off the streets.’”
“So the yuppies can take over? Shit, the TL is the only part of The City left that still feels like San Francisco. If only there were a rain that fell hard enough to strip away the layers of whitewash and bring back the filth.”
It’s such a common refrain, from natives to long-term residents who can’t imagine a life outside San Francisco, from teachers and bartenders and food servers and 911 operators and civil servants … anyone who doesn’t work in tech fighting to stay in The City, as armies of suburbanites abandon their planned communities, tree-lined avenues, cul-de-sacs and white picket fences to embrace the urban existence. Even though the harsh realities of city life offends them, they try to recreate the complacent lives they left behind …
My last fare of the night is the bartender from Public Works. As I listen to her cringe-worthy tales of serving drinks to millennials, all I can do is laugh. At 3:30 a.m., it’s a welcome change of pace to deal with a sober person.
I’ve actually driven her home twice before. Her boyfriend used to drive for Luxor. Eventually, we change the subject. Talk about collecting LPs and end the night on a positive note.
While taxi driving can be a demoralizing act of futility most of the time, there are still plenty of cool encounters with cool people, and it’s those rides that sustain you. For hours, days … sometimes even weeks.
Sadly, though, the best rides are often the least noteworthy.
A couple months ago, I drove this guy from Cole Valley to downtown. We talked the whole time. One of those truly positive random taxi encounters that was like a B-12 shot on a crappy night.
For the life of me, though, I can’t remember what we talked about. It was nothing negative. I remember thinking afterward, ‘Wow, we didn’t complain once!’ Not about San Francisco. Not about how the tech industry has ruined The City. No talk of millennials. Or sexual assault. No Uber or Trump. No hurricanes. No homeless. No opioid epidemic.
It had to have been something cool though.
Probably our families. And/or music. Favorite Victorians. Some local history. Lore and factoid.
It was one of those conversations that didn’t feel like a jeremiad on the installment plan. You know, those people who go through their day bitching about EVERYTHING, from one person to the next, as if they’re maintaining this narrative flow that only they can comprehend …
Maybe we just talked about the weather. The rain in the forecast.
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.