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The hooligans of Market Street

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Muni buses make their way down Market Street downtown on Wednesday, December 3, 2008. (Cindy Chew/2008 S.F. Examiner)
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http://sfexaminer.com/category/the-city/sf-news-columns/i-drive-sf/

With “Hamilton” and “Into the Woods” breaking around the same time, Market Street at 10:50 p.m. is flooded with theatergoers. For taxis, it’s a feeding frenzy. After dropping off a family at the Marine’s Memorial Club, I shoot down Mason for another quick load.

As I turn right onto Market, a girl is standing on the curb with her arm up. Two cabs drive right past her. I pull over.

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She opens the back door, turns and yells, “Hey! I got a taxi!”

Upon her exclamation, a group of kids emerge from the shadows and bum-rush my cab.

“Hold up, now!” I shout as they surround me.

The battalion of brats ranges in age, from the full-grown teenagers squeezing themselves into the backseat, to some goofy-looking adolescents pounding on my trunk and climbing onto the roof, to a precocious 9-year-old in the front seat trying to grab everything in sight: my iPhone, the Flywheel phone clipped to the vent, my Square reader and even the dispatch tablet mounted on the dash.

“What’s wrong with you?” I ask, fending off his sticky fingers. “Give that back!”

Three doors are open as more kids try to jam themselves in the backseat, screaming and giggling.

“C’mon! Seriously?” I shout over the melee. “This is bullshit!”

I grab the dispatch mic to get Artur on the radio, but what do I say? Help, I’m being attacked by Bebe’s Kids?

“Gimme a cigarette!” a girl is yelling at me. “Gimme a cigarette!”

“Do you guys really want to act like a bunch of shitheads?” As I try to be reasonable, a kid reaches through my open window and smacks me. I quickly roll the window up.

“Ouch! My hand!”

Now that violence has entered the equation, the tone shifts from jovial mischief to outright antagonism.

“What’s wrong with you, bitch?” someone screams.

“Yeah, motherfucker!”

The older boys seem less inclined to participate in the escalating tension and retreat to the sidewalk. The others, though, are intent on going full-blown “Lord of the Flies.”

“That’s it! Game over!” I take my foot off the brake and jerk forward. Not much, just enough to jostle the kids inside and scare the ones hanging onto the outside of my cab.

“Who feels like dying tonight?” I go forward a few more inches.

Several kids back away, but they’re still laughing and smacking the side of my cab.

“This bitch is crazy!” says the small fry in the passenger seat. He bails.

“Move it or lose it!” I laugh maniacally while continuing to roll forward. A few kids run along side me, pummeling the windows with their tiny fists of fury, until I lose them a block away.

There are still three kids in my cab: the girl who originally flagged me, another girl and a boy.

“Take us to 16th and Valencia!” a girl yells at me.

“I’m not taking you anywhere.”

“Come on!” both girls whine. “Take us to 16th and Valencia!”

“Do you have money?” I ask.

“My mom is going to pay when we get there.”

“Bullshit.”

“Come on!” They start kicking the back of my seat and punching the screen mounted on the headrest.

“That’s it!” I slam on the brakes and channel Late Night Larry. “You’re out!”

They protest, but I just keep repeating those two magical words: “You’re out!”

“Alright, alright.”

One of the girls and the boy get out. The first girl remains.

“Fuck you, bitch!” she screams at me, her eyes inflamed. “Bitch! You bitch! I’m going to spit on you!”

“Is that really how you want to act?” I ask calmly.

“I should spit on you, bitch!”

She glares at me for a while longer before finally exiting the cab. I hit the locks as they hammer on my windows.

“Try to be a nice guy and this is the thanks I get …” I mutter to myself, questioning the existence of karma.

When I cross 7th Street, there’s not much of a crowd left around the Orpheum, but a woman holding a briefcase flags me. I pull over and unlock the doors.

“Can you take me to Tiburon?” she asks. “My phone died.”

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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