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How to hail a taxi

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The key to hailing a taxi: Put your arm out like you own The City. (Courtesy photo)


You know it’s a slow night in The City when practically every taxi not at SFO is queued up outside Davies Symphony Hall waiting for Beethoven’s “Emperor Concerto” to break.

As I roll up onto the scene, the line stretches from the entrance on Grove to the corner and then across Franklin. While I’m assessing the situation, the first cab in the second line starts blowing his horn, presumably, to prevent me from usurping his position. But I have no interest in this line.

Turning right on Grove, I head to the Van Ness side of Davies, to the actual cabstand for the venue. The one with signs indicating that only taxis are allowed to park there from 9 p.m. to midnight.

Very few taxi drivers, it seems, have faith in the Van Ness side of Davies. While I’m waiting, a taxi will occasionally stop, lose patience a few minutes later and speed off around the corner.

Eventually, Late Night Larry pulls in behind me, followed by a few more taxis.

Then concertgoers emerge en masse from the symphony hall. As the first cab in line, I get a fare right away going to Market and Castro. While the light at Hayes is red, I slowly wedge my front end between a minivan and a pickup truck so that when the signal turns green, I’m able to speed away.

All the way up Market, the lights are on my side. After dropping my fare at Catch, I hightail it back to Davies, hoping for a double-dip. At the very least, I’ll get a decent spot in line at the Orpheum for when “The Book of Mormon” breaks.

While fighting the congestion on Franklin, I see a woman on the corner of Hayes with her arm in the air. I flash my high beams and, once there’s an opening, swoop in.

She’s heading to the Richmond District.

“Thanks for stopping,” she says. “The security guard back there kept telling me he would help me catch a cab, but I’ve been taking cabs in San Francisco for 35 years. I may be old, but I can still hail a taxi.”

“You’re flagging skills are impeccable,” I say. “I spotted you from blocks away.”

“There is skill to hailing a taxi, isn’t there?”

“There is,” I respond, about to proffer one of my favorite lines: “You want to put your arm out like you — ”

“Like you own The City,” she says, snatching the words right from my mouth.

“Exactly!” I laugh. “So, uhh … Do you have a preference on how we get out there?” I ask. “Turk Street or just Geary all the way?”

“Turk is fine, but only until …”

“Arguello,” I say. “Then, up to Geary?”

“Exactly. Thanks for asking. I cannot deal with going down Balboa. I get sick from all the stops.”

I agree that the stop signs are aggravating and, depending on where in the Richmond my passenger is going, I’ll either drop down to Fulton or take Geary.

“In all the years that I’ve been taking cabs, I’ve only had one problem,” she tells me. “This old Russian guy was driving me home one night down Turk, and I had asked him from the start not to stay on Balboa and to take Geary, because I’ll get sick. But he didn’t acknowledge me. Then, as we got closer, and it was obvious he wasn’t getting into the right lane, I asked him again to please take Geary, that I’ll get sick if we stay on Balboa. But again, he didn’t say anything.”

“No response at all?” I inquire.

“Not even a grunt. As if he didn’t even hear me … So what does he do? At Arguello, he goes straight onto Balboa. After a few blocks, I started feeling sick and … well, I threw up in his cab.”

“What?” I start laughing. “Did he respond then?”

“Oh, that certainly got his attention. But I wasn’t finished. I had another one in me. While he’s complaining about the mess in his cab, I threw up again. This time, on him. Then, I got out of the cab and walked home.”

I can’t stop laughing at the image of this nice old lady puking on some old grumpy cab driver.

“That was the only time I’ve ever been sick in a taxi. But that guy had it coming.”

Still laughing, I take it easy the rest of the way, just in case. And if I’m lucky, there will be some stragglers left at the Orpheum when I get back downtown.

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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