On Salesforce Sunday, when 170,000 people descend on San Francisco for Dreamforce, the largest software convention in the world, hope springs eternal in the taxi holding lots at San Francisco International Airport. And for once, I’m going to be a part of the action …
Before embarking on my first, full-fledged attempt to become an airport player, I hover in the shade on Loomis Street, summoning the courage to face the unknown while smoking a final cigarette and chugging an iced coffee. The night before and all that morning, I bombarded Ben and Hester with a flurry of stupid questions. Still feeling ill-prepared, but with the nicotine/caffeine combo surging through my veins, I jump on 101 south, ready to embrace the madness.
As several cabs zoom past me on the freeway, I try to keep up, eventually shadowing one into the garage and through a maze of lines and staging areas.
From the Entry Lot to “The Wiggle” and into “The Donut,” taxi drivers mill around their cabs until whistles start blowing, horns start honking and everyone is shouting, “Go! Go! Go!”
In the Paid Lot, we metaphorically rev our engines and wait for the starter’s whistle. Then, it’s show time!
I chase the other cabs down a ramp that leads to the arrival terminals, where passengers stand with their luggage.
After my first successful run, I deadhead back to SFO.
In the Entry Lot, Bobby comes over to my cab. I pepper him with a bunch of stupid questions.
“Don’t worry,” he says confidently. “Just follow the cab in front of you.”
A few minutes later, my row enters The Wiggle. But when the Luxor cab in front of me stops, there’s no room for me to squeeze in. Panicking, I look around, unsure of where to go and waiting for someone to yell at me. Nobody seems to care though.
When a driver finally notices my confusion and shouts directions at me, I thank him profusely.
Later, in The Donut, Bobby walks to my window and chuckles. I point out that following the cab in front of me isn’t always the ideal strategy.
“Man, it’s all good,” he drawls.
By the end of the night, with seven SFO trips under my belt, I’ve become a real airport player.
On Tuesday, I go back to my roots and work The City.
Fortunately, there is as much business as there is traffic. That is, if you’re able to navigate the monolithic congestion around Moscone.
At one point, the Marriott Marquis calls the National office looking for cabs. They have a line of 20 people in the lobby and not a vacant taxi around. Just thousands of Ubers and Lyfts doing what they do best: creating gridlock …
That night, working the Alicia Keys and Lenny Kravitz concert at AT&T, I mostly deliver conventioneers to their hotels, but also the occasional local. It’s eerie how the rest of The City is deserted, like a normal weekday night. I quickly make my way back downtown, illuminated in blue from the lights along the edges of the Embarcadero Center towers …
On the last day of the convention, Moscone traffic merges with rush-hour traffic to create a quagmire of vehicles and desperate drivers.
I let my passengers know that I can go the way of GPS and try to penetrate the gridlock, or drive a few blocks out of the way and avoid it altogether.
“A stupid question, I know …”
Still, the fares are consistent with normal drive times. $10 to North Beach. $12 to Fisherman’s Wharf.
The Wharf turns out to be a hotbed of rides. I even run into Colin working the line at Pier 39, but only because it’s load-and-go.
After dropping a guy at the St. Francis, I pull into the taxi stand on Powell. Five minutes later, I’m on the throne. When the doorman whistles, I see suitcases.
“You willing to go to the airport?” he asks me.
Talk about stupid questions …
“Hey, it’s you!” my passenger exclaims.
“Oh!” It’s the guy I picked up at Pier 39.
It takes me a while to figure out how to get from the departures terminal to the taxi lot, but two hours later, I get a short to Foster City, then a fare back downtown, making $150 in three hours.
On Friday night, with my newfound prowess for the airport, I decide to try my luck at the airport. But my luck, just like Dreamforce, is over.
Almost three hours later, I drive back to The City. Empty. Every bit of the hope I started out with dissipating as I race downtown, lit up like any other Friday 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 email@example.com or visit his blog at www.idrivesf.com.