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The long, rocky road to Buster’s

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Buster’s in North Beach can be a distraction to even the most seasoned taxi drivers. (Courtesy Christian Lewis)
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Christian started it. That picture he posted on Facebook of his cab outside Buster’s triggered a hankering for a Buster’s Burger that I couldn’t satisfy with just one. Or two. Or even three. Pretty much any fare to North Beach over the past few weeks was an excuse to hit up Buster’s …

Last Friday night, after dropping at The Boardroom, I make a beeline to Columbus and Vallejo, hoping for rock-star parking at the green meter on the corner.

When I get there, an SUV is hogging the space and part of the red curb next to the fire hydrant, preventing me from squeezing in without blocking the crosswalk.

I consider giving up, but my Buster’s craving is too strong. I go around the block searching for another spot, then head to the Vesuvio taxi stand, which, fortunately, isn’t overrun by Uber drivers.
Just as I’m getting back into my cab, two guys approach me.

“Are you available?” the first one asks, opening my back door.

“Sure,” I say, thinking, Well, the fries are usually hot as hell anyway.

“We’re going to Parc 55,” the first guy tells me. “The address is — ”

“Parc 55,” I reply, cutting him off. “I got ya.”

“See, he knows where he’s going,” the other guy playfully chides his companion.

I take a right on Pacific and head down Stockton. As the cab bounces and jerks over a battle zone of potholes, buckled asphalt and metal plates, I apologize for the rough terrain.

“Does San Francisco have many streets that are in bad shape like this?”

I can’t help but laugh. “I’ve driven on dirt roads that were smoother than most of these streets.”

“Are there certain ones you intentionally avoid?”

“There are plenty of streets I’d like to avoid, but it’s almost impossible since so many are ripped to shit.”

“What are some of the streets you think are in the worst condition?” he asks.

I rattle a few off the top of my head: Van Ness, Haight Street, Broadway and Fourth Street.

“Potrero was a total shit show for like five years,” I add. “But they finally repaved it, although there’s still a stretch between Division and 17th that’s a complete suspension killer.”

When they ask me to spell out Potrero, I realize they’re writing them down.

“There are countless streets that have bad patches,” I continue. “Like the street we’re driving on now, Mason. Also, Ellis at Market, Polk — that’s P-o-l-k — north of California, Beale, spelled the same as the one in Memphis, and Folsom around the Transbay Terminal. Plus, all the streets near the Salesforce Tower … basically, wherever there’s construction, the streets are jacked up. And there’s construction all over The City. One minute a street is fine, then five minutes later, a construction crew is ripping it open.”

As I wait for them to finish their list, repeating some of the names, I ask why they’re so interested in fucked up streets.

“Just curious,” the second guy responds. “Our last driver told us the streets here were in great shape.”

“What? A taxi driver said that?”

“No, it was an Uber driver.”

“Well, there you go. You’d have better luck asking a tourist hanging off the side of a cable car for particulars on The City.”

As I pull up to Parc 55, the first guy hands me a credit card. I run it through Square and pass my phone back so he can complete the transaction.

“Give him a good tip,” the second guy whispers. “No, not that much.”

When the guy returns my phone he asks for a receipt.

“The app should have given you the option to email one,” I reply. “It may have automatically sent it. Hold on.” I check the payment details. “Yeah, it went to an email at Ford … dot … com?”

Wait a minute.

“Yeah, that’s right.”

Hold on.

“You guys work for Ford?” I immediately question whether I should have given these corporate goons so much information. I feel like a GoBike rider, except snookered for my data. “Is this for Chariot?”

“Among other things …”

“Autonomous vehicles?”

“Well …”

Just as I’m about to unleash a salvo of arguments against the feasibility of driverless cars in San Francisco, an Uber pulls up behind me and starts blowing his horn, even though I’m clearly in the white passenger loading zone, prompting the guys to exit the vehicle.

As much as I’d like to include a list of grievances to go along with the other information I gave them, my Buster’s Burger is getting cold. While the Uber driver continues to blare his horn, I reach into the brown sack and grab a handful of fries.

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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