Not working for ten days really threw me off my taxi game.
Once I’m finally behind the wheel of Veterans 233 again on Wednesday, it’s a struggle to get my groove back. Everything feels awkward. The seat’s out of whack. The mirrors are positioned wrong. There’s a painful crick in my shoulder. And a fog encircles my thinking.
Can I even still drive a taxi? I wonder. Or was that fever dream last week, which involved negotiating a complicated matrix of Jenga blocks and TV boxes, a harbinger of things to come?
On the streets, I’m riddled with doubt. Each set of cross streets is a pop quiz.
Fortunately, instinct takes over and I manage to navigate rush hour traffic without incident.
Still, something feels off. I’ve lost my edge. Which is a problem when driving a taxi in San Francisco. This job is not for the meek. Without a thickarmor, you’ll get eaten alive …
On Thursday, around 2 a.m., I hit up Farolito. When I get back to my cab, a truck is lined up with their right indicator flashing, despite plenty of available parking spaces on 24th.
Even though I’m planning to scarf part of my carne asada super burrito and watch Seth Myers, I relinquish custody of the parking space. At least it’s not an Uber, I tell myself to justify my acquiescence.
I find a quiet spot on Valencia. As I remove the foil from the burrito, my phone chirps.
Richie Drano is texting me. “Working?”
“I was walking to this guy’s house in Potrero and… uhhhh, kinda got turned around and now I’m in the Bayview and could use an evac.”
Richie has become a regular lately. A purveyor of “party favors” that he peddles in various Mission bars, he self-identifies as a part-time scumbag. “I may act like a scumbag sometimes,” he told me once. “But that doesn’t mean I’m a real scumbag.”
It’s hard not to appreciate his twisted logic. Or admire his “fuck off and die” swagger — a combination of honesty and being an asshole.
“You gotta be a scumbag to make it in the Mission,” he’s also told me before. “It’s scumbag versus scumbag here …”
After cruising Third Street, I find Richie outside Joy Gallery, leaning against a parking meter. He smiles and saunters into the cab.
“Thank you so much,” he says, effusively. “Not that, you know, I was in a dangerous situation or anything…”
“Oh, of course not…”
“I just need to make a quick stop…”
Richie directs me over through the western slopes of Potrero Hill until we reach a dead end next to the 101. The steady roar of the morning commute has already begun.
“Be right back.” Richie disappears into the night.
Back in the cab a few minutes later, he wants to get a drink.
“But it’s only 5:45 a.m.,” I point out.
“Perfect,” he responds cheerfully. “Pop’s should open at 6 a.m.”
We’re the only patrons in the bar. I order a Coke. Rickie gets a Tecate and shot of tequila. While the bartender continues his prep work, Richie regales me with tales of the San Francisco garage rock scene in the mid 2000s, back when you could book a venue like The Knockout on a Wednesday night and make a couple hundred bucks.
There were so many bands. From Gris Gris and the Cuts in the beginning to Thee Oh-Sees and Nobunny towards the end. Before the exodus, when the rents got too high.
Eschewing the standard quest for popularity and acclaim, the bands Richie played in had just one goal: wear leather pants and piss people off.
“A good show was when everyone ran away when we played.” He laughs and chugs the beer.
After hanging out with Richie all morning, I start my shift on Friday rejuvenated. I charge into the maelstrom blasting the Oblivians. Later that night, with a soundtrack of the Wooden Shjips, it finally happens: I get my taxi groove back …
On Saturday afternoon, parked outside the Cheese Steak Shop on Divisadero, I’m eating a sandwich and watching videos on my phone. An SUV pulls up next to me. Sensing the driver trying to get my attention, I ignore him. He blows his horn, but I just keep eating. Then he starts yelling.
I roll down my window. “Yeah?”
“I need that space,” he says condescendingly. “You leaving?”
Channeling my inner scumbag, I stuff a thick fry, drenched with ketchup, into my mouth. “Fuck does it look like?” I mumble and roll up the window.
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 www.idrivesf.com.