During last call on Friday nights, I usually wait out the shit show in some dark recess of The City. A few weeks ago, though, trying to escape the sloshed fields of the Mission, I was driving past the Armory Club when a guy jumped in front of my cab.
“Will you take five of us?” he asks.
While it’s not exactly legal to transport more people than there are seatbelts, what are laws in San Francisco anymore but mere suggestions?
As three women and one dude pile into the backseat, laughing and grunting as they position themselves in a tight mass, the first guy holds the door open like he’s directing traffic, then jumps in the front seat.
“83 Elaine Ave.,” he says. “We’re going to my place. I have plenty of booze, so we can keep this party going. Right?”
“Where?” I ask.
“Mill Valley,” he tells me.
“To the bridge!” the guy in back yells. “Take us to the bridge!”
I hit the meter and head toward Van Ness. Glancing in the rearview, it’s hard to distinguish their features in the intermittent glow of the streetlights, but they’re all dressed to the nines, as if they’re coming from a wedding. While they all talk at once, I take a left at Hayes to get on Franklin.
“Music!” one of the women shouts. “We need music!”
I hold out my auxiliary cable. The guy behind me plugs in his phone. The one sitting shotgun turns the volume up. But the guy in back can’t seem to decide on a song. He plays the first 15 to 30 seconds of something and then goes to the next one, even though the others express approval each time.
“Oh, I love this tune!” a woman shouts. “Turn it up!”
“This is great track,” the guy in front says.
Still, the ersatz DJ keeps going. From hip-hop to rock to country to dance and then back to rock, it’s like a commercial for one of those CD compilations of top 40 hits they used to pitch on late night TV.
Up and down the hills on Franklin, I try to ignore the mayhem and get through the lights. Three conversations are going on at once with a perpetual laugh track and way too much body movement.
On the bridge, I hold the steering wheel steady and stay in the middle lane.
All the windows are down, and the frigid, moist air fills the car. The guy in front keeps trying to open the sunroof, even though I tell him it’s broken. Still, he pushes any button he can find.
When we get off the freeway, he directs me through the main part of town and onto a narrow, winding road.
Beyond my headlights, there is only the pitch-black night. I maintain the speed limit, terrified of encountering another vehicle. Despite the treacherous conditions, everyone is still talking and laughing while the music blasts.
As I come around a tight curve, there’s something in the middle of the road. What the … is that a … tree?
I slam on the brakes. The women scream and bust out laughing.
“There’s a fucking tree!” I shout, pointing at the large trunk protruding from the asphalt. “In the middle of the road!”
“Just go around it,” the guy up front says calmly.
“Why would there be a tree there?” I ask.
“Forget about it, man,” he says. “It’s Marin.”
When we finally get to the destination, I sigh in relief, turn down the music and hit the overhead light.
“So who’s coming in?” asks one of the guys.
“I’d like to,” a woman says. “But we need to get home to the kids.”
“Yeah, same here.”
Now that I get a good look at my passengers, it’s obvious they’re not a bunch of drugged-out kids, but adults. Like, real adults. With grey hair, wrinkled skin and children at home with babysitters.
And this is the only the first stop.
As we continue on to the next destination, they talk shit about the first couple.
“Did you see how they were dancing?”
“I know, right?”
After dropping off one of the women, the last two start making out, taking breaks to give me directions.
“You want to come inside and get stoned?” the guy asks me when we pull up to their house.
“Nah, I need to get back to The City.”
He hands me four $20 bills, and they stumble out of the cab, down their driveway, past an Audi and a BMW.
Now, I just have to figure out how to get back to the freeway.
Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. His zine, “Behind the Wheel,” is available at bookstores throughout The City. Write to Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his blog at www.idrivesf.com.