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Towards the end of my shift last Thursday night, I’m making the final rounds of The City, hoping to encounter a few stragglers. Or an early bird heading to work. My motivation to keep driving, though, is just a force of habit – a reflex. After 10 hours of doing the same thing, it’s hard to stop …

On a slow night, you can hear every rattle in your rattletrap. Figuring out what’s causing those creaks and squeaks, well… that’s a problem best left for another time.

Despite the potential cheer, I can’t be bothered to play music. It’s just the night and me… and all the other empty taxicabs, roaming the misty streets with top lights blazing …

In the Tenderloin, ambulances race through the streets like wailing banshees, their sirens reverberating off the buildings until it’s impossible to figure out where they’re coming from or where they’re going …

At the intersection of Page and Franklin, a guy standing on the corner is bellowing, “I got dope if you got a bubble!”

From down the street, another voice shouts, “Shut the hell up!”

“Fuck you!” the first guy responds. “I’m not even talking to you! I just wanna smoke some dope. Who’s got a bubble?”

“Hey asshole, shut your trap!”

“No, you shut up!” Without missing a beat, he resumes his chant: “I got the dope if you got a bubble.”

When the light turns green I speed away …

Meandering through the Lower Haight to Divisadero, I head to The Castro, where three empty taxis pass me going in the opposite direction and two empty taxis wait for the light at 18th and about 15 empty taxis wait in the cabstand outside The Sausage Factory.

From there, I cruise past Lucky 13 on my way to the Orbit Room. With a cursory pass through the Safeway parking lot, I check out Churchill and head down 14th Street.

Waiting for the light to change at Guerrero, I see a couple emerge from Thieves Tavern. The guy is dragging a girl towards the corner. She’s stumbling and weaving and giggling – showing all the signs of someone about to throw up. The guy has his phone out, looking desperately up and down the street, then in my direction. Before he can wrap his head around the implications, the light changes.

At Mission, I take a left, towards SoMa. And the Bridge.

I drive past Eighth and Folsom, where a line of cabs, several black SUVs and multiple unmarked sedans have F8 and the Cat Club wrapped up like a present.

Before getting on I-80, I pull over to text Irina and ask if we need anything from Safeway.

While waiting for her response, two figures approach my cab: a woman and a young girl. They’re clearly in distress.

“Can you take us to Richmond?” the woman asks.

“City?” I respond.

“Yes,” she stutters. “We have a little bit of money, but we really need to get home. My daughter…” The woman starts crying.

I glance at the girl, visibly frightened.

“Get in,” I say. “Don’t worry. I’ll get you home.”

On the way to Richmond, the woman explains in broken English how they ended up on the street so late at night. Her husband had taken them to a coworker’s birthday party and had a couple beers. As they were leaving, the police pulled them over. He was arrested, their truck was impounded and mother and daughter were left to fend for themselves. They’d been sitting there for hours until I happened to pull up.

Based on her accent, I can only assume they aren’t native born Americans. As the severity of their circumstances floods my mind, I do my best to cheer up the girl, talking about school, her favorite subjects and telling her about my own daughter. Anything to make this awful situation seem somewhat normal …

When I pull up to their apartment building, the woman hands me a $100 bill.

“No,” I protest. Even though the meter was on, I wasn’t expecting payment. “Don’t worry about it,” I say, clearing the meter.

“I have to pay you,” she responds, defiantly, shoving the bill at me. “It’s your job.”

“OK.” I take the bill. “But your change…” I reach into my pocket and pull out three $20 bills and a two $5 bills.

As they leave, I wish the woman luck. Before closing the backdoor, though, she hands me one of the $5 bills and thanks me for the ride.

I try to resist, but just take the money and put it back in my pocket.

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 www.idrivesf.com.

Kelly Dessaint
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Kelly Dessaint

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