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No cure for cab driving

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Despite the difficulty of making ends meet as a San Francisco cab driver, there seems to be an inexplicable lure to continue doing it. (Cindy Chew/2010 S.F. Examiner)

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I’m a Fusion driver. Besides having the extra power when I need to beat the lights or just carve the streets when there’s nothing else to do but form figure eights around the clubs and bars, the Ford Fusion is better suited to my 6-foot 2-inch frame than the Camry or Prius.

National 182 is my preferred cab. There’s something about the black leatherette backseat with its worn-in mitt quality, the purple lights along the floorboard, the superb sound system and the ability to adjust my seat into countless positions to alleviate potential legs cramps.

I’ve happily greased palms to make sure the keys and tin medallion for 182 slide through the drawer when I walk up to the window.

This week, however, 182 is on a spare. So I’m back in rotation, vying for the best available jalopy on the National/Veterans lot.

On Thursday, I get Veteran’s 233, a Camry with suspension problems like most cabs in the fleet — still better than the cramped Prius.

I end up with National 1100 the next day. A Fusion. When I turn the wheels though, it’s obvious that besides the usual mechanical issues, the CV joints are shot.

As I wait for an Uber driver to clean his towncar in the car wash, I make sure the input jack works. With all the racket this cab is going to make, I’ll need to cloak the clamorous squeaking and clanking with music.

Wait.

Why is an Uber driver washing his towncar in our lot? Isn’t this the reason they started cutting the water off at 5 p.m.?

Not to be detained from going to work by a scofflaw, I pull into what little space is left. The guy is cordial enough about sharing the equipment, but I trip over the hose as he rinses off his car, adding injury to the onerous insult of a former cab driver exploiting the facilities we pay for with our exorbitantly high gates.

You know, sometimes I wonder why I remain loyal to National and don’t just walk down Upton Alley and become a Luxor man. Numerous cab drivers have asked me this very question. But the reason why I stay at National and why I drive a cab in the first place are one and the same. And honestly, I don’t really know the answer.

Could it be that, as a kid of the ’80s, I was more impressed by Mr. T. in D.C. Cab than De Niro in Taxi Driver? After all, National/Veterans is a perfect example of a cab company teetering on the brink of collapse, even though all the cabs in the yard go out each night and they’re remodeling the stink hole that was the restroom.

Perhaps I’m a masochist, as Ethan once suggested. Or does it go deeper, to what Juneaux calls the “unique shade of exclusivity,” the mysterious quality surrounding cab driving that draws those who have left the fold to return and try to validate their new career move by maintaining a connection to the legitimacy of the yard?

The best cab drivers are misfits. Rebels. Lunatics. Who else would do a job that requires you to sit behind the wheel for 10 to 12 hours at a time, any number of days in a row, navigating the treacherous streets of San Francisco in hopes of getting enough decent rides or tips to make a profit? And since sleep deprivation seems to be an integral element, I can’t help but think that if I got enough rest, I just might realize how absurd this entire venture is.

Cab driving is an addiction. For which there are no meetings, just a barbeque on Sunday mornings, where I can air my grievances until the light fills the sky and I’m overwhelmed by the camaraderie and wonder that comes with the job.

I guess that’s why I stay at National. For all the irritations and hassles I face, at least I’m not alone. And when I’m behind the wheel of a Fusion, no matter how rickety it may be, I’m part of something bigger than just driving a car for hire. I’m a San Francisco taxi driver. And for that, there seems to be no cure.

Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. Write to him at piltdownlad@gmail.com and @piltdownlad.

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