I start my week with a steadfast determination to not just make enough money to pay my rent, but also, and perhaps more importantly, to drive this girl right out my head. I’ve spent too much time already thinking what if this and what if that … Sometimes it seems there is no escape from the constant distraction when every conclusion leads to more confusion. So what else can I do but go out and drive?
On Thursday afternoon, I suit up and put on my best armor. I’ve learned how to wear a mask and get through my shifts. I walk to the McArthur BART and take the long ride to the 24th Street station. From there, I criss cross through the Mission to Army, or as it is known outside the taxi world, Cesar Chavez, and walk through the righteous dopefiend hobo jungle under the 101 freeway.
My shift starts with some decent rides. I take a very drunk lady from a bar on Grant to Sausalito. Later, I drive two guys to their hotel by the airport. Then a bunch of shorts. A tourist from the Fairmont is surprised I’m white. Another thinks I’m the hippest cab driver in San Francisco. But I tell her, “No, that would be Colin in Veterans 1434.”
After The City settles down, I’m on the throne at the ad hoc cab stand in front of the Cat Club. A woman gets in. Tells me she’s drunk, which is apparent enough. She’s going to Alamo Square. I hit the meter and take a quick right on Rausch to Howard. As I turn onto Ninth, she asks me where I am going. I tell her the cross streets she gave me less than a minute ago.
“But you’re going the wrong way!” she cries.
“What do you mean?” I ask. I’m heading to Fell, which is the fastest and most efficient route to Divisadero.
“You should have taken 12th.”
“You want me to go up Van Ness? I’m on Mission. I can still go that way if you’d like.”
“No, Mission is a one way going in the opposite direction, dickhead.”
“What?” I’m taken aback, but I play it cool. “I promise you we’re going the right way.”
“Why are you being so mean to me?”
“I’m not doing anything.”
“Don’t placate me!”
I know she’s wasted and upset, but she’s gone from happy lush to belligerent drunk in less than five blocks.
“I can’t believe I’m in a taxi and the driver doesn’t know where he’s going. Go left here!”
“At Van Ness? That’ll take us to the Mission.”
“Should I just get out and find another cab? You obviously don’t know what you’re doing.”
“We’re in the middle of nowhere,” I point out, “I know where I’m going.”
“Well, I’m not turning left.” When the light turns green, I cross Van Ness onto Otis.
“Where are you taking me?”
“I’m taking you home!”
I turn onto Duboce.
“What street are we on?”
“Duboce,” I tell her.
“No, we’re not.”
At the light, I point to the street sign next to Zeitgeist. “You see? The sign reads Duboce.”
“You’re still going the wrong way.”
As she continues to berate me, I flash back to all the crazy things Irina told me when she was walking out the door. Nothing she said made sense. Each claim contradicted the next. Her justifications were so absurd I couldn’t even argue with her.
With this woman in my back seat, I feel just as helpless. She keeps bad mouthing me.
Her words are like sucker punches to the gut.
“Look, I’m not sure why you’re so upset but I can’t deal with this anymore. My wife just left me for my best friend. My whole life is crumbling down around me. But I know how to drive. Just let me take me to your home. Please let me do my job. I’ll even turn off the meter. You don’t have to pay.”
“Is that true?” she asks after a moment of silence. “About your wife?”
“That’s not even the worst of it.”
Even though minutes before she was insulting me with all her might, as I cross Market onto Buchanan towards Fell, I give her the Cliff Notes to my failed marriage and tell her about my unfaithful wife.
“I’m so sorry,” she says. “I didn’t mean to be a bitch.”
She keeps apologizing and asks if there’s anything she can do to make up for it.
“Just let me get you where you’re going.”
“I still don’t know where you’re going, but OK.”
As we hit Divisadero, she recognizes her neighborhood.
“That’s my street. Turn right.”
Outside her building, we talk. She tells me about her recent breakup with a boyfriend of 18 years. “He just said he didn’t want to be together anymore. Right out of the blue.” She starts to cry. “I’m so sorry.”
“I’m sorry too. We both have fresh wounds. It’s alright.”
“We’re going to survive this, right?” she asks.
“Do we have a choice?”
She says something about rising up from the ashes like a phoenix. After a few minutes, we’re laughing.
The meter reads $12.30. I refuse to take her money but she leaves $15 on the center console as she exits the cab.
“You take care of yourself,” she tells me. “You’re one of the good guys.”
“Well, not according to my wife.”
“You know what? Fuck her.”
I pull away and find a place to park a few blocks down the street to smoke a cigarette. I readjust my tarnished armor and get my head back into the game. There are still a few more hours before my shift ends.
Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxicab driver.