I try not to take it personally, but it’s been over a week since my last Flywheel order. Even though I log in to the app at the start of each shift religiously and stay “available” the whole time, except when I already have a passenger or if I’m unable to accept orders, the Android phone attached to the vent next hasn’t chirped in so long I almost forget it’s there.
So after dropping off my first fare of the day in Cow Hollow and tapping the Flywheel app to go online, I’m not only shocked to get an immediate ride request for Beach and Cervantes, but one with a $9 guaranteed tip! I quickly hit “accept” and head toward the part of the Marina that looks like it was designed by a drunken cartographer.
When I pull up, an older gentleman is outside waiting for me.
“Market and Jones,” he says curtly.
“No problem,” I say, hitting the meter. “By the way, thanks for the $9 tip.”
“That’s to make sure you fuckers show up!” he snaps.
I respond with an audible gulp.
“What route you planning to take?” he demands.
Before my scrambled brains can conjure up a detailed trajectory, he gives me directions:
“Take Van Ness to Broadway, right on Larkin, left on Washington and then Hyde to Golden Gate.”
“Sounds good,” I say cheerfully.
“No offense, kid,” he says. “I’ve lived in San Francisco 45 years. I can get around better than most cabbies.”
“That’s a long time,” I remark absently, turning left onto Lombard.
“I moved to San Francisco in 1963. From Sicily. Wasn’t much older than you when I got here. Hardly a dollar in my pocket. Took any job that paid, though, until I’d saved up enough money to buy my first apartment building on Haight Street.”
“How much did apartment buildings go for back then?” I ask, merging into the turn lane at Broadway. It still feels like he’s yelling at me but at least the codger is talkative, which makes the ride go faster, despite the traffic.
“$40,000,” he says. “The old lady who owned it before me lost it to the bank because she was renting to a bunch of deadbeats who never paid their rent.”
“Fucking hippies.” I laugh.
“After I signed the papers, I went down there and said, ‘I’m the new owner.’ And these long-haired dopers just went, ‘Far out, man.’ I told them I’d be back in a week for the rent. Of course when I returned, no one had any money. So I offered them a deal. Said, ‘If you can’t afford the rent, there’s a cheaper unit that just opened up in the basement. Under six feet of concrete.’ Said, ‘If I don’t get my money, I’ll have you fitted for Sicilian neckties.’ If you know what I mean.”
“They paid up, right?”
“What do you think?”
I can’t tell if this guy is full of shit or not — his deadpan delivery is too cryptic for a joke — but laugh anyway.
Bada bing, bada boom.
“Look at this goddamn traffic!” he shouts.
As we descend Nob Hill, there’s nothing but the usual sea of brake lights ahead.
“Better take Bush to Jones,” he commands, then goes on to tell me that once his tenants started paying rent, he was able to buy another building. Then another. And another. He kept buying rundown Victorians in the Haight and Western Addition, along with old hotels in the Tenderloin, until he’d acquired over 50 properties in The City.
“I like buildings nobody else wants. While others may see a piece of shit rathole, I see dollar signs.”
Just as I’m about to ask him if he’s looking to adopt an heir, he makes a racist comment about some black kids standing outside a corner store.
“That’s what happens when you have someone like Obama in the White House for eight years.”
Someone like Obama?
“Worst president in history!”
“Thankfully, we got Trump now.”
I cut off a discombobulated Lyft driver in the right lane.
“Let’s just hope he gets rid of all these damn foreigners and kicks all the deadbeats off welfare. I’m sick of my taxes going to these lowlifes.”
At Turk, I see an opening in the congestion and take it, pulling over right before Market. “So, uh … Thanks for the tip.”
“I appreciate the ride, kid. If you ever have a passenger in need of an inexpensive hotel, bring them by. But only if they have money. We don’t want any deadbeats here.”
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.