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Ode to street hustle

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Cabs line up outside the Great Nothern on a recent Saturday night. (Kelly Dessaint/Special to S.F. Examiner)


I’ve come to dread working Saturday nights. Even if I get to the yard on time — which is near impossible due to the inevitable congestion on the bridge and the fact that I didn’t get home until 6 a.m. that morning and barely squeezed in a few hours of shuteye — I’ll spend the first several hours of my shift driving around The City aimlessly, looking for random fares, hoping Flywheel isn’t on the fritz, idling in cabstands, checking Hackers for any leads or smoking cigarettes at Caltrain until the theaters start breaking. At which point, I struggle to penetrate one massive clusterfuck of unmarked sedans after another just to get close enough to the Opera House, the Orpheum or the Golden Gate Theater to find a patron of the arts willing to take a taxi.

After that, there’s not much to do besides monitor the concert venues and wait out the belly-to-the-bar slump before last call. Then, it’s time to line up at the DJ clubs …

When I pull into the ad hoc taxi stand outside the Great Northern, there’s an unmarked sedan with its hazards flashing at the end of the line. I keep my distance until the driver realizes he’s supposed to be at the front of the line, in the muddle of nearly identical vehicles and equally homogenous youngsters playing “Pokemon Go.”

“Are you here for Tanya?”

“No, I’m picking up … Michael.”



“Are you Eyasu?”

“No, David.”

A red minivan pulls up across from the club, and the old dude behind the wheel bellows, “JEEEEENIIIIIIIFEEEEERRRRR!!!!!!!!! JEEEEEEENIIIIIIIIIIFEEEEEERRRR!!!!!!”

Poor Jennifer.


Finally, Jennifer exits the club and sheepishly climbs into the back of the minivan.

“We have another stop to make,” the driver says over his shoulder. “Trying to run a tight ship here …”

Once I’m on the throne, I get a ride to the EndUp. Seven dollars richer, I head back to the Great Northern on Harrison while considering a pass down 11th Street.

As I pull up to the light at Ninth, the driver of an SUV tries to get my attention. Assuming he wants directions, I roll down my window.

“Hey! Can you give us a ride?”


“We’re parking and need a ride.”

Once the light turns green, I begrudgingly cut across three lanes onto Ninth and stop a few car lengths ahead of them. I watch the group of four guys slowly get out of the SUV, pass around a blunt and meander into my cab.

“Where to?” I ask, curtly.

“New Century.”

“Uhh … Sure.” There’s a slight warble in my voice.

“You know where that is?”

“Of course.” I try to contain my excitement as I do the math. At $20 a head, I’m looking at an $80 payout. My night just took a lucrative detour.

When the guy in the passenger seat wants to plug in his phone to play some tunes, I eagerly hand him my aux cable, even though we’re only a few blocks away. I’m just hoping they don’t decide to smoke another blunt before going into the strip club, since I only get my kickback once they cross the threshold.

When I pull up to New Century, they almost forget to pay. Not that I care. The $6.80 fare is irrelevant. One of the guys in back hands me a $10 bill.

“Keep it.”

I grab a National business card and fill out my info as the bouncers pat them down.

I stand a few feet away until they’re inside and then hand the big guy my card.

“Be right back.”

“Four guys …” another bouncer points out. “That’s 80 bucks.”

“I know.”

“You really scored on that ride.”

I nod and glance at a guy bumming smokes in the bright lights of the strip club’s marquee.

“You need a taxi?” He points at my cab.

“No thanks.”

When the big guy returns with four $20 bills, he asks, “So, do you tip?”

I pause to consider the chutzpah of this circular logic: I’m supposed to tip him for tipping me?

“What’s the going rate?” I ask, hesitantly.

He shrugs. “Ten bucks.”

Whatever. It’s Saturday night. Everyone’s got a racket. I fork over some of my free money and head to Public Works.

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 his blog at www.idrivesf.com.

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