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Requiem for Valencia Street

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Slowly, the public is becoming aware that taxi drivers aren’t the only ones getting screwed anymore. (Cindy Chew/2008 S.F. Examiner)


The City is dead.

It’s barely midnight, and half of the bars in the Mission are already shuttered. Most of the late-night taquerias as well. Even the line at El Farolito is barely out the door.

There isn’t much left to do but ride the green wave down Valencia Street and blast Galaxie 500 as an Uber tailgates me. Probably wants to race up to the red light, slam on his brakes and then speed off to the next intersection. ’Cause that’s what they do.

I could easily pull over and let him get on with his exercise in futility while I practice my own, but the lo-fi psychedelia pouring out of my speakers has me in a tranquil headspace. Ah, who am I kidding? I just really love annoying Uber drivers.

Not that I should harbor so much animosity toward these poor schmucks who don’t yet know they’re getting screwed. One day, they might figure out the system is rigged against them.

Slowly, the public is becoming aware that taxi drivers aren’t the only ones getting screwed anymore. As the wave of anti-Uber/Lyft backlash continues to surge, the people of San Francisco are realizing they’re also getting the proverbial big one up the you-know-what.

It seems the only people benefiting from the proliferation of scab cabs are the passengers who use these services. Of course, they’re usually skulked down in the backseat with their phones in front of their faces, willfully oblivious to the problems their transportation choices create, so who knows what they think …

As 1 a.m. approaches, I’ve been empty for over an hour.

What am I doing?

I should just go home and hang out with my baby girl, who’s certainly still awake now that she’s 4-and-a-half months old and has decided sleep is for suckers. Even though I try to remind her how happy she gets after a good night’s rest — so full of smiles and giggles and pure joy — she just blows raspberries and insists I dance her around the room to the Talking Heads. Which is still more fun than trying to squeeze one last fare out of these empty streets. And pissing off Uber drivers …

Where the fuck is everyone?

Nobody goes out anymore. Who can afford it? The cost of living in San Francisco is so outrageous, it’s cheaper to stay at home, watch Neflix and order delivery. Which is why it’s no surprise that white tablecloth restaurants are going out of business while take-out places proliferate and beloved bars are getting torn down to build more condos.

That’s the new San Francisco: Be sure to put some flowers on your bedroom walls.

Sometimes it’s hard to be a booster for this place when there’s not much to be excited about anymore, and the traces of the past are few and far between. But then I pass the Elbo Room, and even though there are only a few smokers out front, the guy playing piano out of the back of his van in front of Good Vibrations is pounding the keys as if it the smoking section were 20 times the size.

And in the next block, there’s the guitar hero and his one-man band tucked away in an alcove next to the Curtis Hotel. His expansive rig includes a drum machine, samplers, multiple effects and a DVD player. From dusk to dawn, seven days a week, his Dan Armstrong axe reverberates against the buildings, infuriating everyone within earshot.

If there is one constant in the Mission these days that harkens back to the old, it’s this guy and his heavy noodling.

Not many people are feeling nostalgic at 3 a.m., however, when he’s in the midst of another meth-drenched shredding frenzy.

Petitions have circulated to get him to stop playing his music on the street. And during a recent altercation with the cops, a sergeant from the Mission Station pleaded with him to at least limit his aural assault on the residents, business owners and visitors of Valencia Street to normal waking hours.

“Every day, I have multiple complaints about your music,” the sergeant yelled at him. “Every single day!”

When confronted with the harsh reality of his critics, our axe man was all apologies. But once they left, he just shouted, “Fuck the police!” and turned it up even louder.

“Nobody can stand in the way of my art!”

The City may be dead, but the heart of rock and roll is … well, it’s bleating.

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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