It’s a quiet night. I’m close to my nut, but still in the red at 10 p.m. After dropping off near Telegraph Hill, I meander through the Wharf and North Beach, fighting off competing taxi drivers who try to usurp my pole position down Columbus. At Pacific, I cut over to Powell, for no other reason than I don’t usually take Powell.
At Clay Street, a man and a woman with suitcases flag me. I pop the trunk. Since I’m blocking traffic, I stay behind the wheel and let the man do the heavy lifting.
I’ve long since given up the notion that luggage means an airport ride, so I’m not surprised when the woman asks, out of breath, “Can you take us to 100 California?”
As I coast down the hill, they talk about how Google Maps sent them in the complete opposite direction. I ask where they started.
“Much closer to where we’re going than where you found us.”
“So you walked all the way up California with suitcases?”
“That’s what the app told us to do.”
“You can’t trust GPS.” I suppose that’s not entirely true, but I seize any chance to rag on navigation systems because … well, I’m a taxi driver.
When I pull over across the street from 100 Cal, the meter reads $7.35.
“Are we there?” the woman asks. “There’s supposed to be a 24-hour FedEx.”
“Oh, that’s on the side of the building,” I say. “Hold on.” I swing around the block and double-park in front of the store on Davis.
As the woman starts to pay me, she mentions something about going to their hotel afterward. To which I respond, in an unusual moment of quick thinking, “Why don’t you leave your stuff in the trunk, and I’ll wait for you.”
“You’ll do that?”
“Sure.” Why circle around looking for another fare, I think to myself, when I already have one in my cab.
“Keep the meter running then.”
The woman dashes into the FedEx while the man stays behind. During our conversation, he mentions they’re catching a redeye to Dallas.
“What time is your flight?” I ask, trying not to seem like I’m fishing.
“We have a few more stops, then we’re heading to SFO.”
“If it’ll make things easier on you guys,” I suggest, “I can take you all the way.”
“You don’t mind?”
“Oh, not at all.”
After running by the Marriot on Sutter and picking up the rest of their luggage at the Courtyard Marriott on Post, I take them to SFO, turning a $7 ride into a $75 ride.
On my way back to The City, there’s congestion on the interchange to the Central Freeway. Traffic veers into the right lane past a tire in the road and, further up, a disabled Chevy Tahoe.
A guy standing next to the vehicle waves at me. “Taxi! Taxi!”
I pull behind the SUV and hit my hazards. He rattles off the details: A car cut him off. He swerved to avoid a collision, ran into the concrete barrier and lost his tire. He tried to drive away, but obviously didn’t get very far.
“I’ll give you $20 to use your phone,” he says. “Mine’s disconnected.”
I hand him my iPhone and get out to investigate his vehicle. The rim is ripped to shreds, and the front side panel and hood are twisted from the impact.
“My brother’s gonna get a tow truck,” he says, returning my phone.
As I’m trying to figure out how his tire popped completely off the rim, a CHP patrol car rolls up with lights flashing.
“Back me up, man,” the guy tells me.
I tell one of the two officers who approach with flashlights in our faces what happened while the other officer investigates the damage.
“So you have no involvement with this accident?” the officer asks me.
“No, I just stopped to help.”
“You can take off then.”
I walk over to the guy to get my $20, but the officer yells at me.
“Get in your taxi now and leave!”
“I’m just trying to help out!”
“We’re here now. You need to go!”
He blocks traffic so I can drive away.
I suppose I should have got the money up front, I think, but since the universe smiled on me with the long ride to SFO, putting me in the black, I cut my losses and check out the clubs in SoMa for signs of life.
Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his blog at www.idrivesf.com.