In the distance, emerald laser beams pierce the darkness and splinter across the sky like a demonic carnival ride. White lights flash ominously on the horizon and pulsate to a chaotic rhythm.
As I crest Lone Mountain, part of me wants to turn back. The experienced part. The part that’s done Outside Lands four years in a row. The part that knows the only reward for schlepping into the maelstrom of traffic to help a bunch of drunken kids avoid paying massive surge pricing for an Uber that may or may not be able to reach them before sunrise will be contempt and disrespect.
Another part compels me forward, along with all the other vehicles descending on the Richmond District via Turk Street.
At Stanyan, I split the difference and head down to Fell.
This is my third foray into the park. I can tell things are about to get ugly. With Fuzz blasting through the stereo, I merge onto Lincoln with a growing sense of dread.
Crowds of festivalgoers emerge from openings in the bushes like evacuees from a disaster zone. But no one seems interested in hailing a taxi. I keep glancing in reflective surfaces to make sure my toplight is working.
Inbound traffic is at a standstill. Once I cross 19th Avenue, I know there’s no going back. Well, not until I have warm bodies in the backseat …
At 34th Avenue, a guy in preppy attire gestures at me wildly.
“Oh shit,” I mumble.
While he moves toward my taxi, other figures join him. The passenger door opens first. A girl plops onto the seat as two guys and another girl climb into the back.
“Where you guys heading?” I ask, eyeing the swarm of people on the corners and spilling into the intersection.
“360 Berry Street.”
I cut off the Uber to my left and force my way through the crowd onto 35th. I make unspeakable maneuvers to get past Judah. At Lawton, I turn left but encounter a sea of brake lights.
“Go right! Go right!” the kids yell.
“I know!” I shout back.
Noriega is relatively clear. But I only make it a few blocks before the guys demand that I pull over on a dark patch of the street so they can urinate on someone’s garage door.
When they return, one of the guys replaces the girl sitting shotgun.
At 19th, I cut back down to Lawton.
After screaming at each other for several minutes, the guy up front turns his attention to me. “Do you know where you’re going?”
I point toward the looming mass in front of us. “Over that mountain.”
“We should be on Judah,” he says.
“We need to be on Judah.”
“We need to be on Judah to get to 19th Street.”
“Dude, we already passed 19th Street.”
“But we need to take 19th Street to get to the freeway.”
“Huh?” I try to make sense of his request. “You want me to go to Brotherhood Way? Are you serious?”
“This is the wrong way.”
“Let me break this down for you,” I say with more of than a hint of derision in my voice. “You’re in a taxi …”
“I know the breakdown!” He cuts me off. “I’m trying to tell you where to go because you obviously don’t know.”
The experienced part of me would just absorb his arrogance, turn around and go where he wants without question. After all, the customer is always right, especially when they’re wrong. And driving all the way out to Brotherhood Way to get on I-280 would add at least $20 to the ride. But there’s another part of me with a chip on his shoulder when it comes to these pettish children, their fragile little egos and pathetic superiority complexes. They seriously rub me the wrong way.
“Look, kid,” I snarl under my breath so only he can here me. “I’ve been driving a cab in this town for more than 10 years. How long have you even lived here?”
I mean, if you’re going to be a pompous blowhard, why not be a hyperbolic liar as well?
He mumbles something in his defense.
“What’s going on Tanner?” one of the girls asks.
“The driver apparently wants me to shut the fuck up.”
“Can we have some tunes then?” the other guy asks.
“Do you have Bluetooth?” Tanner asks sheepishly.
“I have a USB cable.”
With hip-hop blasting, my load is finally placated. They crack open beers and chatter incessantly. I take Laguna Honda to O’Shaughnessy and then jump on I-280. Just to make Tanner happy.
Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. His zine, “Behind the Wheel,” is available at bookstores throughout The City. Write to Kelly at email@example.com or visit his blog at www.idrivesf.com.