After dropping a fare in the Richmond District late one night, I head toward Haight Street. With low expectations and the 7-Noriega in front of me, I cruise past Milk Bar, Murio’s and The Alembic. At Cole, I manage to overtake the bus.
Outside of Club Deluxe a short, elderly black woman sidesteps a group of smoking hepcats and hisses, “Cabbie!”
I hit the brakes.
She approaches my window with a crumpled $20 bill and mumbles, “Downtown.”
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“Sure. Get in,” I say, cringing as the bus barrels down on me and she’s slowly climbing into the back of my cab. When she shuts the door it doesn’t close all the way. I take off anyway.
“Where downtown are you going?” I ask.
She responds in an unintelligible garble.
She mumbles something several times before I finally realize she’s saying, “Walgreens.”
“Which one?” I inquire.
“But there are so many.”
“OK.” I take a left at Ashbury.
On the corner, some guy has a machine that’s blowing bubbles into the street, and a couple stoned gutterpunks chase after the constellation of soap globules.
As I head downtown on Oak, the lady stares out the window, her nose an inch from the glass, muttering to herself. It’s difficult to make out much of what she’s saying, but her voice rises occasionally and her words become clearer.
“What are you looking at bitch?” she seethes. “I’ll kill you. I’ll cut out your eyes, BITCH!”
She seems to be talking to people in other cars, but just in case, I keep my eyes on the road.
“Look at that!” she says, as we pass through Hayes Valley. “Ain’t that something? Look at all these tall buildings.”
Thinking that she just might not have left the Haight in a while, I try to be conversational. “Things have really changed around here, huh?”
She doesn’t respond but continues to babble, periodically cussing and threatening to kill people.
“Motherfucker! I’ll stab you! Die, bitch! Die!”
At Market and Van Ness, I point to the Walgreens on the far left corner. “There’s a Walgreens.”
“What’s that, boo?” she asks sweetly.
I clear my throat. “There’s a Walgreens over there, but it’s closed.”
Without a comment, she just keeps looking out the window eagle-eyed.
At Ninth, I point at the Walgreens on the corner. Also closed.
“Stop here!” she shouts.
I pull over in front of the Hotel Whitcomb.
“You’ll wait?” she asks. “I gave you the money, right?”
“Yeah, I’ll wait. Don’t worry.”
I watch her slowly move down the sidewalk and mingle among the regulars who hang out in front of the Chase bank. Within a few minutes, she returns to the cab.
“Now, back to where I picked you up?” I ask.
Since there are two police cruisers with their lights flashing across the street, I don’t risk a U-turn and go around the block.
“Look at all these cars,” she says wistfully. “Wow,” she murmurs as we pass Davies Symphony Hall. “Wow. Ain’t that something?”
I take Laguna to Fell and try to catch the tail end of the timed lights. Despite making great progress, she asks me to pull over.
“I need to smoke my shit!”
“You can’t wait?” I plead. “We’re almost there.”
“No! Pull over!”
“OK.” I take a left on Broderick and park across from Nopalito.
She looks around and pulls out her glass. After taking a hit, she asks me, “You want some, boo?” Her eyes seem to glisten in the glow of the streetlamp.
“No, I’m fine. Thanks.”
She takes another hit.
“We should probably get going,” I say.
“No!” she fumes. “I need to do my shit!”
I take off anyway. “But you’re almost home. Then you can smoke your shit all you want.”
“Pull over!” she shouts. “Give me your gun! Where’s your weapon?”
“What? I don’t have a gun.”
I look over my shoulder. Her eyes are filled with fire.
“Give it to me!”
I keep driving. “We’re getting you back home,” I say cheerfully. “Almost there … Just a few more blocks …”
“Motherfucker, I need to smoke my shit!” she squeals. “Stop here! Stop!”
“Almost there … One more block …”
Right before Ashbury, I pull to the curb. The guys with the bubble machine are still filling the air with froth.
Now that we’ve stopped, her anger dissipates.
“I gave you money, right?” she asks. “Do you need more?”
I look at the meter, which reads $22.75. “No, we’re cool.”
Exiting the cab, she struggles a bit. Makes sure she has her rocks and her pipe.
Outside, she looks around, sees the bubbles, lets out a girlish giggle and wanders gleefully through the effervescence.
I head back out into the night.
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.