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The Regulars

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With regulars comes great responsibility. If you agree to pick them up at a certain time, you can’t leave them hanging. Even if that means passing up an airport. Or turning down a ride that’s just going around the block. (Courtesy Christian Lewis)

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Not all rides are created equal. Some involve a series of obstacles, with one hassle after another and the expectation of a discount at the end. Others are just a pick-up and a drop-off for twice the meter.

Same with regulars. There are familiar cross streets you hear over the radio and flat out ignore. You could be a bingo, but not in the mood to deal with a hell ride, and no amount of cajoling from Artur, not even the promise of a bonus load, will persuade you to take the order.

Then, there are cross streets you know are pay dirt. Like this lady in Nob Hill who used to call every Thursday for a ride to Daly City. She paid $10 on top of the meter, which ended up being a $40 ride.

Drivers would fight over that fare. I was once three blocks away when the call came in and had the order on my tablet, but another driver beat me to the location by racing up Sacramento from the Financial in the taxi lane.

Sometimes, the promise of a paid ride out of an undesirable neighborhood will make a ride more appealing. Like when you hear Bryan’s cross streets in Russian Hill over the radio after dropping in the Marina. As a rep for a beer company, he’s usually heading to the Mission or another part of town with a high concentration of bars. I’ve tried on several occasions to snake that fare from other drivers.

Besides customers loyal to National/Veterans, it can be advantageous to cultivate your own regulars. Occasionally, passengers will ask for my card. Eight times out of 10, though, they never call. If they do, I’m usually on the other side of town.

Only a small percentage of fares with whom I’ve developed a rapport end up as regulars.

There are many benefits to having regulars. Besides their generosity, knowing you’ll have business, especially on the slow nights, can be a godsend. This cuts both ways though. Like when it’s busy and you’re driving past 10 flags through gridlock to pick them up.

After a while, regulars can become friends, and the exchange of money for services is a minor technicality.

With regulars comes great responsibility. If you agree to pick them up at a certain time, you can’t leave them hanging. Even if that means passing up an airport. Or turning down a ride that’s just going around the block …

On Friday night, at 2:30 a.m., I’m heading down Haight Street to pick up Simone, a regular and a friend, at Molotov’s, where she tends bar.

On the corner of Masonic, an old man has his arm out. Two cabs pass him by. He’s a bit ragged, but I pull over anyway and roll down my window.

“Where are you heading?”

“Market and Van Ness,” he says, somewhat taken aback.

“Get in,” I say, figuring I can get there and back in 15 minutes. “I didn’t mean to be rude, but I have a regular at 2:45.”

He just grunts.

At Central, I take a left.

“Where you going?” he demands.

“Market and Van Ness,” I say, nonplussed.

“Take Haight.”

“But we’ll hit all the stop signs,” I protest.

“Haight!”

“OK.” I turn around and grumble to myself about the wasted time.

A few minutes later, he says, “I guess you can take Oak.”

“What? It’s too late now,” I say, vexed.

When I take a right at Laguna, he wants to know why, his tone agitated.

“I’m not a bus,” I respond placidly. “I can only go right or get on the freeway.”

Waiting for the light at Gough, Simone calls. It’s 2:45.

“You outside?” she asks.

“Just a few blocks away,” I tell her.

“Well, hurry up.”

“On my way!” I tell her, even though she knows I’m prone to stretching.

Stuck at the next red light, I tap my fingers nervously against the steering wheel.

“Do you want this side of Van Ness or the other side?” I ask the old man.

“Where are we?”

“Market Street. Approaching Van Ness.”

“Oh, the right, I guess.”

At the corner, I pull over. The meter reads $8.40. He struggles with his money for what feels like an eternity, then hands me a $20 bill.

I quickly return his change. He places a dollar on the center console.

“Your tip.”

“Thanks.”

He continues to fumble with his cash, but when he finally gets out and looks around, he asks, “Why didn’t you take me across the street?”

“OK, we’re done here, old man.”

I hit the gas and take Otis to McCoppin. Rounding the corner onto Duboce, my phone rings.

“I’m almost there!” I shout. “Just a few more blocks!”

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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