“I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking.” – Christopher Isherwood

I recently discovered that if you park your cab on Van Ness and Oak at 2 a.m., with no headlights and the top light off, while the passenger in the backseat is looking to score drugs, almost everyone who walks past will try to solicit a ride.

First, it was two guys with suitcases, who seemed to emerge from thin air. Standing next to their luggage on the curb, smoking and laughing, they continuously glance inside my taxi. Much to the chagrin of my fare, a guy I picked up in the TL who told me his name was Cricket.

“What are these assholes doing?” Cricket wonders aloud. “They’re going to spook my guy! Get rid of them!”

“Me?” I ask. “How?”

“Tell them to fuck off!”

So far, I’ve just been avoiding eye contact, figuring they’ll get the message eventually. A few seconds later, one of the guys steps into the street and flags a passing cab.

“See, they just needed a taxi,” I say. Then add, wistfully, “Perhaps to the airport …”

A few minutes later, an old man approaches my taxi.

“Cabbie!” he yells across the street. “Cabbie! I need a ride!”

“Now what?” Cricket moans. “Goddamn it!”

I roll down my window and tell the old man, “I’m not available. Sorry.”

“C’mon! I got money!” He pulls out a wad of cash.

“But I already have a fare,” I explain. “Another cab will come by shortly.”

“Ah, these motherfuckers won’t ever pick me up!”

I try to offer some reassurance but he brushes my comment away with a wave of his hand and wanders down the street.

Who knew this seemingly desolate spot in The City would be such a hot spot for rides?

“You sure your guy is coming?” I ask Cricket.

“He texted me half an hour ago saying 10 minutes. So yeah, any moment now …”

“Well, I can’t sit here all night.”

“The meter’s running, ain’t it?”

Yeah, at 55 cents a minute, I think. But as one taxi after another drives by with their toplights blazing, it occurs to me that providing a hideout for this guy who’s supposedly waiting for his friend to return a wallet is better than just cruising around The City wasting gas.

As the song says, “First thing you learn is that you always gotta wait …”

Even though we both know what’s really going on, it’s not like Cricket is holding me against my will. I agreed to stick around. Nothing else is going on. And I can’t deny that I’m more than slightly fascinated by his insight into the underbelly of The City.

After impressing him with my tales of Dead Tour in the ’90s — “Back when Jerry was still alive” — and seeing the Jerry Garcia Band at the Warfield, where I was able to get so close he could have drooled on me, Cricket opens up about “the scene.”

He mentions how the current renovations in the Civic Center Plaza have pushed all the dealers over to “Pill Hill,” aka Leavenworth and Golden Gate. Then discusses why the “Hondos,” the Latino drug dealers, have such lousy heroin.

“In their culture, it’s taboo to use dope. So they don’t sample their product to make sure it’s decent. They just sell what they’re jefes give them. There’s no quality control. No pride in their merchandise.”

And even though the Lost Boys, the younger hippie kids who live on the street, generally have some of the best dope around, they can’t be trusted.

“Nowadays, everyone’s on fent,” he says. “When that shit first came around, no one wanted anything to do with it. Now, you can’t even find decent black anymore because everyone only wants the white. And the prices keeping going up and up … So they’re always desperate for cash, and will gaffle you in a—”

Just then, his phone chirps and he stops talking.

“Here’s my guy now,” he says, gesturing to a figure walking up Van Ness. He opens the back door. “I’ll be right back.”

As Cricket and the shadowy figure go around the corner, the old man with the wad of cash runs across the street.

“Cabbie!” he yells. “Cabbie! I need a ride!”

“Sorry,” I tell him. “I’m still in the middle of something.”

“C’mon!” he bellows, holding out a $20 bill. “I got the money!”

I look at the $35.40 on the meter. “Sorry, man. I’m waiting for a dear, dear friend of mine …”

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.

Kelly Dessaint
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Kelly Dessaint

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