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“You don’t turn down rides. Otherwise, according to cab karma, you’ll end up driving empty for the next two hours.” (Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner)
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The City is moving. Or so it seems. For once, it feels like the good ol’ days. At least based on the stories I’ve heard from the veteran cab drivers who used to make enough money to pay mortgages and college tuitions. But tonight, I know it only seems busy because I need to take a leak.

I’ve been driving nonstop for three hours. I’m just looking for a hotel cabstand with a vacancy so I can use the restroom and smoke a cigarette. Each time I get close to one, though, I get hailed.

It never fails. When I don’t want a ride, everybody wants in my cab. But these are tough times. You don’t turn down rides. Otherwise, according to cab karma, you’ll end up driving empty for the next two hours.

I’m hoping to make it to the InterContinental on Howard Street. Their lobby restroom is sublime. And while it’s not as fancy as the one at the Fairmont, it’s good enough for my needs.

VIP access to the facilities at high-class hotels where visiting dignitaries stay when they’re in The City is one of the advantages of having a taxi badge pinned to my shirt. The doormen just wave me through like I’m on official business.

Back when I was driving for Uber, after Whole Foods closed, I had to rely on the “self-cleaning” public toilets around town. There was nothing even remotely pleasant about the experience. If a junkie wasn’t passed out in the doorway, the toilets were out of order or when the door slid open, a nefarious odor greeted you like a punch in the face. It’s no wonder homeless people use the streets instead.

After dropping off at Hyde and Sutter, I head towards the Hilton in Union Square, another convenient place to take a pit stop. I like to smoke on Taylor Street with the bums as the hookers and the bridge-and-tunnel girls dressed like hootchie-mommas share the same turf. After several months, I’ve figured out how to tell the difference between the two: the half-naked club-goers walk as fast as their six-inch stilettos will carry them while the ladies of the night slink down the sidewalk like cats on the prowl.

I race down Post and turn onto Mason. I’m waiting for the light at Geary when a girl with what looks like a bed sheet wrapped around her shoulders flags me. I give her a quick ocular pat down. At first I think she might be homeless. But who am I to judge? She plops down in the backseat.

“Can you take me to Polk Street?”

I hit the meter. I’ve only gone about a block when she leans forward between the front seats and asks if I want “a little sexy time.”

“No, I’m fine.” I glance in the rearview. She doesn’t look like your typical Union Square streetwalker. Based on my field guide to San Francisco prostitutes, the girls who work Union Square are usually dolled up.

“Well, just let me out here then.”

“I’ll take you to Polk if that’s where you want to go,” I tell her. “And I won’t charge.”

“Okay. Take me to Polk then.”

I try to make small talk. “Must be hard to make a buck out on the streets these days…”

But she’s not interested in honoring the simpatico tradition between cab drivers and hookers. “You sure you don’t want a date?”

“Nah, I’m cool.”

“Can I have a cigarette then?”

“I only have one left.” And I was planning to smoke it when I finally took my break.

“Ah, c’mon.”

Reluctantly, I hand her what’s left of my pack.

As I approach Polk, I pull into the bus stop.

“No, drop me off at the corner. Proper.”

Under the gaze of the working girls across the street, she emerges from the back of my cab like Grace Kelly hitting the red carpet, wraps the dingy sheet around her shoulders with panache and sashays down the street.

I turn onto O’Farrell and head back to the Hilton, hoping the tour buses haven’t taken over the cabstand again. Now I really have to use the restroom.

Kelly Dessaint is a taxi driver in San Francisco.

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