It’s disheartening to see that Bill Graham Civic’s marquee isn’t announcing upcoming concerts. (Screenshot/BillGraham Civic Twitter)

It’s disheartening to see that Bill Graham Civic’s marquee isn’t announcing upcoming concerts. (Screenshot/BillGraham Civic Twitter)

A cruise through The City with the ghosts of rides past

I take my time and don’t even mind the occasional traffic jams

I seem to have lost my way. It happens all the time now. I’ll be driving through The City when suddenly my ability to get around goes on the fritz. After wracking my brains for a few minutes, I’ll check my phone. Of course, navigation apps always send you on 280, no matter where you’re going. Which annoys me so much my innate sense of direction will eventually kick in again…

Still, that initial hesitation fills me with dread. What if I were driving a taxi again and had a paying customer in the backseat?

Is driving a taxi like riding a bike? Or is it one of those use-it-or-lose-it deals?

Oh well, the way things are going nowadays, who knows if I’ll ever find out…

I suppose it’s only natural that my previously sharpened navigation skills have dulled over the eight months since my last taxi shift. And I live in Oakland.

On the flip side, my ability to circumvent the East Bay has greatly improved…

Still, I’ve been spending a lot of time in The City the past few months. I’m always looking for an excuse to head across the bridge. Whether to check my PO box in the Inner Richmond or visit an old haunt. Plus, I’m addicted to this soda that’s only available at a few stores in the entire Bay Area, one of which is in San Francisco.

Despite getting turned around occasionally, I feel more comfortable cruising the familiar streets, past familiar sights. I take my time and don’t even mind the occasional traffic jams.

It’s sad to drive past boarded up hotels downtown, though, or see the concert venues in Civic Center with their marquees offering encouraging messages instead of upcoming shows. With Davies Hall and the War Memorial dark for the unforeseeable future, it seems so long ago now that I used to line up along Grove Street with dozens of other cabs, waiting for Bill to announce that the curtain was going down. Still, it’s nice to drive by and hear classical music wafting through the air.

Ah, the little things…

Last Thursday, I head into The City to drop off a copy of the Behind the Wheel Omnibus to a street artist whose work is featured in the book. While in town, I plan to hit up Amoeba, since Thursday is one of the few days the record store is open during the pandemic.

As I head to Haight-Ashbury from the Excelsior, I have a brain freeze. Should I take the streets? Or the freeway? But which one? Not 280!

Giving up, I consult Google Maps and remember Bosworth to Portola and Clayton, then Frederick to Stanyon…

Street parking in The City is usually a hassle now, with most spaces having been repurposed for outdoor dining parklets, and various streets closed to through traffic. But whatever. It’s one of those bright but chilly autumn days in San Francisco and I’m feeling nostalgic…

As I make my way across The City in a wistful mood, I’m confronted by the memories of past rides. Every street/intersection is a potential evocation.

There were the good rides. And the bad rides. The rides that led to long, meaningful conversations outside someone’s building. There were fun rides. Crazy rides. Rides that led to regular fares, when a passenger not only took your business card but actually called you. As well as the rides with nefarious intent…

Then there are all the regular pick-up spots. Places you know from the same radio orders or weekly events. And all the familiar drop off points: bars, hotels, hospitals, apartment buildings or high-rises in the Financial. You know each name and previous incarnation, even if you’ve never stepped inside any of the places…

Some of my taxi reflexes are still on point. When I see a pedestrian make a hand motion, my first instinct is to pull over. But, of course, they’re just scratching their arm or adjusting their hat. And I’m not in a taxi.

On my way back to the bridge from the Haight, I cut through Duboce Triangle to 14th, along the Mission. In the distance, traffic is backed up at the bridge. Like most afternoons. I take the streets through South of Market. It’s still early. And I’m in no rush…

Kelly Dessaint, a San Francisco taxi driver and veteran zine publisher, is the author of the novel “A Masque of Infamy.” His Behind the Wheel zine series is collected in the paperback “Omnibus,” available through book marketplaces or at his blog, His column appears every other week in the Examiner. He is a guest columnist and his point of view is not necessarily that of the Examiner.

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