“Oh, Fortuna, blind, heedless goddess, I am strapped to your wheel… Do not crush me beneath your spokes.”
— John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces
My first day back in a cab after a month long sabbatical transpired with more than a few bumps in the road. Ninety minutes into my shift last Thursday, I’m rolling down Castro towards Market, where a big rig is blocking the lane. Undeterred, I follow a minivan around the massive obstruction, but misjudge the amount of space between my taxi and the vehicles in front of me.
To avoid impeding traffic, I veer to the right as much as possible, until my tire scrapes the side of the truck’s loading ramp. Seconds after feeling the thud, my dashboard lights up and the distinctive whomp-whomp-whomp reverberates off Hot Cookie’s glass storefront.
I mutter a string of expletives and find a safe place to pull over. While waiting for the tow truck, I wonder what the universe is trying to tell me. As much as I want to give up and scamper back to Oakland, the rent isn’t going to pay itself. So after the tow truck takes me and the cab to the Yellow garage, where one of the mechanics immediately replaces the tire, I start all over again.
This time, Fortuna smiles on me. I get a ride from the Mission to the Omni hotel. From there, I fight traffic through the Financial to the Hyatt Regency. I hear the doorman’s whistle from a block away and charge into the hotel driveway. When I pull up, a couple is waiting with suitcases.
Later that afternoon, inbound on Mission, I pass a flag on the opposite side of the street. Since traffic is minimal, I’m able to flip around into the front of the bus stop, figuring I have enough time before the 14 arrives. But the woman is elderly and the man is heavily bandaged. It takes them a while to board the cab. I grimace as the bus barrels towards me, hoping the driver grasps the situation. Fortunately, no horns blare as I pull away, with passengers just slightly out of breath.
We pass the new construction at South Van Ness and the woman says, “Can you believe how fast that building’s gone up?”
A derogatory conversation about contemporary architecture in San Francisco ensues, a familiar subject of discourse in a taxi. One that’s followed by an even more common discussion: a negative analysis on the current state of The City.
I must have had the same conversation 25 times over the weekend:
“Do you remember when The City was friendly?”
“Do you remember when The City was cool?”
“Do you remember when…?”
That evening, I’m working the Hilton on O’Farrell. Returning from a round trip to a dispensary in SoMa, I pull into the cabstand and, within a few minutes, the doorman summons me. Next to him is a woman with luggage.
On Saturday, I drive the Jetta to work. Scrambling to make up for a dismal Friday night, I’m grateful there’s plenty of business during the early afternoon. Fortuna seems to be on my side again. At least for a little while…
Around 10 p.m., as I’m racing to the Opera House, where a line of people are waiting for cabs after a performance of The Little Mermaid, the Yellow dispatcher calls me.
“Bad news, Kelly,” she says.
Apparently, somebody randomly threw a rock over the fence into the parking lot and, out of hundreds of vehicles, it smashed the back window of my car.
It seems Fortuna really is determined to crush me on her spokes…
I still have to finish my shift, though. For the rest of the night, I count each dollar of profit in dismay, knowing it’ll probably cost $300 to fix the glass.
At 3 a.m., my cab is due back at the yard. But I’ve been waiting on the throne at Public Works for 15 minutes and don’t want to turn in yet, hoping to make at least a few more bucks to buy some groceries.
As a large crowd of clubgoers stands in the street looking for their Ubers and Lyfts, my consternation grows by the minute. Just as I’m about to accept my fate, a guy approaches my cab.
“Can you take me to East Oakland?” he asks.
I guess Fortuna isn’t done spinning me around yet.
Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. He is a guest opinion columnist and his point of view is not necessarily that of The Examiner. His zine “Behind the Wheel” is available at bookstores throughout The City. Write to him at email@example.com or visit www.idrivesf.com