Banging my head against a taxi shift

There was something in the air last week, and not just the glow of fireworks pulsating through the dense fog

There was something in the air last week, and not just the glow of fireworks pulsating through the dense fog that shrouded most of The City on the Fourth of July…

Equally ominous, but even more unsatisfying, are all the empty streets, devoid of fares. Except in the Wharf, where thousands of visitors congregate for the official pyrotechnic display, only to leave disappointed.

Before the show is over, a mass exodus begins. Around 9:45 p.m., I head up Columbus, hoping to pick off from the herd without venturing too deep into the morass of vehicles for hire operated by drivers just as confused as the erstwhile spectators wandering the streets like refugees from an active war zone.

“You can’t see a thing!” exclaims a group of women from West Virginia.

“Happens every year,” I tell them.

“So what’s the point?”

“No clue.”

After depositing them at the St. Francis, I head back to the Wharf for another load.

“The fog’s too thick to see the fireworks,” complains a mother of two sons.

“But you can hear them,” points out the younger one.

“It’s like this every July,” I say.

From the Fairmont, I take Mason down the hill. At Pacific, a lady flags me. Thinking she’ll jump in the cab, I stop in the crosswalk. But she wants to have a conversation.

“How much to the Broadway Inn?”

“About 10 or 12 dollars,” I respond, impatiently. “Just get in.”

She hesitates.

“Do you want a cab or not?” I ask.

As she continues to consider the offer, I drive off. A block away, a middle-aged couple is happier to see me. They give me a destination in a heavy accent. It takes a few tries before I’m able to decipher their butchering of Bryant Street. Then we’re off to the Mission.

“Did you enjoy the fireworks?” I ask, sarcastically.

They laugh. “Ah yes, they were amazing.”

Driving through Chinatown, we hear discharges from the bevy of sky rockets going up in Portsmouth Square.

“You’re usually better off watching the illegal fireworks.” I tell them about the impressive displays that occur around their Airbnb. “The Mission is always lit up.”

“What, sparklers and bottle rockets?” the man wonders with a snicker.

“No, they have some serious artillery. You’d be surprised.”

They’re still dubious until we get to 24th and the sky is lit up with explosives and the air is filled with acrid smoke. The street is littered with charred debris and cinders. Groups of bystanders crowd the sidewalks.

“See what I mean?”

In the distance, an M-80 goes off and a bunch of car alarms squawk in dismay.

“Don’t the police show up?” the woman asks.

“What can they do?”

A few blocks away, a squad car cruises down Florida. They seem to be watching the colorful cakes bursting over the trees as well…

Just like the dismal fireworks on Thursday, the weekend is a total bust. Hardly any business. Traffic is clogged with unmarked sedans. And, because fares are few and fare between, taxi drivers are acting like savages.

No street flag is safe when there’s more than one cab around. Radio orders aren’t even guaranteed. On more than one occasion, I arrive at a pickup location to see another Yellow loading my customer. I get more no-go’s than go-go’s.

The cosmic order of the universe is totally out of whack. At this point, I’m essentially working for the company, barely breaking even…

It’s enough to make a city player want to try their luck at the airport.

And that’s exactly what I did on Saturday and Sunday. With a convention starting on Monday, plenty of flights are coming in. But this is summer in San Francisco. A thick layer of fog blankets the airport and the delayed flights outnumber the on-time flights.

On Sunday, the wait time in the holding lots never exceeds three hours. Until late that night, when the planes start rolling in one after another. Then it’s load and go. An absolute feeding frenzy.

For several hours, I race from the airport to The City and back, until everything is quiet again and there’s nothing left to do but wait for the next explosion.

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 or visit

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