I’m rolling steady. One ride after another. For the past few weeks, the theaters have been breaking sequentially, making it easy to get more than a couple fares before the fury of “needs” becomes “possibles” and the crowded sidewalks outside the venues return to their usual configuration as campgrounds for the homeless.
First, the Jazz Center empties out, then the symphony, followed by the Orpheum. Shortly after 10 p.m., I’m taking a guy who works in the kitchen at the Opera House to Webster and Hermann. When I pull up to the intersection of Church and Market, someone on the corner flags me.
“I’ll jump out here so you can grab this dude,” the guy in back says.
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah.” He hands me $12 on $9.55. “Make that money.”
The second guy is going to Noe Valley. The signal is green and the streetcar is still loading and unloading, so while my new fare gives me directions to 26th and Sanchez, I bust a move into the turn lane and make the light onto Church.
“Or go that way, I guess.”
He doesn’t seem that drunk, but after a few blocks, he’s slurring his words, as if the booze didn’t kick in until he was in motion.
“I just saw my brother and… Man, things are really messed up.” His voice trails off.
“What’s going on?” I inquire.
“I love him, he’s my little brother and everything, but … he’s schizophrenic.
I don’t know what to do.” He starts to cry.
Some passengers bring more than a destination and the occasional suitcase into a taxicab. Oftentimes it’s like they’re continuing a conversation they had with their last driver, divulging the secrets they can only reveal to a stranger with whom they’re confined for a brief period of time. In the modern world, where religion is an anachronism, a dimly lit vehicle is the new confessional. And the compassionate driver, a captive audience.
“You can pull over if you want,” he says a few blocks later.
Oh man. I want to be sympathetic, but after barely making my nut during rush hour, I’m just starting to see profit. I need to keep my backseat warm with as many fares as possible.
“That sucks,” I tell the guy, looking at the clock.
It’s doubtful I can make it to the Golden Gate Theater for the surge of fares leaving the latest production of Rent, but there’s still the Opera at 10:45. I can tell he really wants to talk. They always do.
A couple weeks ago, I was working the Fillmore as people began to leave the venue. Mostly a young crowd. While dozens of unmarked sedans swooped in to convey the giddy masses, only two cabs lined up in front of me were taken. Stranded on the throne, I started eyeballing the stragglers, hoping to get someone — anyone — in my cab. Finally a guy with a grey beard walked by. After making eye contact, he asked if I was available. On the way to the Inner Sunset he started taking. Obviously wasted. Mentioned his soon-to-be ex wife three times in just as many minutes.
When I pulled up to his house, he slapped a $100 bill on the center console and asked, “Can you spare a few minutes?” An hour and a half later, he finally got out of the cab and I drove away with the hundo.
“You just don’t know what it’s like,” my current fare says, tearfully.
“Yeah, I do, actually. My little brother is a lost cause too.”
After a lightning round therapy session, he reaches for his wallet. Hands me $20.
“It seems I picked the right cab to get into tonight,” he says.
“Hang in there, man.”
I race back downtown, with only a few minutes to spare before the Opera breaks.
Around last call, The City is like a ghost town. I’m rolling down Mission and only encountering other taxis with toplights blazing until seeing a hand in the air outside El Rio.
After directing me towards Bernal, she sighs.
“You won’t believe the crap I’m going through with this chick…”
“Lay it on me.” I hit the meter and head out into night.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.idrivesf.com.