Driving an early morning shift

Despite the allure of a San Francisco morning, this isn’t how I expected to begin my day.


I rise with The City.

Atop a hill, behind the wheel of my taxi, I watch bleary-eyed through the windshield as darkness begins to succumb to the amber clouds on the eastern horizon. The neighborhood spread out below is completely still.

I admire the view for a few minutes, then rub the sleep from my eyes and drive to Philz.

Despite the allure of a San Francisco morning, this isn’t how I expected to begin my day. The night before, after getting a fare to Los Gatos from SFO around 11 p.m., I drove back on 280, since there was construction on 101 north.

During the long journey through the mountains in pitch-black night, overwhelming fatigue set in. I blasted the Beastie Boys to help me stay alert, but once the taillights in front of me began twirling like luminescent dervishes, I knew it was time to take a break before making the final stretch to Oakland, just to rest my eyes a little. I got off the freeway at San Jose and found a quiet corner to park…

I emerged from my impromptu slumber five hours later, confused and shocked that so much time had passed. I guess this is what happens when you share a room with a toddler who isn’t too keen on giving up night nursing and you get an opportunity for uninterrupted sleep.

Other than a mild crick in my neck and knees, though, I haven’t felt this rested in months.

Sipping on a large coffee, I take Guerrero toward the freeway. Around 20th, a woman jumps out from between two parked cars.


I hit the brakes. She’s with another woman and a man. They’re clearly at the end of an all-nighter.

“Can you take us to the Santana mural?” asks the guy.

“That’s only a few blocks away,” I point out.

“I know,” he says. “We just can’t walk any more.”

Okay. At the corner of San Carlos and 19th, the guy hands me a $10 on $4.60. Tells me to keep it.

A few blocks later, just before the freeway entrance, my dispatch tablet starts chirping, even though I’m not booked in. I accept the ride anyway and backtrack to 23rd and Florida. Pick up a guy going to work at the Nikko Hotel.

The streets downtown aren’t crowded yet, which allows the early risers to drive like Mario Andretti.

Now that I’m wide-awake in Union Square, it only makes sense to check out the hotels. Mornings are all about rides to SFO, patrolling the cabstands until finding one that’s moving and likely to yield rides to the airport.

Most hotels are stacked with cabs, but I find a spot at the Hilton.

Within minutes, I’m loaded and heading to SFO.

Traffic on the freeway is moving rapidly. Everyone is speeding past me, even though I’m doing 65.

Back downtown, Third Street is jammed with commuters. I take the red carpet to Market and make my way to St. Francis.

After taking a fare to Chinatown, I end up on the throne at the Fairmont. A cab pulls behind me. The driver gets out.

“It’s moving?” he asks.

“Two cabs just loaded,” I tell him.

He glares at the people standing in the driveway next to suitcases, holding their phones out, before walking back to his cab. Five minutes later, he drives away.

Two more cabs take his place. I get out to confer with the drivers.

Across the street at the Mark Hopkins, a Luxor gives up and takes off empty. A Yellow cab replaces him. Thirty seconds later, the doorman whistles. Suitcases.

“Looks like he got an airport,” I tell one of the drivers.

“I was just sitting there five minutes ago,” he says, waving his hands in frustration. “I came over here because this line was moving.”

“It’s not moving anymore.”

“I know!” he snarls.

Finally, two women approach my cab.

“Will you take us to the Golden Gate Bridge?”

After fighting traffic on Lombard, I cruise the Wharf. Now that the day has officially begun, I’m officially tired. Heading toward the Financial, I fantasize about finding a quiet corner in The City. Just to, you know, rest my eyes a little…

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 piltdownlad@gmail.com or visit www.idrivesf.com.

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