Sometimes getting out of The City is just as hard as getting in.
You know what to expect with morning traffic. It’s always bad. If you don’t get across the bridge before 5:30 a.m., it’ll take over an hour just to reach the toll plaza. But once you’re past the metering lights, it’s a race to the finish line.
The commute home, though, is a total crapshoot. Lately, there’s been construction on the bridge at night that causes a backup to the Fourth Street exit. Instead of idling in the congestion, I usually take surface streets to the First Street onramp. Me and several hundred other drivers. While it’s probably quicker to stay on the freeway, nobody wants to feel like a sucker.
When I don’t have the cab, getting home to Oakland at night can be a long, arduous journey. Add some inclement weather to the mix and things get really ugly.
For almost 10 days, it’s been raining cats and dogs. And people haven’t been behaving much better.
Traffic was a nightmare all week. Despite the constant downpours, Christmas shoppers poured into downtown from all points north, south, east and west. It was impossible to get anywhere fast, especially now that most streets in Union Square and South of Market have been reduced to one lane. City planners seem determined to punish drivers for bringing their cars downtown. Since people aren’t going to stop driving into The City, this passive-aggressive way of controlling congestion only makes it worse.
You know traffic is bad when getting through the holding lots at SFO takes less time than dropping off fares at the hotels in Union Square.
On Saturday, while waiting for a load at the United terminal, I check traffic on Google Maps. All the roads leading into The City are crimson red, with multiple accident icons along the way like beaded decorations.
When traffic is this gnarly, it’s almost impossible to make any money on the streets. So the majority of cab drivers end up at the airport. Although things can be just as crazy there.
On Tuesday, I pull into the entry lot and there’s a Yellow cab perched on a ledge in the donut lot with its backend in the air. Apparently, the driver came through on a short and didn’t navigate the curve very well.
While a bunch of drivers stand around taking pictures and yammering on about the accident, I recline my seat and close my eyes. Nothing really surprises me anymore.
Around 9 p.m., I turn in my cab at the Yellow lot and catch the 9 Muni downtown to BART. After a long week of cab driving, I just want to go home and sleep. But first, I have to get there.
On Bayshore Boulevard, the bus driver slams on his brakes.
“What the hell!” a man in the front hollers.
I can’t see what’s going on, but the bus driver opens the door and starts shouting at someone on the street.
“No way, man!” He emerges from behind his partition and blocks the entrance. “You just jumped in front of my bus! You’re suicidal. You ain’t riding on my bus. Not gonna happen.”
Once I finally make it to the Civic Center station, BART is experiencing system-wide delays. Again, no shocker there.
The next Antioch train doesn’t arrive for 20 minutes. Not in the mood to breath in the putrid odor on the platform, I take the Dublin/Pleasanton to West Oakland.
At the Montgomery station, though, we have to wait for another train to single-track through the Embarcadero stop before continuing.
The delay works in my favor. I only have to wait at West Oakland for three minutes. But the next train is jam-packed and the air inside is hot and humid. A woman is having a psychotic breakdown — screaming at riders while taking off her shoes and socks and throwing them down the aisle.
“Why are you so high?” she asks me. “You’re not supposed to be that high!”
I nod in agreement and grab a strap as the train jerks forward. Just three more stops to go, I tell myself. And then home.
I close my eyes and hold on tight.
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. His column appears every other week in the Thursday Examiner.