“After hearing his story, I ask if he’s tried any outreach services.” (Courtesy photo)

I Drive SF: As far as $53 will take me

I sensed right away that he was on the skids.

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“I just need to hit a lick or something, and everything will be OK,” the guy in the back of my taxi tells me, bringing a torrent of dismay to a semi-conclusion. “It’s not like I’m asking for the world, you know? I mean, something’s gotta give. I can’t keep building cardboard forts to stay out of the rain. You know what I mean?”

Even though most of his statements end with questions, I realized soon into the ride that he wasn’t seeking affirmation. He just wants to talk. Been on a roll since I picked him and his black Labrador up outside the Whole Foods on California Street.

At the time, I was on a radio call, looking for someone named Sylvia. While he didn’t fit the description, he was the only one around who wanted a taxi.

I sensed right away that he was on the skids. A reality he also knew was unmistakable, which is why, after making sure I was cool with the dog, he immediately handed me a wad of cash.

“How far south can I go for $53?” he asked. “That’s all the money I have to my name.”

“Where you trying to go?” I replied, shoving the mess of bills into my shirt pocket.

“I need to find someplace warm and more hospitable than here. What about Daly City?”

It’s an overcast day. Windy and cold. Behind glass, San Francisco in December doesn’t look much different from San Francisco in August, but outside, exposed to the elements, there’s no doubt we’re in the middle of winter.

“You’ll have to go further south than Daly City if you want to escape this weather.”

“How much would it cost to take a taxi to, like, Santa Cruz?”

“A couple hundred bucks. You’re better off taking a bus.”

“I know, but my travel options are limited because of the dog. She doesn’t have any papers. I swear, man, sometimes I wish I didn’t have her. She really is a burden. I’d have so much more freedom without a dog, you know? But what am I going to do?”

After hearing his story, I ask if he’s tried any outreach services.

He scoffs. “They don’t really want to help you. It’s all a scam. I just need to get out of San Francisco. If I get far enough away from The City I can start hitchhiking to LA.”

“Then you want to be on Highway 1 for sure.”

I suggest Pacifica but he’s been warned about the cops there.

“Are there good places to dumpster dive in Daly City? Someplace I won’t get harassed by security guards?”

“Well, there’s the Westlake Center, which is like a giant strip mall.”

This is definitely one of the more complicated requests I’ve had as a cab driver. Usually I try to help passengers kill a few hours during a layover. Or find a cheap hotel. Or an after hours club. Or where to score drugs or even a massage parlor. But figuring out the best place to be homeless… That’s one that requires a bit more contemplation.

“What about the beach?” I suggest.

“Hmmm. That’s a good idea.”

“It’s not supposed to rain for a while, and you can have campfires on the beach.”

“Do they harass people for being out there at night?”

“Don’t know, but if you have to sleep outdoors, personally, I’d rather be in nature. And it’s not far from that shopping center.”

“OK. Take me to the beach. I’m sure she’ll love it.”

Heading down John Daly Boulevard, I point out the Westlake Center to get him oriented with the area.

At Skyline, I go right and pull into a sandy lot where there’s a pathway through the dunes.

The meter reads $44.75. Realizing every dollar he had is in my shirt pocket, I pull out a $20 bill and hand it to him.

“You sure?”

“Yeah.”

“Thanks.” He looks out the window. There’s nothing to see beyond the thick fog. After sighing deeply, he grabs his backpack and opens the door. “Let’s go, girl.”

He walks slowly towards the beach, his dog leading the way, tail wagging excitedly, until they both disappear into the white.

Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. His zine “Behind the Wheel” is available at bookstores throughout The City. Write to him at piltdownlad@gmail.com or visit www.idrivesf.com. His column appears every other week in the Thursday Examiner. He is a guest opinion columnist and his point of view is not necessarily that of the Examiner.

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