For the first few days after messaging my landlady, I was hesitant to check my email, afraid of what her response would be. (Courtesy photo)

For the first few days after messaging my landlady, I was hesitant to check my email, afraid of what her response would be. (Courtesy photo)

I Drive SF: Life goes on despite the pandemic

I’m officially a deadbeat. Now that I haven’t paid rent in two months.

I’m officially a deadbeat. Now that I haven’t paid rent in two months.

In my early 20s, I bailed on a few apartments. Due to poverty caused by dead end jobs and dead end relationships. But I just stopped sending in the money order and waited for the knock on the door or the letter taped over the peephole before stealing away into the night with everything I could squeeze into my car. Unless I happened to know someone with a truck.

Now that I’m – ahem – an adult, I did the responsible thing and wrote the landlady a letter in advance.

Still… Despite the global pandemic, the shelter in place order and subsequent moratorium on evictions, it doesn’t feel any less disreputable to not pay your bills than it did back then. Except I’m not worried about the sheriff showing up at the door. Yet.

For the first few days after messaging her, I was hesitant to check my email, afraid of what her response would be. She’s never been a reasonable person to deal with.

In six years of faithfully paying rent on this place, we’ve given our landlady over $125,000. We were only late twice. And both times she charged us an additional $80.

So what will she say this time?

Turns out, nothing.

She never even responded.

So what does that mean?

In a way, the silent treatment is worse than any potential penalties she may levy.

Like so many others in similar predicaments, we’re being forced to dig ourselves into a financial hole from which we may never escape. Who knows? Maybe one day the president will send us a stimulus check. Or perhaps that unemployment claim I made as an independent contractor will pan out. But I’m not crossing my fingers…

Even though we’re in the midst of a global pandemic, it doesn’t always feel like one. At least not around my neighborhood in Temescal.

On these warm, sunny days, we keep the windows open. From my desk, I listen to the sounds of the street. The snippets of conversations as people stroll past our building. The constant roar from the freeway in the distance, and the steady hiss of traffic down Shattuck. With the occasional BART train pulling into and out of the MacArthur station.

Across the street, Danny and Lee, the local stoop jockies, hold court from sun up to midnight, shouting at passers-by and waving at cars that honk to say hello.

On Telegraph, there’s road construction all day long, following by a steady flow of delivery drivers throughout the evening.

The sidewalks are usually crowded in front of Burma Superstar and Cholita Linda. The concrete outside these popular restaurants is marked with tape in six feet increments.

At Walgreen’s, where masks are mandatory, as well as the number one topic of conversation, there’s always a line.

Mostly, it feels like the Monday of a three-day weekend. Except the salons are closed, the yoga and dance studios are dark and you can only window-shop at Creative Reuse.

Besides the masks, it doesn’t seem as though things are much different. Plenty of people are still going places. Just not to work.

The only real signs of lives being disrupted are the few boarded up storefronts…

Back in February, I had a taxi fare from the International Terminal at SFO to Pleasanton. German guy. Flew in from Taiwan.

On the long drive, he told me what it was like in Southeast Asia during the height of the coronavirus pandemic there. All the streets were empty. Every restaurant shuttered. Factories closed. Cities turned into complete ghost towns.

He was astonished at how easy it was to get through customs in the US. Compared to Taipei and Shanghai.

“There were no cotton swabs at all!”

He joked that those extreme security measures could only happen in places like China.

“You Americans are too caught up with this glorified notion of freedom.”

And sure enough…

When the shelter in place order was announced, people kept to themselves. For a couple weeks. Until the hip factor wore off.

In other cities they may be protesting in the streets, but here in Temescal, they’re just out in the streets.

Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. A veteran zine publisher, he is the author of the novel A Masque of Infamy. His long-running Behind the Wheel zine series was recently collected into a paperback Omnibus, available through all book marketplaces or direct from his blog, 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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