Timing is everything. With taxi driving, it’s all about being in the right place at the right time. So when your timing is all out of whack, the whole city feels like the wrong place.
The other morning I’m on the throne at the Marriott Marquis, watching the doorman load suitcases into each cab in front of me, expecting to get an airport ride myself any minute.
The sidewalk outside the hotel resembles a luggage outlet. All colors, sizes and styles.
After a few minutes, a woman pulling a small red number approaches the doorman. He raises the whistle that summons taxis to his mouth. As I put the cab in gear, ready to swoop in for what I’ve been waiting for patiently, my back door opens. Three tourists climb in.
“Can you take us to Pier 33?”
Pulling away, I look over my shoulder ruefully. The cab behind me takes my place. I hear the doorman say the words I desperately wanted to hear: “Airport. Domestic.”
A short while later, I’m at the Fairmont. After 15 futile minutes without any movement, I abandon my post, flip around and head down Mason Street. I go through the intersection slowly, my eyes peeled on the front of the Mark Hopkins. Halfway down the hill, I hear a whistle.
If there’s anything that creates more of a Pavlovian response than seeing suitcases, it’s that distinct peal reverberating off buildings.
I bang a right on Pine, another at Taylor and gun it up the hill, only to get back in time to witness the doorman stowing luggage into the back of a Luxor cab.
It’s difficult to figure out how to get back on track once your timing is off. Do you speed up? Slow down? Take a detour? Do you park for a little while and see if that resets things?
Of course, there’s only so much time in a taxi shift. Only so many rides you can give. Only so much waiting you can do. And since the clock is always ticking, you can practically feel the passing of time, until each obstacle you face during the course of your day becomes more than just a minor inconvenience.
When time is running out and the end of your shift looms like the decision of a jury on a murder trial, you start thinking about all the fares you’ve lost due to slowpokes and inept drivers who’ve made you miss lights, turns and the ability to change lanes, actions that could have led, in your my mind anyway, to profitable rides. All those precious minutes you’ll never get back.
Is there ever enough time in a day? Enough time to wait? Enough time to rush through the streets hoping for a flag or an empty cabstand? Or one with room to pull in and smoke a Spirit. Maybe if you’re just taking a break it will sting less when all the drivers in front of you all get airports and you end up going six blocks.
A short while later, I’m on Sutter. As I turn onto Powell, the faux Yeoman at the Sir Francis Drake stops me and helps a woman into the back of my cab. She’s going to the federal courthouse.
Behind the doorman in his Beefeater costume there is a large group of people, all seemingly holding suitcases. As we pass the Saint Francis, the cabstand is empty. The doorman, surrounded by people with luggage, is frantically blowing his whistle.
It’s a treacherous journey to Golden Gate and Polk, one that involves Tenderloin gridlock, jaywalkers and one traffic-crippling road improvement project after another.
From there, I race back to Powell Street, hoping the whistles are still blowing.
Time, however, isn’t on my side.
I find an opening at the Hilton, though, which is moving well. Soon, I’m first up. Scrolling through Facebook, I look up when I hear the whistle. The doorman is waving me forward. Next to him is a man with a suitcase.
Once you get an airport under your belt, you can relax a little. Time is still running out, but at least it doesn’t feel like you’re trying to collect water in your hands anymore.
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.