Winter is coming.
Some days it seems like winter is already here. Especially after a few unprofitable shifts in a row. Especially when those unprofitable shifts are preceded by a string of shifts that were absolutely gangbusters.
That’s the thing about cab driving. You just never know. One week you net a cool grand in three days, and the next, you’re just working for the company.
If you’ve been driving a taxi long enough, you do know those unprofitable shifts are only a small taste of what’s to come. Once winter finally arrives.
Of course, any sensible person would prepare for the inevitable loss in income, but with such unpredictable earning potential, it’s no easy task amassing a nest egg large enough to serve as a buffer during lean times. Because you’re never quite sure which week is the week you should sock away most of your earnings instead of, I don’t know, paying rent…
On Sundays, the airport usually moves really well. But this past Sunday, the holding lots were sluggish most of the afternoon and evening, with just a few momentary bursts of life.
At the end of the night, I’m stuck in the donut lot after getting two shorts in a row, waiting for the starter to send me to a terminal, where, I can only hope, there’ll be a fare going more than a few miles away.
I’m tired. I just want to go home. But not until I get a decent ride.
I end up with a guy going to a motel in the Inner Richmond. Decent. I unload his suitcase and pull away. As I’m waiting for the light at 12th Avenue, he runs up to my window. The motel has no vacancies.
“Get in,” I tell him.
“I guess take me downtown,” he suggests.
“You won’t find anything down there, trust me.”
I head to the Marina, where the vacancy signs outside each motel along Lombard Street are burning bright crimson in the thick fog.
I don’t charge him for the second ride. I can tell he’s broke. When he paid the first time, I noticed his finger waver over the tip option. But he still tapped 20 percent.
So I don’t mind eating the $15. But I let him get his suitcase out of the trunk unassisted.
From there, I take Laguna over the hill. I’m pulled over in Japantown checking traffic before getting on the freeway to Oakland when a guy emerges from the darkness and approaches my window.
“I need to go down to Hayes and Fillmore.”
The meter is only $7.35, but he gives me $15.
I swear, you just never know…
Winters have always been tough for cab drivers. Inclement weather, contrary to popular belief, and logic, is not necessarily good for business. Neither are warm, sunny days, really. To make money driving a taxi, you need people. Lots of people. Preferably people who take cabs. And now that tourist season is over, the homeless seem to outnumber visitors in Union Square…
On Monday morning, I roll into The City just before sunrise. I start my shift downtown, as usual, but all the hotels are stacked. Taxis are staging everywhere. Even at places without designated cabstands.
I decide to switch things up and head west. At Geary and Van Ness, I get a flag going to Bay and Webster. As soon as I drop her off, a radio order pops up on my tablet. Green and Steiner.
Traffic in Cow Hollow is horrendous. Besides the usual roadwork causing multiple street closures and subsequent backups, there are contractor trucks and orange vest wearing construction workers on every block adding to the congestion, as well as high-end imports lined up in front schools dropping off children.
After fighting gridlock to pick up my passenger and then fighting gridlock to drop her off at the civic center BART station, I’m right back where I started.
I take Market to Fourth and cruise past the Marriott Marquis. It looks like the same cabs that were lined up when I drove by an hour ago are still waiting.
I head towards the Mission. Maybe I’ll find someone else heading downtown. You never know…
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.