While there’s still a need for taxis in The City, some drivers, to avoid health risks during the pandemic, are taking a break. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

While there’s still a need for taxis in The City, some drivers, to avoid health risks during the pandemic, are taking a break. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Looking for the story that wants to be told

Excursions through The City prompt memories of rides and times past

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While driving through The City nowadays, I’m constantly on the lookout for taxis. Naturally, I’m curious how drivers are surviving during the pandemic. I always try to tell if they have passengers in back or whether they’re otherwise engaged, maybe on the way to pick up a fare or doing delivery.

As crazy as it may seem, there is still a need for taxis. Not much. But enough that the few cabs out there are able to eke out a meager existence.

Or so it seems…

The other day, on my way to Glen Park, approaching the 101/280 interchange, I checked to see how yellow the Yellow cab yard was. As usual, with only a small percentage of the fleet going out each day, the parking lot had more taxis than personal cars.

No wonder. The City is dead. As I ran my errands, from Glen Park to Laurel Heights, then through the Haight, the Castro and the Mission to South of Market and the bridge, I saw only scattered activity. The grocery stores were packed, sure, and some places had lines out front, but more stores were closed than open.

As bad as it was before the latest shelter-in-place order, the new restrictions, along with the mandatory quarantine upon returning to the Bay Area, have turned San Francisco into a ghost town.

And yet, I saw lots of cabs on the road. Plenty of Uber/Lyfts too. While most drivers, like myself, are probably living off unemployment, others have no choice but to keep working. If not moving people, then doing delivery.

It’s weird… I never thought I’d miss the traffic jams and the rampant chaos of rush hour in The City, but now… the opposite is just so depressing. As hard as it is to imagine driving a cab anymore, sometimes I can’t believe I ever drove a cab at all…

Whenever I ponder the future of driving for hire, it’s these dire conditions that remind me that things aren’t going to change anytime soon. Or at all.

While the past 10 months felt like a waiting period, the start of the new year seems to emphasize the harsh reality that we’re in this for the long run.

What does the future hold for taxis? What does the future hold for anything? All the madness of last year is only getting worse. The world is in manic flux. Chaos rules the day. Political mayhem… Social upheaval… Economic uncertainty…

Maybe it’s better to just stay home and collect that pittance from the government. I mean, What’s the point anymore? It’s cold outside. There’s nowhere to be. Everything is crazy… Better to just go into hibernation and sleep it off.

If only I had that luxury… The luxury to sleep. The luxury to be bored…

When I need a distraction from the overwhelming avalanche of endless bad vibes, I think of all the stories out there, the ones I used to hear while driving a taxi…

Even though The City is quiet, there are still stories out there. Somewhere. Looking to be told. But as much as I want to tell them, right now, for someone with a family, the risk involved with finding them outweighs the reward.

Instead of jeopardizing my family and myself, perhaps it’s time to tell some of the stories I collected from the past…

I seem to be at a crossroads with the column. Since I stopped driving a taxi in March, there haven’t been any new stories to tell. For a while, I documented life in the early stages of the pandemic. During the summer, I had some personal struggles to report and there was Prop 22… But since then, I’ve been more inclined to succumb to nostalgia than try to make sense of the chaos all around us.

As I’ve mentioned in previous columns over the past few months, my excursions into The City each week cause me to reminiscence about rides and passengers over the years. I’ve even written about a few recently, but there are more to tell…

Since this is the perfect time to wallow in nostalgia, I hope you will join me as I continue to travel through the past and document what it was like being a taxi driver in San Francisco before the pandemic.

Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver, currently on hiatus due to COVID restrictions.

San Francisco

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