Regulars come and regulars go. Sometimes the memories of them linger on, long after the final whiff of their stinky feet in the back of your taxi is gone.
The reality is, you can only tolerate so much of anyone’s presence for any considerable amount of time. Not just the guy whose MO was to impersonate a petri dish of party favors doing acid while stoned on another daylong Mission bar crawl.
Although the body odors of long-gone passengers may not inspire much nostalgia, flashbacks of the sweaty-palmed $20 bills I’d shove in my pockets at the ends of his rides can definitely lead to a prolonged search of lost time.
Good-paying customers always have peculiar demands, idiosyncrasies or preferred routes. Besides Mr. Stinky Feet, there was Sir Shop A-Lot and Miss “I’ll gladly PayPal you next Friday for a ride to Oakland today.”
That was my problem, actually, for being too accommodating. And not just with regulars. I’ve been kidnapped by random passengers several times.
Once, forced into giving this visiting artist a tour of The City at 1 a.m. Literally compelled by her local host, under threat of not leaving the cab without one. Since they were so nice about it and told me to keep the meter running, the only charges I pressed were in my Square app.
Sadly, the problem with good-paying customers is they usually make bad-paying friends. Like the girl who thought rides in my cab were tip-based only.
Or the bartender at 3am, heading to the East Bay just as the DJ clubs were breaking. At a discounted rate. Which I only agreed to on the assumption that tip wasn’t included. So when the amount he handed me after dropping him at home got smaller each week, my schedule “suddenly changed.” Wife-mandated. You know, to seal the deal.
It’s all Richie Drano’s fault, really. He’s the one who’d sit in the back of my cab, parked on dead end street in Potrero Hill, as we argued about garage rock and basketball for two hours. Then, just when he was about to exit, he’d point to the meter and say, “There’s no way that’s me.”
Another 30 minutes of sardonic banter would pass as we tried to get to the bottom of that discrepancy, while I continuously blasted him for being a Laker fan.
What’s the appropriate compensation for that?
At 5 a.m.
On a Sunday.
Richie and I both knew my shift was all but over. I was just waiting for BART to start running again. And I invariably got SFOs out of Bernal and Noe from National dispatch in the process, because they could see my fixed location on the office computer.
At first, C. was a fast dub. Every Friday at 2:15 a.m. from a Haight Street bar. Only going seven blocks. But once we’d crossed the line into confidants, she’d have me loop the park on her way home, blasting 80s soul. “I’ve been listening to that punk rock garbage all night,” she’d snarl. “Now I wanna hear me some Al Jarreau!” Around and around we’d go, until the meter hit $18.35. Then she’d say,
Since we were friends, I didn’t mind being her James. Or the Barry White sing-along. Of course, not much compares to 26th and Dolores. She was a twenty spot to Civic Center most Thursdays. Then back home three hours later. A short drive filled with compelling discourse was hard to beat.
Although an easy contender was the occasional round trip from 17th and Guerrero to the 24-hour Walgreens on Castro. Fifty bucks. Every time. Your whole night would change when you got a text from her on a random Wednesday.
“Some extra for waiting,” she always said, handing over the money folded four ways.
RIP, Bev. You were a great “custy.”
Regulars come. Regulars go. Some stick around more than the others. Even if just in the deep recesses of your dogged brain, after one too many long taxi shifts. Or, when someone texts you in the middle of the night to say they just spotted your old cab on Mission Street, with another driver behind the wheel.
Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. His zine “Behind the Wheel” is available at bookstores throughout The City. He is a guest columnist. Write to Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.idrivesf.com