There was this guy who used to flag cabs outside El Farolito around last call on weekends. I must have picked him up at least five times. A decent ride to Glen Park. He was always blotto. Always a little surly. But always a 20 spot.
Along the ride, after giving a specific route via Guerrero, he would ask where I was from. He never remembered me. So each time I told him, it always elicited the same snarl: “You’re not a Dodgers fan, are you?”
Having been asked this question so much while driving a taxi in San Francisco, I developed a stock response.
Whether or not this one-sided rivalry between cities is based on baseball alone, when you go from the Bay Area to Southern California, you feel the differences in your skin.
Despite being born just east of downtown Los Angeles on the San Bernardino freeway, I prefer the Bay. The weather. The history. The geography. The people. The burritos. That’s why driving a taxi was always a thrill ride. It took me to every corner of The City and beyond.
So when I left Oakland at the first of July to pick up the wife and kid at my in-laws in West Hollywood, the ideal scenario was to pull up outside their building and honk twice. Then, once everything was packed, head up north as quickly as possible. But civility dictated that I spend a couple days.
My visit coincided with a major heat wave. Most days in the 90s.
I almost died on several occasions.
And it’s not like anyone in Los Angeles will ever sympathize with you when you point out, repeatedly, that you’re not used to hot weather.
After a few car repairs, we drove up to Morro Bay.
Compared to Oakland and West Hollywood, Morro is a ghost town. Time just seems to stand still.
We stayed at a cheap motel on Main Street, with a view of the Rock. Besides the occasional hiss of cars going past, the only sound you hear is the constant howl of the seagulls that outnumber humans five to one. Once, I saw three cars lined up at a stop sign, which was the only sign of gridlock since leaving LA and crawling through the valleys from 405 to Ventura on 101 North.
Since San Luis Obispo County has one of the lowest numbers of COVID-19 cases in the state, people are relaxed there. Not as many masks.
Traveling across the state for the past month, I’ve noticed that folks outside the major cities are not as worried about getting sick.
During the week, most places in Morro that rely on tourists are shuttered or operating with reduced hours. The few places open in the evening, though, are usually swamped with socially distanced customers anxiously waiting to pick up to-go orders. All other businesses, though, remain open. Even barber shops.
In San Luis Obispo, there were long lines outside the Apple Store and Victoria’s Secret on Higuera. I hit up a record store for the first time in over five months. Found a Plimsouls CD. On the first day, at a breakfast joint, we were offered a table inside. Before Newsom closed them down again.
When you’re in between residences, it’s natural to look at rentals wherever you go. We even checked out some places.
The property managers we talked to in Morro and San Luis said the majority of applicants are coming from large cities. Or out of state. One mentioned that we were the fifth couple from San Francisco to look at the property.
Even though classes at Poly were canceled, the rental market is extremely tight. And the homeless population was surprising for such a seemingly manicured community.
After checking out the bustling Atascadero, we drove back to LA.
This morning was the first day that didn’t start out with that unrelenting LA sun. The thick marine layer reminds me of home. It’s still unnerving to not know what the future holds, but right now, we’re still hoping that one good thing to come out of this coronavirus experience might be lower rents. At least somewhere where the temperatures aren’t in the 100s most days.
Kelly Dessaint, a San Francisco taxi driver and veteran zine publisher, is the author of the novel “A Masque of Infamy.” His long-running Behind the Wheel zine series is collected into a paperback “Omnibus,” available through all book marketplaces or from his blog, idrivesf.com. His column appears every other week in the Examiner. He is a guest opinion columnist and his point of view is not necessarily that of the Examiner.