Being one of the soul survivors in the taxi business can be lonely sometimes. (Courtesy photo)

Seeking a temple of the familiar

There for a while I seriously questioned my decision to leave National to drive for Yellow.

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There for a while I seriously questioned my decision to leave National to drive for Yellow, even though the defection was far from spontaneous. Prior to walking down Upton Alley to try my luck at another cab company, I mulled over the prospect for several months. Like Gregory Hines in the movie White Nights, as he planned an escape from the Soviet Union, I wasdetermined and reluctant at the same time.

Unlike most Refuseniks, though, I was riddled with regret and consternation shortly after making the switch, convinced it was a huge mistake. The transition to Yellow has been anything but smooth. Besides the flat tire and broken window detailed in last week’s column, I had a blowout on the Bay Bridge during my first shift in a Yellow cab. Three weeks later, I got into a minor no-fault accident on Mission Street.

Then there were the Yellow policies, which took some getting used to. Unlike National, everything at Yellow is by the book. Taped to the cashier windows are signs with statements like “No exemptions!” That’s how I ended up over-drafting my bank account in February: paying up front for 24- hour shifts and not getting reimbursed for credit card/Paratransit transactions until a week later.

Once my finances were completely out of whack, the despair and economic hardships overwhelmed me and I had to take a break to regroup. At first the anonymity of driving a Yellow cab was appealing. But I quickly began to feel isolated. Whenever I ran into a National/Veterans driver on the streets, I eagerly inquired about the company. Who’s still in the office? What’s going on with the meters? Have they fully transitioned to Flywheel yet?

The Flywheel deal was always a dealbreaker for me. When rumors first to began circulate that National was going to replace their hard-wired taximeters and two-way radios with the Flywheel app, I railed against the idea of an app-based dispatch system and letting a third party take over the mechanics of running a cab.

Nowadays, if you don’t want to run the Flywheel app, you need to be in a Yellow cab.

Still, I don’t handle change well. I’m a very habitual person. Part of growing up a welfare case: after bouncing around foster homes, group homes and relatives’ homes as a teenager, I craved stability as an adult, always seeking a temple of the familiar.

I miss my old cab, 233. I miss the National cab yard and the barbeques we used to have every Sunday morning. More than anything, though, I missed the camaraderie that used to exist among cab drivers.

Shortly after my transformation from a disgruntled Uber/Lyft driver to a “green pea” cabbie, I became enamored with the men and women in the taxi industry. The traditions, the lore and the history of the drivers and their connection to The City were intoxicatingly profound to me. It was as if I’d stumbled into a secret realm of sardonic miscreants and underground scholars.

There was a sense of pride in being among their ranks. When cab drivers gathered, whether in a cabstand or in a cab yard, at the airport, at red lights or at gas stations, we exchanged information on hot spots and recounted the small victories. We encouraged, assisted and defended each other. And occasionally got into arguments, too. No matter what, though, I never felt alone driving a cab on the streets of San Francisco.

Over the past few years, though, most of the cab drivers I’ve known have retired or left the industry altogether. All my friends seem to be gone. I hardly recognize anyone.

Hell, I barely recognize The City these days. Everything seems to be either gone or going away. Sometimes it’s like I don’t know where I am anymore.

Despite wanting to go back to how things used to be, I know that’s no longer possible. Fortunately, there are still people in San Francisco who take cabs and share my fascination with The City and the tradition of taxi driving. And it’s these soul survivors I rely on now to keep me going through those long nights, while prowling the streets in search of something meaningful. Or at least profitable.

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 piltdownlad@gmail.com or visit www.idrivesf.com

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