While waiting for the light to change at Fourth and Mission with a fare going to Davies Symphony Hall, a horde of Democrats crosses the street in front of my cab. Once the signal turns green, another wave of conventioneers, most wearing shirts, carrying placards or sporting totes that broadcast their political affiliations, fills the crosswalk.
I can’t help but wonder what the people in back are thinking. I already know they’re from North Carolina and about to experience their first symphony.
This is San Francisco, after all, a renowned liberal bastion, and if you didn’t know the California Democratic Party was holding their annual convention at Moscone, you might assume this was just a normal day in The City.
So when the guy clears his throat and says, “Can I ask you a question?” I expect the inevitable.
“Can you recommend a decent spot for a late dinner after the show?”
Oh. It’s all business then…
“Most restaurants close early here,” I tell them. “But there’s a place called Noir Lounge a few blocks from Davies that’s open late.”
Outside the symphony hall, the man hands me a $20 bill on $11.75. Tells me to keep the change.
“Thanks for the info,” he says. “You’re the first white taxi driver we’ve had so far.”
“Uh, happy to help,” I mumble as they exit the cab, then head back downtown to try my luck with the Democrats again…
For two days now I’ve been stalking the convention center, trying to keep my backseat warm.
Things start out well enough on Friday. After leaving the Yellow yard, I head straight to Moscone. As I pull behind a row of cabs on Howard, the first three load quickly. I don’t even have a chance to move forward before two women ask me to take them to City Lights.
From Broadway and Columbus, I head down Montgomery, scope out 555 Cal, just in case, even though Moscone seems like the obvious place to be. But when I resume the position behind two cabs on Howard, an angry PCO starts whistling and chases us away from the curb.
With nowhere to stage, all I can do is circle the block and hope for a random flag. Once that proves futile, I widen my search radius to include the Marriott Marquis, the Palace and the Hilton.
I fare better on Saturday, as the crowds at Moscone surge during the voting process to elect a new chairperson. I drive various aides, reporters and even a state senator. There are also potential airport rides as delegates start heading back home.
Working the hotel lines gives me plenty of downtime to read Tim Redmond’s coverage of the convention on 48 Hills.
All the presidential candidates, except Biden, are in town for the gathering. Besides the events inside the convention center, there are private shindigs for the likes of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, plus loads of after parties at venues like the soon-to-be shuttered Mezzanine and the recently renovated St. Joseph’s.
One of the big talking points this year is income disparity. Which seems like a rich topic from my position on the economic totem pole.
Inside the convention center, they may be talking about how to combat income inequality, reduce climate change and end corruption, but outside, all I see is rampant support of companies that exploit already-marginalized workers while destroying a formerly middle class profession, perpetuating a system that contributes to global warming by encouraging drivers from across the region to flood urban centers with non-hybrid vehicles, all the while furthering a business model that has flourished solely because of lobbyists who used venture capital to resist regulations.
Sometimes it’s hard to be a liberal and drive a taxi in San Francisco.
Despite the limited demand for taxis around Moscone, due in large part to the SFMTA’s failure to provide at least one cabstand at the convention center, the few rides I manage to squeeze out of the event are accompanied by positive conversations about politics and personal commitments to improving conditions for the working class. Now, if only there was more of a concerted effort among all Democrats, we might actually get somewhere.
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