To a certain type of visitor, California can seem like a utopia. (Courtesy photo)

To a certain type of visitor, California can seem like a utopia. (Courtesy photo)

The high cost of living in California isn’t just financial

The image of laidback Californians is spurious at best.

Last Sunday morning, after power-walking nine blocks from my apartment to the MacArthur BART station, then taking the escalator steps, two at a time, I hit the platform just as the doors of the train slide shut in my face. I consider trying to pry them open and look imploringly through the window for sympathy from the riders, but the train pulls away and all I can do is curse my luck, find a patch of shade and wait until the next one arrives.

Exposed to the elements in the middle of I-980, the wind is relentless. It’s going to be another warm, blustery day, with strong gales that will surely exacerbate the Kincade Fire up north, causing more destruction and mass evacuations.

When a Warm Springs train arrives, a mob of commuters files out onto the platform. Everyone stakes a position to bum rush the next train. I eyeball the wait time on the overhead sign. Fifteen minutes. Wait, wasn’t it just thirteen? Is the time going backwards?

Not only are the trains on a Sunday schedule, the PG&E power outages have led to system wide delays.

There’s a sense of impending doom in the air, and the smell of charred earth.

Frustrated and nervous about getting to the Yellow yard in time to secure a cab, I resume a conversation that’s been playing out in my head intermittently for the past week, this one-sided continuation of a discussion that began with a passenger in my taxi.

Young guy from El Paso. As a liberal vegetarian with an artistic bent, he was understandably infatuated with California. San Francisco in particular.

To a certain type of visitor, California can seem like a utopia. When you live here, though, it’s a different story.

Even though it was a relief to have a conversation about The City that wasn’t a total gripe fest, when he said, “It must be dope living in Cali. You guys got it made,” I couldn’t help but laugh. And not just because of his cringeworthy truncating of California.

I’ve had similar conversations with numerous passengers in the past and always say the same thing: “Yeah, well, all those privileges carry a hefty toll.”

The high cost of living in California isn’t just financial. You pay the price through everyday transactions.

Once the train finally arrives, it’s standing room only. The only available seats are covered in trash. It looks like someone scattered their filthy possessions around the train.

At least you can see what you’re about to step in this time, I think. Unlike a month ago when someone squirted clear dish soap all over the seats.

Besides the filth, there’s the fury.

The intense competition for every resource leads to all sorts of potential hostility.

The image of laidback Californians is spurious at best. You can barely leave your house for more than two minutes without encountering some random jerk looking to unleash their pent-up vitriol for hardly any reason at all.

Especially in traffic.

Especially when you drive a taxi.

Yet the most blatant misdeeds are often overlooked. Like this preppy kid hogging the entire disabled seat on the train, while an obviously disabled man with a cane struggles to stay on his feet.

Why isn’t anyone saying something to him?

Why am I not saying anything?

Why? Because I can’t think of a civil way to tell him to move. Every comment that comes to mind is laced with expletives and the threat of violence.

After West Oakland, the train stops. Over the intercom, the conductor announces a delay going into the tube.

Is it due to the fire?

The fire has become the latest scapegoat. Everything that goes wrong these days is somehow blamed on the fire.

Two hours after leaving my apartment, I finally reach the Yellow yard on Bayshore.

As I wait in line to get the keys and medallion for a cab, this driver whose name I don’t know, and with whom I’ve talked too many times now to ask, complains to me about the SFMTA.

“How about those 49ers?” I change the subject. “You think they’ll stay undefeated?”

“I hope so,” he says. “About time we started winning.”

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 or visit


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