Venturing into Fisherman’s Wharf while the sun’s still out is a fool’s errand. But once the cold winds start to blow and the fog comes rolling in so fast it chills you to the bone, all the tourists dressed in t-shirts, shorts and miniskirts rush the Pier 39 cabstand to escape the chill.
Mostly to step between the taxis lined up and reach their Ubers and Lyfts. But when it’s busy, there are enough folks taking cabs to justify the hassle of dealing with the traffic quagmire.
Besides a battalion of unmarked sedans, tour buses and shuttles compete with pedicabs and taxis for space along the curb that stretches from the Aquarium to The Embarcadero. Their frustrated honking sounds like foghorns.
In the melee, backloading is rampant. But when people dressed for May weather in Texas and Florida open your back door seeking sanctuary and transport, do you tell them to go to the front of the line? No, you take the fare and fight your way out of the congestion.
That’s how I ended up with a family of four going to Ninth Avenue and Lincoln. An odd destination for a group of tourists, so I inquire, “By the park?”
“Yeah,” the young guy in the passenger seat tells me. “That’s where we boarded a tour bus. Our car’s there.”
Ah, that’s makes sense.
While waiting for the light to turn on Powell, the elderly man in back says, “And for all you tourists, on the right here we have the Arc de Triomphe.”
“Dad, don’t be silly!” the woman behind me chides him.
“What is it then?” the girl in the middle wonders.
Knowing when it’s my time to butt into a conversation and earn my tip, I tell them, “That’s actually the ferry arch, a hoisting tower they used to unload trains headed to and from Marin County before the Golden Gate Bridge was built.” After a pause, I add, “It’s also where prisoners departed for Alcatraz.”
As that grim detail sinks in, I ask what else they’ve seen so far on their trip to San Francisco. The bus took them through Golden Gate Park to Land’s End and then back forth across the Golden Gate Bridge.
“In three days, it’ll be 82 years,” the man points out.
“He only knows that because of the tour guide,” the woman clarifies.
“I remember the 75th anniversary. They had a massive firework show off the span and from boats below. My wife and I watched it from Fort Mason. It started with these two shots of fire from both sides of the span that collided in the middle. It was, as the drunken Australian girl behind us kept repeating over and over, much to our annoyance, ‘Amazeballs.’”
I’m talking too much, but hopefully not jeopardizing my tip…
After finding out they’re from Illinois, I ask, “What part?”
Now I’m guaranteed a good tip. “My mom’s family is from Du Quoin.”
“That’s where they have the state fair,” the man says. “Know it well.”
I go on to tell them about how there’s an Illinois Street in San Francisco and that I was taking this guy there the other day and he pronounced the street illi-noise. “With the S!” I say in disgust.
“Ugh!” the woman groans.
“Gah!” grunts the man.
“It was like fingernails on a chalkboard,” I say.
“Growing up, my grandparents taught us young that pronouncing the S in Illinois was like saying a cuss word.”
There isn’t much to say while we cruise through The Presidio since they’ve already experienced it via the tour bus, so I talk about all the dreadful Army posts my father was stationed at across the US, and how none were as cool as The Presidio.
“It’s amazeballs,” the girl in the middle quips.
We all crack up.
When I pull up behind their minivan, the woman runs her credit card through the rear terminal. Printing the receipt, I notice the $20 tip and thank her.
“Thanks for a great ride,” she says. “And a better tour.”
“That’s the thing about San Francisco,” I say as they exit the taxi. “There’s always something to see and even more to say about it.”
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