During a recent excursion into The City, I end up in the Haight again. After a brief visit to Amoeba, I meander over the hill on 17th and take Market Street towards the bridge. As I pass Lucky 13, it’s impossible not to think about the recent news that the bar is finally shutting down. Naturally, I contemplate my experiences there. While never a drinking patron, I picked up and dropped off in my taxi there frequently. Over time, I got to know most of the bartenders. Especially with this one regular of mine. He was a major Lucky 13 fixture.
Waiting for the light to change at Church, I think about the night I first picked the guy up on the corner across from Safeway. A late-night fare like any other, or so I thought. At first. This ride, though, would completely transform my taxi driving experience for almost two years…
He was holding a Safeway bag in one hand and a JBL Bluetooth speaker in the other. When he opens my back door, I’m bombarded with the raspy crooning of Leonard Cohen at ear-piercing decibels. He barely turns the volume down after climbing inside and screams an address to me in the Tenderloin. I take off down Market to Franklin. Thankfully, he turns off the music after a few blocks. But then begins rambling a word salad with no common thread, full of threats and vociferous accusations, as if he were continuing some hostile conversation from earlier in the bar.
It’s easy to tell how he’d spent his night based on the ripe odor of alcohol that’s filled the cab and the constant sniffing and snorting in between rants.
“Just keep drinking the Kool-Aid,” he slurs at one point. “What do I know? Maybe you wanna be brainwashed by the government and the media and your hip friends. Hey, I got a conspiracy for you: you’re all a bunch of clones controlled by the same idiot.”
He’s obviously the type of person who says “you” instead of “one,” but I still feel kinda guilty.
“It always bothers me when people use that expression. ‘Drink the Kool-Aid,’” he claims. “Not only was it actually Flavor-Aid, but maybe Jim Jones wasn’t that bad of a guy. It was all the drugs he was taking that made him so paranoid…”
He pauses to snort something.
“I’ve always been fascinated by cult leaders,” he continues. “I wouldn’t mind having a bunch of follows. I might be good at it. I’m not paranoid. Yet…”
Idling outside his building on Leavenworth, he continues making random declarations. I tap my foot against the plastic mat, hoping my impatience registers, but his senses are too dulled to notice that kind of subtle hint. The meter currently reads $11.75.
After exploring his messianic tendencies a while longer, he finally begins to exit.
“You got a card?” he asks with his hand on the door handle. “I take taxis all the time. I could use a good driver.”
“Sure.” I pass him one and ask, “What’s your name?”
“They call me Judy.”
“Yeah, Mr. Judy.”
“I’m in sales.”
With one foot in the cab and one on the curb, he lists the various products he sells, from drugs to fake passports to massage. Asks if I need anything. Or have any friends in need. Gets excited for a moment and inquires, “What about passengers?”
Next thing I know, he’s talking about starting up a partnership…
Now, if I were to present myself as a wholesome, rule-abiding public servant, my response would have been clear: shut him down. ASAP. But curiosity always gets the best of me, so I listen to his sales pitch. This would be a boring job if you didn’t get the dirt every once in a while. Besides, the guy likes to talk. Who am I to stop him?
When he’s finished, there’s a moment of silence. The first since he got into my cab. I’m not sure if he expects me to fill out an order form or what, but I just chuckle slightly. Finally, he sighs and hands me a folded, sweaty $20 bill.
“I’ll give you a call.” He gets out of the cab and slowly disappears into the building.
Kelly Dessaint, a San Francisco taxi driver and veteran zine publisher, is the author of the novel “A Masque of Infamy.” His Behind the Wheel zine series is collected in the paperback “Omnibus,” available through book marketplaces or at his blog, idrivesf.com. His column appears every other week in the Examiner. He is a guest columnist and his point of view is not necessarily that of the Examiner.