Last Thursday night, after taking a fare from the War Memorial to the St. Francis, I deadhead to the Orpheum, where “An American in Paris” is about to break, and line up on Hyde Street.
A few minutes later, the audience pours out into the night. I wave a man and a woman forward. He opens the door, and she gets in first.
“The Ritz,” she tells me.
I hit the meter and maneuver through the surge of vehicles quickly descending on the area.
As I turn right onto Larkin, the man comments on City Hall, awash in multicolored lights.
“What are the colors for? The flag?”
“I think it’s to commemorate the Folsom Street Fair this weekend,” I suggest.
“What street fair?” he asks.
“Folsom. It’s a …” I hesitate, unsure how to explain the festival to what I can only assume is mixed company. “Leather and bondage event.”
“Oh,” the man replies.
“Yeah, they’re expecting more than 200,000 people,” I add. “I haven’t looked forward to seeing so many hot, sweaty half-naked dudes since I used to watch WWF wrestling religiously.”
After trying to take a selfie with City Hall is the background, the couple asks how my night’s been going. There’s not much to report.
“So, is driving a cab your only job?” the woman asks.
“I also write a weekly column for the Examiner about driving a taxi.”
“That’s great,” she responds enthusiastically.
“If you wanted a story,” the man says with a chuckle. “I could tell you my name.”
“Let’s not do that again!” the woman responds.
I glance in the rearview, but it’s too dark to make out his face clearly.
He laughs again.
“Come on,” she insists. “We’re almost to the hotel.”
“So, you must get some good stories driving a taxi,” the man inquires.
“Sometimes. Though I mostly write about myself,” I say, adding, “And The City. How it’s changing and the struggle to survive.”
While cruising east on Bush, I mention the doom and gloom that seems to permeate most conversations about life in San Francisco these days. The subject of displacement comes up, as well as the homeless epidemic.
“The homeless situation here is definitely a crisis,” says the woman.
She talks about the “professional homeless,” describing two types of people who end up on the streets: “Those who are educated and fallen through the cracks. But then there are the drug addicts, who prefer to be on the streets.”
When I pull into the driveway at the Ritz, I give the guy the once over. He definitely looks familiar, but I can’t figure out from where.
“It’s not that black and white with the homeless,” I point out to her. “There’s so much gray area in between those two extremes.”
“Way too many people in this country are just one paycheck away from the street,” the mystery man says, handing me $11 on $7.90. “It used to not be that way back in the day.”
While we talk about how messed up the world has become, several Uber/Lyfts pull in behind us. But the doormen don’t disturb us. They make the other cars back out of the driveway. This guy must really be someone important.
Finally, as they exit my taxi, the man tells me, “Keep writing. Words are more powerful than bombs.”
Outside, the doormen treat them with reverence. I take another quick look at his face. He’s very recognizable, and his voice was so distinctive. But I can’t make a connection. As I drive away, his identity really bugs me. Based on his appearance and general vibe, he’s either a politician or a newscaster … or an actor that usually portrays politicians or newscasters.
For the next few hours, I wrack my brain trying to think of who he might be. Just as I’m about to finish my shift, it finally hits me:
He wasn’t sporting the usual schoolboy haircut, and he looked older in person — though better-looking. He face was more relaxed, since he was obviously having a good time with the woman, who was definitely not his wife. But it had to be him.
Immediately, my mind races, thinking of all the things I could have said to the former republican Speaker of the House and current Trump cheerleader.
Of course, he didn’t seem evil at all and came off really nice and personable. It would have been awkward to confront him. But then I think about how much he decried “San Francisco values” over the years and how I inadvertently proved what makes those values so winsome: We accept everyone here. From leather freaks to money-grubbing capitalists to the down and out and, yes, even staunch conservatives.
Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. His zine, “Behind the Wheel,” is available at bookstores throughout The City. Write to Kelly at email@example.com or visit his blog at www.idrivesf.com.