It’s been a while since I’ve taken anyone on a drug run. This past week, though, I had two round trips from the Mission to the Tenderloin and mid-Market.
The first one catches me off guard, even though the ride begins with a stop at the Wells Fargo ATM on 16th. The guy’s chatty. An older gentleman. Tells me he’s a former New York taxi driver who moved to San Francisco 10 years ago and became a limo driver because, he says, there was no money in taxis back then.
“Even less now,” I say.
I try to solicit some stories about his experience as a cab driver in Manhattan, but he’s on a stream-of-consciousness monologue. I just listen.
As I approach his stated destination at O’Farrell and Larkin, I think he’s going to the New Century, but he asks me to pull forward and wait. He jumps out and confronts a guy leaning against a wall. The transaction happens quickly. I don’t even see the exchange.
On the way back to Guerrero and 15th, he’s less talkative. Eager to get back home to smoke his drugs, I assume. At 14th, he bails at the light, saying he’ll walk the rest of the way. Hands me a $20 bill.
Drug runs in The City are nothing like those in the days of my youth, when trying to score a bag of weed involved an extended game of cat and mouse, and/or hanging out at the dealer’s house for two hours watching a dumb movie because the guy was feeling lonely and you didn’t want to upset him and end up on his bad side.
Buying drugs on the streets of San Francisco is easier than going through a Jack in the Box drive-through. As a taxi driver, I’ve done both, plenty of times, and I much prefer the former.
On Saturday, around 3 a.m., I’m returning from the Excelsior when a guy flags me at Mission and Valencia. He asks if I’ll take him to 9th and Mission for $10. It’s late, and the streets are mostly empty. So, why not.
“And back for $10?”
Obviously. He hands me a $20 bill. I take off down Mission. The lights are on my side, but scofflaws keep ignoring the right-turn-only intersections and then driving slowly, stopping abruptly, flipping illegal U-turns and just making a mockery of the traffic laws in general. I can tell the guy in the back is as annoyed as I am.
Finally, I get to 9th, and the guy tells me to go slow. I crawl up the block until we see some people standing between two parked cars.
He whistles, and one of the dealers approaches the cab.
The dealer is ready, but my guy wants to see the rocks. They’re speaking Spanish, but I can tell the dealer isn’t interested in window shoppers. Take it or leave it, he seems to be saying.
Finally, he hands over the money. I head up to Hayes. I’m about to turn left on Van Ness, rocket through the empty streets to Mission and hit the red carpet lane back to Bernal, but my fare wants me to take Gough to Valencia.
“It’s easier,” he says.
“But the lights,” I point out.
If this were a metered fare, sure, let’s ride the green wave all the way to Mission at 13 mph. But this is a cut-rate fare.
“There’s less traffic,” he tells me.
I try to compel him that it’s best to avoid Valencia, but he gets frustrated and throws his hands in the air.
“You’re the driver!”
Alright. Valencia it is. If there’s one thing I learned from my mother, it’s that it’s impossible to reason with passive aggressiveness.
Of course, we hit every single light on Valencia. As soon as one turns green, the following one turns yellow. Even though there isn’t another car in front of us, getting across the Mission is like going through the Panama Canal.
It’s almost comical. But at each block, I can feel the guy’s anxiety levels increasing. His desperation is fogging up my windows. He’s holding two juicy rocks and just wants to get home as fast as possible so he can get high. And I understand that. I’m on his side. I want to get him home as fast as possible, but there’s still 10 more blocks to go … Then nine … Then eight …
Well, at least there’s no traffic. Besides us, of course.
Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his blog at www.idrivesf.com.