The visibility of a yellow cab makes it easy to feel like a public utility. (Courtesy photo)

A ride for everyone

In a Yellow cab, you really stand out. Besides the distinctive, universally recognized color scheme, there are seven giant ‘3s’ plastered along each set of doors, along with an assortment of official decals. But it’s the illuminated ad topper mounted on the roof that leaves no doubt what purpose the vehicles serves.

While a Veterans cab is also an obvious form of conveyance, when the toplight is off, they can almost pass for a regular car. Albeit one with an unusual paint job.

That’s not possible with Yellow cabs.

At night, the ad topper shines through the darkness like a klieg light. Even when I have a fare, people will flag me. Or just walk up and try to get inside. Whether I’m loaded or not …

A few weeks ago, I’m driving two ladies to the Haight down Divisadero, when a woman in front of Nopa starts waving at me. Since my toplight is off and there are clearly bodies in my backseat, I ignore her. But waiting for the light at Fell, I watch her cross the street. Making a beeline for my cab, she approaches the passenger side and opens the back door.

The girl behind me lets out a blood-curdling scream.

“What the fuck are you doing?” her friend shouts.

“Are you available?” the woman asks.

“Uh, no,” I tell her.

Seemingly unfazed by the reaction to her aggressive hitchhiking, the woman continues to hold onto the handle. “So… you’re not going to take me then?”

Before I have a chance to respond, my current fare wrests the door from her and slams it shut.

“Taxi!” the woman screams as I drive away.

Since you can’t really close up shop in a Yellow cab, it’s easy to feel like a public utility after a while. People seem to leap out of bushes when they spot you rolling down the street.

“I’m not going very far,” has become a familiar refrain lately.

“Can you make a U-turn? I’m just over the hill.”

On many rides, I’m lucky if the meter clicks more than twice.

But that’s not the worst part …

One night, I’m inbound on Market when a woman on the corner of Fifth Street flags me. She wants to go to the Hilton Financial.

“Can I borrow your phone to call my mother?” she asks.

“Uhhh…” I really want to say no, but can’t think of an excuse other than not trusting her. Reluctantly, I hand it over, but keep my finger on the door lock, just in case.

As I take a right at Fourth to get onto Kearney from Third, she starts talking excitedly to someone on the other end.

“Hey, Mom… I’m in a cab heading to the hotel… What? No, I’m on my way there right now… What do you mean? You’re at home? In Memphis? But… You’re not at the Hilton? I thought you said… But… You’re supposed to be here, in San Francisco… You told me you had a room at the Hilton… I’m almost there…”

Once it becomes clear that she’s not actually going to the hotel, I pull over.

“Mom, it’s so cold here. I just want to go home… I don’t have anything… Mom, please… Okay… I understand… Okay… Bye.”

While she sniffles, I reach back to retrieve my phone.

Sensing her reluctance to exit the cab, I wait a few more minutes before asking, “Do you want me to take you somewhere?”

“I can’t pay you,” she tells me.

“That’s okay. The ride’s on me.”

“I just don’t even know where I am right now,” she whimpers. “Can you please take me to Eddy and Van Ness?”

Along the way, I fight the urge to start a conversation, lest I end up giving her money. It’s not that long of a ride, but seems like forever with her gentle sobs in the background.

At Van Ness, I pull into the bus stop.

“Take care of yourself now,” I tell her.

She looks out the window for a long minute and sighs. Once on the curb, a man yells at her.

“Hey, baby! Where’d you get that taxi?”

I lock the doors and head into the night.

Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. His zine “Behind the Wheel” is available at bookstores throughout The City. He is a guest columnist. Write to Kelly at or visit

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