The sun is already down when I wander into the National yard around 6 p.m. Inside the office, a driver is arguing with Artur about back gates he claims to have paid months ago, protesting vehemently that he shouldn’t be out of service.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” Artur drawls. “Pay the gate up front or you can’t work.”
“I’m going to Luxor then!”
The guy storms out. Artur shrugs and hands me the medallion and keys to 1164.
Ben’s on the radio. Spread out on the desk is an array of snacks: a round of cheese, some olives, a container of quinoa, a smoothie and an energy bar. Before he has a chance to offer me anything, the phone rings.
“Hank, what’s going on?”
“I need a cab to 22nd and Clement.”
I can’t tell if it’s his accent or the speakerphone, but the guy sounds drunk.
“Hank, do you really need a cab or you just lonely?” Ben asks.
“No, no. I need to be at …” Hank’s voice trails off.
“You’re not going to try to have sex with the driver, are you?”
“What? No! No! I’d never do that!”
“Hank, you tried to have sex with me last week.”
“No, no, no. That was misunderstanding. This time I’m serious.”
“OK, I’ll see what I can do.” Ben shakes his head and presses the microphone. “22nd and Clement, drivers. Regular rider. But no matter what the guy says, don’t go up to his apartment.”
Out on the streets, it’s cab versus cab. Winter is upon us, and there aren’t enough fares to go around. When competition is stiff, I’m usually the one getting stiffed. But tonight luck is on my side. Sort of …
I’m inbound on Market. At Guerrero, a Luxor, a Citywide and a Vina are already waiting at the signal. Toplights blazing. When I roll up, two girls charge across the street from the Orbit Room and jump into my cab.
“We’ll be right there,” one screams into her phone. “We just got in an Uber.”
Later, outside the W hotel, I pull up next to a Citywide. Out of nowhere, a guy makes a beeline for my cab.
“I’m not going far,” he says. “Do you know the Mint Plaza?”
I might feel bad about sideloading if the fares weren’t all crap.
After a futile loop through the Financial, I’m outbound on Sutter. There’s a Flywheel cab in front of me. Toplight on. Which doesn’t mean shit anymore. Even though their fancy new TaxiOS meters are supposed to revolutionize the taxi industry, they still haven’t figured out how to make the toplight go out automatically when they have a fare.
As we approach Stockton, the Flywheel moves to the center lane. I pull up next to him at the light. When the doorman at the Grand Hyatt blows his whistle, my Pavlovian response is to inch forward. I look over at the Flywheel driver. He’s actually empty, glaring at me. I can tell he’s salivating, too.
He may have been in pole position, but he changed lanes. That fare is mine. He’d have to do something cra—. What? He’s got his left turn indicator on? Oh, hell no! I inch forward. He inches forward. I inch forward a little more.
When the light turns green, I gun it and pull up to the hotel with the Flywheel hot on my tail. Sorry, Charlie. I avoid eye contact as he drives away.
The doorman deposits an older couple in my backseat and yells, “Castro!”
They’re friendly and chatty. Visiting from Wyoming. After laughing at me for complaining about the cold, the man clears his throat.
“So, can I ask you a question?”
“I know it can be awkward to discuss these things …” The man pauses.
“What’s it like living in a sanctuary city?”
Oh, and I thought it would be a different proverbial question.
“Well, we certainly don’t have to worry about talking politics here.” I laugh.
Later that night, I’ve been driving empty too long. I pull into the taxi stand at the Palace to take my foot off the gas pedal. Within a few minutes, I’m loaded and on my way to Ozumo on Steuart.
As I make the turn onto Market, the guy in back clears his throat.
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure,” I say, ready to make a joke about a registry for Trump supporters in San Francisco.
“Do you know a good strip club?”
Oh, that proverbial question!
Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. Write to Kelly at email@example.com or visit his blog at www.idrivesf.com.