Any which way but downtown

Last Friday, I start my shift like I always do these days: at the Hyatt Regency. And like most days, I circle the block four or five times before there’s room to squeeze into the line of cabs without blocking the bus lane.

Fortunately, demand is high. Within a few minutes, a large group of people are splitting their party into my taxi and the USA cab in front of me.

They’re going to Union Square, the kid in the passenger seat tells me. The adults have strong accents, and he’s obviously the interpreter.

Even though I’m not a fan of shadowing other drivers, I follow the other cab to keep everyone together.

When the USA driver takes a left onto Sacramento, I think, Good call. Up the hill to the Stockton Tunnel and we’re golden. But he turns onto Davis. OK, so Market then … That’ll work. At the light, though, he veers onto Pine. What the hell? Bad call, dude! Bad call!

It’s all I can do not to protest aloud. You can clearly see the traffic backed up on the incline …

As we approach Kearny, the USA cab cuts to the right. Going to California instead? No. Just trying to cut off some cars at the light.

While slowly ascending the hill, it’s apparent he plans to take Powell, which is, of course, jam-packed.

After little to no movement through several light cycles, I’ve had enough. I head to Mason and down to Post. As I make the left, I see the USA cab behind me.

I pull over before the corner and explain to the kid that the rest of their party will be along shortly.

“That’s Union Square,” I say, pointing at the giant Christmas tree.

Now, I’m in the thick of Yuletide insanity. As I consider my limited options, the St. Francis doorman’s whistle is like a foghorn in the brume, directing me into the cabstand, where fares are eagerly waiting. I get a nice couple from Redding going to Ruth’s Chris.

From there, a Flywheel order sends me to less congested pastures in the Castro. But it’s not long before I’m pulled back into the Union Square vortex …

Later that day, there’s another accident on 101 south. This week, a bus spins out of control on the hospital curve, sending dozens of people to the ER. Traffic is reduced to one lane for hours. The surface streets leading to the freeway are backed up, and the Central Freeway is like a noose.

I’ve been keeping my distance, which isn’t hard to do on a Friday night. But it adds to the collective sense of gridlock …

When a fare from the Symphony going to the St. Francis takes me back into the holiday battlefield, I fight my way through the merry quagmire.

While I’m attempting to escape on Geary before the light turns red, a guy taps furiously on my window.

“Go around the corner and I’ll pick you up!” I yell at him through the glass.

He keeps trying to get my attention. Then, I see his name badge. Another St. Francis doorman.

“You want an airport for $5?” he asks.


The passenger jumps in the backseat, and I pull up to the carriage entrance.

On Mason, my fare tells me he only has 35 minutes to make his international flight. There had been some delay at the hotel with some mistaken charges …

“Anyway, had I known …” he mumbles regretfully.

“There’s an accident on 101,” I inform him. “So I’ll have to take 280.”

“Yes,” he says. “I thought that was normal. 280 to the 380 …”

I shake my head. What have cab drivers been doing to this guy? “No, just 280 to 101. We’ll be fine from there.”

It’s a long way to 280 onramp, though. Sixth Street is a parking lot after Howard. And the guy is becoming increasingly nervous at each light cycle and no movement.

“I don’t think we’re going to make it,” he says.

“Sir,” I begin, “I’m a fast driver. I may seem reckless, perhaps, at times, but I’m always safe. If you’ll allow me to do my thing, I’ll get you there.”

Once he accepts my offer, I pull into the opposite lane of traffic and accelerate rapidly onto Folsom. After that, things get a bit murky … During a few rapid-fire lane changes through the construction zones on Fourth, the guy buckles his seatbelt five more times. There’s some honking and fist-shanking, and a couple lollygagging Uber drivers get butthurt when I cut them off … But I pull up to the International Terminal with five minutes to spare.

Now, I just have to figure out if I want to hide out at SFO for a while or head back to the madness.

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

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