It’s Christmastime in San Francisco, and everyone is behaving like dogs. Must be that holiday spirit that compels folks to abandon what little civility they have left these days, along with all those pesky traffic laws.
Behind the wheel of my taxi, I do my best to steer clear of the pent-up motorists as I try to glean a little scratch before they lock the gates at National, the only cab company in The City that gives its drivers Christmas Day off to spend with family. Or get drunk at home alone.
Hey, it’s the thought that counts …
Downtown, there’s plenty of yuletide cheer. Market Street is decked out with festive lights and decorations. Westfield Mall is jam-packed, as is the Metreon. In Union Square, throngs of shoppers bum-rush Macy’s Great Tree to take selfies and watch the ice skaters.
I make my usual rounds, but all the hotel cabstands are choked with stalled taxis. Tons of people, but no hands in the air. Just faces in phones, wandering the sidewalks like automatons.
Elsewhere, The City feels vacant. From the Mission to Civic Center to SoMa, I chase any lead or sign of life.
As I pass the W, I scan the crowd on the corner. An elderly man lifts his cane. I pull over. He struggles to get inside the cab, a short delay that elicits an angry chorus of trumpets.
His response is intelligible. All I hear is Chinatown, so I take Third to Kearney. When I pass Clay, I try to get him to point me in the right direction.
“Straight? Left? Right?” He seems to like all these options, though.
I ask him again where he’s going. Sounds like he’s saying Montague. I pull over and check my phone. Nothing comes up.
I ask him to write his destination in my notebook. He jots something down, but it’s in Chinese.
On Broadway, I pull over in front of a pastry shop. The woman behind the counter translates what the old man has written.
“It’s on Grant,” she tells me. “Between Broadway and Pacific.”
I thank her and return to my cab.
“I found it,” I tell the old man, already outside. “Down this way.” I gesture toward Grant.
He shakes his head. Hands me a $20 bill. I give him 10 bucks change and watch as he waddles into traffic …
At 9 p.m., I still don’t have my gate. While I’m waiting outside the Safeway at Market and Church for a fare to do some quick shopping, a guy bursts out of the store and hightails it across the parking lot. Three security guards and a cashier are hot on his heels. The guy barely gets across the street before he’s cornered. The guards recover the contraband, as well as his backpack. They return to work nonchalantly. Just another night at Safeway …
Half an hour later, after almost getting creamed by a Lyft driver making a left turn from the middle lane, a Regents cab cuts across two lanes of traffic on Folsom to snake a fare right out from under me.
I pull up next him. “Really?”
The Sikh driver just smiles. “Sorry.”
At least he’s nicer than the Lyft guy, who responded to my outcry that I should show him respect since he’d been a Marine. I come from an Army family though. So, Semper Fi, my ass …
Still hoping for a Christmas miracle, I head to Nob Hill. Outside the Pacific Union Club, a valet summons me. I pull up curbside.
“Take these people to the Palace,” a woman instructs me and peels off a $20 from a roll of bills.
With a tip of the proverbial hat, I head to the Palace, where it’s all furs, bowties and long tail tuxes. I promptly dump my fare and race back to Nob Hill. But the woman with the $20 bills is gone.
As I’m crossing Van Ness, Artur announces a radio call for Pac Heights. I check in and get the order.
Outside a grand mansion, I pick up a lady going to the Palace.
“I’m running late,” she says after I mention I’d just dropped off there. Goes on to tell me about the Cotillion Club’s Debutante Ball, a fancy shindig for the San Francisco elite held each year in the Garden Court. Most importantly, the party is going until 3 a.m.
For the rest of the night, I work the event with Colin and a few other drivers in the know, ferrying the frocked and tuxedoed partiers home in the rain, until the crowd thins and we move on to a DJ club on Marin Street.
In the end, it was a good night. Not exactly a Christmas miracle, but still, better than a lump of coal.
Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. Write to Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his blog at www.idrivesf.com.