Driving around The City when it's empty is especially satisfying. (Courtesy Trevor Johnson)

Flogging a dead taxi shift


Two weeks ago, my wife flew to Los Angeles with the baby to spend the week of July 4 at her parents’ apartment in West Hollywood and visit friends and family. After dropping them off at Oakland Airport, I came

home and stood in the kitchen, pondering the list of chores Irina had made for me and thinking about what to do instead, now that the place was all mine for six and a half days. … With some cash in my pocket, a stocked fridge, two packs of American Spirits and a car full of high-octane at my disposal, my options seemed limitless.

My first thought was sleep. Oh, sweet slumber. Long stretches of uninterrupted shut-eye are one of the great luxuries of a childless life. And in between naps, I could relax in the bathtub while reading a book. Then go

totally nuts and spread out on the couch in my pajamas. Binge watch all the movies and TV shows people have been talking about lately. Do we still have a Netflix account? Hell, I could sign up for all the on demand services – maybe even get free trials for the month – or just go to Amoeba and buy a stack of cheap DVDs …

Thinking about this possibility for a few minutes, though, it occurred to me that sleeping and watching TV was a complete waste of my temporary bout of bachelordom. I needed to take full advantage of the solitude and do something else that’s even more difficult to do with a baby around: write.

By the time Irina and the baby get back, I could probably finish editing the text for the new Behind the Wheel zine, most of which is already written, and perhaps fine-tune the layout and have the zine ready for the printer at the end of the month.

Not only a brilliant use of the free time, a huge accomplishment as well. It’s been over two years since the last issue came out.

Mind settled, I glance at Irina’s list of chores, crumple up the paper and toss it onto the table. How’s that for expressing my freedom?

Grabbing my smokes and a hoody, I go out back to make a list of which sections of the zine need to be edited, what parts need to be rewritten and what’s completed.

Thirty minutes later, back in the kitchen, I’m smoothing out the wrinkles on Irina’s list and getting ready to head to the National yard, where 233 is waiting for me.

It’s July 4. And when the fireworks and explosions begin, there’s no other battlefield I’d rather be in than the one in San Francisco. I can write tomorrow. Or the next day…

Which was just wishful thinking. Not only did I work July 4 and the next day, I covered each one of my four scheduled shifts.

Despite the lack of business. Despite the empty streets, void of nightlife. Or even many signs of life. Despite the fact that none of my regulars called. Or that my phone hardly vibrated at all that week.

Holidays and San Francisco aren’t a good combination when you’re trying to make money as a taxi driver. But I’m a glutton for punishment. And I prefer The City when it’s quiet. That’s why I usually drive into the morning light, when hardly anyone else is around, just a few stragglers wandering through the deserted metropolis, and all that’s left to do is carve your name into the asphalt with the wheels of a taxicab. That’s when The City belongs to me.

Some may call it a waste of time. Others, a time of waste. But there will always be an occasion for writing and making zines, for sleeping or watching TV.

Burning Man is on the horizon. Once again, The City will go dark. During the last week of August, the top of the Salesforce tower might as well be illuminated with the notice: “SORRY, WE’RE CLOSED.”

When most of San Francisco’s denizens go on vacation, being in San Francisco is like being on vacation.

Still, some of us will be on the job. Even though an empty city is not great for the bottom line, someone has to fill these shifts. It’s not like the taxis can drive themselves.

Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. His zine “Behind the Wheel” is available at bookstores throughout The City. Write to Kelly at piltdownlad@gmail.com or visit www.idrivesf.com.

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