San Francisco is like a drug. When it gets inside you, each moment is a revelation. Until things get ugly.
On Friday and Saturday nights, after the bars have dumped their cockeyed patrons onto the sidewalks and the feeding frenzy for rides is over, I look for a good cabstand. I used to work the Gold Club, but then I discovered the DJ venues.
Unlike the guys who frequent high-end strip joints and reek of alcohol and desperation, the passengers I pick up from places like the Cat Club and Mighty climb into my backseat with bottled water and cat-that-ate-the-canary grins.
Occasionally, they’re chatty. But it’s not easy having a conversation with somebody in the grips of a chemical high. One Saturday night, after listening to half the “Reign in Blood” CD while double-parked outside Public Works, my back door opens. A couple in their late 30s gets in.
“Seventh and Mission.”
It’s been a busy weekend for tourists, and I instinctively ask if they’re going to one of the motels there.
“No, my condo,” the guy says.
The woman laughs. “‘My condo.’ … You sound like a douchebag.”
“Hey, I’m too high for semantics.” He asks if I’m cool making two stops. They’re going to her apartment after picking something up at his place, which is actually on Natoma Street. He tries to give me directions. “Don’t worry. I got you.” I take a right on Eighth Street and a left into the one-way alley.
“See, he’s a real taxi driver,” the woman says. While the man runs inside, she asks me how long I’ve been driving a cab. “Almost a year.” I don’t mention that I did Uber and Lyft for most of that time. I’m not in the mood for another one of those discussions. “Where do you live?” she asks.
“Oh. That’s too bad. It seems like everyone is getting priced out of San Francisco these days.” She tells me about a friend who had to move to Oakland recently. “Now I never see her anymore!”
She continues to rant about displacement and gentrification until the guy returns. Then it’s on to the next stop.
“The Fox Plaza.”
I ask for the cross streets. They direct me up Seventh to Market and then onto Hayes.
When I see the high-rise apartment building on the left, I say, “Oh, I know that place.” I had picked up and dropped off there multiple times during my Uber-Lyft days. That’s why I don’t know the name of the building, just the pinned location in the app.
“You lie,” the woman seems to whisper. “No, really.” I laugh, thinking she’s messing with me.
I realize she’s not whispering. She’s seething.
Confused, I pull up to the front door. The fare is $9.55. She hands me a 20.
“Give me back 10,” she says, snidely. “You know, I would have given you a fat tip, but I don’t reward dishonesty.”
“What are you talking about?” I ask, dumbfounded.
“You’re a liar,” she snaps at me while getting out of the cab. “You said you were from here. That’s not cool, man.”
As I cruise down 10th Street, I try to process what just happened. I never said I was from San Francisco. In her drug-addled mind, she assumed I had been priced out because I live in Oakland.
Sure, before the wife and I moved to Temescal a year and a half ago from Los Angeles, we looked for an apartment in The City first. But, of course, we couldn’t afford anything. So while we may not have been priced out, we definitely are priced out. Is there a difference?
Yes, there is.
I can hardly blame the woman for getting angry. Even before the latest housing crisis, assuming the role of a native San Franciscan was tantamount to criminal activity. Now that the stakes are higher, it’s an outright sin.
At Howard Street, I wonder how many cabs are in the EndUp stand, but it’s late. And the woman’s scorn still burns. My head is dizzy and full of regret.
I hit the 101 and drive back to the yard. I’ve had enough San Francisco for one night.
Kelly Dessaint is a former Uber and Lyft driver turned taxi driver. In his real life, he’s the publisher of the personal narrative zine Piltdownlad and author of the forthcoming memoir “No Fun: How Punk Rock Saved My Life.”