You know it’s a slow night when you decide to hit up Polk Street after striking out in North Beach. And you’re grateful two Irish guys flag you down at Sutter, even though they’re only going to the USA hostel on Post. A whopping $4.60 on the meter. Hey, that’s five dollars more than you had before …
As I pass through Union Square and cruise around SoMa, there’s a cab sandbagging every bar and club open for business. The only people out on the streets are lunatics, garbage pickers and Phonies so committed to getting wasted they party on a bullshit Thursday night.
Things go from bad to worse after my sweep through SoMa, and I’m contemplating a return trip to Polk.
Trolling for fares is a lot like finding a good fishing hole. When you get a bite, no matter how insignificant, you cast your line back in, ’cause you never know if you’ll reel in a big one, or just an old, crusty boot …
One night, I’m creeping down Polk and pass a bunch of people brawling outside Playland. Someone hails me and tells me to wait. It’s the bouncer, I realize, when he returns with one of the fighters and throws him in my backseat with a tremendous thud. Two guys climb in after him.
I’m about to go, “No way, dudes!” when the one up front says, “Emeryville.”
With the prospect of a $30 ride, I think to myself, maybe he’ll calm down now that he’s in a cab.
All the way across the Bay Bridge, he has a complete PTSD episode, crying and screaming, “I just want to kill the motherfuckers! I want to kill them all!”
Turns out, he’s a veteran of the War in Afghanistan, according to the guy in the passenger seat. Somebody pissed him off at the bar by talking shit about soldiers.
His other friend in back is trying to hold him down as he squirms and jerks back-and-forth, saying, “Fuck those guys, man. They don’t mean shit. You served your country. You did your job.”
“Raaaawwwwwrrrrr!!!!!!!!!!!!” the former GI howls out the window with the cold air over the Bay whipping at his face.
By the time we’re in the Yerba Buena tunnel, his unbridled anger is a loose live wire in my backseat. I’m putting the pedal to the metal. Sure, call me a reckless driver because I write about going fast, but when you have someone punching the back of your headrest and shouting, “Kill! Kill! Kill!” there is a definite need for speed …
Another night, I’m working Polk and a kid flags me at Sacramento. Climbs in my cab with one of those jalapeño hot dogs they sell on the street.
On the way to Glen Park, he sucks the dog down porno style and then passes out like a baby on I-280.
When I pull up to his house, he’s splayed out on the backseat.
“Hey man, you need to wake up,” I shout.
“No,” he mumbles and rolls over, as if I’m his mother trying to get him up to go to school.
Finally, I roust him, but he thinks he’s in an Uber and refuses to pay. I have to chase him around the cab with my Square reader out, threatening to call the cops.
“Dude! I know right where you live!”
After he agrees to swipe his card, he hocks a loogie on my cab and runs into his house …
Once I was on a round trip from the Fairmont at 1:50 a.m. with a guy who needed to hit a liquor store before they closed.
I roll up to Royal Liquors with three minutes to spare and hit the hazards while he runs in for his last-chance bottle. A Lyft pulls up right behind me. I move forward to give the driver some room to go around, but he just moves forward as well, creating a roadblock behind us that stretches all the way back into the intersection.
Everybody’s blowing their horns. A guy gets out of his vehicle to confront whoever’s causing the traffic jam. I’m about to meet him halfway and ask, “What, there’s no double-parking on Polk anymore?” But my fare returns, and I take off …
Then there was this other time I ended up on Polk at last call …
Ah, now that I think about it, I’m going to check out the Mission again. Maybe luck out with some taqueria cooks getting off work.
Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org and @piltdownlad.