The streets of San Francisco are ribbed for your car’s pleasure. And the massive potholes, some of which could easily qualify as ditches, are there to make sure you’re paying attention.
Out-of-town drivers, unfamiliar with the wretched condition of The City’s thoroughfares, probably think I’m just another reckless cabbie, based on my serpentine trajectory on streets like Mission, O’Farrell or California. Until, that is, they end up testing the limits of their shock absorbers on the trenches I’m trying to avoid.
It’s impossible to keep track of all the potholes. Even if you are able to memorize the egregious ones, and remember to swerve accordingly, new cavities emerge all the time.
Like the one I recently noticed on Third Street that exceeds the definition of a pothole and falls more into the category of a caldera.
On Friday night, I’m heading towards Market on Third, cruising along in the red carpet lane. Even though Dreamforce is over, there’s more commotion than usual downtown. The workers at all the Marriott hotels are on strike. Outside the W, they shake their signs at passing cars. Another rowdy group is assembled in front of the St. Regis.
I’m not about to cross a picket line, so I maintain a steady pace and try tocatch the light at Mission. Just past SFMOMA, a kamikaze Uber driver crosses multiple lanes of intermittent traffic, right towards me. Meanwhile, a pickup truck drifts suddenly into my lane.
I lay on my horn.
The striking workers, assuming the clamor is for their benefit, respond with a loud cheer and wave their signs with renewed vigor. In the furor of the moment, I forget about the pothole. By the time my headlights illuminate the crevasse, it’s already too late. The front end of my cab slams into the crater and I unleash a salvo of profanity.
Seconds later, a warning light flashes on the instrument panel. I pull over on Market and check the damage.
Fortunately, it’s just one tire. I find a safe location on Folsom under a streetlight. After replacing the blown tire with the donut, I race to the National yard, cursing my luck.
It’s been a crap week. Wednesday was dreadful. Thursday wasn’t much better. And now, at 9:30 p.m. on a Friday night, this happens!
Not only are the theaters about to break, my regulars will probably start calling any minute.
As if on cue, my phone vibrates.
It’s Richie Drano.
“Yo, I need a ride to North Beach and back,” he says. “You available?”
From the Mission, that’s a decent load. And Richie’s a great tipper. But if he
knows I’m in dire straits, he might cancel.
“Sure. Gimme a few minutes, okay?”
“Cool. Hit me back.”
That’s the thing about taking care of regulars, besides making sure they always get a ride, you never want them to think they’re jamming you up.
In the National office, David, the dispatcher on duty, reminds me that the garage is closed until Monday morning.
“Can I just take a tire off a spare?” I ask.
“I have no Fusion spares.”
After a few minutes of pacing, I start thinking aloud: “What about 1434?
Colin just took his medallion to Yellow. So they can’t run his old taxi – a Fusion – anyway. I’ll replace my blown tire and still have the donut …”
“That works, but I should call the manager,” David suggests.
“No need to bother him,” I say, rushing out the door. “We’ll just say it was an executive decision!”
I find 1434 in the crowded yard, surrounded by vehicles. There’s barely enough room to work. And it’s dark. Even though I have a flashlight, I can’t seem to position it well enough to see anything.
I keep fighting with the tire furiously, trying to lift it up and align the lug bolts. Sweating profusely, I shout at the sky, “Why is this goddamn tire so goddamn heavy?!?!”
After about 30 minutes, I’m tightening the lug nuts on my cab when my phone starts vibrating again. I fish it out of my pocket and hit speakerphone.
“You good?” Richie asks.
“Yeah. Just a little bump in the road. Be there in a flash.”
Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. His zine “Behind the Wheel” is available at bookstores throughout The City. Write to Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.idrivesf.com