Turning down smaller fares pays off this time. (Courtesy photo)

Playing the taxicab hustle pays off with bigger fares


Last Thursday was my first taxi shift in two weeks. After failing to come up with my share of February’s rent, the powers that be, i.e., my wife, issued an official proclamation, stating that taxi driving shall no longer be considered a real job, and shall be referred to henceforth as my “hobby.”

According to this decree, I’m only allowed to “goof off in the cab” when it doesn’t interfere with Irina’s workload. Fair enough. Who am I to contest the will of the people? All I can do is hope business picks up when baseball season starts and the tourists return.

In the meantime, there’s the occasional convention. On Thursday, the IMB Think conference hosted a special event at Pier 39. More than 10,000 people were supposed to have attended. On top of which, Yellow had an exclusive arrangement to provide transportation for the employees staying out of town, issuing 1800 vouchers for rides to hotels in the Peninsula and East Bay that only Yellow drivers could accept. Since the prospects seemed decent, Irina granted me a temporary furlough to “work” that night.

Like almost every day this month, it rains. Traffic is a nightmare. Despite a late start, I scour the wet streets for rides.

Around 9:30, my dispatch tablet starts blowing up.



From SoMa, I deadhead to the Wharf. The sky is pissing rain. With the wipers slapping the windshield like a dominatrix on meth, I try to navigate the congestion of shuttles and buses among the hordes of Uber/Lyft ninnies doing their best to muck things up.

People are running everywhere, trying to find their drivers or take shelter.

On Powell, a guy with a lanyard bangs on my window. “Are you free?”

I lock the doors. Confused, he walks away. Another guy takes his place. I ignore him until he leaves.

Across the street, in the Yellow designated staging area, people in orange safety vests are yelling at me, “Yellow, over here!”

As more desperate conventioneers approach my cab, I pretend my English is too limited to understand them.

Do I feel sorry for turning down these bullshit fares? Not at all. Because no one is looking out for me. And if I don’t take care of number one, who will? I have a family. A child. But more importantly, a pissed off spouse. If there’s anything in this world that takes precedence over everything else, it’s pissed off spouses.

I finally make it through the intersection and pull up to a canopy where dozens of well-dressed conventioneers are crowded together. Someone opens my door and shouts, “You’re going to Concord,” like I’m the lucky contestant on The Price is Right.

First stop, though, is West Oakland, where the Polish couple in the backseat is staying at an Airbnb.

“It’s an interesting neighborhood,” the man says, referring to the homeless encampments.

“Looks nothing like it did on Google Maps,” his wife adds.

At the Concord BART station, the meter reads $92.05. The guy who’s worked at IBM for 28 years signs the voucher and gives me a $20 tip.

Even though this one ride covers my gate and gas, by the time I get back to The City, the rain has stopped, along with the fares.

Around 4 a.m., I start working the hotel lines. Friday is the last day of the convention, so there should be plenty of airport rides. Sure enough, at the Hyatt Regency, I get an SFO.

Racing back downtown, I cruise Third Street. All the hotels are stacked. As I pass The Palace, a cab loads. I quickly reverse into the stand. The guy on the throne waits with his trunk open. Within a few minutes, he grabs a suitcase from the doorman.

A Flywheel pulls in behind me. The driver gets out to investigate. I tell him the line seems to be moving.

Two more cabs load rapidly. Now I’m first up.

The Flywheel driver behind me honks at everyone who leaves the hotel.

I watch the foot traffic from BART in my side mirror, wringing my hands and chanting, “No BART rider. No BART rider,” like I’m trying to avoid a Whammy.

The Flywheel driver gets out of his cab again. He’s just starting his shift. I’m at the end of mine.

“I just want one more decent ride,” I tell him.

“I’ll get you something, brother.” He charges into the hotel.

A few minutes later he returns with a woman. I don’t see any luggage, but wait… is she wearing a backpack?

On my way to the freeway, a Flywheel pulls up next to me on Harrison, honking his horn.

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

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