February is a bust.
I only worked three shifts this month. Which is the longest I’ve gone without driving a cab since getting my a-card four years ago.
Even when my daughter was born I skipped just two weeks. Of course, back then, with one source of income, we needed the money. And driving a taxi was still viable in 2017. Somehow. Despite the long, cold winter.
Two years later, in the midst of another long, cold winter, that’s no longer the case. Now you’re barely making minimum wage on an eleven-hour shift.
That’s why, when Irina landed a big project a few weeks ago paying five times what I make behind the wheel, it was a no-brainer who would be on toddler wrangling duty.
Instead of chasing fares on the streets of San Francisco, I’m chasing a naked two-year-old around the apartment, pleading with her to take a nap, as she screeches at the cat in the litter box, “Kitty go poo poo, Dada! Kitty go poo poo!!”
So it’s not much different from driving a cab in The City, really. Except the late night crowd tends to be messier and more demanding.
While nothing can compare to precious time spent with my daughter, after being home for a couple weeks, I start feeling out of whack.
The only thing worse than driving a cab, it seems, is not driving a cab.
Without that puny source of income, I can barely afford a pack of cigarettes, much less the rest of daddy’s little helpers.
Besides monetary deficiencies, there’s the boredom. I miss the action on the streets. Sometimes I miss the congestion. Although there isn’t much action lately, just lots of congestion.
It’s been a brutal winter. The relentless rain, flooding, wind and mudslides make it difficult to contemplate leaving the house, much less brave the elements and drive a cab through the mess.
Business is always bad this time of year, but it can still take you by surprise.
After all, taxi driving is a game of chance, guided by superstition and dumb luck. Facts and figures don’t really mean much when the only thing you can control is how you feel about the experience.
Each time you exchange a fiver for the key and medallion through the drawer in a Plexiglas window, you are the captain of your pain.
When it comes to the taxi business, accepting defeat is hard when success is rarely the norm. I’ve never worked so hard at something and yet failed so miserably before.
The fact that I’ve survived this long has more to do with stubbornness than anything else. Either that or just being really horrible at math.
It’s a testament to my poor arithmetic skills that I miscalculated how many columns I’ve written for the Examiner over the past four years. I thought this was number 199. But it’s actually my 200th column.
To celebrate the milestone, I had planned to write a scathing piece about the current state of the taxi industry with a grim appraisal for the future. But maybe it’s better I ended up with the wintertime blues instead.
After four years, this gig has taken a major toll on me, both physically and mentally.
The writing part was easy, I suppose. Although there were plenty of weeks that I really struggled to spin things in a positive light. Because even though driving a cab in San Francisco can really suck, I never wanted to bum anyone out.
There’s always hope.
There’s always a chance you’ll turn the corner one day and get a ride to San Jose. And they won’t balk when you timidly mention meter and a half. Or a fare will hand you a $100 bill on $15 and say, “Keep it.” Or you’ll be cleaning out your cab at the end of the night and find $1760 in a ziplock bag wedged between the seat and the door.
Anything can happen when you hit the streets in a taxicab.
So who knows where things will go from here. Although I can’t imagine doing this for another 100 columns, you never know… Life is full of unexpected booms, followed by just as many busts.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.idrivesf.com