On Friday night, as the symphony and ballet are about to break simultaneously, I’m racing up Seventh Street, hoping to get a fare before there’s nothing left on Grove but a bunch of phonies standing on the curb and the usual swarm of empty cabs circling the area like sharks late to the kill.
Approaching Mission, a figure emerges from the shadows with his arm extended. I glance in the rearview. Since there are no cars directly behind me, I hit the brakes, expecting the guy to quickly jump into my cab. But he just stands there, until traffic catches up to me.
Then, out of nowhere, I’m blinded by a flash of light.
Two lanes over, a cop has his spotlight aimed at me.
“Why couldn’t you pull into that open space?” the officer yells through the window of his cruiser.
“What?” I respond, confused by the unexpected scrutiny. Despite overtly egregious infractions, the police usually ignore taxi drivers. Even if we’re in dire straits. My cab could be engulfed in flames while a deranged lunatic chases me around the wreckage, stabbing me in the neck with a rusty icepick, and the cops would just look the other way. So why single me out?
“You’re blocking traffic,” he points out.
I look over my shoulder at the dude struggling to open the backdoor. “I didn’t realize it would take him so long to get into the cab,” I yell back.
“Come on,” the cop says. “Use your head. You know better than that.”
Before I can defend myself, he speeds away.
Meanwhile, the guy who flagged me is still struggling to get inside my cab. Once the door is finally closed, I take off and ask him where he’s heading. All I can ascertain from his broken English, though, is that his destination is somewhere on Mission, and there’s a six involved.
“16th and Mission?” I ask, taking a left.
“No,” he slurs, repeating the numbered street a few more times.
“26th and Mission?”
“No!” He counts from one in Spanish. “Uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco… ¡seis!”
¿Seis y Mission?”
“But that’s only a block away.”
“Seis y Mission. Por favor.”
Muttering under my breath, I make a U-turn and, a few seconds later, pull over in front of Monarch.
“Seis y Mission,” I tell him. “¿Aqui esta bien?”
“¿Seis y Mission?”
He hands me a $20 bill and I give him $15 in change. In the process of tipping me a dollar, he tries to retrieve the $20 bill he just gave me.
“No, es mio,” I tell him.
He laughs. “Sí, es tuyo.”
After thanking me profusely, he exits the cab and I continue on towards Civic Center, mulling over the altercation with the cop. I can’t seem to get past the affront to my driving skills. Especially since I always make a concerted effort to pull over to pick up fares and avoid obstructing traffic. How was I supposed to know this guy, who looked perfectly capable of getting into a taxi, was going to be such a problem?
Ah, but I guess that’s why the confrontation stings so much. I screwed up by making that assumption.
Still, I can’t help but question whether or not I deserved the opprobrium when, less than an hour later, I’m heading west on Mission and end up stuck behind an Uber/Lyft driver blocking the transit lane.
I lay on the horn and he grudgingly progresses through the intersection. Since his window is down, I pull up next to him and say, “You can’t just block a lane of traffic.”
“Hey, go fuck yourself!” he shouts back.
During the rest of my shift that night, I encounter vehicles creating similar obstructions on Oak, Franklin, Pine, Hyde and Broadway. It happens so frequently that most drivers don’t honk their horns anymore. They just try to get around the obstacles as quickly as possible. Even Muni operators have given up trying to confront them.
So perhaps I should take the cop’s reprimand as a compliment. After all, he did say I should know better. And he’s right. I should know better than to make things worse.
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