I’m on 11th Street, waiting for the light to change at Folsom. Last call came and went, and I’ve been driving empty far too long. I watch the madness ahead of me, wondering why I even bother with 11th on Saturday nights. There are already several taxis lined up outside Audio and dozens of sedans moving haphazardly past double-parkers while young professionals frolic on the crowded sidewalks and girls in miniskirts dart out from between vehicles with their lit-up phones leading the way.
When the light turns green, I glance over at Oasis in case there are any last-minute takers and slowly advance into the quagmire.
Halfway down the block, I feel a thud against the side of my cab. I turn to see a guy wrestle the door open and climb inside.
“Jackson and Scott,” he says. “Please.”
“Sure thing.” I hit the meter, grateful for a decent load. At Harrison, I turn right and circle back to Van Ness on 12th. “So how was your night?” I ask.
“I don’t get it,” he replies. “Everything shuts down so early in San Francisco.”
“There are after-hour clubs.”
“Oh, I know about those places. Why can’t I just go to a pub and have a beer?”
“Sadly, that ship has sailed.”
“You’re a real asshole, you know that?”
I laugh. “Why, because the bars close at 2 a.m.?”
“Take me to Mauna Loa. They love me there. I bet they’re still open.”
“OK. But you’re going to look like an idiot standing outside a closed bar.”
“Don’t be an asshole! Just drive!”
“You know this is a taxi, right?”
“Of course I do!”
“OK. I’m happy to take you anywhere you want to go, as long as you pay me.”
As I race up Franklin, he apologizes for calling me an asshole and assures me I’ll be rewarded handsomely.
He’s originally from Madison, Wis., but moved to California from New York, where he was working in finance.
“Do you know how much money I made last year?” he asks, then immediately answers his own question. “Half a million dollars.”
It’s obvious he wants to hear himself talk.
“I’m not like these trust fund assholes around here. I come from a working-class family. I grew up poor. My parents were hippies. They ran an art supply store. When I was 10, they had to declare bankruptcy. I remember feeling scared that we wouldn’t be able to afford to eat or stay in our house. I was just a kid. But that feeling never went away. Which is why I went into finance. Because I’m good at math and I never wanted to feel like I did when my parents lost their store.”
As I drive down Union, I point out that all the bars and restaurants are dark. At Fillmore, I pull up to a shuttered Mauna Loa.
“See, I told you.”
“You’re an asshole. Take me home!”
On the way to Jackson and Scott, he keeps talking, telling me how he got into Harvard on a scholarship. Interned at some huge investment firm before landing a high-paying job at some other major investment firm.
When we reach his intersection, he directs me to a beaux-arts high-rise with an ornate arched entrance.
I stop the meter and turn on the overhead light.
“But after five years,” he continues, “I just couldn’t take it anymore. I was miserable.” He pauses. “Then, three months ago, I was managing this deal and I … I choked, I guess … Lost the firm so much money … I didn’t know what else to do, so I quit. Came here. Now I’m sleeping on my friend’s couch. I don’t know what I’m going to do next, but as long as I never have to work in finance again, I’ll be happy.” He goes silent for a minute. “Well, it’s been good talking to you.”
He extends his hand, and I shake it.
“See you later.”
As he opens the door, I yell, “Remember, this is a taxi!” I gesture toward the meter, which reads $15.05.
“Is that all you care about? Money?”
“At this hour, yes.”
He laughs and starts to walk away.
“So … you’re not going to pay me?” I call after him.
“Now who’s the asshole?”
He takes a few steps back towards the cab. “Did you really think I wanted you to be the only one?”
With that, he turns around, walks slowly through the lavish portal, struggles with his key a little at the door and disappears.