Colors abound on Pride in The Castro. (Courtesy Douglas O'Connor)

The freak show before Pride

Every year, it takes me by surprise …

While dropping off Mr. Judy last Wednesday, I notice a scraggly-haired dude and two girls with shaved heads walk past the bar and can’t help but stare. They’re sexually ambiguous and rough around the edges, all tattooed and dressed in black T-shirts, denim and leather. The kind of freaks you don’t really see in San Francisco anymore.

“Look at that,” I say. “Where did they come from?”

“I don’t know,” Judy responds, equally transfixed. “Maybe we should find out where they’re going.”

A short while later, I’m picking up Simone at Lucky 13, tying to make sense of the latest parking restrictions on Market, when I spot some more freaks.

“What’s going on?” I wonder.

“Are you serious with this shit?” Simone asks with a cackle. “It’s Pride. Hello?”

Oh, that’s right.

“This weekend is going to be a shit show,” she says bitterly. “And I have to work.”

“Well, at least they’re enriching the cultural landscape for a few days.”

“Fuck that,” she snaps back. “I need to make some money.”

On Thursday, the streets are filled with people, freaks and non-freaks and everything in between. Anticipation for Pride is like a jungle beat in the distance.

That afternoon, I head to the airport to collect one of my regulars, C-Note.

Since it’s illegal for a taxi to pick up at SFO without going through the holding lots, I park in the garage and spend the next 20 minutes wandering around the crowded International Terminal trying to connect with C. through our iPhones.

“According to the dots, you should be standing right in front of me!”

Well, maybe if we were on the same floor.

Walking to the garage, C-Note asks, “Is this Pride weekend?”

“What gave you that idea?”

“Uhm, for once I wasn’t the only weirdo on the plane.”

On Friday, though, the vibe shifts. The freak show devolves into more of a spring break environment. By Saturday, The Castro is like Panama City Beach.

Fortunately, I have my regulars. Previous experiences with Pride have been major disappointments and consisted entirely of driving around empty past hordes of revelers until Uber starts surging or phone batteries die …

On Friday night, while working SoMa, two guys in leather flag me at 12th and Folsom. They’re heading to The Castro. Along the way, one guy tells me he lived in here 12 years ago, hasn’t been back since and he’s shocked by how much The City has changed.

“What’s up with all the straight girls in gay bars?” he wants to know. “And these kids… They have no style. Look at them, wearing hoodies and Dockers.”

“Where do you live now?” I ask.

“Northern Canada.”

Before I can inquire further, we pass Beaux and the massive queue outside elicits another tirade.

I desosit them at the bus stop on Castro and slowly merge into traffic, hoping for an immediate load. But there doesn’t seem to be much demand for taxis, so I head back to SoMa.

Cruising down 18th, I think about what it must be like for those guys living in Northern Canada, which seems very remote compared to life in San Francisco. What’s it like being gay there? Do they have a leather/bear scene? Insanely curious, I wish we’d talked about that instead of bitching about how corporations and straight people have infiltrated Pride.

Sure, I know it’s hard not to feel disillusioned with the way things have changed, and almost impossible not to complain about it, but while airing grievances, so many interesting stories and potential connections get lost …

I work all night and into Sunday morning, finally turning in my cab around 7 a.m., then jumping in the back of another cab to the 24th Street BART station.

As luck would have it, even though the trains are out of whack, there’s one bound for MacArthur, which is my stop. When we pull into the station, the doors slide open and an army of rainbow-clad suburbanites charge onto the train, preventing me from exiting.

“Hey!” I shout. “You have to let people out first! What the fuck? Get out of my way!”

On the platform, I look back at the crowded train that was empty a few seconds ago and shudder. For once, I’m grateful to be at the end of the line.

Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. His zine, “Behind the Wheel,” is available at bookstores throughout The City. Write to Kelly at or visit his blog at

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