The long, cold winter ahead

http://sfexaminer.com/category/the-city/sf-news-columns/i-drive-sf/

If it’s raining in San Francisco, the world must be coming to an end. Which isn’t much of an exaggeration. Not only is Donald Trump our new president, but this has also been an absolutely brutal winter. Hardly a day above 60 degrees. Nighttime temps in the low 40s. And no end in sight.

I usually enjoy inclement weather, but enough is enough. I haven’t experienced a winter this unpleasant since the winter of ’99, when I was holed up in a roach-infested apartment in Birmingham, Ala. And it wasn’t even very cold that year …

Last week, my shift at Baby Co. was covered for a few days, so I took the opportunity to go to work. After all, diapers aren’t cheap.

On Wednesday afternoon, in the pouring rain, Colin and I carpool into The City. The high winds on the Bay Bridge blow water sideways. We crack the windows to release our cigarette smoke, but we’re immediately pelted with errant raindrops.

“We be Trumpin’,” Colin quips.

Out on the streets, I fight traffic as the storm gets stronger, until rain is coming at me from every direction.

In the melee, the dispatch radio blows up. Suddenly, everyone needs a taxi. Downtown, there are flags galore. For each fare I pick up, 20 more want in my cab.

Driving isn’t easy, though. The lines in the asphalt, already faded from disrepair, are barely visible. I’m practically steering from memory, trying to avoid cars coming at me on the wrong side of the road, running red lights, making illegal turns and generally acting like savages.

When it really comes down, there’s no civility or order. A perfect excuse to disregard traffic laws.

At 7:30 p.m., the rain stops abruptly, and with it, most of the business.

The mayhem, however, continues.

After dropping off a fare in Upper Market, I’m coming down Corbett when all the streetlights flicker out, and the houses go dark. In the Mission, scattered traffic signals are out. With no reason to stop, cars and trucks fly through the intersections.

That’s reason enough to call it a night …

On Thursday afternoon, I’m third in line at Caltrain. But nobody’s coming out of the station. According to Caltrain’s Twitter account, all northbound trains are delayed. Meanwhile, the waiting area is at capacity, and the crowd spills out into the rain.

I discuss the situation with some other cab drivers. Due to the massive delay, we figure, one or more of us might get a ride south. So we wait. And wait.

After 15 minutes, a woman walks up to my cab.

“South City Caltrain?”

“Hop in!”

Relieved to get a decent fare, I don’t hit the meter until we’re on Interstate 280. No sense trying to squeeze every last dime out of an unfortunate situation.

Later that night, there’s an Airbnb event at the Armory. I avoid the clusterfuck of Ubers and Lyfts clogging up 14th Street and try my luck with the SF Ballet Opening Night Gala at City Hall. Also a complete shitshow.

As the rain pours down, I fall in line with the other taxis to form an orderly staging area, only to be harassed by a bunch of nincompoop valets trying to figure out how to deal with the onslaught of equally confused ride-hail drivers.

In the hysteria, partygoers in tuxes and frocks wander between cars searching for their drivers. The valets chase us away, as if we’re the ones causing the backup of vehicles on Van Ness.

I decide to try the Polk Street side. At McAllister, I spot a guy on the corner with his hand in the air.

“San Bruno and Wayland.”

I take a right on Polk, past the disorganized rabble of unmarked sedans and head to the freeway …

The next day is Trump’s inauguration. Thousands of people brave the downpours to fill the streets in protest.

The mood in my cab is as gloomy as the weather. Each time I ask a passenger how they’re doing, I get a long sigh and then, “Not very good.”

Trump is now — gag — officially our president. And with the rainstorm at full tilt, it really does feel like the end of the world. And yet, there’s also a growing sense of solidarity.

“Now, more than ever, we have to stick together.”

It’s a common refrain expressed over and over as the night goes on. And as we prepare to weather this long, cold winter ahead of us, that’s something to look forward to.

Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. Write to Kelly at piltdownlad@gmail.com or visit his blog at www.idrivesf.com.

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