“Even though baby time is definitely the best time, my yen for the streets hasn’t dissipated.” (Courtesy photo)

The lure of taxi driving is no match for a newborn


It’s been more than two weeks since I last drove a taxi. I’ll be on paternity leave for a little while longer, until life with a newborn becomes less of a freak show. Or the money runs out …

I’m not used to taking this much time off. I’m starting to worry I’ll forget how to navigate the maddening streets of San Francisco once I get back to work. I mean, what happens when I pick up my first fare at Caltrain and they’re going to, say, Hyde and Vallejo, and I totally blank on how to get there?

Is cab driving like riding a bike?

Hell, I don’t know if I can still ride a bike.

In the meantime, I’m on diaper-duty. And between feedings, I cradle little Tèa and entertain her with my best Charles Mingus impression.

While baby and mom sleep, I sit at the kitchen table and listen to the new neighbors upstairs, the Clompers, move around their apartment. On Shattuck Avenue, right outside my window, vehicles collide with a massive pothole. Da-DUNK! Da-DUNK! The other night, I borrowed a safety cone from the construction site on the corner and covered the gaping crevasse in the asphalt, but the next morning it was gone. Now, I’m resolved to the Da-DUNK! Da-DUNK! followed by what sounds like furniture breakdancing above my head.

In the distance, the lights of The City beckon me …

Even though baby time is definitely the best time, my yen for the streets hasn’t dissipated.

San Francisco is my beat. If I’m not making my rounds, I feel left out.

Without a doubt, holding my daughter is the greatest sensation I’ve ever experienced, as trite as that may sound. When she passes out on my chest, it’s like a warm compress over an old wound that never healed right.

Still, I miss the hustle. The taxi life. My friends. My regular riders. Even the lunacy that lurks in almost every shadow at night.

I think about National 1462, my new regular cab. Have they fixed the backseat? What about the broken speaker?

Where I live in Oakland, I’m never far from cab driving. Since Temescal is an Eritrean and Ethiopian neighborhood, there are plenty of taxis around. San Francisco taxis. Oakland taxis. Berkeley taxis. The Peet’s parking lot a block away from my place is always full of cabs.

At Safeway the other night, I approached a Citywide driver.

“Hey! I drive for National!” I shout way too enthusiastically. “How’s business tonight?”

“Err …”

I’ve started doing what I constantly tell Colin not to do when we stop for gas at the cheap Arco on 51st and run into San Francisco cab drivers. Most are foreign and fail to understand why a tall guy with long white hair is yelling and gesturing at them wildly.

“I’m just being friendly,” Colin says.

I know that. But do they?

Well, now I’m accosting strangers, too. Just trying to be friendly!

A Comfort driver hangs out at U&I, the liquor store on Telegraph. We usually chat when I stop in for late-night provisions. Like most cab drivers, he’s a talker. An airport player. Never fails to tell me about his long rides from SFO. After I mention why I haven’t been working, he describes his daughter’s birth at Highland Hospital 18 years ago. His eyes glisten with pride. Then, he proceeds to force advice on me until DJ, the “I” in U&I says, “Don’t listen to that fool!” laughs and completes my sale.

Of course, Juneaux provides regular updates on the action via text messages. He relates his frustrations on slow nights and details crazy rides or rides that end in a windfall. I send him baby pictures. All I have to discuss on my end, besides overwhelming cuteness, is projectile pooping.

Once in a while, I check the Hackers group to get the pulse of The City. To see what’s breaking. Or how long the wait is at SFO.

If I get too antsy for the taxi life, though, I just look at my daughter’s sweet, innocent face or gaze into her big eyes full of wonder, and the outside world melts away. I think to myself, “Who am I kidding? Drive a taxi? In this weather? Fuck that noise. I’m staying home with my little girl and working on my John Coltrane.”

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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