The thin checkered line

For some stupid reason, I still start my shifts at Caltrain these days, even though the construction on 4th Street guarantees I’ll end up snarled in traffic. I guess I’m a creature of habit, but I also know there’ll always be a few people getting off the train who haven’t summoned one of the Uber-Lyfts that make up most of the vehicles in this quagmire on Townsend.

I inch forward slowly with steadfast determination toward the sanctuary of the taxi stand. After waiting only two minutes, I’m loaded and heading back into the maelstrom.

I try to squeeze in front of a Lexus, but the driver isn’t giving me any leeway, riding the bumper of a Honda ahead of him. When the light finally turns green, he lays on his horn as I try to get in between him and the Honda.

“Do you not understand how a taxi works?” I yell out my window and then mutter under my breath. “I hope the next time you’re in a taxi, some asshole prevents your driver from getting you where you need to go.”

I see an opening to the right and, like a running back fighting my way across the line of scrimmage, I seize the opportunity. The PCO directing traffic motions me through the intersection just as the light turns red.

So long, suckas!

“I don’t know how you guys deal with this traffic,” my fare says.

“Ah, you get used to it,” I respond nonchalantly, thinking of all the obstacles I have to circumvent to get from point A to point B — everything from construction zones to buses, shuttles, mainlining scooters, hell-bent bicyclists, lackadaisical pedestrians and motorized skateboards — and, in the process, somehow earn enough money to cover my expenses and maybe a little profit to pay my rent and buy food …

After dropping off at Perry’s on The Embarcadero, I turn onto Howard. There’s a hand in the air. Sweet! Going to 140 Montgomery. From there, the doorman at the Palace deposits a couple going to Pier Market in the back of my cab. When I pull up to Pier 39, I’m the only taxi around and a mob of people bum-rush me. Come to papa! The winner is a young Hispanic guy.

“22nd and Mission,” he says. “Can you hurry? I’m late for work.”

And just like that, my promising run comes to a screeching halt. Even though the taximeter is running as I struggle to get across The City, once I drop him off, I end up driving empty for 30 minutes before I’m back downtown.

Surprisingly, there’s a second flurry of business. The cabstands outside the Union Square hotels are mostly empty. The other taxis on the road have their top lights off. People everywhere are waving furiously. My backseat never gets cold. Things are going great and then, while I’m checking on the W, I hear hooting and hollering and music blasting. Fuck!

Critical Mass.

How thoughtful of them to take over 3rd Street, which is already a parking lot with Howard Street closed in preparation for Dreamforce.

Once they’ve passed, I head in the opposite direction and hear, “Taxi!”

On the way to Clipper and Noe, my passenger and I get into an argument about whether Market is better than Mission. I would’ve been right if several unmarked sedans weren’t cruising in the taxi lane and preventing me from getting through the lights. In the end, I can’t blame him for stiffing me on the tip …

Later, I’m hiding out in the cabstand at the Hyatt Regency listening to the ballgame. It’s the sixth inning and the Giants’ lead is widening as two runs score off Bumgarner’s double, and then Brandon Belt hits a three run homer.

Now, I just want to get to the ballpark and start picking up happy Giants fans.

I bail on the Regency.

On Sacramento, I get flagged.

“How’s it going?” the guy asks.

“The Giants just scored seven runs in one inning!”

“Oh, I’m just going up the hill to Powell and Pacific.”

Not a baseball fan. OK, no big deal. I drop him off and turn onto Broadway, where a couple is waving on the corner of Stockton.

“Haight and Baker.”

As I plan my trajectory through the Stockton tunnel to Sutter and over to Hyde, I see red-and-blue lights in my rearview.

“Now what?” I ask out loud and pull over to the right.

Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. Write to Kelly at or visit his blog at

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