It’s a cold, blustery evening in The City. As I wait for a red light to cut me some slack, a tsunami of garbage drifts through the intersection. Competing tabloids wrestle in the street, while crimson and ocher leaves, plastic bags and stained fast food wrappers egg them on like hype men in a rap battle.
Even though the rain has finally let up, the sidewalks are vacant and most of the bars are quiet. Not much traffic either, which makes waiting so long for this light to change all the more frustrating.
“Come on, signal,” I mumble out loud. “Turn green already.”
I’m not long for this shift. With only fleeting moments of demand earlier that have since become few and far between, I don’t see much promise in the small hours ahead. Or the next few blocks, for that matter.
Should I waste my time circling through SoMa? I wonder. Or take a right and go straight to the bridge instead?
When the light turns green, I make a left.
After finding no love on Eleventh Street, I turn onto Folsom. Outside The Willows pub, there’s an arm in the air.
From a distance, the guy looks like he just stepped out of a time machine. The first thing I notice about him is the mohair overcoat. Then he climbs into the backseat of my taxi and I catch sight of his crocodiles. Closing the door, he lays a cane topped with an ivory lion’s head across his lap.
The dude has style.
“Sac and Jones,” he says, removing the fedora to reveal a pale, baby face, with a little peach fuzz under his fleshy nose.
I head towards Seventh Street.
Along the way, the kid stares blankly out the window, tapping one of the rings on his fingers against the side of the door.
I consider striking up a conversation, but can’t think of anything better to say than what the silence already conveys.
After crossing Market, his phone starts chirping.
He hesitates before answering. “Yeah. Okay. You’re sure? Yeah, I’m sure. If you are… Okay. Great. See you soon.”
Sensing a change in our trajectory, I slow down as we reach Geary.
“Say, driver? Can we go back to where you picked me up?”
I make a quick left. “No problem.”
The kid fumbles with something in his pocket. After snorting something off his fist, he clears his throat.
“You wouldn’t happen to have an aux cord?” he asks.
“Sure.” I hand him the cable.
A few seconds later, the opening bars of a Chance the Rapper song comes through the stereo. I turn the volume up loud.
Heading down Hyde, the streetlamps flash through the windows like slow-motion strobe lights while the kid taps his cane against the floorboard along to the beat.
Approaching Folsom on Eleventh, the kids asks me to pull over.
“This is good right here,” he says, unplugging his phone and opening the back door in one fluid motion.
“Hey, wait!” I call out. “This isn’t an –”
Right as I turn around, the kid is holding his arm out, with a folded $20 bill between his fingers, like he’s about to perform a card trick. Before I can even reach for it, the bill is in my palm.
“Have a good night,” the kid says, closing the door.
He stands on the corner for a moment and adjusts his overcoat. Then strolls down the sidewalk to meet whoever was on the other end of that phone call.
I turn left onto Folsom. Despite the lack of optimism earlier, I decide to take a chance on SoMa before heading towards the bridge. Maybe I’ll get lucky and the lights will be on my side.
Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. His zine “Behind the Wheel” is available at bookstores throughout The City. He is a guest columnist. Write to Kelly at email@example.com or visit www.idrivesf.com