When the driving ends, the real slog begins


Sometimes it seems like your night won’t be over until you’ve crested all the hills in San Francisco and seen each low point The City has to offer.

And although you’ve driven these streets long enough to have memorized almost every pothole, the way the light changes, even at night, depending on the weather and the cycles of the moon, it’s like you’re taking it all in for the very first time.

And you’re feeling good tonight, jacked up on strong coffee.

And if you’re lucky, one ride follows the next, like jigsaw puzzle pieces falling into place. One minute you’re working the swanky hotels on Snob Hill, the next you’re dropping off in the oft-forgotten Bayview, where urban detritus collects like dust bunnies under a credenza.

And you’ve seen it all, cause you’re a cab driver, or at least you’ve seen most of it, although in reality, you don’t know fuck all. But tonight you’ll transport everyone, from the opera crowd in their frocks and tuxes to the skeezers heading to some fleabag in the Tenderloin.

And as it gets later, you’ll cruise Valencia looking for taqueria workers or millennials brave enough to take a cab. Maybe you’ll get a Daly City, a Lake Merced or a ride out to the Avenues.

And then you’ll race back to the Castro before last call.

And if you strike out there, you can head down to the Mission again, circling your way to SoMa, hoping for someone going farther than a few clicks past a meter drop.

And once the venues still open after 2 a.m. are backlogged with cabs and the streets are so lonely they make you weep, there’s nothing left to do but meander back to the yard, hidden among the deserted warehouses off Bayshore Boulevard.

And it would seem, now that your shift is over, that your work here is done. Soon, you’ll be home in Oakland, lying in bed, reading about the latest atrocities on Facebook. But you don’t have a car anymore. You lost that in the breakup. So you’re at the mercy of public transportation.

And since the first BART train doesn’t hit 24th Street until 4:20 a.m., you gas up at the Chevron where you don’t have to prepay, turn in your cab and wait outside the office smoking with the other drivers, building up a head of steam to make the 30-minute walk to the station.

And if the opportunity for a free ride comes along, you seize it. Otherwise, 10 minutes to the hour, you head down the alley to Jerrold, then under the 101, through the homeless encampment, past the tents and barely covered bodies sleeping on the cold ground.

And you watch your feet as they move across the asphalt, layered with decades of soot and human excrement, mindful not to step into anything fresh or stumble on the trash scattered among chucks of concrete, broken glass and discarded food.

And you march with determination to outmaneuver rats or anyone looking to mug a cab driver, that wad of bills you earned tonight hidden in your boot.

And you crisscross the neighborhood, quiet and spooky so early in the morning. Your shadow splits as you pass a streetlight, then it creeps back up on you at the next one.

And there’s just one car on the road. Yet somehow, when you step off the curb, it comes straight at you.

And in the distance, you see figures. No telling if they’re friend or foe, but you keep your hand in your pocket anyway, your apartment keys between each finger, in case you need to go Wolverine on someone’s ass.

And then, finally, you reach the BART station.

And you’re grateful the escalator is working so you can stand for a minute while you pull out your Clipper card. Even more grateful you have enough money on it.

And there are only two other people on the dais, but you don’t think about them cause you’re too exhausted.

And when your train comes, the wind almost knocks you down. The doors slide open. You find a seat that doesn’t reek of piss.

And you know there’s another 20-minute walk at the end of this train ride.

And those last 20 minutes are the worst. You dread them during the entire trip, holding your head in your hand with your elbow resting against the window as the train barrels underground.

And then it emerges into what’s left of the East Bay night.

And you’re almost home.

And that’s all you can think about until it’s time to make the final slog up Telegraph Avenue.

Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. Write to him at piltdownlad@gmail.com and @piltdownlad.

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