After circumventing the 45 bus, the red carpet on Third Street is all mine.
With an eye out for any interlopers who think they’re clever enough to access the transit lane, I scope out the W. and St. Regis for potential fares.
At Mission, I see an outreached arm halfway down the block. I flash my high beams and go in for the kill.
“Clay and Battery,” the guy tells me, arranging a bunch of shopping bags on the backseat. “How’s your day going?”
Right as I’m about to respond, a van careens across three lanes of traffic, cuts me off and swerves towards Stevenson.
I hit the brakes and squeeze between the van’s rear bumper and the front end of the car next to me. “Ah, you know… Same old, same old.”
“Wow, that guy almost hit you!”
The real tragedy is missing the light at Market.
“Is traffic always this bad?” he asks.
“Eh. It gets worse.”
“I live in New York now,” he says. “Manhattan is massively congested. There’s a lot of traffic, and a lot going on with cars, trucks, buses, pedestrians, bikes and everything else. But people know what they’re doing. It’s almost choreographed. Here, it’s like complete chaos.”
“Driving a taxi in San Francisco isn’t really about driving,” I say, trying to sound like a sage cabbie. “It’s mostly about not hitting shit. Or getting hit.” “I’m from The City originally. Haven’t been back in over five years. It’s hard to believe how much things have changed.”
While stuck in traffic on Kearney, his bemused description of what he’s observed over the past three days quickly turns into an all too familiar rant.
At first, he compares the growing homeless population and shuttering of venerable businesses with the opulent new skyscrapers and the latest squeaky-clean transplants, then mourns the loss of familiar stomping grounds, the neighborhoods of his youth, overrun with crime and condos, before lamenting the privation of The City’s cultural relevance. It seems his homecoming isn’t anything to write home about.
“Before you stopped, two other cabs drove past me.”
“Their top lights were on?”
“Oh, sure. They slowed down, looked at me and took off.”
“Sorry to hear that.”
“Whatever. It’s not a big deal. But that never happens to me in New York. I’m just a little surprised. Since when did everyone here become so angry and self-entitled? I mean, look at this guy.”
He points towards a man who recklessly darts across Kearney, forcing cars to slam on their brakes and lay on their horns.
“And what about this crap.”
At Bush, several vehicles are blocking the intersection. More honking ensues as cars struggle to change lanes.
“If the Sentra couldn’t get through the light, why did the Range Rover think they could make it?”
“That boggles my mind constantly,” I say.
“But you know, the worst part of coming home…” He pauses and softly chuckles. “The whole time I was gone, I kept telling people how San Francisco is awesome and everyone’s friendly and welcoming. But I come back and realize my hometown is…”
“Not so awesome?”
“Maybe it’s always been this way and I just never noticed before.”
“I don’t know, man… sometimes you have to love San Francisco in spite of the flaws.”
At Clay, I take a right and drive in silence for the next few blocks. What else can you say?
It feels odd defending The City to a native, even though his opinion seems to be the dominant one among most San Franciscans I talk to these days.
You don’t really hear people call San Francisco awesome anymore. Except maybe the lucky few who can afford to weather these uncertain times.
With such a limited amount of resources and so much competition, it only makes sense everyone else would be on edge.
As we approach Sansome, the guy tells me he’s staying at Le Méridien. I try to access the hotel driveway but it’s blocked with cars. I pull up to the curb instead.
“Thanks for picking me up,” he says, handing me a $10 bill on a $6.80 ride.
“That’s all you.”
“Thanks and uhhh… welcome home, anyway, I guess.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.idrivesf.com