Originally appeared in the S.F. Examiner on Mar. 5, 2020.
With the RSA conference in town last week, The City finally felt alive again. After weeks of struggling to survive, there were finally enough people with expense accounts willing to take taxis.
On Wednesday night, numerous RSA-related events were happening throughout Union Square and South of Market.
At 10 p.m., I’m on my way to check out a corporate sponsored concert at August Hall when I see an outstretched arm by The Donatello.
I quickly pull over. In the side mirror, I watch a man say goodbye to a woman. A few minutes later, though, she follows him to the cab.
I can tell right away things aren’t what they seem…
“Where to?” I ask.
The man is staying at the Hotel Zephyr. As I start to pull away, he asks the woman where she’s going.
“Let’s get something to eat,” she suggests.
“To be honest, I’m not hungry,” he replies.
“Well, we could go have another drink and just order appetizers.”
I drive slowly, waiting to hear her destination.
“Honestly, I just want to go to sleep,” he tells her. “Where’s your hotel?”
Clearly, he isn’t interested in prolonging things, but she doesn’t seem to be taking the hint and keeps recommending restaurants.
“I just want to go home,” he says firmly. “Please, tell the driver where you need to go.”
“If we’re not having dinner, then I’m going home!” she snaps and gives me an address in the Mission.
In a flash, her convivial tone becomes hostile. She accuses him of misleading her. “You lied to me. You said you were separated from your wife.”
“I never said that,” he tells her. “I don’t know why you think that.”
“You’re not wearing a wedding ring,” she points out. “Let’s ask the driver. Sir, what is your take on this?”
“Hey, I don’t know what’s going on. You guys just got into my cab a few minutes ago.”
“Great. That’s just perfect.”
I turn left on Jones and take Market to 11th. Along the way she berates the man relentlessly. Grateful not to be a target of her vitriol, I drive as quickly as possible.
The man reluctantly defends himself, almost humorously, while her attitude shifts from outright rage to bemused indignation to threats of legal action.
Waiting for the signal to change at South Van Ness and Mission, I curse the brutal light cycle. The woman’s anger escalates while the numbers slowly descend.
Once the signal turns green, I take off and manage to catch the light at Division and through 15th, then white-knuckle it the rest of the way to 24th Street.
In front of her building, I turn on the overhead light.
“Can you walk me to my door?” she asks me.
I open the back door and help her collect belongings. At her front gate she stumbles and grabs my arm.
“Do you have your keys?”
She reaches into her purse and then sighs hopelessly. “I must have lost them somewhere.”
“No!” I grab her purse and start feeling around inside for anything resembling keys. As I rummage through her possessions, she suggests possible hiding places while continuing to insult the man.
“Try the side pocket. Or the front. You know, he’s probably going to stiff you. I know his type.”
I unlock the gate, hold it open for her and help her up the stairs to the front door. Once she’s inside, I hand her the keys and rush back to the cab.
Driving away, I ask the man, “What was that all about?”
“I don’t know!” he exclaims. “I only met her five minutes before we got in your taxi. I was leaving the restaurant and she grabbed my hand and demanded I help find her purse. She was obviously drunk and I only wanted to help. I didn’t realize I’d be taking her home.”
At this point, the meter is at $18.35 and we have a long way to go before reaching his hotel in the Wharf.
“You’re alright paying for this ride?”
We agree it was imperative to make sure she got home, given her condition.
“I’ll just get my company to pay for it.”
[Image from the San Francisco Postcard Collection – Street Scenes from Behind the Wheel.]