When a bunch of cab drivers stand around talking, the conversation can be like a four-way stop. Everyone waits their turn, but it’s with a lead foot and a rolling stop.
The topic of a recent powwow was the news that a major medical association is moving their convention from San Francisco to Los Angeles, due to its members not feeling safe in The City, citing the blatant drug use on sidewalks outside hotels, the rampant mental illness on display 24 hours a day and the homelessness epidemic that’s only exacerbated by the futile efforts of the SFPD and the SFPW to somehow “sweep” them out of public view. “Futile” because human beings aren’t as easy to hide under rugs and furniture – or in this case, under freeway overpasses – like other things one might use a broom to eradicate …
“Can’t really blame them, though,” Artur says. “I mean, the city has become a shit hole.”
As taxi drivers, we see more than most of the city’s occupants. The average urbanite has the luxury of shielding themselves from the unpleasant realities of city life by not straying from their standard day-to-day trajectories. But when you’re job is moving people from one part of town to the next, it’s hard to avoid certain neighborhoods or streets, or intersections, or corners …
Still, as a way to offer a “no poverty” package, I try to use routes that avoid the more unpleasant sights. But now that everyone has GPS on their phones, you have to be careful not to seem like you’re running up the fare.
So when you pick up at the Orpheum on Market and your passengers are going to the Fairmont, what’s an honest cabbie supposed to do? Take Larkin, of course. Even though you risk exposing visitors to a long stretch of the Tenderloin and can only hope to make it through the timed lights, all the way to Bush, lest you end up stopped for the red at Geary, where the wall of the Motel 6 is one of the local crack depots.
It’s not easy to shield tourists from the madness of the streets. Try as you may.
Then there’s Turk Street, with the outspoken billboard on the corner, connected to the Kahn and Keville tire shop that Herb Caen once called “the world’s largest fortune cookie.”
After Trump got elected, the billboard seemed to reflect the collective despair of all progressive San Franciscans.
A quote from Lily Tomlin was a subtle dig at Trump: “Behind every failure there is an opportunity someone wishes they had missed.”
While the following one, “Where is Mark Felt?” was equally vague, but only insofar as most people had to Google “Mark Felt.”
The one that said, “Build the wall on the internet and make Russia pay for it” is my favorite from that time period.
As much as I’d like to point any of them out to my passengers, you have to be careful, though, in case the person you’re driving doesn’t share your political views. Yes, even in San Francisco. Shit, especially in San Francisco.
Like Artur said the other day, “This city has become a shit hole.”
— taken from the forthcoming zine Behind the Wheel 4: The Thin Checkered Line