Jesse Fuente is a worldly gentleman and what my mama would call a “city jewel”—he’s been driving a limousine in San Francisco since 1973. That’s a 41-year career. Before that, he drove professionally in Italy, Switzerland, and France.
Originally from Spain, Fuente is likable, positive, conversational, and intelligent. Our brief conversation meandered from evolution to dogs to life after death to Spain under dictator Francisco Franco to San Francisco. Clearly, this is a man you need to meet.
How did you start driving?
I have driven in San Francisco continuously for more than 40 years. I actually drove professionally for the first time in 1966 when I lived in Italy. There were no jobs then, and I didn’t have a driver’s license. But I had the opportunity for a job, to drive for someone, and so in 8 hours, I was able to get my license. This was 1966, in Genoa. I drove for the British consulate’s daughter’s wedding. It was a black Fiat 1000 or something.
How did you come here to the States?
I came here 44 years ago, in 1970. I came to the US for a teaching conference, and then I became a teacher here. I taught Latin. I was a philosopher. I like seeking answers right up to the last and final why. But I went into driving after three years of teaching. I liked it. I thought I might do driving tours. I worked for other people, other companies, and then I started my own business. Best thing I ever did. When I started my business, I moved back into the city. I live in the Mission district.
Architect Arthur Gensler. Dionne Warwick. Canadian prime ministers. Kings and queens and all their lackeys in between.
Once, I was driving a Canadian prime minister. And the entire trip back to the airport, she is on the phone talking to someone about how she’s misplaced her house keys and she doesn’t know how she’s going to get inside her house. And I am thinking about how, when people like this arrive home, a band of trumpeters must be at their door to welcome them. How these people have every privilege, and here is this woman worried about her lost her house keys and how she’s going to get into her house. People are people; we are all the same.
How has the SF changed over the years?
Oh, in many ways it is better. It is safer, cleaner, better organized. But the traffic is worse and housing is so expensive. You have to rent your family out to strangers for your housing. And taxes are high.
What’s your favorite city park?
Dolores Park. Dolores is Our Lady of Sorrows. The park is two blocks away from the Mission Dolores, which was built in 1776. It was devoted to St. Francis of Assisi. And it’s still there, or part of it. The rest of San Francisco spanned out from that building. I like to go to Dolores Park two or three times a week. I feel very lucky to have this beautiful space in my neighborhood.
I go to Twin Peaks if I'm seeking a solitary place. Or again, my little Dolores Park in Mission District. I like to bring a book on a sunny day.
Seafood and shellfish…cioppino or bouillabaisse. There are so many good places in town.
I like to go to a place in my neighborhood. Not a fancy place. I’d rather not say. It’s not… really for tourists.
What advice do you give visitors to the city?
First I would give them a map of the city. I would give them an overview to the different areas. I would take them on a short city tour and point everything out. Then I would find out more about what they like to focus on…maybe it’s cuisine or nature. Whatever it is, I could come up with places to take them. I have taken people on thousands of tours of the city.
How many miles do you drive a year?
I used to drive 100,000 miles a year. Now, I drive only about 25,000. The industry has never recovered since 9/11. I lost easily 90% of my business then. Now, I wouldn’t want to work that hard anyway. My time is more limited and now I want to focus on knowing where I came from and where I’m going.
Visit Jesse’s website, http://www.limobyjesse.com/index.html.