Ganny & the Stormtroopers

SFO CAbbie Underworld


I wake before my alarm today, relaxed.


And this time, it’s a good “OM”! My last shift, I was way busy with a bunch of locals (in-town runs). But the real red meat was a ride I took to Redwood City. That’s meter and a half!

(If the ride takes you more than 15 miles from San Francisco’s City Hall, MTA rules sees the driver charging meter and a half. The logic being that the driver and passenger should split the gas and time down due to the return trip.)

Anyway, I walked away with $285! Tony Jr. was working check-out at the bullet-proof glass in the afternoon, and there’s a new deal where drivers can pay gate (cab rental) out of their day’s Cabulous take. Needless to say, Tony Jr. was pretty impressed after he saw that I still had around $210 set to hit my bank account (via direct deposit) AFTER paying gate!

Yup, today will be gravy.

Note: It should be noted that Cabulous was all savvy in rolling out this new amenity by announcing in the same breath that it’s raising their take from 10% of a driver’s meter to 12.5%. But this is solely to cover credit card processing fees, mind you. So, I guess it’s ok. I’m sure this private, for-profit corporation that boasts 80% of San Francisco’s cab fleet as dependents (which has recently hired a new CEO known for taking companies public) will keep its take limited to 12.5% now… completely out of fairness to its drivers, of course.

• • •

I’m rolling into the Citizen’s Cab lot for work, finally, after a bit of a stall on 101 south at Hospital Curve. There was a six car pile-up involving two 18-wheelers, an UberX Prius, an Uber Town Car, a minivan (not mine, thank God) and a non-commercial sedan. It was quite a scene, as the debris and carnage were scattered across all four lanes of 101, as all of us early morning commuters had to weave around flares, merge lanes, and stop on and off for the tow trucks, police, and emergency crews, etc. to do their business.

As I meander across the cab lot, pre-caffeine, a loud scuffle catches my attention. An international scuffle, at that! Forget Pacquiao vs. Mayweather! It appears that some Chinese man (who I do not know) is deep into a screaming match with Goodluck – a sweet, veteran West African driver. I can’t totally tell what it’s all about. But it looks like it may be a parking dispute, with the Chinese man parking his personal car in the lot right behind Goodluck’s cab as he was trying to go out?

Anyway, they’re screaming at each other something fierce, which is highly unusual. We Citizen’s Cab drivers generally see each other as on the same team and are usually pretty chummy – what with birthday parties, lot BBQs, charitable fund-raising for hospitalized drivers, and the like. I can’t say that I’ve ever, in my five years driving, seen a shouting match like this. Oh well. In any event, it’s too early for this, so I just walk around the Chinese man who’s pointing in Goodluck’s face screaming, “Yu I-di-Ot! Yu I-di-Ot!!” over and over. And I head back towards the office… for 137’s key and medallion.

But as I do, Sammy (the blonde rocker) is heading out of the office with another driver, and the jump starter in hand. No! Not again!


Sammy no doubt locked the office door again. I’ll be stuck waiting for my key and medallion for another fifteen minutes for no good reason! But alas, as I peek down the hall, I can see that the door to the office is cracked, ever so slightly. It’s open! Yes! Maurice (a new transplant from Arrow Cab) is covering at dispatch! I go in and head back to the pegboard full of keys and medallions. I grab 137’s goods and roll back out into the lot.

I pass Sammy as he’s jump starting 852, throw him a five and keep moving, lest he protest!

However, Sammy doth NOT protest. (Whew!) But he does yell over the din (of the fight for the title) as I walk away, “What cab ya take, Sack!!”

“137!!” I return. “I’m always 137!! Unless she’s shopped!!”

And Sammy comes back positive, “Ok, Sack!!”

I think Sammy and I are now getting our groove on. See, change ain’t so bad!

As I get into my regular Prius – 137, I catch the Chinese man suddenly snap, as he jumps into a full Kung Fu stance, poised at Goodluck like a spring! He ups the ante by now waving his deadly (presumably, registered weapon) open hand in Goodluck’s face, like Bruce Lee challenging Kareem Abdul Jabar. With increasing intensity, he screams “Yu I-di-Ot! Yu I-di-Ot!!”, now with the addition of “Com on!!! Com on!!!”

I find that the Dutchman is also getting into his cab – 2973, adjacent mine. And similarly, he is going about his own business, ignoring the big event. I turn to my septuagenarian driver friend who hails from the Santa Cruz Mountains (by way of Holland) and solemnly query aloud,

“Why can’t we all just get along?”

And, right on cue, Goodluck turns his back to the Chinese man… and walks away. The Chinese man force bellows a hearty “HA!” at his win, as he walks off to his corn — er… cab — hurling one last “Id-I-Ot!”
I’m post-Starbucks and rolling the Upper Haight, bathing in San Francisco’s only Classical station – 90.3FM, as they’ve just indulged me in a very soothing classical guitar piece. Hoyt Smith (the DJ) is reading off the weird news of the day, as he always does. He caps it by saying something about “May the fourth be with you!”

Suddenly at Ashbury, a scene in the crosswalk catches my eye. Hey… What the hell is that! Wha?? It’s a gaggle of Star Wars Stormtroopers making their way down Haight Street in the breaking dawn. Well, I guess this is San Francisco. Whatever.
Maurice at dispatch has been calling out for a short shift. And every time he does, it gets harder to resist calling-in and taking the half-day bait. Yeah, I wanna go home! But rent’s due. I’d probably only walk away with $30 after the reduced gate. (Ugh.) I stay the course.

What makes matters worse is that you always wonder if today will be the day you kill… or get killed! You wonder if that beckoning short shift offer wafting over the CB radio is really a message from God, one you’re ignoring at your own peril. I think this every time. And one time, I will be right.

• • •

“Cha-ching! – 1240 Golden Gate. Ganny. Dispatch.”

Well, yes. I ‘Accept’.

This is an addict recovery and hospice home that daily offers us Citizen’s Cab drivers worn-out raspy-voiced recovering dregs on the dole usually heading en masse to get their methadone and/or cancer treatments over at SF General. And they always pay with Paratransit, with is neither here nor there with me. It’s all green at EOD. Anyway, I can relate. (Smell of the sheep.)

I was close to 1240 Golden Gate over here in the Fillmore, and I pull up outside of the home to find an old black woman with a cane waiting out in front, solo. Hmm. Unusual.

“Are you Ganny?” I yell through my open driver’s window.

“Yezz, drivah. That me. Thankz fah comin’!”

Ganny slides in back. And Ganny is a talker. In an old, world-worn rasp,

“Bea-U-TI-ful day, drivah! Ya know, Iz born ‘n raized ‘n San Francisco. Uh, huh. Buht, I live en Oakland fah eigh-teeeen yearz! Jus’ move back. Uh, huh. Iz gaht kidz all grown! Iz onlee sixti-wun! ‘N Iz a grandmama! My gran-kidaz callz me ‘Ganny’! Yezz, indeeeed.”

Ganny is sporting BIG pink rhinestone-studded sunglasses and a rhinestone-studded pink baseball hat that spells out a big capital ‘G’, as a big gelled curl from a wig peeks out from under the brim of her hat. And even by way of the rear view, one cannot ignore the BIG crescent moon-shaped scar going from her forehead, to back over her ear, due to a recent brain surgery Ganny relays.

“Yez-zir! Iz recovern’ frum ah an-erizm ‘n bluud claht! Sizza quartr, doc sayz! Dey show me tha bluud claht on tha screen ‘n doc pull owt ah quartr tah match wit it! Twinty-nine yeer ‘ol doc ahn wuz hiz laz’ day werkin’! Sayz he movin’ tah Fre-mont. He ask if iz want surgry. ‘N my daughta jump en ‘n sayz, ‘Hell yeah! Do it NOW, Doc!’ My daughta take owt ‘er phone ‘n film da surgry to! I sayz ‘Don’ film no surgry, girl! Whatch u doin’?! Buht, she diid. Uh, huh. She playn’ et ahn her phone fah me ovah ‘n ovah! Don’ wanna see dat! I tellz ‘er ‘Delet et, girl!’ Buht, she don’. Hmph! So nahw, I gotta scar frum wha u call dat? En tha frunt ah ur he-ad? Da ‘lo-be’? Goin’ waay back ovah my e-ah!”

Assuring Cabbie, “Well, I’m sure that your daughter loves you a lot. Hey! That’s great that you’re a grandmother! I hear it’s a lot better than being a mom! (Heh, heh.)”


“Yez-zir, et izz! Iz worree TO much, bein’ ah mamma! Iz alreadee buury two kidz! Wun waz en ah coma fer too yeerz! ‘N tha daughta wit da cell phone wig owt aht tha funrl! She freek OWT! Cuz tha dughta dat diez girlfrnd waz aht tha funrl! ‘N SHE dah wun dat KILL ‘er! Dah frind waz jealous uf ah mahn my ded daughta ran wit, ‘n slip ‘er a Mickey en ‘er drink aht ah nit-club! ‘N she nevr wake uhp! Dey tink et waz tha sam drug dey giv Michael Jackson! Watch u call dat? ‘Pro-pofil’? ‘N she die! Ye-ah, my otha daughta freek owt aht da funrl. ‘N now she shak lik she gaht Parkn’sns! … Den dere waz my sun, Willie. Pooor Willie! He steel drugz frum ah big-tim gansta! He don kno he waz big time! Afta he stole da crack, he fin’ owt den! ‘N he hide fer MUNTHS! Buht whin Willie thawt et waz safe tah com owt, dey SHOT ‘em all uhp! Wit watch ucall dat? Ah ‘M-16’?”

And Ganny grins large,

“Buht, ye-ah. Iz a prowd Gran’mama! My gran-daughta gotz lotsa teeth, she doez! Uh, huh. Jus’ lik huh granmama! We nam ‘er aftah Beyonce’s clos line, ‘Deréon’. Das appropr’te cuz Beyonce’s mama help dezin dah clos. Yez-zir, luuv me my Deréon!”

We roll up to SF General, and Ganny’s brain surgeon appointment at 21st & Potrero. I find that Ganny has inspired me with her easy going way, comforting rasp, and God-given ability to stay positive through the fray of life. She hands me up her Paratransit card and tellz me tah tak dah tip. And I roll $13 richer, with a warmed heart.

Fare thee well, Ganny.


• • •

I’m rolling east up Market, fresh from a Westfield Mall drop. As I roll, I catch in the peripheral of my rear view a player weaving up through traffic in a tricked-out Honda, complete with a purple glitter-painted spoiler. I’m suddenly feeling kinda edgy, “competitive” you might say.

There’s a parked UPS truck with its hazards on, up just ahead in my right lane before a red at 7th. And although Johnny Rocket is fast approaching up from the rear, I signal and cut into the left lane in front of him. And Johnny Rocket slams on his brakes, and revs his engine. And I play it cool, in front of him at the red.

The light turns green, and Johnny will no doubt zoom around me once past the UPS truck and across the light, at first chance. Well, my Prius is no match for his, um, Honda?

Sure enough, the light turns and Johnny makes a big muffler deal of the sitch as he zooms and weaves. But, he does not immediately pass! For Mr. Rocket just has to slow down once free, to rev up alongside and glare at me. For it seems Johnny just has to witness the one who has macked his glory. And I wonder…

Does Johnny actually want me to make eye contact? What does he hope to achieve? Is this a shark circling its prey? A precursor? Or simply some animal need to know the competition’s physical features? What base desire does Johnny have? What compulsion is this? Does Rocket need to bear witness to, and dissect, the one who has perpetrated such a heinous perpetration upon his very being? Is it that Darwin lives here? Or is it Pavlov? Does Rocket hope that I will look back at him? Maybe witness him giving me the finger? Admit to being the bad guy? Replete with evil? Complete with fangs? Or does Johnny simply… oh, never mind.

 • • •

I’m cruising up Polk Street looking for flags, en route to the Marina’s disposable income grounds. It’s odd how this commercial strip rarely bears fruit. But it seems to be today! An Asian 20-something dude flags me at Eddy.

I pull over, and Asian Dude directs “Battery & California,” before diving quietly into his cell phone screen. Anyway, back seat’s warm.

We have a quiet ride into the Financial, right on Post – rocking the bus/taxi-only lane, through the shopping of Union Square, left on Kearny and… damn. There’s a LONG line of unusually fickle cars waiting to take the right onto California at the Bank of America Building! And from the looks of it, this will take several light cycles to make the turn. OoOoMMMm. Ah, screw it! Patience is a virtue I am not all that interested in! (Well, in my current mood, anyway.) Time to pull a “cabbie”!

I sit, poised in the right line of stalled cars, waiting with bated breath for the opposing crosswalk’s pedestrian light to count down to “5”. It does, and… ZOOM! I veer around the line of suckers and finagle my right onto California in the left of its two lanes, between the last strays of straggling pedestrians, and adjacent the only car in the right turn lane who will actually (legitimately) make this green! And… Success!

Masterful! I sweat no one! Macked no one! And my passenger has noticed nothing, as his head remains safely stuck, still back in his phone.



Reds and greens flash in my rear view, as a motorcycle cop has suddenly jutted up behind me, barking to pull over via his motorcycle-mounted bullhorn.


Well, this is embarrassing!

My passenger suddenly wakes from his virtual world and returns to the real one, and queries me with his jaw agape, “What’s happening??”

Resigned Cabbie, “I’m getting pulled over. You’re close to your drop. We better call it here.”

Confused Asian Dude, “But you did nothing wrong.”

Busted Cabbie, “Yeah, I did. That’ll be $9.55.”

Ugh! Why didn’t I take that short shift!

I roll across Montgomery and pull to the curb, out of traffic’s way.

Asian Dude throws me $15 cash and quietly exits 137, just two blocks from his drop at Battery Street.

And Ponch rolls up behind with lights flashing.

He gets off his bike and swaggers up to my window. But before Ponch can ask, I have my (previously clean) driver’s license at the ready for him.

But Ponch asks for my registration, too. Oh, right! It’s been a while. I am a deer in police flashers.

Doh! I hope the registration’s in the glove box. It’s been years since I was last pulled over! And back when, up-to-date insurance and registration papers in a cab’s glove box were a hit or miss proposition!

Indeed, I cannot find the registration. But Ponch is apparently happy with just 137’s current insurance card. He takes that and my license, and heads back to his bike to do his business. (Ugh.) I do not smell a warning here. But, yeah… This is my bad. I gambled, and lost. Your boy will just have to take his medicine.

Five minutes later…

Ponch walks back up to 137 and casually gives me the schpeal and has me sign the ticket for “improper right turn”. (1 point and $234!) I play it cool with Ponch, and even thank him. And then, sweet Jesus!

Ponch pointedly suggests, “You can always protest the ticket.”

Yes! I have come to believe this to be code. Some cops hate cabbies. But most appear to appreciate that we are working. The last time I was cool with an officer when pulling me over, he said the same thing, in the same tone. So, I did protest… And he did not show to court! Case dismissed, baby!

Well, it seems these dice may still be hot! Baby needs a new pair of shoes!

(Sshhh!! Let’s just keep this little incident between you and me, people! Okay? Oh, and er… the internet. Shhhh!)

 • • •

“Cha-ching! – 1095 Haight. Shauna. iPhone. $11 Guaranteed Tip.”

I hit ‘Accept’ on the Cabulous phone on my dash and immediately pull out front. For I am “rolling bingo” as they say! And I wait.

And I wait…

Well, I’m guessing this is an airport, and hence, worth the wait. I figure this on account of the “guaranteed” $11 tip. Cabulous recently rolled out a new feature where passengers can guarantee a tip via dollar amount, or a percentage. I guess the potential passenger figures a driver’s more likely to accept the order. Whatever. I’d accept anyway. But $11 tip? Forget the tip, this bodes very well for the metered ride! Airport, or not. I’ll definitely wait.

And wait…

Eight minutes later…

A shopping bag laden 30-ish (very) red-headed Shauna comes out, and jumps in back huffing.

“Thanks for waiting! You were close!”

(Well, that’s kind of the idea with these apps, calling from 80% of San Francisco’s cabs across every color scheme, yes?)

Pleasant Cabbie, “Oh! No problem!” (Blink, blink.)

Shauna, “Oh! Shit! I forgot my license! Wait here. I’ll be right back! I’ll leave my bags in the cab.”

Very Pleasant Cabbie, “Oh! No problem!”

(Grumble.) I hit the meter. But as you know, it ticks up at a slower 55 cents/minute when idle.

But miraculously, Shauna does actually come back in respectable time.

And Shauna directs,

“Okay! We’re going to make a few stops around town. But I tip well! I LOVE Cabulous! First, we’re going to Kaiser on Geary. And I’ll need you to wait. Then, I need to hit the CVS in the Lower Haight, and have you wait. Then, we’re heading to the Post Office on Stanyan, in the Upper Haight. Wait for me there. And THEN, we’re off to the Caltrain station at 4th & King! WHEW!”

Over the course of the next hour and a half (with much down time) I will come to learn everything I didn’t need to know about Shauna, and her Irish boyfriend who doesn’t drink Guinness and can’t handle the high alcohol content of Blue Moon – as it makes him impotent. How even though she has super red hair and no freckles, she is from Texas and German Jewish, ‘cause it doesn’t matter what they say about your mother, if she’s Irish Catholic or whatever, ‘cause Shauna has chosen to be Jewish, like her dad from Chicago. She even went over to serve in the Israeli army, but doing admin jobs, even though she thinks the Palestinians got a raw deal, and how dad made a FORTUNE with a clothing store back in Chicago and is one of the famous Jews known around Chicago for his business prowess. How her Grandpa was in WWII and his name was stapled under the top of the page when the Army was doing count leaving the Aleutian Islands, so he took the opportunity to stay behind and live in a cave, because “he loves that kinda shit,” but it was ok, ‘cause he was in charge of the commissary and never had to wash a pair of underwear in his whole time serving during the war. He was friends with the high command, on account of having the keys to the commissary, and he hooked them up good. Her landlord is turning the building condo and he’s offered her rent-controlled apartment to her for sale as a TIC, but she doesn’t want to be stuck owning a condo along with other three other tenants, so she and her boyfriend are going to buy a condo somewhere on their own in San Francisco. She is REALLY great friends with all the bartenders in the Lower Haight, and even the construction crew that has been making her life miserable for the last year with all the noise and dust and uncovered black mold as they’ve been getting the building ready to turn condo, but the rent control board was no help in suing the landlord for all the hassle.

An Hour and a Half Later…

We roll up to Caltrain, 4th & King. Stick a fork in me. I’m speeding back to the lot after this. It’s not terribly far.

I plug in the $55 meter damage into the Cabulous phone, and Shauna seems to be sad to leave her therapist.

“Hey! What’s your name? Do you have a phone number? I’ll call you! I need rides a lot! And I tip well!”

Twitching Cabbie, “Uh… I don’t give out my phone number. Sorry. But, here’s a card for Citizen’s Cab. They’re good People!”

Shauna looks dejected, and like I’m lying about not giving out my number. Well, I am. But she can’t prove that. But I only do for low-maintenance, regular airport riders. Of which, Shauna is neither. Things have grown awkward suddenly.

Shauna, “Are you sure? I tip well!”

Still Twitching Cabbie, “Yeah, sorry.”

Shauna, “Well, I’ll look for you on Cabulous then! (Shauna only now reads my Cab ID on the dash.) Al-ex! Cab 137!”

Badly Twitching Cabbie, “Uh… GREAT!”

And Shauna exits my life, for now. But as she does, a group of five older men and women wearing Padres and Giants baseball jerseys hold the door to get in.

No! I’m done!

(Sigh!) I don’t have the heart to reject them. They seemed to have been waiting pretty anxiously here at Caltrain for Shauna to stop yapping, to get in after. But I had been trying to not make eye contact!

Anyway, what gives? Yeah, the Giants are playing the Padres here today. But the ball park is all of two blocks away… Well, it’ll probably be a short ride. Ok.

The team all piles in. Four jam in back, and the one with the Padres jersey (and a very trimmed grey mustache) sits up front and directs.

“Thanks, buddy! We’re going over to 21st Amendment. I’m showing my friends the great beer selection there! I know it’s close, but I got a bad knee.”

Exhausted Driver dryly,

“That’s ok. I got a landlord.”

And at this, my team laughs big, as Wifey in back even repeats my line, saying that she’s “gotta remember that one!”

I like them. And I stand impressed as the team talks about all the good beer spots in San Francisco, despite that they are obviously from the South Bay. I add a few tips of my own, more on the Mexican food/tequila side though, before we soon roll up outside of 21st Amendment.

Bad Knee throws me $10 cash on the $6.55 meter. And as the crew starts piling out of 137, we all gawk as we suddenly take notice of a gaggle of Stormtroopers just entering 21st Amendment.

Oh! “May the fourth be with you!” It’s Star Wars day!

Upon my enlightenment, I let my parting fans in on the deal. And we all laugh heartily, as I offer a parting, if not floundering,

“Go Padres??”

Check out Alex’s book San Francisco TAXI: A 1st Week in the ZEN Life…
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Photo by Christian Lewis

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Alex Sack

Alex Sack, born 1970, is a taxi driver who grew up in the Washington D.C. suburbs of Maryland. He attended several different colleges and universities around the D.C./Baltimore region as a music major for 4 & 1/2 years before quitting - pre-diploma - to the horror of his father. He tried his hand as a professional musician/songwriter seeing him through travels domiciled in New York City’s East Village, Los Angeles (where he scored a few songs on The Disney Channel's 'Even Stevens') and San Francisco - where he's ultimately put down roots. Alex is a single dad to two boys, currently ages 15 and 17. His post-natal fallback occupation as Operations Assistant at a start-up clean-tech engineering consultancy came to a sudden end with the one-two punch of the owner’s fatal skiing accident in Tahoe and the subsequent downturn in the economy.This - and an acquired nervous twitch to cubicle work - has led to his latest job...

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