Take Me To Your… Gold… Bridge!

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Random Thought: There are two kinds of people in this world; The kind that go, and the kind that don’t go. If you go; ok. If you don’t… I will.

gold bridge copy

Friday

4:54am:
I’m meandering half-awake through the Citizen’s Cab lot.

As I head towards the bullet-proof glass to retrieve 137’s key and medallion – and maybe throw Kojak a $5 bribe for an airport, I take note of a newish Escape – 203, sporting a newly smashed-up front end. Poor night driver. Wonder what the story is on that.

And I do not see 137. Damn.

This is not good.

I address Kojak at the window, “What happened to 203?”

Kojak, “It was wrecked last night.”

Sack, “I don’t see 137 in the lot…”

Kojak, “It’s shopped. Got wrecked yesterday.”

Huh?? That’s my regular Prius!

So, ‘ol Koj throws me 2402, a Prius spare. It’s a spare I’ve driven before, one that smells like meth, B.O. and cigarettes. It’s the one that a night driver once assured me that he sprayed “real good” for bed bugs.

But once in her, I note that the only real offense – aside from the potential bed bug infestation, is the permeating reek of some undisclosed Christmas tree air freshener that’s proving highly evocative of pungent urinal cake.

Must find AND DESTROY!

I’m still out prepping 2402 in the lot when my Cabulous phone goes off.

“Cha-ching! – 50 Fremont. Jane. Dispatch.”

Ok. I somehow don’t smell catching an early morning break on an airport from Kojak today, despite my $5, so I might as well jump on whatever. Besides, 50 Fremont is downtown. At five in the morning, whoever it is surely is NOT just heading to lunch two blocks away.

I roll!

And I recklessly pursue my cab prep while en route, on 101 north.
(Ok, alcohol-wiping the steering wheel on the highway is particularly stupid.)

But as I am exceedingly talented, I do make it downtown alive. (I am a drummer, people!)

I arrive within a few minutes to find a 50-something woman with a long, grey, braided pony-tail waiting in the lobby of the Financial district office building that is 50 Fremont.

Jane gets in back.

“Holly Park, please,” she offers reluctantly, seemingly expectant that I will need direction. I shouldn’t. I have picked up and dropped off rides at Holly Park several times before… but, well, not THAT much. Anyway, it’s still dark out. And I’m pre-coffee! (Yes, ok. I need direction.)

“Do you have a preferred route?” I stretch.

“Sure. Take 101 to Bayshore, then up Cortland.”

“101 it is,” I reply, coolly.

Along the way, Jane and I somehow get on to politics…

Jane, “I was an art major back in North Carolina in my youth. Needless to say, I’m a liberal. I recently discovered Facebook and have been very active on it. Sadly, I had to unfriend an old high school classmate yesterday. She was preaching craziness. It seems that she’s been listening to Rush Limbaugh! God save us! We danced around the issues, at first. But then she started growing increasingly hostile with posts about Obama and Mexican immigrants. So, she had to go. I think my old classmate just realized that all her old art-school classmates are liberals! Bless her heart. She’s a Mormon.”

How odd, I ponder, finding political disagreement with reconnected old schoolmates on Facebook.

Ten minutes later, we’ve arrived at Jane’s single-family Mexican roof-tiled abode up in Bernal Heights – not far from the Citizen’s Cab lot, actually. The meter reads $19.55.

And Jane suddenly notes the meter, frowning. She openly murmurs, questioning why it is “so much” as she rifles through her purse, while alternately murmuring an acknowledgement that she does not take taxis very often.

The air in the cab has suddenly gotten thick, and awkward. I feel the need to school her, as I point to the tamper-proof seal on the meter, to assure Jane that it has not been rigged.

Driver, “Well, I can assure you that the meter has not been rigged. You can see the seal is still intact.”

I check the rear view…

Nothing.

Jane’s lips are still pursed, as she’s still digging through her purse for remittance.

Anyway, this was HER route! (Not that it would have been much cheaper any another way.)

She ultimately moves on, as she breaks-out a Visa and directs simply to, “Make it for $24.”

Well, ok. The ice is cracked. And not a bad start. Sorta.

Now… coffee!

 

5:35am:
It seems that I’ve caught some strange early morning rush at my regular Starbucks up in Potrero Hill. I know from my own days working the register at People’s Drug back in Maryland that these rushes ebb and flow. And I did once have this confirmed by Steinem (the manager/bathroom Nazi at my old Starbucks) when we were on good terms, before she ran me off for taking too long in the loo! (Yeah, guess I am “that guy”.)

So, I am with caffeine and napkins, and doing my last bit of business in the lavatory, when,

YANK! YANK! BEEP… BEEP… BEEP… BEEP… YANK! YANK!

I mercy flush to announce my presence.

YANK! YANK! BEEP… BEEP… BEEP… BEEP… YANK! YANK!

Jeez!

I’ve only been in here a minute or, um, TWO! I can now hear through the door that it’s a woman who’s trying to get into the bathroom. And she’s now called over a barista to ask if she can help enter the right code for the door! Hmm.

MAYBE IT’S OCCUPIED!?

I better up the ante.

“Occupied!” I yell, to yet another,

YANK! YANK! BEEP… BEEP… BEEP… BEEP… YANK! YANK!

Better wipe, and roll… I do not like this strange world.

 

5:50am:
I’m now happily caffeinated, and cruising the Castro from a fruitless run through the Mission. Up at the bus stop at Castro & Market, three gay Mexicans jump into the street to flag me. I stop. They get in…

“Taaylorrr & Laaavennnworth, pleasssse,” directs the alpha.

They go on to talk amongst themselves, rolling “Rs” and lisping something fierce in Spanish. I’ve met my share of Mexican gays before, but these guys are particularly effeminate and flamboyant. I only note this, as I know that this does not go over well in the straight, macho Mexican culture. These guys must have had a rough adolescence.

We arrive in no time to their seedy Tenderloin drop in the morning dark, as my tres amigos pool fifteen ones together to remit on the $11.55 meter.

And the dawn is nigh…

 

6:25am:
I just dropped an early-ish Financial shuttle, some brokerage employee working on Wall Street time. Think I’ll head back up Sutter back towards Cow Hollow, forgo my habitual futile exit out of the Financial up Market.

Sweet! I do not make it two blocks up Sutter before a Mexican woman in blue hospital scrubs jumps out at Grant, frantically flagging me.

It should be said that an Arrow cab was just ahead of me on the Sutter run. But Arrow was on the wrong side of the three-lane street and, um, missed his target:) Maria’s mine!

But, waz up? Maria looks pretty stressed out. I do recall how Rose taught vehemently back in cab school that her pupils are to “mind your intuition”. This thing smells weird. Do I want this fare?

Ah, I’ll bite…

Maria, “Dios mio! Oh, Jesus! Oh, Jesus! Ay lef mi bag ahn tha buss, tha 30 Stock-on!! Ay jus gaht off two minits go! Mi wall-et, mi fone, ev’ryting!!! Oh, Jesus! Oh, Jesus! Can yoo help mi?! Dios mio!!”

(Take note, Yoga-pants pretty 20-something yuppie blonde bitch going from the Haight to the Marina! THIS is the moment you tell your cabbie that you have no money and ask for help! Not AFTER you’ve fleeced the ride!)

Driver, “Sure. We’ll catch up to your bus. Don’t worry, Ma’am. My son once left his backpack on a bus. We called 311 and they were actually able to radio the driver!  The bus driver in my son’s case found the backpack right away and we were able to meet him and get it back. Anyway, your Stockton bus goes through Chinatown. I doubt anyone around there would steal. Hmm… How many people were on your bus?”

Maria comes back, “Onli two udders. Duu yoo tink es still dere?? Dios mio!! Oh, God! Ev’ryting! ‘Nd ay mus goh to werk! Jesus!”

Well, that bus woulda gone through the Stockton Tunnel… But I’m a little thrown by how hard Maria’s freaking out, and so, I space and turn right up Grant before the tunnel, and then left onto Pine to go right on Stockton. Wait… Doh!! Dead end! We’re ON TOP OF the tunnel and hence, Stockton! (Jeez, Al!) But I can see a bus from our vantage point on top of the tunnel, as it heads off across Stockton! Our man!

I reassure Maria, “We’re gonna catch your bus, Ma’am!”

I flip a bitch (as they say) and zoom back right on Pine, right on Powell, right on Clay, left on Stockton, and… Damn. No bus in sight.

Maria, “Duu yoo tink he come owt ahf tha tunnel yet?? Dios mio! Ev’ryting!!”

Driver, “Yeah. He must have. Besides, I’m sure that I saw a bus when we were on top of the tunnel at the dead end.”

I gun it down Stockton. Hmm. But where the hell does the 30 Stockton turn off from Stockton? I ask Maria.

“Nort Point. Aht Nort Point. Dios mio!! Oooohhhhh, Jesus!”

I call 311 via Bluetooth as I swerve through a yellow light at North Point with tires screeching! I immediately get a human who says she can call the driver, but that she needs to speak to Maria first. (Who says Socialism is all that bad?)

However, as I hand Maria my phone, we just now we see the 30 Stockton up ahead on North Point as it’s coming to a stop at Leavenworth. I quickly pull over and in front at an angle to lock the bus in. Maria jumps out post-haste, and accosts the driver with, “Dios mio!!!”

I can see through the bus windshield as Maria speaks with the driver before he hands her the bag and Maria rummages nervously through it. I relay the good news to 311, “Thank you, but never mind. It looks like we’re good!”

Maria jumps back in my cab, thanking me profusely. Out of the blue, she apologizes that her english is “naht so guud” as Maria now begins to relax, somewhat. She goes on to say the driver tested her on the contents of the bag. (I guess she passed.)

Maria seems content to finish out her commute in my cab and directs me on to her work at the maternity ward at CPMC, where she tells me she’s a janitor. Having cabbed it, Maria will actually now be early. We part with emphatic “tank-uus” and $25 floated my way in cash, on a $22.75 fare. Good Karma and good money. Dios mio!

 

11:15am:
Tony, a.k.a the No-go King, is at dispatch now. And I’m once again out in North Beach.

“Cha-ching! – 2254 Polk. Bob. Dispatch.”

Come on! I’m supposed to travel over to Polk & Vallejo? There’s cabs galore there, passing every second. Bob is no doubt just gonna flag a cab, and cancel right as I’m pulling up! Jeez.

Ugh. I’ll risk it.

I guess I can jump over to Polk Gulch via the Broadway Tunnel. But, still.

I ‘Accept’ the order and, of course, immediately pass a guy flagging me with luggage at Columbus. Ah, the magic of Tony. I am now positive that this order is a “no-go”.

A few minutes later…

I turn onto Polk two blocks from Vallejo. I see a Regents Cab up ahead pulled over at my pickup location outside of a hardware store. And Regents pulls off as I pull up. Sure enough, no one’s waiting out in front. I radio-in to Tony to call-out my passenger.

Sack, “2402. Please call out 2254 Polk. Copy?”

Tony, “Copee, 2402. Callin’.”

Then,

Tony, “I jus call’d, 2402. Buht alls I gaht is ah answ’ring mahchine. Anee luck ovah dere?”

Any luck, indeed. Stick a fork in me. I’m done “playing the radio” today. At least while Tony’s working dispatch.

Sack, “2402. No luck. Rolling.”
1:00pm:
“Cha-ching! – 1024 Divisadero. Janis. Dispatch.”

I can hear that Jesus is at dispatch now. Now this is NOT a no-go! Jesus often throws out honest, not-paid-for airports when breaking from his work in the back office to cover at dispatch. Anyway, it’s also brownie points with the Citizen’s Cab management for “playing the radio”. A win-win!

Why, yes. I do ‘Accept’.

I’m not far, and I make it over to 1024 Divisadero (in newly-branded “NoPa“) fast to find a haggard-looking 40 or 50-something (hard to tell) with her life portioned out on the sidewalk amongst several large duffel bags. It looks like Janis is moving. And with an old pit bull in tow who’s got oozing cysts. We load the cab to the hilt.

Janis, in a thick rasp, “Thhanks fer comin’! 640 Eddee, pleazze, in tha Tenderloin. Tha Hotel Eddy.”

She then turns to address her dog, “Sallee, kalm tha HELL dowwn! We’ll be aht ‘r new home soon, guurl.”

Right on cue, Janis goes into,

“Dey toldt me I gaht stage three cancer. Buht dey ain’t cuttin’ nuthin’ off ah me! N’ dey ain’t shootin’ me uhp wit dat chemo crap, eider! I gaht ah diet oghtta do tha trick!”

Hmm. Wonder if it’s the same as Steve Jobs’ cancer diet.

Anyway, I add my two cents, that if Janis is not gonna do chemo, she may want to look into visualization. I tell her how a kid with cancer met the Dalai Lama a few years ago and got some award for helping invent some cancer-themed video game where you shoot your cancer cells all visualization-style. The kid actually went into remission and he held onto the high score!

So, once over at the illustrious Hotel Eddy in the TL, thanks to some very careful driving by yours truly – sans the benefit of visible side or rear view mirrors, I help Janis out with her bags. Hey! Janis has a turntable with an Angry Amputees sticker on it! I’ve seen them! At the South by Southwest music business festival in Austin some years ago. They’re an S.F. punk band with a wheelchair-bound bassist with no hands! He just frets by plunking his stump around the neck. Cool!

I complement Janis on her musical tastes and leave her, her pit bull, and their bags outside of their new SRO home in the Loin. And we part, with me $15 richer on a $10.55 meter. Good lookin’ out, Janis.

Anyway, the day’s getting on and I’m ready to call it soon…

 

2:45pm:
I’m rolling down Fillmore fresh  from a fruitless jaunt through Pac Heights. I continue to work these well-off commercial districts, as I turn right onto the Union Street strip.

Suddenly, a dude in a red and white stars & stripes-themed baseball cap with matching sweat-suit jumps out into the street to flag me in front of Lululemon. Something smells weird. But, whatever. Cow Hollow’s a sociable part of town. I shouldn’t have to filter for crazies here.

As I pull over, I come to realize that my future fare is some sporto Arab guy. (Oil money?) But something’s definitely off. Borat opens the shotgun door and silently points to my “office” spread out on the front seat, before he then points at my backpack on the floor. Hey! Is Borat directing me to move my stuff??

I point towards the back, and politely direct,

“Oh! Passengers usually sit in back. Unless, you have a condition or something. Can you sit in the back?”

But Borat just stays the course firm, and again, silently points at my stuff!

I am getting the picture now that Borat is kind of intense. He’s sporting a big beard, but no mustache. And he has piercing brown eyes that stare right into you. Hmm. Very out of place here in Cow Hollow… or America for that matter! (Despite his quite patriotic garb.) And Borat has yet still to utter a single word!

Shit. Is dude mute? And, damn. I did not heed Rose’s “mind your intuition” cab school Commandment. (I hope she’s not reading this!) My doors should have been locked, too. Ugh. (Sorry, Rose.)

Oh, well. I move my shit to the back. Borat gets in front and, still mute, just points straight ahead. Apparently, “straight ahead” is his drop. WTF??

Double-ugh! Yet another Rose cab school Commandment transgression: “Never go until they give you a destination.”

I drive.

“Where to?” I query.

To which Borat just stares all steely-eyed and serious at me, as he once more just points straight ahead in stubborn silence. And I now start to strategize about how I’m going to get rid of this guy!

Suddenly, Borat pulls the lever under his seat and adjusts it all the way back REAL fast, as it slams HARD to a stop! And without flinching, he rolls up his window. And without asking first, Borat TURNS OFF THE RADIO! And he now turns to stare deeply into my eyes, before he finally speaks.

“YOU! Will be my driver… today!”

O-kay

He continues to stare straight through me with a burning intensity.
I sense that Borat has decided he likes his new acquisition, as he now lets me in on the deal.

“A Russian… kick me from cahb. I want see San… Fran… cisco. I am told must see your… Gold… Bridge. Take me to your… Gold… Bridge.” Then before I can acknowledge, he barks “Turn right! Here!”

Borat points firmly right.

“But…” I try to interject that this is the wrong way to the Golden Gate Bridge.

However, it seems that Borat has other ideas. He confidently cuts me off, insistent with,

“Right! Here!”

Then proud and confident, assured, “I like the woman. Where are… the woman? Take me.”

Driver, “Oh, I guess North Beach is a good spot. Lotsa strip clubs there. (Heh, heh.)”

Borat responds, “Take me to your… North… Beach… Left! Here!”

Driver, “But…”

Borat, “Left! Here!” Continuing, “I want… Yemeni… restaurant. I stay near… Yemeni… restaurant.”

And he hands me a business card for a Hostel that he’s apparently staying at in the Tenderloin.

Borat continues to stare at me, hard… and it’s freaking me out, man! This dude is seriously off! Or, hmm…. totally casing San Francisco for the next 9-11!!

Driver, in an attempt to cool things out a bit, “So, where are you from?”

(Crickets…)

Then, more deep, suspicious staring, before eventually, “I am Kuwaiti.”

Uh, huh.

Borat continues, “Where I find… woman?”

Driver, again, “Uh, North Beach.”

Borat, “Where is… North… Beach?”

Driver, “Uh, just a few blocks east. But we are going the wrong way.”

Borat commands, “Take me!” Before quickly adding, “Take left! Here!”

Driver, all futile, “But…”

Borat, “Left! Here!”

Well, “left here” just happens to be the WRONG WAY up Hyde, north on a ONE-WAY, three-lane thoroughfare heading south! I don’t acknowledge Borat’s direction and just resign to taking the next left, up Leavenworth. (Hyde’s companion three-lane thoroughfare heading north.)

And Borat takes exception, “You NOT take left!” And he resigns himself, “Ok… Take next left.”

Now exasperated, I blurt, “Hyde was one-way, the wrong way! I couldn’t. Look, I gotta keep my license clean. We’ll take the next left up Leavenworth, but will it be a right or left next after that?”

“Right.”

I get in the right-most of three lanes as we come to a stop at a red on Lev, at Bush. There is another car at the light in the farthest-most left of the three lanes. And Borat suddenly intones with confidence,

“Left! Here!”

What the fuck?!?

Driver, “It’s HIGHLY unsafe crossing Leavenworth like this!”

I look in the rear view. And I see the usual wave of upcoming traffic nearing fast. ZOOM! I jump across all three lanes ahead of them!

Jeez! Why did I pick this guy up? (Sorry, Rose.)
I’m gonna have to call this trip soon… REAL soon!!

Borat now goes on to inquire about other “big cities… near.”

Driver, schooling, “Well, other than San Francisco, there’s L.A., about a six-hour drive south. That and San Francisco are two of the more popular cities in California.”

Borat replies, confused, “L…A…? Cal-i-fornia?” And once again, he stares deeply into me, with nothing more.

O-kay…

Borat spots the Yemeni restaurant in question, as is punctuated by the command to “STOP!!”

The restaurant is only a few blocks from Borat’s original pick-up. But at his direction, this has been a very long and circular ride!

The fare ends up $13.95.

However, it seems that Borat will not free his servant so easily. He demands,

“What is… your name? Give me phone… number. YOU! Are my driver!”

Driver, “I’m Alex. Nice to meet you. What’s your name?”

I extend my hand.

But Borat just stares at my hand, then turns up to pierce, yet again, deeply and suspiciously into my eyes.

(Dramatic pause.)

Huh? Is Borat trying to think of a fake name??

Then, “Siam.”

In response to Borat’s request for my number, I simply write “Alex” on the back of a Citizen’s Cab business card for him, knowing full well we will not meet again, even if he were to call the main line listed on the card. I will be told by dispatch if I am personally requested. And I will screen those requests wickedly, like the infidel that I am! (Besides, Borat’s my last ride before the weekend. And I don’t work weekends.)

Borat now scowls at the meter. But does begin to judiciously sort through some crisp bills stored in a stars & stripes fanny-pack. He hands me over a twenty on the $13.95 and I give him six dollars back. But Borat skeptically examines the six dollars in his open palm, and then me… and silently waits!

Wha?? Is he really expecting the five cent difference back? Or is he somehow fishing to see if I’ve ripped him off? WTF?? I certainly did not expect a tip. But Borat can’t seriously be tripping over five cents!

(Crickets.)

We both continue to stare at each other for a minute, dumbfounded.

FINALLY, Borat breaks first! He smiles broadly and exits the cab, with,

“YOU! Are my driver. I will finish… soon. YOU! Will come!”

Uh, sure… I’ll be right back.

 

Photo by Christian Lewis
www.AlexSacK.com
Check out Alex’s book San Francisco TAXI: A 1st Week in the ZEN Life…
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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 14 and (a hormonal) 16. 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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