Taking the High Road

high road

It’s 11:30am on Thursday and I’m cruising the Haight for flags, $24 into the green…

I’ve been good about not drinking or abusing nighttime cough syrup over the last week to get to sleep at night. This is due to a jaunt to go see my mom “back east” in D.C., to get help finishing up Book 2 – San Francisco TAXI: Life in the Merge Lane… (Stay tuned y’all!) Anyway, Ma and my older brother gave me crap about my belly while I was there; which is, um, “respectably pronounced”. Aside from my sedentary vocation, this is due in good measure to drinking at night. And the subsequent tipsy feast just prior to bed. Needless to say, my family’s brand of Jewish/Irish-Catholic guilt is VERY potent! Hence, the abstinence.

So, I was clearing out my Facebook notifications last night and smoking a bowl before going down. As I was perusing the San Francisco Taxi Drivers Group, I came across a report from Barry Korengold, one of the leaders of the SFTWA – the pseudo San Francisco taxi drivers union. Barry had just come from an open meeting of the SFMTA, the city government agency which regulates San Francisco’s taxi industry. They were finalizing the rules under which all San Francisco cab drivers are to now be drug tested.

Note: It should be noted that the new-ish Director of the MTA, Kate Toran, has been held up by taxi driver conspiracy theorists as being in the pocket of “rideshare” friendly San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and Uber/Lyft. (The newest argument being that the lightly regulated, unlimited number of un(der)insured scab cabs are not beholden to drug testing.) There is no question that these tests would take out half of SF’s taxi fleet, which the color schemes would surely not survive, on account of the resulting hit to their gate income (cab rental fees). It does not help quash the theorists’ argument that Christina Hayashi, the previous Director of the MTA, was forced out by Mayor Ed Lee after too many butt heads over his scab cab deference. It should also be noted that San Francisco is where this all started, under this mayor. Prior to all the hedge-funded “rideshare” apps (stolen third-hand from legit taxi app Cabulous, mind you) a gypsy cab would be impounded and the driver fined $5000!

Anyway, Barry had just come from the city’s MTA drug testing meeting and posted on the Facebook group,

“Woo-HOOOO!!! We successfully convinced them to exclude marijuana for those with medical marijuana cards!”

What!? NO WAY!! A government bureaucracy in the pocket of hedge-funded tech actually gave an inch!?! And a BIG inch at that! To the lowly taxi drivers of San Francisco???

Woo-HOOOO!!!“ indeed!

So yeah, it’s 11:30am on Thursday and I’m cruising the Haight for flags.

It smells like that quiet period just before lunch, where everyone is immersed at their cubicles and are sans need of a taxi. Think I’ll take this moment to visit Amoeba Records. Well, not Amoeba Records proper. But the Green Evaluations “doctor’s” office housed inside, off to the right and up the stairs. I vetted it on Yelp last night…

It’s early for the Haight’s tourists and shoppers to be kicking in. I easily park across the street from Amoeba and fill the meter for an hour. Yelp says even as a walk-in, I should be in and out of Green Evaluations within a half hour, card in hand. Hell, maybe I’ll even have time to pick up some John Coltrane while I’m here!

I enter Amoeba and verify the directions to the doctor’s office with Bruno, the burly security guard in a black G.G. Allin T-shirt checking bags at the door.

“Look down, buddy. See that green line? Follow it,” says Bruno.

Sure enough, a thick green line painted on the concrete floor of this bowling alley-turned-music-mecca leads me straight, right, and up some stairs…

To a small waiting room above the video section with signed records the likes of Johnny Cash filling the walls, a “rideshare” Lyft “Go Giants!” mustache hanging above the young black chick receptionist at the entrance – who no doubt drives part-time, Weezer blasting over the speaker system, and a few waiting room seats… four of them filled with would-be medicinal marijuana card holders.

After grabbing a clipboard of paperwork from Lyft and handing over my driver’s license, I take a seat to fill out the all of four pages. Aside from the pop punk filling the room, all are entertained by a loud, large, bubbly 40-something blonde at the back of the room taking pictures behind a desk boasting Robert Marley’s poster-sized pot card on the front of it. (Apparently, he lives at 420 Freedom Street.) This, as the bubbly blonde energetically hands all the post-evaluated “patients” legitimizing documents, adding assurances of how the first exercising of one’s prescription will go, and handing each lists of each and every pot dispensary in the bay area, complete with the name of each and every employee to which we are encouraged to say “Moonshot sent me!” for a free THC-infused candy bar sample. (Oh, and which dispensaries offer vapor rooms, which offer acupuncture and massage, which deliver, and which have saunas.)

Moonshot, with her fuzzy bloodshot eyes, is SUPER positive and full of life in her flowery dress and bubbling hippiedom. “Have a blessed day!” she tells each completed examinee in her lilting rasp, as she punctuates with repeated goofy laughs that betray her ecstasy at just being alive, here and now, on God’s green Earth.

Hey! Moonshot MUST be the one that guy gave a scathing review of on Yelp!

As I quickly fill-out the paperwork of mostly legal disclaimers, with no question of my social security number, I take stock of my fellow “patients”. Four of us five are pretty young and healthy-looking. The one exception being an old guy with one foot in the grave, clutching a cane and wearing khaki shorts that highlight badly varicose veins above sagging white cotton sports socks with the red and blue athletic stripes. At one point One Foot gets up trembling, with what I can only guess is Parkinson’s, to ask Moonshot a question. And it takes a horribly shaking three minutes for One Foot to basically crawl all hunched over to Moonshot’s desk to ask it. I do not believe medical marijuana will solve this guy’s problem. One Foot should really be visiting the heroin store.

11:50am:
Forty minutes left on my meter. I’ve handed-in my paperwork to Lyft, and I’ve already watched three in the waiting room get evaluated “down the hall, to the last door on the right, knock before you enter” and return to the bubbly Moonshot at the back of the waiting room for their picture, printed medicinal pot card, and subjection to Moonshot’s repeated giggly spiel. I am an expert now.

It is interesting that each are given the choice of the ID card AND card stock paper prescription – with raised seal, or just the unwieldy card stock paper prescription – which we will need regardless during our first visit to any of the actual pot dispensaries, before a sticker is attached to the card of any who have opted for it – to designate them as a regular. The paper alone is $44. If one would like the more mobile card to boot, it’s $64. However, Moonshot has not charged even one patient in my presence the full price. Each one is given a 10% discount because… well just because the sky is blue, I guess. Actually, to be fair, One Foot was given a 20% discount on account of that Bruno working security downstairs at Amoeba, who turns out to be Moonshot’s boyfriend, did not call upstairs first to request help for One Foot in making it up the stairs to the doctor’s office.

Noon:
Thirty minutes left on my meter. Since I’ve been waiting, two more have come for their “evaluations”, handed-in their driver’s license and received a clipboard of paperwork. One is a pretty, trim, gay Polynesian dude with nice tattoos, a pony tail and sunglasses. Right after he turned in his clipboard of completed papers, he went to help One Foot down the stairs to leave. When Gay Poly returned, he was given his clipboard back… and sent right “down the hall, to the last door on the right, be sure to knock first.” What the hell, Lyft!? Is this the Good Samaritan bump to the front of the line? Well, I am a walk-in… Hmm. Maybe Gay Poly had an appointment. Whatever. No one’s been in the doc’s office for more than five minutes. Not even One Foot.

12:10pm:
Twenty minutes left on my meter. I’m starting to sweat. But surely, I am up next. Yay! The only other patient in the waiting room now is some young fat black chick who came in after me.

Gay Poly enters fresh from his evaluation and heads past us with clipboard in hand to go over and see Moonshot.

Lyft, “Sha-nay-nay! You’re up! Here’s your paperwork. Go straight down the hall, last door on the right, be sure to knock first.”

WTF!!!!

Hey, Lyft! My meter’s running out and I’m losing money every minute I’m sitting in here away from my cab! Did Sha-nay-nay have an appointment??? Where’s my white privilege, bitch!?

Ok. Do the math, Sack… With the way people have been cycled in and out, and in light of the Yelp testimonies, you should still be good to make it out of here with a card in hand before getting a parking ticket. You just might have to shut Moonshot down on her long giggly spiel, politely. Lest the flower wilt.

12:16pm:
Sha-nay-nay comes out and enters the waiting room and heads over to Moonshot. I look over at Lyft… The phone rings.

Fuck!

12:18pm:
Lyft is off the phone… and ignores me as she starts typing away on her computer. Or surfing the web. I can’t really tell.

12:20pm:
Lyft, “Sack! You’re up… Go strai-”

I yank the clipboard from Lyft’s hands mid-instruct and go running down the hall!

KNOCK! KNOCK!

Doc, “Come in!”

I enter the tiny closet office, furnished with only a desk, behind which Doc sits in a white lab coat. Atop the desk rests only a blood pressure monitor and a pen. I hand Doc my clipboard. He flips it over and proceeds to scribble on the back, with pen in hand…

Doc, “How are you?”

Patient, “Oh, fine. Aside from some trouble sleeping. Er, chronic insomnia.”

Doc, “Oh? When did that start?”

Patient, “About two and a half years ago, when my elder boy turned 13.”

Doc, “I understand completely. I have teenagers, too. It’s amazing what hormones will do.”

Doc (continuing), “How long have you been smoking pot?”

Uhhhh… Whoa! What did he just ask me? Pot’s illegal! And what’s with the assumption? Is this a trick question? Will he deny me if I admit to the affirmative? Hmm. No.

Still…

Patient (half lying), “Since my boy turned 13.”

Doc, “Do you smoke cigarettes? Do you consume alcohol? Do you have diabetes? Do you take any other medications? Do you have asthma?”

Patient, “No… No… No… No… No…”

Doc scribbles the answers on the back of my paperwork. Then Doc has me lean over the desk and puts the sphygmomanometer around my arm and pumps away divining for my blood pressure. And Doc scribbles some more…

As he does, Patient offers, “Doc. Be warned. You will be seeing a LOT of cab drivers very soon.”

Doc, “Oh?”

Patient, “Yeah. The MTA has just introduced a drug testing policy for all of San Francisco’s taxi drivers. But medical marijuana is exempted. However, you’ll have to wait for the Lyfts and Ubers of the world. They get a free pass. The “rideshares” spent a ton of money lobbying the state legislature to get their drug testing bill (AB24) shot down. The bastards!”

Doc, “Oh? You shouldn’t be so harsh on those drivers. They’re really getting taken advantage of.”

Oh, right! The Lyft mustache in reception! And his no doubt Lyft-driving receptionist!

Patient, “I agree. They are poor suckers. But those poor suckers have cut this single dad’s income by 40% with unfair competition and all while posing a real threat to public safety. We cab drivers have all played by the rules! They don’t have the FBI background checks we have, they flood the streets in unlimited numbers and, if they are not committing insurance fraud driving on their personal policies, they have a massively dumbed-down scab cab liability limit of $50K per person as they’re running down the next Sophia Liu, versus $1 million for taxis! And you just wait until the 250 miles a day they’ve been putting on their new Uber/Lyft-facilitated sub-prime loan Toyotas rack up! You think they can replace the brakes on a Prius while netting $7/hour? We’ll see what the courts do, though. One judge got wise recently in a labor case an Uber lawyer was arguing with the exact OPPOSITE argument that same lawyer was making in a separate case before another judge! Ha! The first judge totally called him on it!”

Doc, “Well, I hear your opinion.”

Wha? “Opinion”? What have you been smoking, man? These are the FACTS!

Patient (changing the subject), “Well, in other news. A federal judge did just last week order that the DEA leave the dispensaries alone who are following state law. That was a big win. The DEA was totally ignoring a recent law congress passed that told them to back off legit places like Harborside in Oakland – the biggest dispensary and pot school in the world. They were JUST about to close after fighting several failed law suits!”

Doc (now off on his own tirade), “Man, you and I BOTH know the feds will never let pot get covered by the ADA! Shit! St. John’s Wort is! But, nooooo. Not pot!”

And with this, Doc signs me off…

Feets don’t fail me now! I RUN to see Moonshot, get my card, pay the $64 (minus my 10% “why not” discount), deflect her spiel – politely, and DASH to my parked cab across from the record store… RIGHT AS A METER MAID IS PULLING UP THE BLOCK!

WHEW!!

And as I dash, with card and paperwork in hand, I pass a couple of Haight Street dealer kids out in front of Amoeba selling. I suddenly feel sad. I think that I’ll miss this bunch. Hmm.

Not that I’ve ever feared one, but I do guess that I shan’t worry about the potential $100 ticket one can receive in California for possession of under an ounce. (The last Republican Governor, Schwarzenegger, signed that decriminalization law on his way out.)

 

After work…

I’ve just hit the Lucky supermarket, adjacent the Panhandle, for some groceries on my way home. Now, it’s off down Grove! About four blocks to Divis… and the Bay Area Safe Alternatives Collective to make the first legal marijuana purchase of my life! (Did I really just write that???)

I work my way up the wheelchair ramp to the entrance of this little shack, with bars on the windows and doors, found situated smartly behind a kick-ass BBQ place. (“Two for one!” repeated Moonshot on loop to each new card holder.)

Suddenly, out of nowhere, a middle-aged red head who looks a lot like New York Times writer Maureen Dowd comes darting out of the front door naked and SCREAMING bloody murder, something about gremlins, as she darts down the street tacking in traffic, with what looks like brownie crumbs falling from the corners of her mouth!

(Just kidding : )

I enter BASA. And I approach the open one of two, young, twenty-something women, doling out weed in every form known to man from behind two bullet-proof glass windows. My jaw is agape, my heart is pounding, and I am very confused…

I just stand there looking stupid, like a deer in headlights (yeah, yeah) who just consumed a pot plant. I need someone to take me by the hand. But no one does. Kristen just looks impatient, almost annoyed at how, um, green I am. She just waits on the other side of the glass for my order, as I stare wide-eyed at the tray of buds with their various prices per potency, and names like Yellow Amnesia, Nitro OG, and Psychosis Cheese. This, along with a large selection of name brand spoofed THC-infused candy bars, a freezer full of THC-infused ice cream bars, and the Sativa/Hybrid/Indica designations of the buds written on a chart before me.

Deer, “Uhhh… Hi, Kristen. Here’s my paperwork and card. (She stickers the card.) I’m, uh, new at this. What is the difference between Indica and Sativa?”

Kristen, “Indica makes you sleep. Sativa gives you an ‘up’ body high.”

Deer, “Sounds healing. Can I have a forty of the Blue Diesel Sativa?”

Doh! This was supposed to be for insomnia! Oh, well. It sure beats cough syrup!

Kristen turns around and grabs one of many huge pickle jars full of buds from a book shelf. She pulls out a little green pill bottle, scribbles Blue Diesel on a sticker on it, weighs its future contents. And Kristen fills the bottle. I pass two twenties through the hole beneath the glass. And Kristen hands me my medicine.

And I wait…

And Kristen looks at me, blankly, as an awkward silence ensues.

And I look around…

Is this where someone jumps out with a news camera and assaults me with guilt-ridden shaming questions? Or the Feds come busting in the door with handcuffs and guns drawn? This doesn’t seem right. Nothing has happened!

I wait…

Kristen, “Um. Did you need anything else?”

Deer, “Uhhh… No… Are we done?”

Kristen (with a shooing motion, via two flips of her wrists), “Yes We’re done… Next!”

A true healer.

It’s strange. I suddenly have a dull pain, in my stomach. I ponder again how I will miss buying weed from my hippie, colorfully patch-strewn street kids lounging dirty in the grass over in Golden Gate Park. I will really miss them. I will miss the haggling. And the Grateful Dead music playing. And the pit bulls romping about as we all look out for the police. I feel different now.

I somehow feel… shifted.

 


Photo by Christian Lewis

www.AlexSacK.com

Check out Alex’s book San Francisco TAXI: A 1st Week in the ZEN Life…
And Follow me on Facebook and Twitter for your non-practicing Buddhist one-offs. 

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...

Latest posts by Alex Sack (see all)