I’m all Paris-ed and “let’s throw up barbed-wire fences to keep us free“-ed out. Feeling kind of dark. So, please indulge as I pitch this one ride out there, to cheer us up…
It’s been slow. It’s that palpable quiet period for cab driving as Thanksgiving looms.
At present I’m cruising the Lower Haight, with the back seat having been cold for the last forty-five minutes. (Sigh.) I guess it’ll be the left up Fillmore now, for the usual rounds; on through the Jazz District, up through well-off Pac Heights, and down into the yuppie ubiquitous Marina.
However, mid-turn, score!
It’s a late 20’s skinny white blonde dude with thick coke-bottle glasses, and sagging jeans, running into the street from the afar bus stop to flag. Dude is swaggering towards me in beat up skater shoes, with gold chain swaying, and one hand waving vehemently in the air as the other holds up his falling pants. Yes, Vanilla Ice is rocking the hip-hop fashion plate. But somehow, he comes across as pretty geeky, with his Ichabod Crane frame and premature balding comb-over. I do not know what to make of Vanilla. However, my spider sense is tingling.
Or is that the buzz of an IM from my landlord asking for rent? Hmm.
I pull over.
Vanilla opens the back and throws in a black knife roll, before he himself jumps in all energized, with,
“32nd & Clement, bro. Across from tha golf course at tha Legion of Honor. I’m headin’ ovah ta my restaurant, The Driving Range. I gotta lotta work ta do today, man. Waz put in charge ‘a tha kitchen two weeks ago, ‘n I fired everbodee! Fuckin’ everee last one a’ ’em! A buncha lazy fucks!”
Well, let’s just skip the weather and get right to it.
With waybill/clipboard propped on the steering wheel of ‘ol 137, and pen in hand, Bro marks down 32nd & Clement and repeats back to Vanilla, “The Driving Range.”
Vanilla (unprompted), “I kept my boy Manuel, tho. He used ta work there before n’ I rehired ’em. He cudn’t stand all thoze otha lazy fucks in tha kitchen ‘n he left. But I fire all seven of ’em! Dis herez a’ bidness, not a charity! Cut labor coss by 500%! All I need is Manuel n’ me, ‘nyway, bro. We rock dat shit! Ain’t NO one hustle like me ‘n Manuel!”
Bro, “It sounds like you DO have a busy day! Well, you’re in the right cab. I’ll have you at work before you know it!” Bro, adding, “Wow! Fired ’em all, eh? Sounds like that show Bar Rescue, where that hard-ass guy comes into failing bars and shakes everything up.”
Vanilla, “It’s EXACTLY like that show, bro! Tha ownerz wife die like too years ago a’ cancer ‘n he’z all drinkin’ ‘n druggin’ since. Thoze lazy asses were all takin’ total advantage ‘a him. I callt a meeting in the kitchen n’ line ’em all up, said, ‘You, you, you, you… GONE! All fired. Go home! I don’ wanna LOOK at you guys. You ain’t welcome ta EAT here. You ain’t welcome ta BE here. Don’ come back!”
Vanilla emphasizes the firing scene with jabbing thumb motions over his shoulder.
Bro, “Uh… How’d they take that, anyway?”
Vanilla, “Oh, man. They waz PISSED! Said they waz gonna come back wit tha Mexican mafia! But bro, I got my own! Me ‘n Manuel? We’z Wesside! We gonna have a WAR, nigga! They don’ know who they playin’ wit, homie! I don’ play. I ex-military! 32nd Infantry, 10th Mountain Division, bitch!”
Bro, “They didn’t stand a chance, did they?” Continuing, “Er, so what’s the menu like at your restaurant? I bet you’re a good chef. I used to wait tables, for too many years. I found that all the good chefs were, uh… crazy.”
Vanilla, “Oh, hellll ye-ah! I rock it, bro! Tha owner came up wit tha menu yeerz ago. He a great chef, too. But I gonna make it better, once I get settled ‘n all. Hell, I already made it better, bro! We serve ev’rything! Alligator gumbo, kangaroo meat loaf, fish ‘n chips.”
I check the rear view. And I find Vanilla settling back, suddenly looking out of the window all glassy-eyed as we roll a short-cut through Golden Gate Park.
Vanilla, “Let me tell ya, bro. I’m the luckiest man in tha world! I get ta work ev’ry day wit tha mos’ beautiful woman on tha planet! Tha bartender, bro. I’z gonna make that woman my wife!”
Bro, “Oh? Congrats! Uh, does she know she’s gonna be your wife?”
Vanilla, “I don’ fuck around, bro, I told ‘er that. ‘Cause I don’ lie! I lie once ta my ma. She axed me, ‘Howz skool goin’?’ I said, ‘Fine.’ She says, ‘Den how come dey jus’ call ‘n tell me you ain’t been en too months!!’ Ha! Aftah dat, I ain’t never lie since, bro. I tell it like it is!”
Vanilla (digressing back), “I tell ya tho, bro. When I got outta tha military, I waz a hot mess! I serve eight years in Afghanistan! That shit waz fuck’d up! When I git back, I din’t know how ta handle it. Bein’ back. Bein’ safe. No one tryin’ ta blow me up. Not havin’ ta worry ’bout landmines n’ shit. I din’t know how ta cope. I waz smokin’ crack. I waz smokin’ meth. Ain’t no more ‘a dat shit now, tho! I still got all dese memories when I lie down, tho. My friends dyin’. Seein’ ’em all in pieces. Bro, it waz fuck’d up. Fer reelz! We mark time by tha numbers a’ bullets we fire. We waz the first troops in Afghanistan, man!”
Man, “Wow! Your were in the first deployment!? I remember that time was crazy, the learning curve. Rumsfeld not giving you guys the armor you needed. And I remember scenes on the news where we were air-dropping tubes of peanut butter to all the natives. And they were all just confused, squeezing the peanut butter out all over the sand not knowing what the hell it was!”
Vanilla, “Bro, I would NOT ride in a humvee! They had god damn CANVAS doors! Nah! I walked, bro. I waz light infantry. We back’d up Navy Seals, bitch! I don’ know ’bout no learnin’ curve, tho. Tha onlee Pashtun I ever learnt waz ‘Git tha fuck down on tha floor ‘fore I blow ur fuckin’ brainz out!’”
Bro, “Yeah, I guess that would be more important than ‘Where’s the bathroom?’ Eh?”
Vanilla, “Man, tha bathroom waz wherevah. On a pile ‘a enemy kills! Dat’s why Veteran’s Day is sacred ta me, bro. I don’ drink where I’z work. Dat’s unprofessional. I drink fer free at my friend’z bar. He fill my pint glass all tha way ta tha top! Wit brandy! ‘N I drink ta my friendz.”
Hmm. I wonder what Vanilla thinks about the whole “thank you for your service” thing… How that one Nam vet I drove said he hated it when people thank him – as he didn’t feel he had a choice in the matter, even though he volunteered.
Curious Bro, “Hey! Let me ask you something! I drive a lot of vets out to the VA…”
But, Vanilla jumps at the mention of the VA. He cuts me off mid-sentence.
Vanilla, “BRO! I do NOT deal wit thoze BUTCHERS!!”
Bro, “Oh? I heard the VA here is pretty good. Well, once you’re actually in the system…”
Vanilla, “Bro, I do NOT truss tha government! They took my life ‘n flush it down tha toilet, man! ‘N fer what!? OIL! Heroin ‘n oil! Shit. We killt Bin Laden right off, man! Bin Laden waz workin’ wit tha CIA, bro! ‘N Bush? He knew 911 waz comin’! Needed it ta go ta war, bro! I do NOT truss thoze motha fuckaz! You think ’bout it! We waz in Afghanistan ‘n THEN we go ta Iraq!? ‘N THEN we go BACK ta Afghanistan!? Aftah they already all fortified ‘n lernt our tactics!? Shiiiit. But I don’ give a fuck! I kill ev’ry ONE a’ thoze mutha fuckaz! We’d be rollin’ up thoze mountain passes ‘n ev’ry ONE ‘a thoze fuckaz would run ‘n hide. ‘Cause dey KNOW I don’ give a fuck. Kill every ONE a’ ’em! Babies… women… child’rn. Don’ fuckin’ care. ‘Cause dats my JOB! Clean-up ops! Dat’s what we DO! Mountain Division, bitch!”
Curious Bro, “Wow. So you say Bin Laden was killed years ago? Right when the war started? And he was working with the CIA after 911?? I mean, I know the CIA trained him to fight the Russians in Afghanistan, decades before…”
Vanilla, “Dude, he was in on tha WHOLE thing, wit Bush. Bin Laden record a bunch ‘a video shit ‘fore he die. ‘N they jus’ been releasin’ it ovah time, bro. Iz not stupid, man. I see ev’rything! It waz ALL ’bout oil! ‘N floodin’ Russia wit heroin, man! ‘N we shot down that plane ovah Pennsylvania. ‘Cause we knew it waz comin’ fer tha White House, ‘r some shit. I KNOW, man. Don’ be believin’ no bullshit stories ’bout war. You wanna know what it’s like? Watch Band of Brothers, or Black Hawk Down. Dat shit iz reelz, bro. I waz DERE! That war waz FUCK’D UP! We use ta hang landminez frum tha trees, so we could blow people en half! N’ den laugh at ’em! Ha! Don’ give a fuck! Don’ truss NO-body! ALL bullshit! B-U-L-L-S-H-I-T! Think ’bout it, man. All BULLSHIT!”
Somehow, Vanilla now intuitively comes around to the question that I did not get the chance to ask.
“Thank you for your service?? Man, you don’ gotta tell me dat! You know why I join tha army?? It’s ’cause I wanted ta die! ‘NI wanted ta kill! I wanted ta kill! ‘N die!”
Vanilla wraps it up as we pull up to his drop at 32nd & Clement, outside of The Driving Range.
The meter reads $18.55.
“I DID die, too. Dey killt me, man! Bro, you wanna know what combat’s like? Sometimes I’d run outta bullets… ‘n I’d have ta kill people wit a shovel. A SHOVEL! ‘Nyway, here’s twinty-five. You keep it.”
Vanilla grabs his knife roll and jumps out of 137, as Bro yells after, “Thank you for… Uh, thanks! And congrats on your new gig!”
Adding a meek, “Er… Have a nice day?”
Photo by Christian Lewis
Stuff THIS in yer stocking! San Francisco TAXI: Life in the Merge Lane… (Book 2) out now!