A Blue Christmas

It’s my last day driving before heading back east for Christmas. And I’m not feeling very well. (Cough! Cough!)

Digression: Can someone help me with this “back east” thing? Are we talking “back” as in geographically? Or chronologically? Or…

“Cha-ching! – 238 Eddy. Mary. Dispatch.”

Ho! Ho! Cough!

I phlegm-ingly ‘Accept’.

Looks like Santa’s rollin’ to the Loin.

Hmm. I’ve picked up at 238 Eddy before… Oh! It’s the Windsor “Hotel”! Serving San Francisco’s finest homeless. Hmm, again. I wonder what awaits me. (Last time it was helping a homeless guy move just a couple blocks south, down across Market to a different SRO.)

Jingling all the way from City Hall, I navigate my reindeer around the usual jaywalking drug addicts, homeless, transsexual prostitutes and double-parked squad cars adjacent the Tenderloin Police Station before pulling up out in front of the Windsor.

I find my Mary waiting by the curb alongside a Mexican dude wearing some kind of blue maintenance uniform. Dude looks kind of nervous and is clutching his left hand.

I catch Mary give him some kind of pink note… Oh! It’s a Citizen’s Cab voucher! It looks like Mary is not my passenger after all. The name patch on the uniform reads “Juan”.

Mary finishes relaying something inaudible to my guy, before an upset looking Juan shuffles in back and hands me up a completely blank voucher.

Hey! These are supposed to be pre-filled and pre-signed by authority – minus the TBD fare and tip. Citizen’s better honor this thing!

A melancholy Juan directs, “I’m going to 26 California.”

A confused (congested) cab driver queries, “Uh. These vouchers are supposed to be filled out.”

A scowling Juan, “I dunno. My manager just gave me this.”

Amenable Cabbie, “Uh. Ok. Is it cool if I just fill it out, and you sign it then? (Cough!)”

A Juan, “Sure.”

I scribble down the date and my cab number, and pick-up and drop locations, etc. And I hand the voucher back to Juan, who winces as he accepts the voucher and takes my pen… in what is apparently his good hand. Hmm.

En route, Juan proves nice enough.

And although something is definitely up, Juan proceeds to make small talk; about how the taxi business is doing, what with all the rain we’ve had in the past week.

Wise Cabbie, “Well, I have been getting a lot of short rides. But probably at the expense of some longer more lucrative ones. Ultimately, it’s a wash.” (Pun intended.)

However, Juan does not laugh.

Wise Cabbie reciprocates, “Uh, how’s your day going?”

Juan, “It pretty much sucks, man.”

Juan winces some more. And he looks down while rubbing his left hand as he continues, “My job sucks. I gotta get a new one. My manager’s a bitch. And I just got stuck by a needle.”

(Gulp! Cough!) Wait, STUCK?? Wha!?

Juan, “I’m goin’ to the doctor now.”

Wise Cabbie, “Jeez! That DOES suck!! (Doh!) Guess I’m not helping, eh? Uh, how did it happen??”

Juan, “I’m a janitor at the Windsor. I was taking out the trash and some junkies threw away their needles in it. Fuckers. They all throw out their needles and don’t put the caps back on first. I really need a new job, man… My manager’s cheap as all hell, too. They don’t pay me enough.”

Boy, I’ll say.

Wise Cabbie, “Wow! I guess it’s good you’re going to get checked out and stuff. But the doctor won’t be able to tell anything about Hepatitis or HIV or whatever so soon after. (Doh!) I’m still not helping, am I… Sorry.”

Wise Cabbie, attempting to recover, “Well, if you do get Hepatitis or HIV or whatever, you got a pretty good lawsuit! You’ll definitely get paid!!”

I check the rear view to find an unimpressed, melancholy Juan looking down – still wincing and now wringing his hand.

Doh! Too soon??

Wise Cabbie tacks, “Uh, sorry. Guess I’m not helping. First things first, eh? Yeah, you definitely need a new job. You shouldn’t be getting stuck by needles at work. Hey! This reminds me of a story!”

(Cue the wavy vision and harp music…)

Wise Cabbie harkens back,

“One Christmas of yore, when my elder boy was three, we were wandering around the woods at the top of Hippie Hill in Golden Gate Park. We had just come back from Christmas at Grandma’s in Maryland. And she gave everyone digital cameras for their big present that year. So, I was following my boy around at dusk taking pictures, and as the sun was setting I was struggling to focus on the little LCD screen while snapping away. At one point, just as I snapped, my boy looks up and asks me in his cute little elven voice, ‘Dad, what’s this stick?’ I lowered the camera to inspect…”

Continuing, “Oh, GOD!! Holy Jeez!! ‘Uh, son… PUT DOWN THE STICK!!’ I barked. Praise baby Jesus!! The orange cap was still on!”

Juan smiles.

Moral of the story: Yeah, the Tenderloin sucks that way. But this could have happened almost anywhere in San Francisco.

We roll up on the medical office at 26 California, deep in the Financial. And the meter reads $10.80.

Working Cabbie, “(Cough! Sniff!) Errr, I hate to ask… But do you want me to fill out a tip on the voucher?”

Stuck Juan, “Yeah. Fuck my cheap-ass boss. Put on a good tip.”

Working Cabbie, “Ok. I’ll make it triple the fare! (Heh, heh.)”

Worried Juan, “Nah. She’ll fire me. But, I DO need a new job…”

Joking Cabbie, “Oh, I was just joking. People usually put on, like 20%.”

Distracted Juan (wincing and wringing), “Sure. Whatever.”

Guess Juan has other things on his mind at the moment aside from suing and tipping wise cabbies. Go figure. Poor guy. It’ll be weeks before a valid blood test can be taken and the results gleaned. Jeez. What a way to start the holidays!

I give Juan a copy of the voucher for his manager.

And as he exits 137, off into the bustle of downtown San Francisco, I wish Juan a,

“(Gulp!) Merry Christmas!!”

Am I helping yet?

Well one thing a cabbie’s job gives ya, is perspective. I do very much have things to be grateful for…

What are YOU grateful for?


Later, back at the Citizen’s Cab lot…

It’s 1:15, and it looks like I’ll only be walking with around $120.

Ugh. I’m siiiick. My body must know I’ll be flying tomorrow for Christmas. (I foresee a visit to the Chow’s Aquarium Supply in the very near future.)

I’ve called it a day WAY too early for my 4:15 medallion. And as much as I appreciate all the cash transactions I’ve scored when coughing and sneezing in the cab – with no requests for change, I HAVE to go home, and moan on the couch.

I’m the only cab back in the Citizen’s lot this early. (Not counting all the various engine and body parts strewn about.) Everybody else is out making money, as they should be.

I park ‘ol 137 and slog up to the window to check out…

I put her key, medallion, and my receipts in through the metal tray, under the bullet-proof glass, before leaning-in and moaning my excuse to a stoic Jesus.

“Ugh. I’m siiiick.”

I start to shuffle through my cash for the $105 gate (plus $5 tip). But, Jesus proves a merciful guy. He likewise leans into the tray with,

“Just give me $75.”

Praise the Lord! (Cough! Sniff!)

I throw him $85. And I thank Jesus. He passes me my receipt through the tray with the usual snack pack of raisins treat, before adding a,

“Hope you feel better. Merry Christmas.”

A true healer.

I count what’s left of my take…

I’d done the math when starting to drive for a living and figured then that I need to walk with an average of $160 a day to match what I once made back in my straight life working Ops, benefits aside.

So, I’m walking with $120, just as I’d feared.

I continue the slog, out of the Citizen’s Cab lot and out toward my van parked on the street.

I had to find parking a little further away from the lot today. I came in a half hour later than usual and my regular spot outside the lot’s perimeter fence was already taken.

At these later times, refuge can be found across the street from Citizen’s Cab in front of a construction equipment rental business. There’s a row of perpendicular-to-the-curb spots along the sidewalk there where I generally have some luck finding a spot to back into. As I did this morning.

Once over at my van, I pursue the usual routine of first opening the side sliding door to throw in my backpack, stuffed with my “office” contents.

While standing outside of the open sliding door, I notice, back through the dirty, tinted rear hatch window, an old homeless woman with her life’s possessions and a tarp all set up out back behind the van.

Hey! I haven’t seen Raisins around in months! I used to see her camped outside the Citizen’s fence across the street, where I usually park.

I used to give her a buck or two on my way out, back when… and the unwanted raisins Jesus hand you at checkout. But she hasn’t been seen since Citizen’s Cab owner, Dave Hanes, gave the word for her to move on. Pppbbt!

Don’t get me wrong. I really like Dave. He’s always been REALLY good to me. (That’ll be in book 3.)
But on this, I’m not sure why he did it. Seems kinda cold.

Hmm. Well, businesses are responsible for the upkeep of the grounds just outside their biz in San Francisco, I think. Maybe Dave saw it as a liability issue? Dunno. However, I can’t imagine Raisins was doing any serious harm to this industrial district that Citizen’s Cab calls home.

Well, no more harm than the rest of the rotting food-stuff, with its accompanying rats, and the other assorted trash, abandoned vehicles and leaky oil drums found strewn about outside the fence’s perimeter around Raisins’ old spot!

Anyway, guess she’s back in a new home for now, outside of Dave’s jurisdiction.

Somewhat excited, I navigate back behind the van and hop over some ungodly mystery liquid that’s running into an iron drain at the curb there to offer Raisins today’s snack pack.

Let me introduce: Raisins is an old white woman. (I wouldn’t presume to guess her age.) And this go round, she’s sporting navy blue shorts, dirty white Chucks, a candy-striped tank top (with no bra), and a short choppy grey hair cut – as if cut haphazardly with dull lefty scissors. She’s sitting on a milk crate all dignified and Buddha-like folding clothes as beside her are two overflowing shopping carts (complements of Safeway) full of various possessions flanking a lean-to tarp shelter that’s affixed to the rental biz’s steel fence.

Raisins stops what she’s doing to acknowledge, sans-eye contact, my humble offering.

She reaches up a swollen, dirty, um, raisin-like hand (with half chipped-off remnants of cherry nail polish) to accept.

And Raisins casually thanks me, as I turn to head back around the van and she gets back to her housework.

But as I turn the corner, again navigating around the nasty drain, a pang of guilt overcomes me…

Surely in light of Jesus’ benevolence, what with reducing my gate and all today, I can do more for Raisins, to pass on the good Karma.

I reach inside the driver’s door of the van for an accumulated stockpile of past shifts’ raisin snack packs bestowed by Jesus that are populating the cup holder there. I also think to grab a small cache of pennies laying beneath the raisins in the tray, to sweeten the deal.

However, still carrying a pang of guilt, I reach into my pocket to add a buck to the pot. Ok. That oughta do it!

I again head back to Raisins’ sidewalk abode behind my van, juggling round two.

Bursting over with raisin snack packs, a cache of pennies, and my dollar tithe, I stumble back as navigating that liquid and blurting out,

“Here’s some more raisins and some pennies and a dollar, if ya want!”

Raisins again looks up past me from her crate. With cool, traveled distant blue eyes, Raisins calmly stares into the horizon… and then casually lifts up two dirty paws, cupped to receive the bounty.

I smile, now securely absolved of my guilt as I turn to leave. But Raisins gets all social…

She speaks,

“I reelly lik yur van. Niice n’ stuurdy.”

Uh, okay. Whatever.

I’ll play, “Yeah,” as I pat the roof. “Dunno what I’d do without ‘er. Gotta get to work from all the way across town real early every morning.”

And Raisins returns the volley.

“Ohhh! A biiig, strrong van! Got girth! Nah lik theese ahther jalopies.”

She waves her hand dismissively at the line of old economy cars parked parallel to mine, to emphasize her point, before Raisins caps.

“Hydes mee reel good-like, whin I gou too tha baaathroom!”

And with this, I turn back towards the van, again navigat… Wait.



Photo by Alex SacK


Stuff THIS in yer stocking! San Francisco TAXI: Life in the Merge Lane… (Book 2) out now!

Check out Alex’s Book 1 – San Francisco TAXI: A 1st Week in the ZEN Life…
And Follow 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)