Yeah, it’s still the slow season in the taxi world. And now it’s cold. Christmas cold. And it’s getting rainy, too. El Niño ‘n all… The good news is, after a short fall from Grace relapsing into cough syrup abuse for sleep, I AM CLEAN.
Yes friends, your driver is clean. He’s been abstaining from cough syrup, alcohol AND sugar. Been eating lighter, too. (And not before bed!) And he has been sleeping like a spare Crown Vic. But, this is not why you came here…
Or, is it?
I’m in my van, en route to the Citizen’s Cab lot for the day shift. With abstinence has come clarity. Too damn much. Cutting through this dark and wet, I can feel my body buzzing and my mind turning. Internally, past dramas and passions emerge from storage, burning upwards towards the surface, up from the fat. Externally, I am dissecting every nuance, every stimulus and judging its reality: Is the threat real? Or perceived?
Rolling down Gough towards the highway, who’s events commonly serve as omen and portend my day… it’s an Audi. Piercing blue xenon headlights encroach fast in the rear view, in the open MIDDLE lane. I am rocking the right lane clear, flowing, working the lights one-by-one as they turn green, poised securely for a right towards the 101 on-ramp…
But Audi has other ideas.
With each and every turning light along this stretch, Audi zooms forward on my left, revs then holds back. He insults me. Audi plays as if I do not know where I am, as if I do not know these roads, these lights. He thinks he will catch me at a stop, jump, and steal MY kill!
Suddenly, I feel flush, feel my heart pushing hyper-oxygenated blood ever hotter through surging veins. All senses flare as I smell the brisk air fill and stretch my lungs, see my chest heave up and down with “fight or flight”, as I hear the drumming call of Existence itself! Across my still cold windshield, I stand witness to these exhalations splayed, one-by-one, as each produces anew a snarling Rorschach fog.
(How’s THAT for writing, folks!)
But, I catch myself… I think better of taking the bait. I attempt to look away from the rear view, try to slow my breath and heart rate. I attempt to not buy-in to this competition for… Wait. What is it exactly that we’re competing for? The empty, open road to the highway?? Hell, there’s food back at home in the fridge. And a roof over said fridge. (And hence, me!) After all, this is the season of peace. (Sorta.) I try not to think about Audi.
But, that’s like telling you to not think of a yellow banana!
(See. You just did.)
Neck and neck, Audi ZOOMS forward! No doubt vying for the first, more popular Fell Street right, then immediate left onto Octavia for the on-ramp. (But there are two more right turn options from Gough, for Octavia and 101, just a bit further ahead.)
Sweating the occupied lane of Sack, Audi VEERS right suddenly…
ZZZOOOMMM!!! VVVEEEERRR!!! VVVRRROOOMM!! SCREECCCH!!!
He cuts Sack off HARD! And he turns right ACROSS Sack’s forward momentum from the MIDDLE lane!! No match, Sack’s cheap Chinese tires SCREECH! and SLIP in the slick, just narrowly avoiding collision!!
And Audi comes to an immediate stop at a red on Fell, behind several other cars waiting for their requisite left onto Octavia and the last stretch of lights before the on-ramp…
As Sack goes straight for Haight.
Audi MAY make it to that last light on Octavia before the highway, at Market. But Sack WILL make it AT LEAST to Market via Haight, if not an unbroken run onto 101.
I continue straight down Gough, before making the last right onto Haight. Sack rocks the green at Octavia for the left and… there’s Audi!
He’s stopped, waiting in the left of two lanes at Market, behind just one car at the last red before the on-ramp!
But, what is this?
Audi has left a car length between himself and the car in front of him! Why??
Ah! Through the wet and dark, Sack spots the warm glow of Audi’s cell phone in his lap!
Sack casually works his van diagonally left into the open space between Audi and the car ahead of him, as Audi is caught unawares with his pants down! And once again, Audi is no doubt glaring in disgust at the dirty, green soccer mom-mobile that is once again ahead of him!
But, something is amiss. No, I do NOT feel victory. I feel… stressed. This whole deal just feels emblematic of my life. Adrenalin pumping, heart racing, head ready for road rage, down in the mud, petty. And for what? Survival? Some animal need to secure the illusion of “future”? To rip the meat and lock it for MY family?? Is this some fight against death? A lack of control? Hell, no one’s going anywhere! No one gets out of here alive… Life is all about the story, the legacy you will leave behind, the deeds enacted on behalf of fellow sentients.
I used to tell myself that these contests were about justice, about right and wrong, about lessons that were my duty to teach to those lacking empathy. But I now realize that this is bullshit. I now know… Audi is me.
I’m back in the office at ‘ol Citizen’s Cab grabbing 137’s key and medallion. I throw Tony a $10 tip. (I can’t say “bribe”, as I haven’t seen an airport from him in months.)
Tony is a proud, glowing father, as up on the computer at dispatch he shows off his older boy’s website full of high end “glass” (a.k.a. bongs) to a bevy of jaw-dropped drivers.
“Ye-ah, my boy start’d wit sexee swimsuit models aht tha site. He gaht towsends ah follow’rs frum dat ‘n now sells glass fer as much as twenti-too gran! He gaht sum Chrismas glass, to! N’ we goin tah Vegas en ah couple weeks fer ah glass sho.”
Jeez. What pot-head can afford to buy a $22K bong ! (Er, Snoop Dog??)
It’s post-Starbucks. I’m doin’ the rounds. And yeah, it’s quiet. Christmasy quiet. Franz Liszt sets the mood on Classical 90.3FM as I roll the empty streets of San Francisco with wheels spinning, internally and externally.
Tony comes over the CB radio.
“Aneewun owt dere fer Maude? We gaht ah regula aht 12th ‘n Lake. Aneewun wanna go?”
Ah, Maude! San Francisco’s emergency manager! She always throws you a twenty, cash, at her drop at City Hall. Maude’s nice, however uptight. (Though, the “uptight” that permeates the cab can be forgiven, given Maude’s responsibility for keeping all us citizens safe in this socio-political tinderbox of a city, that is also nicely situated on the San Andreas.)
“137. Geary & Masonic. I’ll get Maude.”
“137. Copee. Goh git Maude. 12th ‘n Lake.”
Five minutes later…
Maude and I are rolling towards City Hall with NPR droning in the background. We make the usual polite, broken conversation, with Maude distracted on-and-off by various IMs from the chief of police and various San Francisco supervisors. This, with the tense sighs and gasps that consequently, invariably emanate from the back.
At a messaging break, Maude confides.
“Someone keeps fucking up and not doing their job. I had to come back in the middle of a visit with my family over the weekend, from up in the North Bay, and babysit the workers setting up the tree in City Hall. They made the ornaments red and green for Christ’s sake! I TOLD them not to do that! This is a diverse city and we can NOT have ANY allusions to Christmas! It can’t be blue and white because of the Jews. And what color is Kwanzaa?? Hell if I know! It was SUPPOSED to be a neutral silver and gold! And now I have to go in AGAIN last minute and fix the mess! The thing is twenty-five feet and took HOURS to decorate! The same vendor already lost us the Hope Tree! Who knows what that even is! Oh, can we go to the Grove Street side? Eric Mar has some group blocking the entrance on Polk! Who the hell knows what he’s up to now!”
A few minutes on at City Hall, Maude goes all sweet, as usual. She throws me up the usual twenty and looks me sincerely in the eyes as she exits 137, with the usual.
“Give my love to the boys!” Adding, “Oh, and happy holidays, if I don’t see you before!”
And a merry Christmas to you, too, Maude!
I just got a cryptic IM from Christian. It’s a picture of his regular cab, 1185. It’s looks totaled, with bent tires, a smashed windshield, and all the air bags deployed. He’s got a caption in the IM that reads simply, “I’m going to DeSoto.”
Christian loved that cab. He thinks leaving Citizen’s Cab for DeSoto will solve all his problems. Not likely, I say. Christian’s problems are MUCH bigger than that. His therapist recently let him go, citing that she had a full schedule and bigger basket cases to attend to. I told him to give me her number, that I could convince her that she has made a GRAVE mistake.
Anyway, the current state of 1185 (and Christian’s picture) just reinforces what all us drivers already know. The thing we all keep deep in the back of our minds. That any day at work could be our last. If it isn’t death, or a threat to limb, it may well be the end of a driver’s good standing with Citizen’s Cab’s insurance.
I’m cruising east down Market, into the deep Financial. I had a pang to try my old trick of double-parking outside of Sephora, at 1st & Market, maybe see if there’s a day tripper headed to the airport. That is, if a MUNI bus doesn’t sweat me to move.
Right as I pull over in front of the “No Stopping” sign before 1st… score! A Sikh, complete with turban and long beard, flags me out in front.
And Singh gets in my sleigh.
“Please, sir. 15th & Church. And please, sir, fast!”
Damn. NOT an airport.
Oh, well. Back seat’s warm.
137 cuts through the city like a hot knife through melted, uh, curry! Weaving in and out, and around buses, “rideshares”, pedestrians and bikes! The reindeer under the hood of this trusty Prius know no theory of relativity, baby!
Bike courier, WEAVE!!!
Uber, CUT OFF!!!!
There are squeals of joy and encouragement beaming from the back with giddy laughter and pronouncements of gratitude! Singh is in awe!
“You, sir, are a true taxi man! You drive… very good! Many thank yous for bringing me to my destination so speedy! Here is my American Express card. Please sir, a good tip for you. Make it twelve dollars!”
Huh!? The meter reads $11.55!
Yeah, and a many thanks to you, too, sir.
Now, back to Market. (To buy a fat pig…)
I was waiting for a bit outside of Sephora. But a bus kicked me out. He was pulling the “honk of shame” and pretending that he couldn’t get between me and the MUNI island. Dude had all of his passengers, the cars behind and nearby pedestrians all sneering and jeering at me over the manufactured gridlock and cacophony. Yeah, this, despite the fact that the four buses before him had no issue getting through! Whatever.
I’m retreating west, back up Market, as heading out of the Financial. But as I’m passing Post, a thirty-something Asian woman jumps out from the sidewalk to desperately flag.
And once again, the back seat is warm.
Song, “Please, can you take me to 10th & Geary? And then wait for me a minute? And then take me out to Anza & 30th?”
Driver, “Sure. No problem.”
Well, ok. Not a bad ride out into the Outer Richmond. That is, if Song doesn’t take too long at her first stop.
Recall: The meter runs at the slower rate of 55 cents/minute when idle.
Song and I ride in silence, before slowly, a few muffled sniffles begin to emerge from the back.
Then, the sniffles turn to tears. And cries of deep anguish!
Driver, addressing Song via the rear view, “Uh… would you like a Starbucks napkin, miss?”
Song, “(SNORT!) Yes. (SNIFF!) Thank you, Driver.”
And Song explains, “I’m sorry driver. (BBLLLOOWW!!) I just found out that my father (SNORT!) diiiieeedd!!! (WWWAAAAAHHHHHH!!!)”
And Song and I ride the rest of the way out to 11th & Geary, O’Doul’s Mortuary, in awkward silence. But for some sporadic SNORT!s, SNIFF!s and WWWAAAAAHHHHHH!!!s.
Wait… O’Doul’s Mortuary? Funny. She doesn’t LOOK Irish? Hmm.
Song thanks me for waiting, as to remind, as she exits 137 and runs over to a group of distraught looking family members congregated on the kempt lawn in front of the mortuary.
And Driver spends his time getting lost in NPR, rapt in a story about a bean farmer. (Or, some such.)
Five minutes later…
Song runs back to the cab and leans into the shotgun window.
“Thank you for waiting, Driver. But I won’t be going on to the next stop. How much is the fare?”
Driver, checking the meter, “Uh… It looks like $17.80, miss.”
Song, “Here. Keep the change.”
Song throws a twenty and a five in through the shotgun. And she starts off back to her family. As Driver yells after, “I hope things get better!”
I don’t think that’s really an option here. It’s a pretty permanent deal.
Driver, floundering, “Merry Christmas!”
Ah, the holidays…
Photo by Christian Lewis
Stuff THIS in yer stocking! San Francisco TAXI: Life in the Merge Lane… (Book 2) out now!