STOP! KEEP CLEAR!

So, nothing’s wrong right now. But something’s not right: Is it the changing seasons? That undisclosed wet stuff falling from the sky in San Francisco? Mass shootings? (Nah.) The holidays?

I took a couple days off to do nothing. But, it did nothing for me: Maybe that’s it! Christian and I didn’t jam last weekend! Not jamming is unrelated, but Christian’s kind of mad at me right now. He doesn’t like the way he’s portrayed in Book 2. (Makes me wonder if he’s even read book1!) It’s uncanny how, when I gave him a copy, he opened right to the page about him drooling over his passenger’s exposed tits.

Anyway, whenever he gets mad at me he “unfriends” me on Facebook. He thinks that makes it hard for me to rip his pictures for the blog. However, Christian doesn’t realize that his privacy settings are set for public viewing. And hence, ripe for ripping:) I’ve been bugging him to “friend” me, again. So I can’t post this on his timeline. But alas, it seems that my pleas have fallen on deaf ears. “With friends like these” as they say…

Side Note: Upon revelation of motive, my teenage son’s eyes went wide, as he exclaimed, “Dad, He’s RIGHT to not ‘friend’ you!” Smart kid.

Please, a little help, people? SIGN THE PETITION! to get Christian to “friend” me, again, on Facebook.

 

Tuesday

5:35am:
I’m doing the rounds. Currently, I’m cruising the Upper Haight. It’s dark and quiet, but for some Schubert wafting over the radio. My mind is wandering relentless, as it does in these pre-dawn hours. Thoughts turn to how driving around San Francisco all day long, I see these signs that say “STOP” and “KEEP CLEAR”. And I think that I have finally figured out what these signs are saying to me. They’re saying, “STOP!” And “KEEP CLEAR!”

OOoOooMmMmMmm…

Moving through the city with the ice yet to be broken, I’ve now broken from routine and wandered up near Coit Tower; where the darkness is, um, broken by the distinctive, signature squawks of the feral parrots of Telegraph Hill, undulating from some random hidden tree. (Ah, San Francisco.)

The early morning progresses non-descript, until…

8:56am:
I’m just returning from an airport, courtesy of the Cabulous app. (Yay!) It was some Irish dude, with WAY too much cologne. He pinged me out in the Marina.

Traffic was unusually slow getting to SFO, which is not so bad, as the meter ticks up at the 55 cents/minute rate when idle, in addition to the 55 cent/fifth-mile rate while actually moving. So, as expected at this time, traffic is also slow returning from the airport. But, this smells weird. It shouldn’t be THIS slow!

As I roll north up 101, approaching the Silver Avenue overpass… Holy crap!! 101 south is TOTALLY shut down! With police and fire trucks and ambulances and bashed cars… and a HUGE dump truck overturned on the overpass!! It’s taken out the guard rail and dumped TONS of debris on all the traffic below!! Jeez! A few minutes difference and that would have been me getting dumped on! Or, killed!!

9:45am:
I’m doing the rounds, again. Around Thanksgiving and after, cab driving gets quiet. It happens fast. Like it fell off a truck. And it doesn’t let up until maybe March. Despite having long ceded these disposable-income, yuppie grounds to the likes of Uber and Lyft, I’m now cruising Union Street down in Cow Hollow.

Amazingly, at Buchanan, running out from the Lululemon here with shopping bags… it’s a flag! She’s even blonde! (Well, I guess she would be, here.) I pull over to a stop. And an older, well-off looking woman in a white dress and pearl necklace throws her bags in and settles in back.

“Thank you for stopping, driver. I’m sorry. It’s just a short ride up the hill, to Pacific and Hyde.”

Ah, Nob Hill. Historically known as “Snob Hill”. (I actually only know this because of the movie San Andreas, with The Rock .)

Well, Lynda seems nice enough. And the back seat is warm.

We ride.

I continue on, immersed in listening to an interview on NPR with some woman author who’s got a book on how badly human relationships have been suffering, due to all of our technological distractions. She’s got all sorts of interesting metrics and studies that she cites.

Lynda and I roll onward, winding through Cow Hollow. As we cross Van Ness, with my head in the radio and hers affixed to her smartphone screen, I suddenly burst out.

“Hey!”

And a startled Lynda jolts straight and looks up from her phone, right as I come to dead stop mid-block up Vallejo… and I honk at an Irish contractor jaywalking in front of my taxi.

HHOONNK!

Doh! My passenger!

I turn to assure Lynda.

“Oh! Don’t worry. I know him. That’s my landlord!”

Lynda rests back again, smiling.

I honk again.

HHOONNK!

And Paddy turns around to sneer at the cabbie hassling him, as cabbie yells out of the shotgun window.

“Paddy! Paddy! It’s Alex! Your tenant!”

Paddy turns, looking very confused. He bends to squint inside of the shotgun of ‘ol Citizen’s Cab 137. And we have cognition.

“Alex! My boy, how are you doing! Ha!”

Tenant, “Oh, I’m fine. Yeah, funny seeing you here. Anyway, have a good one!”

Landlord, “Right. You too!”

And Lynda and I roll. And as we do, we now abandon our tech to engage with each other, with talk of landlords.

Driver, “Yeah. Paddy’s a real good guy. But he’s a TERRIBLE landlord! I mean, I’m not the best tenant. I’m late with rent pretty often. But, it gets paid. I guess that’s the only real problem I cause.”

Driver continues, “But, the funny thing about Paddy, though, is he’s a contractor by trade. He only in recent years bought my building. He bought it from my old landlord, after the crack dealers downstairs burned down the middle flat, leaving an electric space heater on a chair. My old landlord had been one for too many years. He got too old to deal with all the BS. After all, that was the third fire in the eight years I lived there! So, he sold the building “as is” to Paddy. (Funny. My old landlord, Aidan, was Irish, too!)

But I SWEAR to you, Paddy must be the WORST contractor in the world! When I asked him to fix the landline phone cable that runs through the building, cause rats ate at it, I told him I’d thrown a dollar store phone cable out of my window to the box in the garage, as a temporary fix. Well, Paddy just drilled a hole in the wall under that window, put through my cable, caulked the hole… and made my jerry-rig permanent!

But, that’s not all!

When I asked him to fix the door jamb to the back door, at the top bolt lock, where the firefighters broke-in with a crow bar, Paddy just filled some wood inside the hole in the door jamb where the bolt goes in! So now, only the bottom lock is functional, even though there’s still a top bolt lock! Jeez. But that’s not the worst of it…

YOU WILL NOT BELIEVE THE WORST OF IT!

After TWO YEARS of asking him to fix the wall in my shower – the tiles were all falling off from mold and rot – he only got around to it when water started leaking into the girls’ flat below me. This, no doubt, as they are paying three times the rent I am – on account of rent control. (But boy, if they only knew they were sleeping in the same bedroom where the old crack head woman tenant died squatting after the fire!) So yeah, after FINALLY getting around to it, he spent three days cheaply redoing the bathroom shower and wall, and finished it with the tiles all disjointed.

The day he finished, though, I rolled-in to the bathroom half-awake around midnight, to take a piss. And I hear this muted “MMmOOoWW!” Now, as a guy who plays music and records, I am quite sensitive to the quality of sound. I tried desperately to tell myself that this was just my cat, Char (rescued from the crack dealers, post-fire), maybe having gotten into the narrow enclosure outside of my bathroom window. It runs three flights down to the ground. Alas, no. The muffled cries continued. And they were proximate!

“MmmMmOOoooOoWWW!! MMMmmMOoOoWW!!!”

Those muted feline pleas were coming from INSIDE THE FRESHLY-TILED WALL!!!

After several attempted calls to Paddy went straight to voicemail, I figured that either he was ripping open the wall, the fire department was, or I WAS!

Needless to say, I do NOT ask the landlord to fix anything, anymore!”

Lynda barks out with loud laughter, “NO!! HA! HA! HA! Oh, My GOD! That DOES beat all!!”

We pull up to Lynda’s vera purple bougainvillea-laden, dark brick row house on Pacific, up in Snob Hill. She throws me $8 cash on the $6.80 fare. And Lynda grabs her bags and exits 137, still laughing and coming to tears.

And I drive.

11:15am:
“Cha-ching! – 1340 Golden Gate. Ganny. Dispatch.”

Hey! That’s Ganny! Hell yeah, I ‘Accept’!

Recall: Ganny is a warm, raspy-voiced, old black grandmother (hence, “Ganny”) with a slew of serious medical issues and a wicked love for Jesus. Ganny’s lived a long life of untimely familial death, and urban drama. But she seems to just flitter through it all, with her BIG pink rhinestone-studded sunglasses, a Jheri curl wig, a beautiful ease and an amazing Grace. Yup. I LOVE me MY Ganny!

I’m empty, just over by Alamo Square cruising the Painted Ladies. I roll over to Ganny’s addict recovery/hospice home at 1340 Golden Gate, lickety-split. (I anticipate this to be one of her regular rides over to SF General for cancer treatment, or the like – courtesy of San Francisco’s Paratransit program.)

Turning the corner from Steiner, I pull up and over alongside Ganny, who is outside casually waiting. She looks dashing today, as always; sparkling, with a gilded cane, feathered hat – complete with big G-shaped curl protruding, and various colored rhinestone accoutrements.

She creaks in back with a big warm smile. And Ganny says hello.

“Ahhhh. Izz you! Da drivah wit tha book! Howz you doin’?”

Driver With the Book, “Oh, I’m well. It’s great to see you, Ganny! Happy holidays! So, where are we off to today? General?”

Ganny, beaming, “Yuhp! You gaht it! Gen’rl, drivah! Ha! Iz jus’ had ah M… R… I… Dey give me ah flu shat, ‘n dey say et gaht ah vi-rus en et, ah sumthin’… My ahrm blow uhp lik ah ba-loon! ‘N et exaser’bate by my menon-i-ah. Den et caus’ ah stroke! Iz hahd ah an-er-izm. Dey say et waz ‘caus ah sum add-o-tive en dah flu shat. Dey give me sum strohng ant-bi-O-tic. Mmm-hmm. Dey wanna keep me dere ovah-nite. Fer ahb-sa-vashun. Mmm-hmm. Howz yer ritin’?”

Driver, “Oh, I’m plugging away. I have to say, Ganny. I am always just amazed how positive you are! What with all that you’ve dealt with in life. YOU should write!”

Ganny, “Ha! Iz werkin’ ahn et! Iz gaht storees! ‘N Iz gaht notz fer et ahl! N’ izz ahll ah testahmonee tah tha Lahd! Dats how Iz git tru et ahl. Jezuz! ‘N you gahtta hav ah sens ah hu-mah! Iz goh tah tha Meth-O-diss chuch. Buht Iz Bap-tiss. Izz jus’ clos. Look ruhn down. Buht et hep me tru! Whin Iz ahn drugz, tooo. Looong tim ahgo.”

Driver, “Yeah, God is good. I didn’t know you ever did drugs.”

Ganny, “Aw, ye-ahh. Looong tim ahgo. Stihl go ta tha meetinz. Dey jus’ buss ah guy wit poundz ah meth aht tha meetin’, tooo! He be sellin’ tah ev’rbodee recov’rin! Ovah Lagun’a Hahnda. Iz werk dere, tooo. En dah can… teen. Dey giv me ah dollah ah howr fer heppin owt. You kin uuz et fer tha can… teen. Lass tim Iz werk, dere waz diss ded bodee en dah el-e-vater wit me. En dah gurnee. Smellz lik shoo letha! Heez en dah bahg, ‘n all. ‘N iz glahd! Caus’ et maybee sumwun you kno! ‘N Iz don’ WANNA kno!”

With that, Ganny and I pull up to her room for the night (hopefully), at SF General. And I roll $16.70 richer, via SF Paratransit.

But immeasurably wealthier, via Jesus.

1:35pm:
I’m fishing downtown in the Financial on Mission, aiming for Market. It’s probably too early, but maybe I can score a day tripper heading to the airport.

“Cha-ching! Katherine. 2 Embarcadero. iPhone.”

Well, ok. I hit the green flashing button on the Cabulous smartphone on my dash and I ‘Accept’ the order.

But, WTF?

Embarcadero 2 is an outdoor mall covering a full city block. And the GPS on the Cabulous phone shows the little person icon (that is my passenger) as standing in the middle of the mall! Not helping matters is that the streets down here are all one-way. And heavily trafficked! Maybe a ‘Call Passenger’ is in order here?? (Although necessary at times, this is generally considered an invasive, extreme measure.)

Eh, I’ll roll by, see if anyone’s looking at me funny with their phone out.

One minute Later…

I’m weaving up Front Street, having just crossed California. Embarcadero 2 is just up ahead on the next block, across the light.

Ah! On my side of Sacramento, across from Embarcadero 2, it’s a middle-aged blonde woman in a dark pants suit waving her phone at me, with luggage!

Sweet!

I zoom to the curb, out of the way of anxious traffic. And I jump out to verify my passenger, as I help throw her bag in the hatch.

“Katherine!?” I exclaim, as I reach for her bag.

“Yes. Thank you. I’m just going to Caltrain.”

Shit.

Oh, well. Back seat’s warm, and all…

We settle into my taxi. I hit the ‘Start Trip’ button on the Cabulous phone, and pull away from the curb.

Suddenly, “Bah-dah-doo-doo Bah Dah Doo Doop-Doop! Bah-dah-doo-doo Bah Dah Doo Doop-Doop!”

My boring, stock iPhone ring tone goes off. (Gotta replace that with something more imaginative!) I’ll check the number. But I usually don’t answer when “with fare”. Unless, it looks important.

Says (415) 555-5555

Shit.

That’s the middle-man Cabulous phone number… for communication with your current passenger!

Stunned. I do not answer. And the call goes to voicemail.

Leerily, I turn towards the rear view.

“Uhhhh… Katherine?”

“Oh. My name’s not Katherine.”

Again, “Bah-dah-doo-doo Bah Dah Doo Doop-Doop! Bah-dah-doo-doo Bah Dah Doo Doop-Doop!”

Shit.

I answer.

“This is Alex… Oh… Uh, sorry… Yeah, there was some confusion… You wait right there, where you are… Yes… Yes… I’ll be right there… Thanks… Sorry… Bye.”

I hit the meter off, pull to the curb and jump out of the cab… with a gasping Not-Katherine shocked and bewildered in the back seat.

“What are you doing???”

Through the now open back hatch, I nervously try to keep the peace, as I pull Not-Katherine’s bag back out of 137.

“Uh, ma’am. That was my passenger on the phone, Katherine. I was on my way to an order when you flagged me. You waved your phone, and said you were Katherine when I asked.”

“I did NOT say I was Katherine! I didn’t hear you! I NEED to get to Caltrain… NOW!!”

But with her bag now on the curb, Not-Katherine relents and gets out. But she’s still mad, as Driver jumps back into the driver’s seat.

“Now you’ve brought me even further from Caltrain!” Not-Katherine yells after.

Fleeing the Scene Driver, “Sorry for the misunderstanndddiiiiiinnnnnnngggg,” I yell back, out of the window, as Not-Katherine fades in the rear view.

Zoom right on Clay, zoom right on Drumm… and a pull to the curb in front of Is-Katherine! Drumm and Sacramento. Is-Katherine’s waving her phone at me, sporting a slightly lightly shade of pant suit than Not-Katherine. And she’s flanked by two co-workers… with bags!

SWEET!!

I jump out to load the hatch, as I apologize with nervous laughter.

“I’m SO sorry. I had picked up a woman who said she was you! That was my mistake. I’m not supposed to offer a name first. I guess that’s why! (Heh, heh.)”

Is-Katherine is gracious, as she and her cohorts squeeze in back.

“That’s ok. Thanks for coming. We’re heading to SFO, United.”

SCORE!!!

But, shit.

NPR and Citizen’s Cab have both been broadcasting all day long about that mess on 101 south. It’s STILL closed form that dump truck deal this morning. And it’s not supposed to reopen until four! Ugh. Guess I’ll have to take Bayshore down past Silver. And THEN hit 101. But, so will everybody else be! And their mothers! Ugh. Think I’ll call it a day, after.

Side Note: Yeah, yeah. It’s way early. But I’m already getting kinda loopy. Probably, Not-Katherine’s thrown me off. And I HAVE been feeling like an exposed nerve, lately. I figure I better get off the road. Better safe than sorry. Or, eh. Maybe I’ll go buy a gun after work.

We roll, with yours truly playing fly on the wall.

The long, stop and go ride plays out with my three suits in back talking shop about the pitch, the “disconcerting” new protocols at work, and gossip about co-workers. You know, the usual.

Aside: Meg, if you’re reading this, they got your resume’… for the third time. “Take the hint, already!” They are not going to hire you. You’re a bitch.

Despite the gossip, I find my passengers to be pretty jovial. And keeping good humor. Especially, in light if this painful traffic! Ugh!

Forty minutes later…

We’re pulling into the domestic terminal at SFO. I haven’t said a word the entire ride. But my suits have kept quite a flow between themselves, conversationally. Not sure I could have gotten in a word.

But I need to now.

“Excuse me. Are you guys flying Premier? United’s all of terminal 3. I want to get you guys close to your gate.”

Is-Katherine, “(Sigh.) No. We’re not flying Premier. We’re flying economy. Thanks.”

(Awkward silence.)

Then Loopy Driver, via the rear view, “In that case, we’ll just slow at the terminal. You guys get ready to tuck and roll…”

The back seat busts out in laughter.

“HA! HA! OH MY GOD! I HAVE TO REMEMBER THAT!” And “HA! HA! HA!” And “OH! HEAVENS! HA! HA!”

His work having been done, Loopy Driver is rolling back towards Citizen’s Cab, and home – $60 richer via corporate Amex.

2:35pm:
I’ve just entered the office at Citizen’s Cab, to check out with Tony, Jr. at dispatch. When it’s not busy, a driver can forgo the bullet-proof glass and metal tray check-out deal, and actually hang back in the office for a more casual, social experience.

As I enter…

WHAT THE HELL!?

Moe, this homeless Pakistani ex-driver (word on the street is he got into some crazy fight with the MTA and lost his A-card) who lives out in the alley adjacent Citizen’s, is over by dispatch with a BIG jar of POT on the desk! And along with an expired medical marijuana card! And some broken-open cigars! He’s rolling BLUNTS!! This is a HIGHLY unusual scene in the office… ESPECIALLY, mid-day!

Note: Late at night, past dispatchers and/or office workers had been known to partake. But they’d always been pretty discreet about it. And they were always been admonished by management, when caught. (Back when Jesus was head manager. He was pretty forgiving, though.) But now, Ivan is Citizen’s Cab’s head manager. And he’s an old school Russian. I have heard tell that old school Russians do NOT suffer drug use. Good thing he’s not witnessing this right now!

As Moe rolls his blunts and Tony, Jr. is busy calling out an order, I go to settle my Paratransit receipts and cash by the register. And the door to the BACK office, behind Tony, Jr., suddenly opens…

IVAN!!!

Shit! Tony, Jr. doesn’t notice! He just keeps on at the radio, as a giggling, twinkly-eyed Moe (half Osama B, half Gilligan – with his spindly frame, goofy demeanor and dirty fishing hat, and half Charles Manson) LICKS CLOSED ONE OF THE BLUNTS… AND JUST STARES DOWN IVAN!!!

OH MY GOD!!

Ivan don’t play.

“WHAT ZEE CHELL JOU DOEENG HERE!?! JOU!! GHEETT OUT!! NOW!! TAAKE ZHIS KHRAP WHIIT JOU! OUT! OUT!! GHEETT OUT!!!”

Ivan grabs Moe’s pot jar and assorted IDs and blunt-makings, and he yanks a laughing Mo up from his chair. He shoves the paraphernalia into Moe’s arms, as he begins pushing him out of the office.

I break up laughing, count my cash, and watch the fireworks!

Then, Ivan turns his attention to Tony, Jr.

“AND JJOU! WHY JJOU JUS SIIT JHERE! DO NOTHIIING??? I TOLL JOU TOO KHALL MEE IIF MO RETURNSS!”

(Ah! I wondered at EOD yesterday, when I saw Moe smoking a blunt out in the lot, how that was going down!)

But Tony, Jr. just smiles, as he defensively offers, “I was dispatching an order!”

Moe is now standing outside, looking through the bullet-proof glass… and giving Ivan two bold middle fingers behind his back while making faces and giggling.

Another Note: I believe that I have mentioned the feral lot cats before. But, I have been remiss. There is also a contingent of feral humans indigenous to the Citizen’s Cab lot. Some, like Moe, are ex-drivers who have lost their marbles and their means. They live in tents, or cardboard boxes, out in the alleys and industrial streets bordering the lot. And others are current drivers, living out of their cars, down on their luck. Then, there’s the meth heads, who come to talk fast and steal from vacant taxis when they think that no one’s looking, scavenging for anything to sell for their next fix. Management always shoos them away. But they always return. Rinse and repeat. Personally, I find the absurd routine a real hoot to watch, even somewhat endearing. Like life itself.

Besides, I’ve oft wondered where I’ll go, when the day comes… After all, I am playing it out in a dying vocation, with no plans for an exit. And in San Francisco, the most expensive city in these United States, this is a recipe for certain disaster.

Maybe it’s time to claim my spot…

 


Photo by Christian Lewis

www.AlexSacK.com

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…
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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 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...

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