Like many of you, I’m still trying to find my way in 2016.
The stock market is running scared. (Thanks, China.) Trump is headed for the GOP nomination. Gun show sales are skyrocketing. North Korea is testing nukes, with South Korea blasting K-Pop back at them across the DMZ. The Middle East has grown exponentially hotter. (Which is saying something.) And I spent New Year’s Eve and beyond all laid up with the flu. Yeah, everything just smells weird.
Sorry to be such a downer, folks. But fittingly, skies here are dark and grey as I walk into the Citizen’s Cab lot on my first day back. There’s a storm brewing in San Francisco.
Heading up to the bullet-proof glass, I am surprised to find myself overcome by a cloud of really pungent pot smoke, it’s wafting its way over from a group of night drivers hanging up on the rustic porch. They’re done with the night shift and taking the edge off, as they trade stories at the make-shift break room amidst the Coke machine and car seats turned chaise lounge.
Waiting in line for 137’s key and medallion, my dream is suddenly broken by Faith, with her stumbling out of the office while holding up a key for close examination. Ignoring all others, she comes right for me.
In her usual clueless, ascending waver, “Do you know where 1453 is? This is the key to 1453…”
We both turn to bear witness to a lot full of cabs. Well, this is a common game. But the common answer is to walk around hitting the “unlock” button on the key, until you hear a beep somewhere in the sea of taxis and catch the tell-tale flashing of lights. Alas, not Faith.
Sack, “Well, looking at the key. It’s a Ford Escape. Did you try walking around hitting the unlock button?”
Faith, “No… You can tell it’s a Ford Escape? Is it a Citizen’s Cab? Or a Military Cab?”
Side Note: Citizen’s Cab bought Military Cab some years ago. Military Cab had a good reputation, and hence brand. But the owner died and bequeathed it to his son, who in short order started running the business into the ground. They are different color schemes. But a driver who is not on the schedule could be put out in a Citizen’s, or a Military Cab, on any given day.
Sack, “The key doesn’t really tell you what color the cab is, Faith. Sorry.” Again, I nudge. “Did you try walking around hitting the ‘unlock’ button?”
Faith, “Oh! You think that will work?”
No, people. Faith is not new to this. She has been driving a cab for two decades now.
Faith meanders off to heed my advice. And it is now my turn at the window. To laughs, I report to Tony what I’ve seen, and tip him a five. I forgo wasting another on a bribe for an airport. Any reservations were all no doubt sold off more than an hour ago.
As I head out to find my regular Prius – 137, I am suddenly caught, er… like a deer, in a cab’s high beams. A head pops out of the driver’s window. And a voice rises above the din of the revving engine.
“Do you know how to turn the headlights on on this thing?”
I swear, unquestionably, Faith will be the first to go in the zombie apocalypse.
And thusly, my day begins, as I roll out of the lot of Citizen’s Cab and hit the road in ‘ol 137…
I’m rocking Classical KDFC – 90.3FM, as rolling west up Market in a stormy pre-dawn. Erik Satie’s Trois Gymnopedies sets the mood perfectly.
I’m in the leftmost of two lanes here and about to cross 8th Street, when I spot a young Mexican woman flagging me a bit across the light. I flash my high beams to sign the deal. But as I’m crossing, I suddenly note an older white-haired woman in a rain coat a few feet closer, DESPERATELY flagging me. I guess I didn’t spot her before, with the MUNI bus shelter in our line of sight. Usually, a driver would pull over and take the closer flag, even if only closer by several feet. But I have already signed the contract with Maria. And seeing that I am in the left of the two lanes here, with cars on my right, I am better poised for her anyway. I pass Whitehair. And I pull over for Maria. And Maria opens the door.
“Dios, Mio! Gracias!”
Then out of nowhere, Whitehair comes running up from behind to intercept. To Maria’s shock and horror, Whitehair grabs the open door from her! Maria jumps back! And grabs her heart!
Whitehair blurts out all frantic, “I am late for a doctor’s appointment! PLEASE! Can we share the ride!”
A stunned Maria, obviously confused, offers back meekly in broken English, “I… am going to… work.”
But Whitehair does not give. She again barks frantic, “Please! Can we share!”
A confused Maria scrunches her brow, and replies simply, “Ok.” And then she walks away, dejected.
Whitehair jumps in back with, “That was nice of her.”
By way of the rear view, I offer, “I don’t think she understood you.”
At the revelation, Whitehair just shrugs. And she begins digging obsessively through her purse, before acknowledging with a simple, “Oh.” Then still highly charged, Whitehair immediately changes the subject.
“Driver, what time is it! I live out by Yosemite and a friend told me to take the bus. But I forgot what bus! I don’t know where it picks you up, anyway. I swear, I don’t know why they gave me such an early appointment! Oh! I’m going to UCSF, 400 Parnassus! Will we make it??”
Driver, “Uh, that depends. It’s 6:53 now. What time is your appointment?”
Driver, “It’s a five minute ride, ma’am. I think we’ll make it.”
“Cha-ching! – 2025 Keith Street. Sera. Dispatch.”
My Cabulous smartphone rings-in with an order. And I ‘Accept’.
The order’s a bit out there, in the seedy outskirts of The Bayview. But, I don’t suspect it’ll be a short ride. Anyway, a bird in the hand…
After an eight minute travel from The Mission, I pull up in front of Sera’s semi-kempt single family home in the ghetto. I note that her house is sporting a work truck in the driveway – which my landlord would appreciate staying right there for now, and a pink flamingo out on the lawn.
I radio-in to Tony, “137. Please call out 2025 Keith. Over.”
Tony comes back, “Ye-ah, 137. Sera knos yer dere. Jus’ wait. She’s goin’ owt ta tha V.A.”
137, “137. Copy. Waiting.”
Ok. Well this WILL be a decent ride! The V.A. is way across town from here. This might as well be an airport. Sweet!
The sun’s up now. But you can’t see it. It’s REAL dark. And the rain is coming down now, hard.
Five Minutes Later…
Sera pops out of her house and darts towards my cab. I sense that this is half because she’s late, and half her trying to keep dry.
Digression: I forget. What’s the verdict on the efficacy of running in the rain?
In a raspy, indigenous Cal-Mex drawl, a middle-aged and notably caffeinated Sera directs, “Tanks fer coming, driver. You guys ‘r da best! Tony tell ya? I’m headed out ta tha V.A. Anee way you like, driver. I trust ya. How you doin’ dis mornin’? Keepin’ dry? Ha!”
Driver, “Yup. That’s the beauty of the cab. Although, it’s a mixed blessing. I don’t get out much. It’s a pretty sedentary job. Not so great for the belly. Well, I like the side roads; stop signs versus stop lights. And with this rain, and it being rush hour and all, there will definitely be less traffic on the side roads.”
And Sera is forthcoming.
“Dats my boyfriend’s truck back dere in tha driveway. He gotta go ta work, tho. He can’t drive me dis mornin’. My son’s home now, to. He does video editin’. But he can’ get ah job. He’s kinda slo. Jus’ stays in his room. Don’ have a girlfriend, neitha. He waz bullied all is life. Buht dats all right. It ended up payin’ fer private school! Ha! He waz at ah public school. But I sued ’em after tha principal sayz my boy is slo, after he dint do nuthin’ when my kid waz gettin’ bullied. But I did! Dey dint kno who dey waz messin’ with! Mmm-hmm! I went an confronted dese 13 ‘n 14 year old black kids an’ ah Asian kid in the locker room where dey waz bullying my kid. An I punched one of ’em right in tha jaw! The coach come in frum tha gym ‘n sayz, ‘You can’t be in here!’ But I tell ’em, ‘I wouldn’t be in here if you waz doin’ yer job!'”
Driver, “Wow! You punched a kid? And you successfully sued the school? Good for you! But hey, do you mind if I ask? Was your son at all embarrassed that you took care of business for him?”
Sera, “Aww, hell no! He waz glad! Dey dint mess wit ’em ever again after dat!”
Sera and I shoot the shit and masterfully traverse the dark and stormy side streets of Bernal Heights, through Noe Valley and out around Laguna Honda en route to crossing golden Gate Park through 19th Avenue.
Then, NPR interrupts our groove.
“And we have Joe McConnell with the traffic report. Joe? Well, if you’re headed to 19th Avenue through Golden Gate Park, don’t. It’s a mess. We have reports of a muti-car pile-up due to flooding and it’s backed up to 280.”
And right on cue, I see a parking lot of cars a couple blocks ahead nearing Lincoln and 19th Ave. Time for some evasive maneuvers.
“Ma’am, I think we should head back a couple blocks and take some more side streets down to 25th Avenue to cross the park. Ok?”
Sera, “Alright, driver. I trust ya!” And without missing a beat, “My boyfriend grew up in tha Mission. He’s a contractor. My daughters don’t like him none, tho. Dey say he’s not good enuf fer me. But we only grew up blocs apart, had tha same upbringin’. But we never met ’til afta I got divorced! My daughters ‘r twins an’ go ta college in Sout Carolina. I think dey jus’ don’ wan me with no one! Dey tell my sisters. My sisters ‘r REEL Catholic. ‘N dey got ’em givin’ me guilt, bot sayin’, ‘You need ta pay attention to yer son. You need ta pay attention to yer daughters. What are you doin’, Sera?’ I tell ya what I’m doin’! I was a good momma all my life. My kids is grown now! It’s MY time, baby! I got ah right ta be happee to, ya kno!”
Driver, “Do you mind if I ask? Where’s their dad?”
Sera, “Ah! Dere dad? He’s down in Dalee City. He got remarried. I got full custody ah my son, tho. In tha courts. But my son’s old enuf now dat he goes ‘n visits. His dad got ah piece a werk fer a wife, tho. She waz askin’ my son if me ‘n my boyfriend do drugs! We ain’t do drugs! I went right down dere, ta Dalee City ‘n knock on tha door ‘n confront his dad, ‘Where’s dat wife ah yourz!? Where is she!?’ She waz hindin’ in tha back, in tha bedroom. But I find ‘er! Tell ‘er what’s what! You don’t be askin’ my son if his ma do drugs! Hell, she’s jus’ mad cause ah all tha child support he give me! She’s tellin’ his dad how she wants nice clothes ‘n vacations ‘n stuff. ‘N she can’t have ’em. Causa me!”
A silence comes over the cab, as we turn onto verdant 25th Avenue and enter the park. We are doing well to circumvent Carmageddon and the V.A. is not far now.
And the silence breaks.
“Yeah.” Digressing back to her twin daughters, “You kno what I did? I went ‘n bought my twins some HUGE silicone TITS! ‘N I mail ’em! HA! Dey jus’ upset cause dey still wan momma’s milk. So, I bought ’em some TITS! ‘N I mail ’em! HA, HA, HA! But dey didn’t get tha joke. SUCK ON DIS, BABIES! MOMMA’s GOT AH LIFE! Yeah, onlee my son, da slo one’s still in da house. But he mostlee stays en his room. He ain’t got ah girlfriend. He USED ta have ah girlfriend. But he sayz dere waz to much familee drama. Wee got our own. HA!”
And with this, we pull up on the V.A., and Sera’s work. The fare drops at $36.60. And Sera throws me two twenties, saying to “keep et”. Adding, “Tanks fer pickin’ me up, driver. You guys ‘r da best. Sta dry!”
I’m cruising Market, heading east. At Montgomery, a heavy-set woman with blonde hair, glasses, and wearing blue scrubs flags me from a full bus stop. Someone’s due back at work from lunch. And MUNI is paying my rent, once again.
“SF General, please. The hospital entrance on 23rd. Thanks. The bus broke down.”
Driver repeats back, with pen and clipboard/waybill propped up on the steering wheel, “SF General, it is. 23rd Street entrance. Sorry to hear about MUNI.”
And Nightingale sings, “Did you see the new Star Wars? Are you a Sci-fi fan? It… was… GREAT!”
Driver, “Uh, yeah. I saw it at Christmas. I was definitely a Star Wars child of the 70’s. And I LOVED both Star Trek series. I did think the new Star Wars had great visuals. But it was a little quick with the character development. I mean, Princess Leia was all hugging Rey after she’d returned from the Starkiller Base. But they had never even met before that in the movie!”
Nightingale, “Well, the thing is, Leia is what they call ‘Force sensitive’. She was empathizing with Rey over Hans Solo’s death!”
Nightingale smartly changes the subject, “You think we can make it to General in five minutes?”
Driver, “Oh. No problem.”
Nightingale, “Don’t get me wrong. I have job security. But I don’t want to be disrespectful to the other nurses. Actually, I’m close to retirement. Just five more years. My partner and I are thinking about moving to New Orleans after I retire. A lot of gays have been moving there. Theaters are opening everywhere. Culture. And it’s still cheap! There’s a real renaissance going on! But I have a pension. And my work has you by the balls. If you stay through your last five years on the job, they double your pension! We call it ‘the golden handcuffs’.”
Ultimately, Nightingale cannot control herself as we ride. And she diverts back to all of the nitty-gritty details in The Force Awakens. I just nod along and tune it out, as I focus on the soothing sound of NPR droning in the background.”
We make it to SF General in good time. And Nightingale throws me up a twenty to keep, on an $11.55 meter! And Nightingale jumps out of the taxi, capping with a benevolent,
“May the fares be with you!”
““Bah-dah-doo-doo Bah Dah Doo Doop-Doop! Bah-dah-doo-doo Bah Dah Doo Doop-Doop!”
My iPhone ring-tone goes off. I check the screen. Hey! It’s Citizen’s dispatch! I pick up.
“This is Alex.”
Tony, Jr. is working at dispatch now. It’s him.
“Sack, go to 1800 Mission. Right now.”
Sack, “Sweet! Thanks, Junior! I’ll look out for you at check-out!”
I am close. But for whatever reason, he called me to take this Kink.com. They have vouchers for Citizen’s Cab. And it’s usually talent heading to the airport, fresh from an bondage-induced orgasm.
I roll up on the most successful bondage porn film set in the world, housed in the old red brick, turreted San Francisco Armory building.
Side Note: A few scenes with the Millennium Falcon for the first Star Wars – Episode IV were famously filmed in the basement here. Kink does tours of the facilities. ALL of the facilities!
Lickety-split, a late 20’s bottle blonde in ripped jeans and a Nirvana T-shirt boasting bright red lipstick and whisking a small overnight bag runs down the steps. And Tracy vibrantly jumps in back.
With a beautiful, almost satisfied smile, all a-glow, Tracy gushes, “SFO. Southwest. Thanks!”
Sorry to disappoint you readers. But Tracy ends up being too normal to write about. We just roll down 101 flirting. (I’d like to believe. ) And talking about the high cost of living in various cities around the U.S. Tracy is headed home right now to Vegas. But she’s in the midst of moving to Seattle. She has friends there.
Oh, why am I even telling you about Tracy, then? It was her punctuation to our conversation, at end of ride, after handing me up a $50 Kink voucher for Citizen’s Cab.
“Yeah, I’m really not tied down by my job. I can live anywhere there’s an internet connection.”
I think I’m in the wrong business.
It’s end of day. I’m back at the lot. And once again, I am in line for the bullet-proof glass. Only now, it’s to check out. I have my cash, Paratransit receipts, Kink voucher and a ten “tip” ready for Tony, Jr.
There’s a young, shaven head night driver in his signature Oakland Raiders beanie hanging out, who I’ve dubbed Eminem. He’s all hip-hop and seems to always be around the lot. I’m not really sure what his housing status is. He’s nice enough, but a little… Oh, I don’t know.
Eminem addresses all the drivers in line.
“Y’all gotta hear about dis fare I pick’d up las’ night at tha air-port. They waz this rich bitch husb’nd ‘n wife goin’ way down ta Mountain View. Tha ride waz cool ‘n all the whole way down. We waz all rockin’ out ta sum NWA I had blastin’. I forgot ta tell ’em tha ride waz meter ‘n a haf. ‘Til we pull up ta tha house. Den tha wife starts bitchin ‘n sayin’ a Uber wouldn’t cos’ dat much. I tell ‘er, ‘Bitch! Dis ain’t no Uber! Is metah ‘n a haff! I gots ta git back up north, babee. ‘N I can’t pick up no ride outside tha citee!”
Eyebrows in the line all raise. Until one game driver broaches the obvious.
“You have to tell them it’ll be meter-and-a-half when they get in.”
Eminem, “Ye-ah, well fuck dat bitch! She starts yellin’. ‘N I tell ‘er husband, ‘You bes keep ur dog on ah leash, bro!’ ‘N den I tell ’em, ‘You pay me my $140! ‘R I’m callin’ da cops!'”
Eminem laughs, before miming the dialing of a phone, and adding, “‘N I pick up my cell ‘n preten’ ta start dialin’ 9-1-1! Ha! Dude paid up REEL fas!! Dats how u deal wit dese fools! Whin dey git out, I yell afta tha husb’nd, ‘Yo! Dude! Ur WIFE got more balls den YOU!’ HA!!”
And all in line stand in stunned silence, as palpably all drivers sense a disturbance in The Force. It’s another customer switching to Uber.
Boy, I hope 2016 starts to look up soon…
Photo by Alex SacK