Nuns and the Sun

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It’s looking to be a perfect, sunny day. The birds will be chirping and the sky is forecast for blue. I have my health and a means to pay rent. Yes. I could not be more graced. It is truly a wonderful year to be alive!

4:55am:
Ok. It’s raining. And 137 has a flat. Let’s just leave it at that.

Back in the Citizen’s Cab office, Tony throws me a gas guzzling Escape spare with 340K on her. He says the mechanics will be in at 9, if I want to come back at rush hour for my regular Prius.

And so I roll out of the lot, bound for glory – and Starbucks, munching on half of the PB sandwich that I made to cover breakfast and lunch. I’ll probably throw the lunch half to that legless vet in the wheelchair, though; the one who regularly begs in the median at Market & Gough. (I’ve been cutting back on consumption, and working on that “non-practicing” Buddhist thing.) I always figured that Rambo had lost his legs in the war. (Whatever war.) But he always notes how the PB is bad for his diabetes. (So, hmm.) Regardless, Rambo always happily accepts.

I’m rolling quiet these glistening streets, amidst the dark and rain. (Am I not a poet?) As I roll, and munch, I’m jamming out to San Francisco’s jazz station, KDFC – 91.1FM. They’re playing some hip tune by The Jazz Messengers, featuring Deborah Harry. (Something about a cheater, who she’s calling “pork chop”.) And the PB is sweet.

But the early morn is dead. REAL dead.

 

9:15am:
“Cha-ching! – 1406 Hayes. Joe. Dispatch.”

Well, I ‘Accept’. This is close. Just over in NoPa.

But, I do hope that this is not a Financial shuttle. You may have heard tell that San Francisco is playing host to the Super Bowl this year? (Well, not REALLY. With the demolition of Candlestick Park and the loss of the 49ers to an hour south, San Mateo is.) However, seeing as we’re pretty much the biggest fish in the region, San Francisco and its tax payers have been asked to shell out $5 mill to close off downtown and sponsor Super Bowl City. (Apparently, the NFL needs the money.) Downtown is projected to be Carmageddon for three whole weeks!

So, I was cruising the Haight just across the Panhandle when I scored the dispatch. And I roll up on NoPa Joe, lickety-split. I radio-in to Tony at Citizen’s for a call-out. And in short order, a white male sexagenarian, with a grey mustache, comes slogging out of his kempt Victorian. He slowly, mindfully turns to lock his door, and then continues his slog over to my cab.

NoPa Joe settles in back, before directing dryly,

“I’m going to Polk & California. Take Golden Gate, left on Franklin, right on California.”

I would usually take this kind of micromanagement of the ride on the outset to be a converted Uber or Lyft passenger, who’s been burned by one too many clueless “rideshare” drivers. I’ve been seeing a LOT of these of late. They’ve all been switching to the Cabulous app in droves. It’s no wonder, considering the stat that the “rideshares” have a 50% driver turnover rate every six months. (Though, that’s an old study now, done before several rounds of cuts to drivers’ pay.) I have also seen stats that say up to 80% of “rideshare” drivers don’t even live in San Francisco. My point is, you can imagine the navigation nightmares. (And no, GPS/Waze/Google Traffic Maps do not help, ironically. They SUCK in SF!)

In any event, NoPa Joe actually CALLED Citizen’s Cab for this ride. With a PHONE! No, he’s micromanaging this ride because he’s old school. And NoPa Joe knows best.

Enough yappin’. We ride!

And it’s a quiet ride at that, as we roll both rapt in a story on NPR, as we listen to some modern American black woman’s genealogy quest as it led her back to slave times. Whoopie expresses her shock at some family diary that she’s discovered, authored by one of her ancestors. The diary betrayed a survival-of-the-fittest, dog-eat-dog competition amongst the slaves on the plantation. And it has rocked her assumption (and mine) that all were in that boat together. Whoopie emphasizes her point with a story of a kitchen slave, a mother, who poisoned the coffee of the plantation’s master. She did this by way of a ten year-old boy, who also worked in the kitchen, who was to bring the coffee out to the master and his mistress. But the idea was NOT to kill the master. The idea was that the master would live. And the boy would be kicked out of the kitchen, so that slave’s own son would replace him in this safe job. (Well, boy did that kid get kicked out!)

NoPa Joe breaks radio silence to grunt at the tale. And once off Golden Gate and zooming up Franklin, as we go to pass a cyclist, NoPa Joe finally speaks.

“Driver,” NoPa Joe sneers, “I’ll give you twenty bucks if you run down that bike!”

(Crickets.)

Driver, attempting to make light, “Oh! You don’t have to pay me. It’s on the house! Ha, ha!”

(Read NERVOUS laughter.)

And as we pass around the bike, NoPa Joe violently rolls down his window to extend a big, bold middle finger at the rider.

Jeez!! I check the rear view after, to make sure we’re not being chased now! (Thanks, NoPa.)

And NoPa Joe expounds, “Hell. I’ve already run over two bikes in the past year!”

O-kay…

Hence, the cab ride?

Joe explains, “One of ’em, I put into a GLASS STOREFRONT! When the cops came, I told ’em he was riding on the sidewalk. And they TICKETED HIM! HA!!”

Driver tries to change the subject, sorta.

“Yeah, I’m not a fan of this mayor. But he did veto that Idaho Stop ordinance, the one that would have allowed bikes to roll through stop signs. I mean, San Francisco is NOT Idaho!” Ah, hell. Why not show some love to NoPa? “Yeah, you’re right. I don’t know what that dude was thinking, riding up Franklin like that! Three lanes of cars, all moving fast uphill, and weaving in and out to time the lights? I guess Lance doesn’t value his life very much!”

NoPa Joe goes live.

“YEAH! GODDAM FUCKERS! And NOW they’re about to take away ALL THE PARKING on POLK STREET for ’em!?! POLK STREET!! I’d like to put an END TO ALL OF ‘EM!! They ALL think they OWN the GODDAM ROAD! Yeah, and when they say, ‘SHARE the road’, they REALLY mean, ‘GET THE FUCK OFF MY STREETS!!!'”

Oops. Maybe I shouldn’t have raised NoPa’s blood pressure back there, backed him up so much.

For the record, people. I have said it before and I’ll say it again. There are good and bad cabs, good and bad bikes, and good and bad pedestrians. People are people. And some are having a good day. And some, a bad.

Anyway, Back to Joe.

“Those FUCKING SKATEBOARDERS, TOO!! I got into a FIGHT with a SKATEBOARDER. FUCKER RAN ME DOWN outside of Whole Foods!!”

Ah! This brings me back to that old and feisty Citizen’s Cab regular, Elton Jean.

Driver gushes, “Ha! I drive an old woman who advocates on behalf of the city’s elderly. Her name’s Elton Jean. A real ball buster, she is! They call her Elton Jean ’cause she dresses all in purple, with a purple beret and everything. And she’s flush in purple rhinestones, too. Glasses and all! Elton Jean’s a real card. She keeps a Taser in her purse for the skateboarders! She told me that she’s used it, too! HA!”

NoPa Joe, “I don’t need no Taser! Well, I DO keep mace… But I’m a black belt in karate! I ENDED that skateboarder with ONE PUNCH!”

Joe suddenly gets distracted, as his destination is in sight. We cross Van Ness and NoPa Joe again directs, “Pull over to the right, driver! In front of that lot! So you don’t block the road…”

Thanks, Joe. I wouldn’t have thought to do that.

We pull over. And NoPa Joe exits my taxi leaving $13 cash, and some wisdom.

“Stay safe out there! There are CRAZIES… EVERYWHERE!”

Thanks, Joe. I’ll keep that in mind.

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 14 and (a hormonal) 16. 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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