Hybrid Measures

DOORS USE

5am, and the magic “Start” button on 137 brings her display panel beeping to life out in the lot of ‘ol Citizen’s Cab. I hold my breath as my Prius taxi’s gas gauge LEDs tick one at a time, creeping upwards… to stop one bar short of a full tank.

Damn Pepe!

My night driver’s a sweet guy. We do exchange warm vibes each afternoon at shift change, along with 137’s key and medallion. But, what the fuck?? Pepe’s been short-tanking me about every other shift now. And we both know that 137 is that rare cab where a driver can actually TRUST the gas gauge. He KNOWS he’ll get busted! To boot, when I gas it up after leaving the lot and turn in the receipt at end-of-shift, dude’s gonna get charged an extra $10 “administrative fee” by Citizen’s, ON TOP of the $9 short on the gas. (Jeez, Pepe. What the hell are you thinking??)

To be fair, Pepe’s mostly been short-tanking me since the hybrid has been out on 137. But the hybrid’s been out for well over a month now! (Actually, after waiting two weeks for “a part,” the hybrid did work for half a shift.)

It should be noted that a given shift (~200 miles) will cost about $15 in gas with the hybrid out, versus about $7 with it working. Though, credit should be given where credit is due. Ivan (Citizen’s Cab manager) has graciously decided to award me and Pepe $5 off of gate for each day it’s broken. Wait… $15-7? Thanks, boss. (This, among other iniquities, has led me to grill Ivan regarding how much Uber is paying him to manage Citizen’s Cab.)

I’ve discovered what really sucks about the hybrid being out, gas costs aside, is the side effect that the Prius has no pickup coming off the line. (Stop laughing.) Really. You’d be surprised how much pickup a WORKING Prius has! Especially, when you hit that “Power Mode” button, which only works when the hybrid’s working. (Stop laughing!) That button has many times afforded me the ample virility to cut off and/or pass a “rideshare” coming off a red. (After scanning the offending Uber for guns first, of course.)

In light of this new, hybrid-free status, I have found that I have to ramp up my mental game. Your driver is now rolling as a declawed cat in a cage with ferals. A successful adrenalin-fueled rage competition, by way of said “Power” button, is no longer an option for yours truly. But there IS something to be learned here… In my impotence, I have come to rely on a new mantra. I have now begun my ride to work each pre-dawn with: Christ take the wheel…

But really, on the early morning ride to work, no fatigue-induced battles have yet had their chance to gestate. So who knows how much this mantra even helps. Ultimately, it’s a function of time on the road and street congestion. And a good dose of California heat.

Yeah, we’ll get our rage on later.

 

6:50am:
Sunrise. Good morning, San Francisco!

I’ve just dropped a Cabulous-hip techie in jeans, and a blue T-shirt advertising some single-syllable startup name that could be confused for laundry detergent, at his work down in SOMA. It’s funny, while I suffer no illusions that the “rideshares” are going away any time soon, I have witnessed first-hand that the honeymoon is definitely over. A San Francisco cabbie’s nimble driving ability and knowledge of city streets are seen here now at ground zero as a premium. A lot of passengers have been flocking recently from scab cabs to the legit Cabulous taxi-hailing app.

Post “ZAP!” drop, I head out of SOMA and back towards the Mission by way of Division Street – under the Octavia onramp to the freeway. In Mayor Ed Lee’s squeeze to hide the homeless from the world’s eyes during the Super Bowl, many homeless ended up pitching their tents under the freeway here. These spaces offer the downtrodden a much needed shelter from the storms of a much anticipated El Niño. But now, the locals have all been complaining about the tents, trash, feces and needles accumulating under the freeway here. (I have to admit that these complaints strike me as kind of odd, as it’s a pretty industrial area.) Ironically, it was hippie food co-op Rainbow Grocery (which notably sells no meat) who made the most noise.

So yeah, Mayor Ed gave the homeless a 72-hour notice to vacate Division Street… four days ago. As I roll from ZAP!, it seems the trash trucks and police are just now enforcing the notice.

Musically, I’ve moved on from classical to jazz in the taxi now. And Ivie Anderson singing All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm sets an interesting backdrop to my bearing witness to the sweeps of the homeless and the trashing of their life’s possessions.

Suddenly, as I roll past, I take note of Luxor Cab. It’s medallion number 001, rolling slowly east on Division, carefully scanning the uprooting encampments. Hey! I heard about medallion number 001. That’s an undercover cop! This was revealed in the San Francisco Taxi Driver’s group on Facebook. It’s really true. Cops are out there posing as cab drivers!

 

8:35am:
“Cha-ching! 1453 Francisco Street. Stephanie. iPhone.”

I’m nearby cruising the boutique shopping grounds of the Chestnut strip down here in The Marina. However, from an apartment on one of the adjacent side streets, it seems a sorority pledge-turned-financial entry-level needs a ride downtown. (Call it a hunch.) In short order, I roll up on the awaiting Stephanie.

I hit the “Arrived” button on the Cabulous app, as Stephanie moves self-consciously towards 137 in her tan skirt and shiny black knee-high boots, and with a flip of her bottle-blonde locks to punctuate. But as my passenger descends her drive, just as she’s reaching for the rear door, she suddenly stops, and winces… and begins scraping one of her boot heels on the curb from a fresh encounter with a dog pile. Then, Stephanie gets in back cringing. And she continues with wiping her boot heel… now on the floor of 137.

This is not worth the ten bucks.

 

11:40am:
Do jaywalker’s lives matter?

I’m zooming east up Market with a taxi full of older tourists who needed saving from a green stroll through The Loin. They ask that I drive the streets accordion-style around “that old ornate building with the gold trim” (Uh, City Hall?) to look for their parked car, which they seem to have lost. My tourists are openly appreciative, if not nervous, and quite relieved to be free of The Loin’s zombies all attempting to bum change from them while eyeing their cell phones. It’s a short ride. But as Rose (cab school teacher) would say, “The back seat is warm.”

As I veer off Market and up McAllister, just three blocks from City Hall, a Tenderloin dreg meanders into the intersection with his back turned to me, against my green.

You want chicken?? I’ll give you chicken!!

ZZZZOOOMMM!!!!

HHHOOONNNKKK!!!

I buzz the bastard. And the bastard JUMPS!

And the back seat of my cab erupts in GASPS!!

I smile impishly, ignoring all’s reactions to my shock and awe. And within a few seconds, I am forgiven. The sudden, thick silence is broken, with nervous laughter.

“(Heh, heh.) Can you tell that we’re tourists?”

“Yes. And my landlord thanks you very much.”

 

1:15pm:
Ok, the day has been wearing on me. California heat, and all. But I forge on. I’m cruising east down Market, empty. I take note of a Lyft in my rear view, with its big, pink gaudy mustache affixed to the grill of the beaten black Honda. He has illegally continued down Market behind me in the bus/taxi-only zone. I shrug it off, and just scan for flags. (Pat on back.)

Then, approaching 7th Street… SCORE!!

It’s a young, rock star-looking dude with pink hair and an expensive leather jacket, and a guitar case… and LUGGAGE! And Sting is flagging me!!

SWEET!!

HA! Take THAT, Lyft bitch!!!

I make contact with Sting, via giving a BIG thumbs up, before coming to a screeching stop just in front of him. In the process I’ve left Lyft stuck behind me, all wedged between a MUNI bus island and the curb… and at a green! Ha! I throw on my hazards and JUMP out, and back to open the hatch of ‘ol 137, as I go to help load Sting’s bags.

Sting grabs his gear and starts working his way back… past me. Yes, Sting just ignores me, and begins waving his phone at the Lyft stuck behind my cab. And he continues past, as I stand behind 137 dumbfounded by the open hatch.

Five Minutes Later…

Still stewing, I’ve made it all the way east down Market to the Ferry Building, made my illegal U, and started heading west back up Market, hell-bent on securing a flag here in downtown San Francisco IN THE MIDDLE OF A WORK DAY! (GGGRRRR!!!)

But I start to waver, as thoughts of defeat enter my brain. Maybe I’ll just head back towards the lot, and call it quits. I HAVE cracked $100. (Though, I did once do the math and figured I need to average $160 a day to make this thing sustainable.) Yeah, IF I actually make it empty all the way up Market AND back through the Mission, that’s what we’ll do… We’ll put this in God’s hands!

A few blocks up Market, I come to a stop in the right lane at a red at Sutter. And a black Uber Camry pulls up to a stop on my left. I can just FEEL Uber’s foot scratching at the gas, as we both eye a Fed Ex truck half double-parked in my lane half a block up ahead. The truck is just short of a bus island that divides the lanes, and with an historic street car loading a wheelchair in the left of them… in Uber’s lane. Yeah, I can SMELL this bitch!!

It’s on.

THE LIGHT TURNS!

WE BOTH FLOOR IT!!

AND 137 PUTTERS forward WITH THE HYBRID OUT!!!

BUT YOUR DRIVER’s GOING FOR BROKE!!

UBER ZOOMS off the line pulling ahead by a HORSE’s NOSE! And he VIOLENTLY begins CUTTING INTO MY LANE, as I STEER 137 TOWARDS HIM and GIVE NO QUARTER!!

The Fed Ex truck AND bus island are FAST APPROACHING, as UBER COMMITS to either HITTING ME or CRASHING INTO THE BUS ISLAND!!!

BUT 137 STAYS THE COURSE!!

I mean, the last thing Uber wants is to exchange insurance info! There is NO QUESTION that he’s committing insurance fraud on his personal! (And on a sub-prime loan vehicle, no less!)

I figure I can JUST SQUEEZE between Uber and the Fed Ex truck in my lane, as we BOTH CONTINUE to vie for the prize at HIGH SPEED, and barely an INCH apart from COLLIDING!! I keep my foot pressed full DOWN on the gas of the COUGHING and CHOKING Prius!!

I SWEAT him… I SWEAT him…

SSSSSCRREEECH!!!

CCCRRRAACCCKK!!!

Damn.

I wasn’t watching the Fed Ex truck on my right.

My sputtering Prius SCRAPES the ENTIRE LENGTH of her side along the fender and front bumper of the double-parked Fed Ex truck.

(SIGH!)

I pull over.

As Uber zooms off victorious, west into the Sun…

After some breathing and OMs, I confer with the driver of the Fed Ex truck. It looks like he and his manager are not interested in pursuing insurance. There’s just a few lines from 137’s yellow paint on the front fender of his truck, and the edge of its metal I-beam bumper.

But 137 has a broken side view and a HUGE GASH running her entire right side!

(SIGH!!)

I have to cover my ass with Citizen’s, though, and still take pictures and exchange info. And then protocol sees me heading back to the Citizen’s Cab lot to fill out a report. My day is done.

It looks like God has indeed spoken.

 

1:50pm:
137 is gassed up. And I’m rolling into the lot to Citizen’s Cab owner, Dave Hanes, waiting out in front with the mechanics.

Dave asks me if everyone’s ok, as he skeptically eyes the right side of my Prius. I reply in the affirmative, as I show him the pictures from my phone of the Fed Ex truck and assure him that they are not going to pursue a claim. (I suspect it is not in Fed Ex’s interest, either. Being double-parked and all.) Graciously, Dave immediately writes off the damage as “nothing”. And he instructs the mechanics, with cans at the ready, to just spray yellow paint over the cab-length gash. And 137 is deemed once again ready for the road, still sans-hybrid.

I know this man has seen MUCH worse in his years of driving and owning a cab company. (Hell, I’ve seen much worse!) But I do wish that the yellow paint from the can at least MATCHED the canary yellow of a Citizen’s Cab.

Actually, it’s high time to put this girl out to pasture! It’s seriously time to relegate THIS beaten 137, and her 240K miles, to SPARE status… and put me in a WORKING CAB!

And I tell Jesus so (Citizen’s Cab co-manager) back in the office, as I fill out my report…

“Jesus, I must confess. I actually crashed 137 on purpose. After all my complaints going ignored about the hybrid being out and the door swinging closed on passengers and all the dents and the weak CB radio and the ripped and vomit-stained seats… can we make her a spare now??”

But at this, Jesus shakes his head all vehement, before commanding, “Don’t even joke about that!”

And Jesus walks off, with a smile cracking on the corner of his mouth.

 


Photo by Alex SacK

www.AlexSacK.com

Check out Alex’s Book 1 – San Francisco TAXI: A 1st Week in the ZEN Life…
& Book 2
San Francisco TAXI: Life in the Merge Lane…
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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 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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