Low-Pressure Systems

It always starts with the weather.

But don’t be fooled. It’s like that glee club retreat back in high school, where everyone’s in the main lodge cabin seated all Indian-style in a circle on the floor around the teacher, who’s thoughtfully cradling a tissue box in her lap. And there’s that innocuous question scribbled on the blackboard by the great boulder fireplace, something like “What’s your favorite ice cream?” But by the end everyone ends up crying, one at a time as they pass the tissues, with each one spilling their guts out going on about how they were beaten or molested as a child. Before ultimately, someone will cop to plans for suicide.

And thus, it begins…


I’m waiting in my taxi outside this well-to-do home with a view up in Ashbury Heights. I’ve already radioed dispatch for a call-out. In short order, my regular runs out through the El Niño deluge, haphazardly navigating her slate walkway full of overgrown ferns and Birds of Paradise. And Barbara jumps in the back of 137 all happy to see me, with,

“How about this rain??”

I’ve driven Barbara many times before, but it’s been a while. Her last ride was up to Grace Cathedral to the funeral of a good friend. It was a real to-do full of San Francisco dignitaries and known socialites, quite the state funeral. But all of our prior trips were twice weekly excursions to California Pacific Medical Center up in Pac Heights, for her chemo sessions.

These were the rides where Barbara and I cut our teeth, with Barbara’s tales of her lonely upbringing as an only child on a farm in West Virginia, with a distant father and mentally ill mother. She left that mess back in the mid-60’s and moved to San Francisco, where she would soon after meet and marry her husband to this day, some real estate magnate.

But Barbara is no hippie. She is hard and sharp, a rabid Republican. And on each of these rides that we’ve rolled to treat her breast cancer, she has expounded at length, progressively, on the horrible state of the country and all of the atrocities that Obama has foisted upon us. (With help from the Jews, of course.) The consummate professional, I have always held my liberal tongue and resigned myself to just bearing witness to Barbara’s disgust with curiosity, and compassion.

“Yeah, this rain is something else! I guess we need it though, with the drought and all. Are we off to CPMC for a check-up today?”

Side Note: Banter on the state of California’s drought was recently encoded into the SF Taxi Rule book, by the MTA.

“Actually, my cancer is in remission. I have to go down to 850 Bryant today, the court house. My husband tried to kill me last night and I need to pick up a copy of the police report for my lawyer. We’re trying to extend the restraining order. We HAVE to! And I’m VERY worried about it. I’m worried he has a better lawyer. You see, my husband is a master manipulator. And he’s already trying to get back in the house on the pretense of fixing it up to sell for the divorce. But then he tells my son this morning, in one of his 25-page emails – he writes very long, ranting emails, that we are NOT getting a divorce! My husband is manic. And completely unpredictable. He’s now telling all of our friends and the lawyers, and my son, that Alzheimer’s is setting in! And that I’m crazy! He is saying that he did NOT try to kill me! He cites that my mother started to show signs of Alzheimer’s at the same age. But I have pictures of the bruises! Still, I’m VERY worried that he has a better lawyer.”

Through the rear view, I can see Barbara’s face contort with trepidation.

Concerned Cabbie, “WOW! That SUCKS! I bet this is the LAST thing that you needed right now, coming back from cancer and all! Do you have support, other than from your lawyer? I never knew your marriage was an issue before! How did he try to kill you!?”

Barbara, “Oh, I never told you about the abuse in my marriage before, because I was ashamed. He has threatened to kill me many times. There has been increasing verbal abuse over the last five years. But last night he actually grabbed me by the neck and started choking me! And NOW he thinks that we’re not getting a divorce!? Oh, my son gives me support. But he just got a promotion at Oracle. He can’t be bothered with all of this. He doesn’t have time.”

Still Concerned Cabbie, “Well, where is your husband now? Did he get arrested??”

Barbara, “Oh, yes. The police came to his office and arrested him this morning, RIGHT IN FRONT of his employees AND his partners! HA! But then he made some calls, got the old boys club back together to bail him out of jail. Meanwhile, he has a boat on Treasure Island that’s costing us over $1000 a month! He’s always said that we can’t afford to do anything because of that damn boat! And in the letter to my son, he mentioned how great he has been to me all the while that I’ve been going through cancer. He said how he would take care of dinner every night. Yeah, right. ‘Taking care of dinner’ constituted him picking up food for himself on the way home from work… and NOTHING for me! (I didn’t eat because of the chemo, anyway.) And did he ever lift a finger to help me with my medical appointments?? No! He did NOT EVEN ONCE drive me to an appointment!”

Curious Cabbie, “So where does it all lie now? I know it’s early. But what are you going to do with the house? And the restraining order?”

Barbara, “Well, usually one does not have access to the police report so soon. But I have a friend with a friend in the Sheriff’s Department. That’s why I am going to get it, instead of my lawyer. And we need to get out in front of this, if I’m to have any hope of extending the restraining order to five years, and keep my husband out of the house. Anyway, it’s an old redwood home, and a complete waste of time to fix up to sell. It’s a tear down! But my husband is going to try and use the excuse of fixing it up to sell to gain access, like I said. HA! He’s never raised a hand to fix anything in the house before! Still, I am very worried about his lawyer. AND about how great he is at manipulating people. I hope the judge doesn’t buy into his bullshit! I am just SO grateful that I have the pictures of the bruises on my arms, and throat, to bolster my case. I mean, I am far too old for this crap! I am NOT twenty-six, or even forty-six… I am seventy-six!!”

We roll up on 850 Bryant, San Francisco’s main court house. And after handing me up a twenty to keep on the $17.55 fare, Barbara thanks me for listening, adding that hopefully I’ll be her driver on the return trip home. And as Barbara exits 137 into the downpour, I return the warm vibes, relaying that I likewise am glad to see her, before calling out after my passenger the usual cabbie advice during these trying times,

“Stay dry!!”


Photo by Alex SacK


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 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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