There is a solitude in driving a cab.
Your co-workers are the citizens of your town, as well as those just in for a short visit; family vacations, a business day tripper, grandma flying in to watch the grandkids. But even your regulars are fleeting, with once weekly updates about the asshole boss, or that new hip replacement – while traveling to an orthopedic check up.
Yes, there are the Citizen’s Cab office workers and dispatchers that you see daily. And those other comrades in arms momentarily off the street that you may huddle around the BBQ with, out in the lot at shift change, sharing stories of rides gone awry and/or out of town rides playing out lucrative. But we are all just taxis passing in the night. (Give me some leeway here, folks:) The cabbie, with or without fare, is most often alone with their thoughts.
However, imminently, one will be shaken from this bubble, on a darkened pre-dawn street…
18th Street – The Mission, San Francisco.
Having just turned off of Valencia and just now savoring my first sip of coffee, I am awakened from the dream wafting over 137’s radio in which Chopin has ensconced me. It’s three young vatos, Mexican players, vibrantly barking and wailing, as they’re trying to hail my cab, falling all over each other and drunkenly stumbling into the street from the bus stop to intercept.
My doors are not locked.
And why should they be? These vatos are my raison d’être, my lifeblood, my people.
I screech to a halt, lest I hit a vato. And they all pile in back, as the alpha speaks.
(At least, the one who speaks English.)
“Jo, mane. Kin u geeve us ah riiide? Uhp tah tha 7-Eleeeven en tha Castro… ‘N den bahck, mane??”
Mane, “Sure. No problem.”
Alpha Vato, “Hay, mane. U bean werrkin’ alll niight? Or ‘r u jus’ starrin’, mane?”
Mane, “Oh, just starting.”
Side note: Back in cab school, Rose was emphatic that, when asked, the answer is that you are just starting. The cabbie does NOT want the passenger to think they are holding a big wad of cash.
Mane, continuing, ” Off to the 7-Eleven for a late night hot dog?”
Alpha, “Ahh! Nah, mane! Wee gaht sum chicks ees waitin’ fer uss, aht ah partee mane! Wee gittin’ ah 12-pahck ah beeer. ‘N maybee ah straw… eef u kno whaat I meeen, mane! (Heh, heh.)”
Mane, “Ah! I do! But, I’m kind of curious about pot, though. What is the state of blunts these days, if you don’t mind I ask… Back when I was living in the L.E.S., in New York, all my boys were debating which was the best blunt paper. It was usually a toss-up between Phillies and Dutch Masters…”
But suddenly Alpha gets distracted by his vatos, as they all start laughing and gesturing wildly in Spanish. One is sticking his tongue out and making hourglass shapes, with wide eyes.
I let my query slide, as we roll up on 7-Eleven. Per Rose, I’m supposed to get some kind of cash collateral before my passengers all file out with the promise of returning. But I really don’t get the sense that my vatos are going to stiff me. Besides, this straight ride up 18th, to Noe here, is all of $5.70 right now. Whatever.
Alpha, “Mane, wee bee riiight bahck! U gunna wate heer??”
Mane, “Yeah. I got you, mane.”
I watch from 137, through the glass wall of the 7-Eleven, as my vatos all rollick through the store grabbing munchies and beer. And Alpha pockets a straw from the condiments counter.
Post haste, my vatos are back in the cab.
Alpha, “Tannks, mane! Wee goin’ tah tha Beuuuty Baahr, bahck ahn Valencia neer wheer u peek uss uhp, mane! U kno tha place??”
Mane, “Yeah. I know the Beauty Bar. Is that where your chicks are?”
Alpha, “Yeeah, mane! Deese chiicks ahr CRAZEEE, mane! Alll dey wann ess DICK! All ALLL chiicks wann ess DICK, MANE! I gaht soff, ‘n I gaht tah geet eet bahck uhp agin. All deese chiicks wann ees ah HARD DIICK, MANE! CRAZEEE!!”
Mane, “Uh, yeah. I know how that goes. You ever heard of OKCupid? That website? It’s for people who just want a quick hook-up, at lunch or whatever. I had a roommate for a bit who couldn’t get a job to save his life, or pay rent. But somehow he was able to scam free gym memberships, AND he was getting laid by a different chick every night through OKCupid!”
Alpha, “Nahhh, mane! Nevah heerd ah eet! Souunds CRAZEEE! Yuhp! DIIIICK!! S’ALL DEY WANN, MANE!!”
Mane, feigning manly, “Yeah, bro. God bless ’em, too!”
Alpha turns to his friends and chortles, repeating, “(Heh! Heh! Heh!) Hee sayy, ‘Gahd bless ’emm!!'”
Then Alpha turns back to address me, “Heyyy, how muuuch u tiink diss riiide’s gunna bee, mane? I onlee gaht foorteeen buhcks ahn mee…”
Mane, “Oh. We’re almost at the bar. The meter’s only at $8.45 now.”
Alpha, “Heer, mane. U beeen guuud tah uss. Taake dah hooole foorteeen. Wee starrr ur daaay ahf riiight!”
And right on cue, we pull up on the (closed?) Beauty Bar. (Last call in San Francisco is before 2am. After hours? Seems kinda quiet, though.)
But it’s not quiet anymore. My vatos all raucously pile out of 137, with Alpha flailing the 12-pack of beer and yelling, “BEECHES!! WEEE BAAAAHCKK WIT DAH DIIIIICK!!!”
I stash Alpha’s two fives and four ones into my bank roll.
And I roll…
Back at the Citizen’s Cab lot, Juan the Head Mechanic is working the grill. Sometimes the BBQ is to honor someone’s birthday or a special event. And sometimes it’s because, “Why not?” Today, it’s “Why not?” I guess.
Milling about up on the rustic porch are a few day drivers just finishing their shifts, and a few night drivers waiting for their cabs to come in. All shoot the shit, as Juan the Head Mechanic flames up some mean grilled chicken and carne asada – with guacamole, Mexican rice, and salsa and chips all laid out alongside the paper plates and napkins on some rickety plastic buffet table.
Tony, Jr. takes a break from working double duty at the window – collecting gate money and handing out keys and medallions, and back manning dispatch.
I like Junior. And his dad, Tony, Sr., for that matter. (Despite all the no-gos.) Senior used to own a pizza parlor before driving a cab, and now working the office. He has a real New York drawl and portliness to him, although he’s never been. I was always sure their family was Sicilian, actually. But it turns out they’re of Palestinian descent.
And Junior always has a warm smile on his face, and exudes smarts, while carrying an empathetic and emotionally mature nature beyond his years. Which is good, because I recently heard from Tony, Sr. that Junior just became a daddy! Hey! Maybe that’s why the BBQ today!
So, your cabbie with teenage kids dutifully goes over to give advice to the new daddy…
“Junior! How’s it going? You getting any sleep?”
Tony, Jr., ” Oh, I’ve been sleeping great. The mommy’s got all that covered.”
Cabbie with Teenage Kids, “Good for you! Usually, you don’t get a wink until they’re like two years old. That’s also a good age because that’s when they start to understand what ‘no’ means! (Heh, heh.)”
Tony, Jr., “Yeah, well, whenever there’s a problem, the mommy handles it. Being a father hasn’t changed me a bit. And it ain’t gonna! I had a long night out last night, gambling up in Reno. That’s how the daddy handles it! (Heh, heh.)”
Cabbie with Teenage Kids, suddenly done with advice,
“Good chicken, eh?”
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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