The Homeless Scam

It’s 5:45 in the a.m. and I’m rolling the Castro of San Francisco, in Citizen’s Cab 2976, my eyes peeled for flags the likes of late night stragglers, and early morning Mexicans headed across town to their dish washing jobs.

Mid-block before Market, I spy, out of my periphery, something to my left on the sidewalk which I sense is fixed upon me.

I turn to look…

No, it’s not a fare.

It’s some young white dude with short cropped, if not disheveled, blonde hair, dirt covered in blue scrub pants, and wearing no shirt or shoes. He’s shouting, loudly, at no one… before he suddenly DARTS for my passing cab!

But Renfield stops short in the middle of the street, before dramatically cocking his arm back, and VIOLENTLY throwing a balled up article of clothing, presumably his shirt, directly at 2976 as screaming unintelligibly!

And your driver just witnesses, stunned, as the ball unfurls, falling several feet short of the cab and into the street.

I roll a few feet more up the block and come to a stop, for a red at Market.

Hmm… I should probably lock my doors, eh?

But nah… Somehow, I fear the locking sound will exacerbate the situation. If there even still IS a situation. It’s behind me now, I think??

I do not turn my head, but again check my peripheral, with perked ears.


Here comes Renfield!!

He RUNS up to my driver’s side window! Then, Renfield clenches his hands together… and prostrates himself??

I roll down my window, half way.

“Please, sir, do you have a dollar? For coffee??” Renfield begs, in the most sweet and humble, lilting plea.

Your driver, stunned by the manic switch, starts for the wad of cash in the left pocket of his cargo shorts. But then, your driver remembers… Damn. There is no “wad” of cash. I only had $20 for bank when I left for the cab lot this morning. And there were only five ones in that bank! I was already sweating about making change today!

“Uhh… Sorry, man. I REALLY can’t afford it. But have a beautiful day!”

The light turns and I ZOOM it out of there, leaving Renfield behind in the street, all dejected in the rear view.

Now, it’s up the Castro hill and on towards the Haight! But, I immediately get to nervous second guessing. Was this a test? Was Renfield sent by God? Have I just incurred bad karma for the day??

Suddenly, the Cabulous taxi-hailing app on my dash-mounted smartphone comes chiming to life.

“Cha-ching! – 1 Loma Vista. SFO. Bob. iPhone.”

SWEET!! Bad karma be damned! Airport!!


I ‘Accept’ the order.

Your driver was just a few blocks away and quickly rolls up on this quaint cluster of large, old, brown brick homes, all with a view, nestled up here in well-to-do Corona Heights.

I hit ‘Arrived’ on my Cabulous phone and wait out front for Bob, as I meditate, mesmerized under a sun just rising over the manicured lawns, as it throws shadows across an ornate brass fountain housed in the front yard of another historic home just across the street from Bob’s, as morning birds chirp pleasantly for the well-off mansioned in these parts.

After a few minutes, a flamboyantly gay Bob pops out of his large wooden front door, with luggage. YES!! And your driver pops the trunk and pops out popping to help load Bob’s bags in my, um, trunk.

Bob, “Good morning. SFO. Virgin, please.”

Driver, “Good morning! SFO – Virgin, it is!”

And we drive…

Bob and I immediately get to talking. My caffeine has kicked in, with the help of Renfield. And Bob is, well… Bob.

Bob, out of left field, “What do you think of the homeless issue in San Francisco, driver?”

Driver, “Ha! Funny you should ask! I write. And I’m supposed to meet a writer’s agent, with an altruistic sense, for coffee tomorrow. For a year or so, I was courting him to work with me. That was before I found out that he’s actually a ‘retired’ writer’s agent. (Welcome to my world.) Anyway, the whole purpose of the meeting is to discuss, and solve, just this issue!”

Bob, “Well, what DO you think of the homeless?”

Driver, “Well, I know I’m just a cab driver, but that actually situates me pretty well to have some knowledge in this area, what with all of the NPR I listen to, watching firsthand the evolution of the homeless on the streets over these last six years, and having even driven a homeless case worker a few times to his job! Actually, I even have a friend of thirteen years who is homeless! His name is Derek. He’s an old black hippie who grew up in San Francisco. Derek had his first acid trip back in ’67 when he was just thirteen, up at Hippie Hill! He says Janis Joplin ordered him laid while he was tripping! That’s how he lost his virginity! Crazy. He also says Jimmie Hendrix stole his skateboard; something about while chastising him for being an Oreo. Derek’s a real sweet guy. Anyway, I let him sleep on the floor of my kitchen from time to time. And we play music together.”

I guess I’m getting long-winded, as Bob, now antsy, asks again.

“Well, what DO you think!”

Driver, “Oh! Well, everyone goes off about the lack of supply of housing in San Francisco. But NOBODY ever addresses the demand! Three years ago, Reuters news had the number of techies going south on the buses at 45,000! And the Castro’s Supervisor Weiner said recently on NPR that the city’s population has increased by 100,000 in the last few years! So, I figure the number of people who moved to San Francisco JUST so they can work an hour south of the city is likely now around 90,000, or so. That’s 10% of the population! Look what they’ve done to the cost of living in SF! And look at the unprecedented numbers of evictions of rent control tenants, so some techie, new to the city, making six figures fresh out of school can turn it condo, which thereby removes all those rent controlled units from the market!

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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