Urine the Taxi Biz?

It’s Wednesday, my day off.

But, I still have some taxi business to take care of. You see, a couple weeks ago I made a doctor’s appointment with California Pacific Medical Center; 45 Castro. Actually, it’s more of a “medical” appointment. Yup, it’s that time of the year to renew my A-card (taxi permit). But in a first, this year the Man wants my piss…

It’s odd. I have driven fares to 45 Castro a hundred times, but I have never stepped foot inside. I DO have health insurance, mind you. (Thanks, Obama!) But being your typical older male, I have never utilized it. I figure that if I don’t know anything’s wrong, nothing is. (Try and punch a hole in THAT logic, bitches!)

Anyway, the State of California has for many years had it on the books that taxi drivers are to be drug tested. But the municipally run San Francisco Mass Transit Authority, which oversees SF’s taxi fleet, had never previously put any protocols in place to execute the law. When word hit the street that there was an open MTA meeting where a drug testing policy was to finally be worked out, a slew of politically active hacks overran the meeting and demanded that there, at least, be an exemption for medical marijuana.

And the hacks won!

I have to admit that the cynic in me found this victory almost impossible to believe. After all, many a conspiratorial cabbie had believed that the MTA was just now working out a drug testing policy as a means of doing Uber and Lyft’s bidding, in an overt attempt to tap the final nail into the coffin of the taxi industry. I mean, who knows how many San Francisco cabbies go home and smoke a joint after work! (A third??)

And, surprise, it should be noted that Uber and Lyft are bound by no such regulation; among the many that the cab industry, alone, must adhere to… like FBI background checks! I guess the policy makers figure if you are just “sharing” your ride, for money, on city streets, sixty hours a week, and it is parked out in front in your complex’s lot, then it’s a given that you are not inside your apartment snorting an eight ball of blow before hitting the streets. (And your passengers!)

Anyway, this getting piss tested thing is a first for me. And while I understand the need, er… Actually, I have never in my six years of driving heard of an incident where it was suspected that the culprit was a taxi driver high on drugs. (Well… I guess there was that one meth incident, on 101 south, that resulted in a fatality. Hmm.) But, while I understand the need, in my forty five years of life, no one ever asked me to piss in a cup to keep my job! Somehow, I find this… degrading.

Oh, the humanity!


My appointment is for 11:20, and I was told by the blonde on the phone (trust me) to come with my driver’s license, my MTA paperwork, and a full bladder. Blondie said that if I can’t piss on command, I will be in there for another three hours awaiting my next chance!

Note: When I had originally made the appointment over the phone Blondie asked my name, to which I responded “Sack.” Blondie sounded visibly confused at this. And later, when confirming my information, Blondie repeated back “Zack” as my name. When I corrected her, Blondie explained that that is why she had sounded unsure of my name. She thought I was giving her my first name, rather than surname. And in response, I relayed to Blondie that I had just thought that she was impressed, that they call me “Sack.”

So, I’ve just hailed a taxi through the Cabulous app, on my personal iPhone. I’m pretty versed in the other side of this equation and am secure that my cab will arrive within a couple of minutes. Besides, I can see on the real time map on my phone that Yellow #666 has accepted my hail, and is currently en route.

Another Note: If this system seems familiar to those of you who have partaken in a “rideshare,” it’s because Cabulous came up with this whole app concept back in ’09. Uber stole it third hand after that – from now defunct Sidecar, before Uber went on to declare “innovation.” (I do not think this word means what they think it means.)

Lickety-split, my cab arrives. And I pop in back, with, “45 Castro, please. South Tower… Hey! Have you been piss tested, yet??”

My driver, John, checks me skeptically in the rear view. And he replies with a simple, “No.”

Then Passenger expounds, “I’m renewing my A-card and headed for drug testing now. And I have a medical marijuana card for my chronic insomnia. I cannot BELIEVE that the drivers who attended that meeting at the MTA were able to get an exemption for “medical” through! It would have probably taken down the whole industry, if they didn’t! Hey! How many drivers do you think smoke pot, anyway?”

Driver John looks at me, again skeptically, via the rear view. He is slow to respond, but then does, with a simple, “A third.”

We roll the all of five minute ride with me doing most of the talking. I usually don’t advertise that I am a cab driver the rare times that I take a cab personally. (I value my privacy.) But this is a special case.

A professional, Driver John navigates the CPMC campus well, and gets me right out in front of the South Tower. I thank him for the ride, and thanks to all of the water I have been religiously downing over the course of the morning, I waddle inside busting at the seams. It’s 11:15 now, I have an appointment, and surely they’ll extract what they need before it comes to pissing myself.

It’s a right down the hall, and just a quick left into the “Occupational Medicine” waiting room. And it is there at the desk that I introduce myself to Blondie. (Yup.)

Blondie, “Take this clipboard and fill out all of the highlighted sections. Return it to me when you are done. Oh, and I’ll need your MTA paperwork and your driver’s license.”

Sack, blurting out, “I came with a full bladder, just like you said!”


Blondie is decidedly NOT impressed, now.

I walk over to take a seat in the waiting room, tail betwixt legs, and go to sign my name, sign initials, and date about eight different parts highlighted on the three pages on my clipboard. I forgot to bring my reading glasses and couldn’t tell you for the life of me what I was signing. (Releases, I guess.) And I return the fill-out papers to Blondie.

Sans eye contact, Blondie takes the clipboard from my hands and dryly instructs, “Take a seat. We’ll call you when it’s your turn.”

My turn? There’s no one else in the waiting room. But before sitting, I hit the water cooler that they have smartly situated over in the corner. Well, why not? Yeah, I am already more than ready to go, but Blondie’s previous “three hour” threat looms large. I might as well top it off.

Next to the water cooler is evidence that the hospital’s interior decorator is not without a sense of humor. The waiting room is centered around a HUGE photographic print of a GIANT wave just about to break! While I sip, my groin twitches at the sight. (Maybe topping it off was not such a good idea, after all!)

I head back towards my seat, just as another “patient” enters the waiting room. I sit first. And dude chooses a seat just one over from me, as we both pretend, awkwardly, to be watching some daytime talk show that’s blaring on the waiting room’s TV, hosted by some saucy African American woman. It’s called ‘The Real.’ (Basically, a black version of Oprah.)

A few minutes later, an Hispanic gay dude in scrubs (trust me) pops out from behind a door that’s marked “Authorized Personnel Only.” Ernesssto looks down at his clipboard, and then calls out, “Johnson!”

And Johnson, the only other body in the waiting room, sitting next to me, stands and heads back into the bowels of “Occupational Medicine” with Ernesssto, presumably for his extraction.

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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