The Cut

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Tuesday

4:35am:
I am out hacking the streets of San Francisco early, again. Something woke me up. A mental vortex emanating from my previous cab shift. A thought popped into my head during half sleep which kicked in my adrenaline, and there was no going back to sleep after.

I did try to let it go. (“OM” and all…) But the more I tried, the deeper it sucked me in. Anyway, it’s all probably for the best. I should be out milking my new girl, Citizen’s Cab #26, and her 3:45 medallion for all they’re worth, nowadays. I’ve been meaning to.

I consider this extended schedule to be my new job.

Yeah, yeah, I could “play” the airport. But I still find myself fighting with some mental block about all that. If this “going out earlier” and “staying out later” low fruit doesn’t pan out, I can always move on to rotting for hours in the taxi staging lots at SFO arrivals then.

Oh, what was the thought? The culprit that awoke your trusty driver?

Well, there’s a mental list of encounters from the cab that have made their way into my deeper consciousness. In short, PTSD events. Most horn honks and the insult of getting stiffed on tips (Cough… cough… former SF Mayor Willie Brown) wash away with a bad night’s sleep, or two. But this one from my previous shift seems to have made the cut.

Monday

2:45pm:
I’m rolling east up Market in the rightmost of two lanes, in the deep Financial. And I come to a red at Front Street.

Soon enough, an African dude with dreads driving Yellow Cab #533 pulls up alongside me to stop at the light, on my left.

I am spaced out. The longer than usual day has taken its toll. And I am mentally drained. Whatever. I’m poised in this lane for any flags that may present from the curb. And just past the light is a MUNI bus island that will keep Mugabe confined to his lane.

Besides, most cab drivers respect the pecking order on any given commercial run. Most.

But, not Mugabe.

The light turns. And Mugabe floors it!! He cuts me off HARD, as he ZOOMS diagonally ACROSS MY PATH, almost hitting 26, and then SLAMS to a STOP just across the light DIRECTLY in front of me. And RIGHT in front of two suits standing curbside… WITH LUGGAGE!!

MOTHERFUCKER!!!

How the HELL did I miss that!?

As I stare dumbfounded and jaw agape behind Mugabe, it becomes clear that the suits are not interested. Mugabe’s presence just prompts the alpha to momentarily break from conversation to look down at his phone, and get an update tracking the arrival of their Uber.

HA!!

But! This aggression will NOT stand, man! There ARE cabbie rules! (Albeit, unofficial.) And Mugabe has a date with the judge!

Hmm.

Does your driver:

  1. Just exhale and look other way? Turn the other cheek? OM and shit?? (Nah. We have already ruled that option out.)
  2. Zoom up alongside Mugabe and give him a BOLD middle finger with the bonus addition of a virile FUCK YOU!! (Nope. Boooorrr-iiinnggggg.)
  3. Get out at the next red and run up and pound on his window while screaming maniacally? (Eh, too crass. Let’s keep a modicum of self-respect here, Alex.)
  4. Get out at the next red and run up and reach into Mugabe’s cab, yank out his keys, and chuck them as far as I can across Market Street? (Hmmm. I kinda like that. But, that might maybe could get ugly… and involve police.)
  5. AH-HA!! Call the number for Yellow and “report” to their dispatch that some African dude driving Yellow Cab #533 just PLOWED INTO A PEDESTRIAN in a CROSSWALK after RUNNING A RED! Before ZOOMING OFF all HIT and RUN and leaving his victim to BLEED to DEATH with HEAD TRAUMA in the STREET!!! (Oh, what’s my name?? Never mind, dispatcher. I should really be calling 911 to report this, instead of Yellow Cab. CLICK!)

In any event, you may recall that it’s really Tuesday, 4:35am. And the aforementioned options were just, sadly, the adrenaline inspired fantasies that ran through my head as I tossed in bed last night. And which served as my alarm clock for this new day’s shift.

In reality, I just caught up to Mugabe and cut him off, all juvenile and impotent. Before, without batting a lash, Mugabe casually veered off Market and up Geary, towards the potentially lucrative spoils of the shopping district that is Union Square.

All in all, I feel the whole episode was yet another test from God. Likely, another I have failed. (As evidenced by that I have clung so hard to it, and with such boiling blood.)

Anyway, I best move on to “people stories” now. My editor/mom hates all this pontificating. She dubs it “staring at my belly button.” Turns out it’s not proper fare.

So, nothing to see here, folks. Let’s move along…

5:25am:
I have yet to crack the ice. It’s been two rounds of the city, fareless. I’m rolling up 16th, into the Mission, and trailing a Yellow Cab that I do NOT intend to pull a Mugabe on. Fair is fare. And Yellow has the lead.

Sure enough, as we approach 16th & Mission, a middle-aged black woman with a large bag and a cane is yelling pretty loud, “TAXI!! TAXI!!!” on the far corner. Usually, this kind of enthusiasm makes a hack somewhat nervous, and inclined to drive the other way, fast. But these days, one must take what one can get. And it’s not even my call. Like I said, Yellow’s got the lead. And he dutifully pulls over into the bus stop, across from Esther.

Oddly enough, there is a DeSoto Cab sitting right next to Esther there on Mission, stopped at the red, with his top light on. Dunno why he’s not biting. Maybe it’s all the yelling.

Anyway, I pass through the light at Mission, and continue up 16th. But then, a nagging feeling makes me check the rear view…

Esther is not crossing the street to her Yellow. She’s still just blaring out, “TAXI!!” with her free hand waving all erratically in the air. And Yellow is still just sitting there in the bus stop, presumably waiting for Esther to cross over to him. (Meanwhile, DeSoto has driven on.)

I flip an illegal U.

Surely, Yellow will see me coming back and jump to do the same, first. If he wants this fish!

But Yellow abstains, as Citizen’s Cab #26 pulls up alongside Esther and dutifully grabs his pen and clipboard/waybill, to prop it up on the steering wheel and begin marking the ride.

And Yellow drives off, as Esther waddles the few feet to the back door of my Prius taxi, and canes her way into the back.

Esther, “WHEW!! Gahd BLESS yoo fah stoppin’, drivah! I been owt he-yah fah fifteen minits! Tryin’ tah hail ah cahb!! Ain’t nobady stahp fah me! Wha?? An ol’ blahck womin gonna rahb you all!? ‘N I ain’t homeliss, neetha! I jus’ need ah riiide tah werk!! PG&E. Harrisun ‘n 18th, drivah!”

Drivah, “Well, I assure you, ma’am. The only color I see is green. I do think that that Yellow cab across the street from you was waiting to pick you up, though. It looked like he was waiting for you to cross the street.”

Esther, “Ain’t no Yellow tryin’ tah pick me uhp! ‘N I ain’t crossin’ no street! I hahd my deelings wit Yello befoah! Dey NEVAH pick yoo uhp!”

Drivah, “Ha! I know what you mean! I’m working on a coffee table book of Yellow Cab horror stories I’ve gotten from passengers over the years. The most common (and boring) is that they never show. It really gave all of us cabbies a bad name. Especially, since they are the largest company and have the simplest phone number to remember, 333-3333. And when people think of taxis, Yellow is the first thing that comes to mind. At least them leaving people hanging is color blind. It’s really an equal opportunity ‘fuck you.’ And, in the past, I have scored many an airport flagging me all desperate to make their flight, thanks to Yellow!

Anyway, I’m glad to pick you up, ma’am. Besides, working class people usually tip the best! And even the homeless! Much better than Financial workers… Not that I’m fishing for a big tip. I just see it as a ‘respect’ issue.

Esther, “Mmm-hmm! Yoo don’ ghattta worree ’bout me, drivah! I kno how et is! I waz raised wit re’spec!”

And we roll into the fenced lot of the PG&E power substation just a short ride from where I picked Esther up. And it’s dark, as we roll up on a co-worker of Esther’s at the entrance to the building, a like middle-aged black woman who seems happy to see her.

“Girrrrl! Yoo ridin’ in STYYYLE!”

And Esther throws Drivah up $7 cash, on the $5.70 meter. And she waddles out of 26 with her bag and cane and over towards her awaiting friend, with a vociferous, “GOOOOOD MORNIN’!”

Now, the ice is broken.

6:45am:
I’m rolling along with KDFC, Classical 90.3FM wafting in the background. And the streets are just as sedate. Then, Hoyt Smith comes on with the news.

“And in the news today: In a sweet gesture to his beloved, a German man set out hundreds of candles on his lawn in the shape of a heart, spelling out the words, ‘You set my heart on fire.’ Unfortunately for the man and his wife, he also set their house on fire. And that’s the news, folks.”

“Cha-ching! – 2040 Webster. Yakov. Dispatch.”

The Cabuous dispatch smartphone on my dash comes ringing to life!

And I ‘Accept.’

Hey… I know this place! This is that chaplain’s dorm building, that’s mixed in with CPMC hospital. This is where I picked up Father Hannah one early morning, the 24/7 on call nun-in-training chaplain who does bedside hospice visits! Hmmm.

I was nearby, cruising Fillmore in Pac Heights. And I pull up on an awaiting Yakov, lickety-split.

Swathed in a thick, grey tweed overcoat and purple scarf, with wire rim glasses, a trimmed white beard, and topped off with a simple black yarmulke, my spindly passenger mindfully works his way from the front of the building, before squeezing between some parked cars and stumbling into the back of 26.

And in the gayest of inflections, with a wry smile, Yakov speaks.

“Many ‘thank yous’ for picking me up, driver. You will simply HAVE to excuse me, if I present out of sorts. It’s that it’s early, and I have yet to have my morning coffee. And I have forgotten how COLD San Francisco can be! Ha! (Cough! Sneeze!) If you would, driver, we are off to 3700 California.”

Driver, “Ah! The maternity ward at the California Campus of CPMC, it is!” Adding, “Uh, you don’t look like you’re that far along…”

Yakov, “Ha! Well, I do my exercises to keep trim!” Adding, “Oh, I just LOVE the music you are playing, driver. Very soothing. Good for this time of the morning.”

Driver, “Yeah, I like to start out with classical. I find it too early for NPR and all that death, at least, before my caffeine has had a proper chance to kick in.” Continuing, “I once drove a nun chaplain to St. Luke’s, to sit bedside by a dying woman. But I’ve never driven a rabbi to a maternity ward. Are you off to a bris, or something? What gives?”

Yakov, “Well, driver. I see you have guessed that I am Jewish! Ha! What gave me away? The yarmulke? Yes. We are chaplains, too. And this morning, I got the luck of the draw to say prayers with a woman in labor. (Cough! Sneeze!)”

Driver, “Well, I hope it’s not Zika that you’re carrying!”

Yakov, “Ha! No, it’s just a little sniffle.”

Driver, “How interesting, though. My Jewish father passed almost two years ago. We had a rabbi come to the ICU, near the end. My mother’s Irish Catholic, by the way. So, I got ALL the different shades of guilt! And in spades! Anyway, I didn’t know you guys did prayers at births. Cool!”

Yakov, “Yeah, we have a book for that. Ha! (Cough! Sneeze!)” Continuing, “A Jewish father and an Irish Catholic mother?? Mazel tov! I better say some prayers for you, too! I’ll check the book. Ha!”

We pull up on the maternity ward at CPMC – 3700 California, and the meter reads $7.90. Yakov breaks out a Citizen’s Cab voucher, and makes it out for $11.90. Respect.

And with a parting “Mazel tov,” another “Cough! Sneeze!” and a blow of his nose, Yakov exits 26 and sniffles off to service, to mark one more inscription into the Book of Life.

As your ill-advised driver decides to tune into 88.5 – NPR, about a sha’ah too early…

“Donald Trump spoke at a rally in Youngstown, Ohio last night, where he warned of blah, blah, blah…”

 

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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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