In the Dark of Morn…

dark morn - no border

3:15am:
“BbbBllllOOOOooPPp… BbbBllllOOOOooPPp… BbbBlllOOOooPPp…”

My generic iPhone alarm goes off, waking me for the 3:45 medallion I am now rocking, and my “day” shift in Citizen’s Cab 26. This means that I can roll out onto the streets of San Francisco as early as 3:45am, and return my “new” 70K mile Prius to the lot as late as 3:45pm. Allah willing. (And with an MTA blind eye turned to me working longer than the regulated maximum of a ten hour shift.)

Those familiar with my reports will note that with all of the head games wrought by the current state of the taxi biz, coupled with the drip, drip Chinese water torture incurred while driving my previous cab, 137, I had for months been going in to work later and later, and returning earlier and earlier. (And consequently, not making a sustainable living.) No, a hack these days MUST go in EARLIER and stay out LATER, if there is to be any hope of survival.

Well my girl, 26, she’s been a dream. And I am happy to report that your boy, Alex, is a survivor!

Side note: This cannot be said of all of our friends over at Citizen’s Cab. Sammy the Blonde Rocker has quit to go back up to Sacramento to be with his wife and guns, and a new job driving for Fed Ex. Igor is out with a bad back – the much ballyhooed occupational hazard Rose had warned all of us aspiring hacks about back in cab school. (There is a collection being taken for Igor, via a large manila envelope taped to the bullet-proof glass check out window. I threw in a ten.) And Jesus, sweet Jesus, after forty-two years in the taxi industry… is now retiring. And He will be missed!

In any event, I have been quite enjoying the unique early, early morning clientele. These are the rides of old Hispanic women in pain over to the ER at SF General, longshoreman in Fisherman’s Wharf just released from the dock, strip club bouncers up in North Beach headed home – after being stuck helping with all night clean up duty, and Mexican illegals off to a new day’s kitchen duty. Yes, these are the bread and butter, the salt of the earth rides that a taxi man sees in the hours before the sun comes up.

And I like it.
3:45am:
I’m rolling the Gough gauntlet in my van, towards the highway and the Citizens Cab lot. But this early, there is no gauntlet. No fighting with an Audi (with ski racks) for pole position. And the ease of my commute gives room for an open dialogue with the Universe. I note an illuminated construction sign ahead. It reads “SLOW DOWN. KIDS BACK IN SCHOOL.” And I realize it is no other than God, Himself, speaking to me… He just left the apostrophe before the “S” off in “KIDS.”

And I take stock that He has not been happy with my activities of late. You see, the aforementioned extended “milking of the medallion” thing is a double-edged sword. It seems there’s a REASON the MTA, ostensibly, limits any given hack to a ten hour shift. Yes, your driver has been fatigued, passengers. And with the precarious consequence of retaining less sympathy for the jaywalkers whom I buzz, with an increasing frequency and in increasing proximity. And all of the Ubers and Lyfts, which I invariably cut off, having given no quarter. (And ANY and ALL Toyotas on San Francisco’s streets these days ARE Ubers and Lyfts. Whether they are, or are not!) Yes, folks. I find it simply AMAZING that I still have a clean license, and/or have not killed anyone, yet. It all just reinforces my sense that God is guiding this wheel…

Note: If I turn out to be wrong, SOMEONE PLEASE POST MY BAIL!

That said, I am making money now. Math dictates that I need to bring home an average of $160 a shift. And this milking the medallion tactic has seen me taking home anywhere from that, to a little over $200 in the last week. YAY!!!

But still, walking into the Citizen’s Cab lot in the dark of morn, I look to play it cheap. I sort through the bank of ones and fives in the pocket of my cargo shorts. And I search for the stiffest five dollar bill that I can find. And once found, I fold the bill in half, and ready it to hand over to Tony the Dispatcher.

Another note: I have long forsaken any notion of giving Tony an EXTRA five bribe for an airport, as I have been bitten and left wanting too many a time. (Actually, pretty much EVERY time!)

Still, I feel kinda lame offering this solitary five for tip. So, I have sold myself on that maybe NOT giving him some FLIMSY, SOGGY old five, will FEEL better in his hands. That maybe a newer, crisper bill will give ‘ol Tony the ILLUSION of a larger tip…

Hmmm.
4:05am:
I’m back in the office. While traversing the lot, I had taken notice that 26 was blocked in by 2977, and 137. (Hmph!) So, the onus is now on me to move one of them, to free my girl.

Tony is at dispatch. And before I can ask for the key to 2977…

Tony, “Sack. Ya wan dis 1592 Newcum, owt en Bayview? I ghat sum drunk Mexican needs ah riiide tah 16th ‘n Fulsum. Iss uhp tah yoo doh, if ya wanna tak et, er whaat. Whaddya tink?”

A non-caffeinated deer in headlights, before answering, I mull how I like to relax and take my time in prepping and sanitizing my taxi before the breaking of the ice. How I like to start off with a cup of coffee, napkins and a purge at Starbucks, first. How Tony is a.k.a. The No-go King!

Do I REALLY want to go running bat outta hell out of the lot gambling on this??

But alas, times have changed. And this is survival…

Sack, “Let me go move 2977 out of the way of 26. When I come back with the key, call Jorge back. If he answers, I’ll take it.”

I head out into the lot, move 2977, free up 26 – in such a way that incoming driver will again block her in, and I head back in to see Tony about a mule.

And Tony calls Jorge. And they are on speaker.

Tony, “Yer cahb es ahn es waay.”

Jorge, “Yessss, ey (HIC!) cahl eh cahb. Ess owt-siiie?”

Tony, “Nah, es ahn es waay.”

Jorge, “Ess aqqqquiii??”

Tony, “Nah, sevin minits.”

Jorge, “Yesssss, ey cahl ah (HIC!) cahb.”

And I dart out of the office, jump in 26, and roll towards 1592 Newcomb.

Why not?

Five minutes later…

I pull up on 1592 Newcomb, just on the seedy side of 3rd Street, out in the ghetto of Bayview. And I radio in to Tony for a call out.

In short order, I watch as the front door at the top of the dilapidated steps of this single family home opens inward, and the lights from inside the home flood the porch. And I watch, as next, the steel-barred storm door in front of the large wooden one, also creeks open… to reveal a stumbling Jorge.

And Jorge is illuminated as he kisses a male lover at the threshold, simultaneously juggling a large (open) cardboard box of Schlitz. And Jorge almost falls down the front steps, as he turns gushing from his lover, and proceeds towards my cab.

Man, I hope Jorge doesn’t puke!

Jorge balances the half empty box of beer cans on his knee, and shifts hands to awkwardly reach for the rear door of 26. And after sloshing in back, Jorge promptly rolls down his window, all the way. And he sticks his head out of the window and waves and yells “adiós” to lover boy.

There will be NO complaints about that rolled down window from ME!!!

And with waybill/clipboard and pen perched on the steering wheel, Driver confirms.

Driver, “You’re headed to 16th & Folsom, right?”

Jorge, sloshing in Spanish, “C (HIC!) ie! Diiiieci (HIC!) sssséis y… y… (HIC!) Fuuuuuulllll-som! (HIC!)” And Jorge starts rambling, or attempting to converse, with Driver. And Driver just ignores it all, as he hits the meter and drives…
Now, I do saber un poquito Español. But, not DRUNKEN Spanish!

Hmm. Now, how to proceed?

Well, I could roll surface streets the couple miles to Jorge’s drop. Or, I could jump on the highway and make this fast. The speed might shake up my passenger’s stomach. But then again, so could all of the potholes on the surface streets! Eh, the extra ventilation of Jorge’s open window on the highway might actually be a good thing. And the noise might help keep him from passing out, and afford a better chance of getting paid.

101 north, it is!

Five minutes later…

At 16th & Folsom, I pull to the corner and address my passenger.

Driver, “Is this good? 16th & Folsom!”

But Jorge just looks around confused, and sloshes and sways in his seat.

Jorge, sloshing and swaying in his seat, “Nahh, a- (HIC!) miiigoo. Mi hac (HIC!) i-enda essss no aq (HIC!) iiiiii!”

And Driver drives on, SLOWLY, as Jorge scans Folsom Street, past 16th, for his hac (HIC!) i-enda…

I watch in the rear view, as confusion turns to congition, with a LOUD, “Aquiii!!! A- (HIC!) QUIII!!!”

THANK GOD!

The meter reads $13.95. And Jorge sloppily hands me up a twenty, and turns to nestle his box of beer tight with one arm, as reaching for the door with his other.

It seems that no change is warranted, as Jorge stumbles out of 26 and does not look back, as he parts with a simple, slurred, “Grac-i (HIC!) asss, amiiiii (HIC!) go!”

Now, with the ice broken, it’s off to coffee. For Jorge has brought me very close to my regular Starbucks, in Potrero Hill.

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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