Fresh from Starbucks, I’m back onto my usual path of running down 16th, towards the Mission.
And as I run, I take note of the burgeoning homeless tent encampment lining the sidewalks of 16th here, along both sides of the street. I’ve noticed that it is like squeezing a balloon. The City periodically comes along to shut down one encampment with reflective-vested cleaners sporting high pressured hoses, police, and pickup trucks ready to load up with “debris.” And then, the homeless all just migrate several blocks away, and set up shop anew for the next few weeks. (Minus a few of their life’s possessions, a.k.a. debris.)
At Folsom, once again, I am caught at a red, when suddenly a dark figure pops out from between two tents on the sidewalk and raises an arm, to flag.
I gauge my potential fare… It’s a young black male, with black sagging jeans, and a black bomber jacket, with a fur lined hood that’s covering his face.
I flash my lights, and ready my clipboard/waybill. Well, why not?
Really. Why not??
The light turns. And I cross over and pull to the corner, as G-Money goes to address me through the shotgun window of my taxi. But, it is closed. So, G-money goes for the back, and settles in.
G-Money, mumbling under his breath, “Yo. Take me ta tha closest gas station. Need ta git sum dice. Teach my brutha ah lessun. Feel me, bro?”
Bro, putting down his clipboard, “Dude, there’s a gas station just one block up 16th…”
G-Money, mumbling a notch louder, “I ain’t frum a’round he-yah, bro. Feel me? Frum Oakl’n.”
And Bro drives. But he does NOT hit the meter.
Bro, “Okay, man. But don’t worry about the fare. This one’s on me.”
G-Money, “Go ahe’d ‘n tern on tha metah, bro. Gonna nee ah riiiide back. Feel me?”
To be quite honest, I really do not feel G-Money. I mean, why is he trying to spend $8 on a round trip ride to get some dice at a gas station only a block straight up from where I picked him up?
Lickety-split, we pull into the lot of the 76 at South Van Ness & 16th, and G-Money jumps out to go inside of the mart there, with, “I bee rite back, bro.”
I watch as G-Money goes to the register, and the clerk’s head starts shaking in the negative. You know, I didn’t think so. This “dice for sale at your local gas station” is probably more of an Oakland thing.
G-Money comes out and addresses Bro at the driver’s side window.
“Yo. Lemme check wit dese dudes ’round tha cornah he-yah. Wate rit he-yah, bro.”
Bro, “Uh, sure.”
And G-Money disappears around the South Van Ness side of the 76. And Bro pulls forward, to see what’s what. And Bro watches as G-Money exchanges something with a group of black dudes hanging out around the corner. Hmmm. I don’t think it’s dice.
And Bro slowly pulls out of the 76, before zooming off to catch the green to roll once again, vacant up 16th.
A block away…
At 16th & Mission, about to roll through the green here, I suddenly am caught by a VERY LOUD, “TAXIIII!!!!”
I screech to a stop. And I see in the rear view, a black couple sitting at a MUNI bus shelter that I just passed, on the opposite side of the street. The woman is shivering, with a transistor radio on her lap. And the guy is stuffing clothes into a large gym bag. Homeless? I don’t sense that they are. But it’s hard to tell.
I flip an illegal U, and pull up to the bus shelter. And my passengers jump in back all animated, and thanking me profusely.
Clea, “My name is Clea, drivah. Dis is Michael. Thank you SO much fer stoppin’! It’s cold as da devil owt there! We goin’ ta 22nd ‘n Missouri. Can’t wait fer no bus NO more! Thank you SO much, drivah!”
Well, 22nd & Missouri… The Potrero Hill projects. The oldest projects in San Francisco. And the very same projects where a San Francisco cab driver was recently tased, beaten and robbed.
Well, I still don’t get bad vibes from my fares. Quite the contrary. They are real people.
But as Clea seems oblivious to the Rachmaninov wafting over the cab, via KDFC 90.3FM, I quickly give up on that and turn off the radio, deferring to Rick James’ Super Freak emanating from the tinny speaker in Clea’s lap.
“Ain’t dis cold weatha ah bitch, drivah! Thank you, THANK YOU fer stoppin’!” exclaims Clea.
Drivah, “Well, I’m happy to help! Besides, I like driving real people around. I don’t get too much of that these days.”
And Michael joins in, “You mean you drivin’ all dose clowns around?”
Clea interjecting, “Michael mean dose dot com people. Dey SO ruuuude! You say ‘good day’ to dem, ‘n dey jus’ turn dere backs on you!”
And with this, Drivah tries to earn a little street cred.
“Yeah, that’s what I mean. I live across the street from West Side. My kids grew up going to the playground at the projects over there, and hanging out with all the other kids. Everyone has always been so nice. It really feels like everyone’s got each other’s backs. I got a good thing going with my ground floor neighbor Gail, too. But there are some tech chicks living in the middle flat. And they can’t seem to be bothered to acknowledge anyone! What’s up with that!”
Clea and Michael, in unison, “HA! Dat’s what we talkin’ ’bout!!”
And they each offer their hands over the seat, to shake.
I dunno. Maybe it’s just from the power of suggestion, but my nose begins to drip. I reach for a fresh Starbucks napkin, and I blow.
And Clea latches on to this, “Kin you tern on tha heat, drivah? ‘N close all tha windows? Please? Dat cold, wet weatha got you, too! I see it!”
I do as my passenger asks. After all, it is her ride. But the windows and windshield all promptly fog up. And I have a hard time seeing out of the cab to discern Missouri amongst the litany of streets here all named after states.
And Michael now waxes philosophical, on the source of the old school San Francisco weather.
Michael, “Iss da Devil! Satan’s WIVES is responsible fer all dis cold, wet weatha!”
But, far be it for Clea to let that stand, “Satan ain’t gaht no wives, Michael! He gaht HORES! ‘N PRAHSTITUTES!!”
And now Drivah joins in, “Well, his name USED to be Lucifer, when he was God’s right hand man. It’s pretty cool, that ‘Luce’ means ‘light.’ But when he got kicked out of Heaven, that’s when his name changed.”
And Clean and Michael light up at this.
Clea, “Dat’s rite! He challenge God! ‘N God kick ’em down ta Hell! Intah DARKNESS!”
Michael, “Well, ain’t dat sumthin! See! We ALL lern sumthin’ frum one anothah!”
I know we’re getting close now, but can’t see ANYTHING out of the fogged up windshield! Is THAT Missouri? Or it Mississippi!? I don’t want to look green. I mean, I AM a professional! I slow to try and get a better read on the sign. But before I can make certain one way or the other, Clea gently guides me to, “Tern he-yah, drivah. Dis is Missouri!”
And a few blocks on, up and over Potrero Hill, we enter the belly of the projects. And Clea directs me to pull over adjacent to one row of tenements.
“How much we owe you, drivah?” asks Clea.
Drivah, checking the meter, “Looks like $8.45.”
And Clea digs in her pockets for a couple crumpled up bills, as Michael exits the taxi and does the same. After finding one bill, Michael then moves on to digging for loose coin change at the bottom of his gym bag to complete their remittance.
Clea, “Sorry ’bout tha change, drivah. We suuure ‘ppreciate tha ride!”
Drivah, “Oh, no worries. I’m ok with coin change. Laundry!” Adding, “You all stay warm! And watch out for the devil!”
And I roll out of Potrero Hill down the back way, past SF General and into the Mission. And I roll fareless, left to contemplate my navel all through the Mission, and almost out of the Castro.
At the red at Castro & Market, a young white couple vehemently yells, “TAXIIII!!!!” from the MUNI bus shelter.
Driver pulls over, and the late night stragglers jump into the back of 26, gushing that they have secured a taxi.
Jen, “Thank GOD you stopped, driver! This is NOTHING like New York. We’ve been waiting FOREVER for a bus or taxi! Can you take us to the Haight?” Adding, “How’s your night going, driver?”
Driver, “Well, my MORNING has been going just fine, thank you.”
In Memory of Jesus: 1974 – 2016
Retiring Citizen’s Cab sometimes manager, sometimes dispatcher, always benevolent raisins-giving mentor and Messiah.
Photo by Alex SacK