The Phoenix of San Francisco

phoenix-sf-no-border

It’s 4:15am, and Alex has been a good boy. Yes, your driver’s been going into work earlier, and staying out later, milking Citizen Cab 26’s 3:45 medallion for all that she is worth. Well, sorta. It’s 4:15am. (Cut me some slack, passengers.)

Heading back towards the office to see Tony Jr. about a Prius, I navigate through the early morning sea of latent taxis filling the Citizen Cab’s lot, as I fish for the stiffest five for tip I can find folded in my cargo shorts’ bank of change.

Once back in the office, there’s the usual scene of drivers shooting the shit and milling about, and blocking my path to the pegboard of keys and medallions.

Jr. is busy over at dispatch.

Newbies, mostly, waiting for some veteran driver on the schedule to call in sick and free up a cab for them, this veteran pushes past them all, as he makes his way over to the pegboard to find… a pink folded-up shop ticket hanging on 26’s hook.

No!!

Sack, “Nooooooo!!” I turn to Junior, who has just gotten off the phone from taking an order. “Junior, what’s up with 26? Tell me she’s just been shopped by some green driver for the ‘check engine’ light, and I can take her out…”

Tony Jr., “Sorry, Sack. She’s got inspection today.”

Note: I must come clean, passengers. I have been hiding something from you, something about my precious 26. As perfect as she is, we all have our blemishes, physical and/or spiritual. It is what makes us human. (Or, Toyota.) Yes, since before I was assigned her, 26 has borne the burden of a foot long crack in her windshield.

Sack, “But 26 has a foot long crack in her windshield! Did the mechanics replace it? There’s no way she can pass inspection with that!”

Tony, Jr., “I dunno. Probably. All I know is it’s getting inspected today. You can take out 1279. And hurry up! Get to 233 Franklin, before 4:30… right now.”

SWEET!!!

“Right now” is dispatcher code, usually broadcast over the radio for the ears of veterans, indicating airport! Funny that Junior is saying it now, in front of all these newbies. (Who I suspect are clueless.)

I grab the key and medallion for 1279 (Prius, cracked seats, 144K) and dive into my pocket for an extra (albeit, soggy) five to sweeten the pot for Junior. Then, I make a run out towards the lot, as chanting over and over to myself, aloud, “233… 233… 233…”

But as I dart past the rustic porch/driver’s lounge, adjacent the bullet-proof glass check out window outside the office, some homeless drivers up exchanging war stories there overhear my chant and start in with yelling and pointing, “233 is over there! It’s over there! HEY!! 233 is over there!!!”

SHUT the FUCK UP! You’re SCREWING with my MOJO!!

It’s pre-caffeine, and my brain is already working at max capacity, scanning the overcrowded lot for 1279, to get to 233 Franklin, by 4:30!!!

And… I see her!!

Damn.

One thing about coming into the lot this much earlier, is there’s a good chance that you’re going to have to move another cab (or two) to get yours out. And that chance increases, exponentially, when you are sent out of the office running for an airport, like today!

1279 is blocked in from behind by my old “regular” spare 2976 – which will probably lock me out for five minutes as a security precaution, thinking I’m stealing it, and in front by my old girl, 137 – which experience likewise tells me it probably needs to be jumped. AND Junior’s personal Mercedes SUV is parked in front of 137!

Like I said,

SHIT!!!

(Or, was it damn?)

I SPRINT back towards the office.

“233… 233… 233…”

Homeless Porch-dwelling Drivers, “233… IS… OVER… THERE!!!!”

SHUT UP!!!!!!!

Sack, “Junior! I’m blocked in! But I can still make the 233 Franklin! I need you to move your Mercedes, and I’ll move 137… Then, take 137’s key back in for me. Okay??”

Junior, “You got it, Sack!”

And Junior follows me back out into the lot, with the much appreciated (and requisite) quickness.

He gets in his Mercedes to move it. And I, in 137.

I hit the ‘START’ button.

And…

Nothing.

She needs to be jumped!!

FUCK!!!

I SPRINT back into the office, again! I grab the portable emergency jump starter from under the cash register, and DART back out to jump 137…

DRIVER’S DOOR! INSIDE HOOD LATCH! OUT OF THE CAB! OUTSIDE HOOD LATCH! LIFT THE HOOD AND PROP! BLACK CABLE CLAMP! RED CABLE CLAMP! DRIVER’S DOOR! BACK INSIDE THE CAB! START BUTTON!

And…

SHE STARTS! SHE STARTS!!

YES!!!

Sack, “Junior! Here’s the charger and 137’s key. I’M OUTTA HERE!!”

I THROW my backpack and 1237’s medallion onto the shotgun seat, forgo sanitization/prep… And I ROLL!!

Hey.

137’s windshield is all fogged up. I can’t see shit! And I’m about to speed onto the highway!!

FUCK!!!

I throw on the defogger, FULL FAN!! And I hunch forward, low over the steering wheel to peek through the little, tiny space of windshield, just above the vent, that is SLOWLY clearing… And I go to check my speed, as I merge HALF BLIND onto 101…

Huh??

120 miles per hour!?

SHIT!!!

The speedometer is set to KILOMETERS! And I can’t see A THING!! Where the button is to set it back to miles-per-hour, OR outside to tell if I am AT ALL safely rolling with the flow of highway traffic!! THIS SUCKS!!!

I roll down all of 1279’s windows, FULL, to help clear faster the fogged up windshield, and gain some semblance of visibility.

I veer HARD across three lanes, as an 18-wheeler HONKS!!! But I HAVE to get over in the furthest left lane, if I’m to hit the Octavia off-ramp which will feed me onto city streets, and just four blocks from my airport call.

4:30am:
I ZOOM up and SCREECH to a halt in front of 233 Franklin, JUST as a fat twenty-something, bespectacled computer geek with boxes of computer gear exits his steel and glass building.

Fat Twenty-Something Bespectacled Computer Geek, “Thanks for being on time, driver. I’m moving to Hawaii. Can you help me with these boxes? How’s your morning going?”

Driver, wiping off sweat from his brow, “Oh, fine. Glad to help. Hawaii, eh?”

 

5:05am:
One ride and fifty dollars into nut (day’s expenses) I am done with Starbucks, although uncertain if coffee was even necessary, in light of the last half hour!

I’m rolling down 16th away from Potrero Hill, and trying to take solace in having gotten back on track with my usual routine, as I head into the Mission.

Crossing Bryant, I take note of activity up ahead. It’s the red and blue and orange flashing lights of the city’s homeless clearing squad. Police, and reflective orange-vested power washers, and debris hauling pickup trucks are all out in force, taking down the tent encampment that’s been lining these blocks of 16th ever since they squeezed them out of nearby Division Street, under the highway.

Par for this municipal game of musical chairs, I am currently partaking in KDFC – Classical 90.3FM, to calm my nerves. And Schubert’s Ständchen sets an ethereal backdrop from the cab.

And thus, the day has begun…

 

7:40am:
I’m rolling with a “Cha-ching!” mobile hail, courtesy of the Cabulous app.

My fare is just some generic gay dude, picked up from his Victorian on Noe Street in the Castro, and headed across town, up to Nob Hill. California and Powell.

Dude’s nice enough, but we roll in silence, but for some NPR. I’m not even paying attention to the stories, at present. It’s that time of morning where all that matters is that the voices are soothing enough.

And, I accept.

Ten minutes on, as we power up the Powell Street hill, away from Union Square, as flanking the elevated bright red painted and double-yellow lined “MUNI ONLY” cable car tracks, we slow for a scene that we seem to be one of the first to come upon.

One of the first, but for a solitary black & white police cruiser parked sideways blocking the downhill lane. Its blonde female officer, who is out on her knees and down on the tracks, wearing blue latex gloves, is attending to an old Asian woman who’s lying face down on the tracks and not moving. And apparently not breathing, by this cabbie’s gauge.

With this, the silence in 1279 is broken, with a simple, “This does not look good,” offered by your driver. And a confirming, “No. It does not,” returned by dude, before adding, “You can just let me off before the intersection up there at California, driver.”

But, Driver does not let this gory scene go so easily. Yes, Driver has borne witness to many a gruesome sight on these city streets, commensurate with the first of the first responders having arrived; like that charred, smoking, corpse on Haight Street, adjacent the peace sign-shaped shrub landscaping at Buena Vista Park, one early morn. After all, taxi driving is a street gig. But, something is amiss here, and leaves questions.

There is no cause in sight. No cable car. No other vehicle. Just a splayed out old Asian woman on the tracks. However, it should be noted that many an old Asian woman has been hit by cable cars in San Francisco in recent years, while darting across the streets of nearby Chinatown, in the attempt to beat any given oncoming cable car. It seems to be a common thread. Hmm.

I drop somewhat perplexed, and $17.80 closer to nut.

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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