The Navel of a Hack

It’s 4:15am, and my new “usual” start time. I got through any drama back in the office quickly, and with my head down. Sleep was fleeting last night and I’m not in the mood.

Already out on the streets and rolling empty in Citizen’s Cab 26, I meander my way out of the industrial hinterland that is Bayshore’s garage’s, warehouses and cab lots, and up through San Francisco’s oldest projects en route towards Starbucks in Potrero Hill. Should any in need of a ride want to intercept this hack’s mission for caffeine, I have my Cabulous app-hailing smartphone velcroed securely to my Prius’ dash, logged-in and set to green, “Available.”

It’s that creative time, in the early, early morning. Before one’s brain has awoken and the synapses begun to fire in that particular region of the frontal lobe, bringing to life with them some familiar sense of “reality”; that time before interactions with others have put you on track, jarred cognition, and shifted your consciousness into “rational” gear. It is that time before the sun rises, to keep you honest…

I traverse Potrero’s darkened hills, taking in the speckled sky and silhouetted downtown skyline, as simultaneously, I take to unraveling my conditioning, questioning my values, and reassessing once more, exactly what it means to be an INDIVIDUAL within SOCIETY. (Particularly, THIS society.) And I ponder how much weight should be allocated to the prioritization given to each in the name of balance.

After all, there is that Matthew McConaughey car commercial for Lincoln, where he says, “It’s about finding that balance, where taking care of yourself, takes care of more than just yourself.”


Yes, passengers. It’s early. And as Ma says, your driver is staring at his belly button. (Sorry, mom.) But the back seat is cold. And at these times, a hack naturally turns to reconciling their existence. (So please, indulge. Just a bit more.)

Given that ours is a capitalist society, and based upon it being a consumer culture, just what ARE a hack’s values? What are MY values? What is my PURPOSE? My place in this world? And how should I exercise my limited time and these limited resources in moving forward? Or should I even make that determination, consciously? Maybe I am to just go with the flow, until the time comes to lay down…


As I crest Rhode Island, a patch of clouds moves off to reveal a full moon over The City. And I surmise that, in reality, there is no choice. Circumstance is circumstance. And stagnancy is death. That my only power is over how I FEEL. Over the depth and rate of my breath. OooOMMmmm.

As the clouds part, I drive. And I, too, will be revealed…


4:45am – Haight Street:
I’m easing back, rocking KDFC – Classical 90.3FM and Chopin’s Waltz #8 in Ab.

It sets the scene nicely for the clearing of the slumbering homeless and their dogs from the Upper Haight’s store fronts, with the welcoming issuance of Sit/Lie law citations at the end of a police baton. In this case, at the Wells Fargo at Cole, I pass a black & white police cruiser stopped with its lights on, facing the wrong way. The cops are just getting out to engage, as I continue on for one more block before making my usual U turn just before the end of the strip, at Shrader.

Upon my return, I pass the scene again, as another black & white rolls up fast from the east and slams to a stop. Both its officers dart out of their cruiser with batons at the ready. And I watch as they assist in what now appears to be the first officers’ arrest of a now awake camper. They’ve got their knees in the homeless guy’s back, with dude still fully in his sleeping bag. And all are screaming bloody murder.

Note: If any of you have trouble waking to your alarm clock, might I suggest trying a night out on Haight Street?

Well, so far, I’ve yet to break the ice. But the night is still young. (Er, the day is still early.)

Rolling up Fillmore into well off Pac Heights, I’m stopped at a red at California. And with my little eye, I spy out of the corner of it, a twenty-something blonde woman in blue scrubs kitty-corner from me running towards the intersection, and desperately waving to flag.

I signal Sanger with my high beams to seal the contract, and I pull over. Sanger runs over. And she snuffs out a cigarette, before jumping in back, huffing.

Sanger, “Thank GOD you stopped! I just can’t make it up this hill this morning! I’m sorry, driver. But I’m just going one block up to California and Webster. You SAVED my life!”

Driver hits the meter, which immediately reads $3.50.

Driver, “No problem. That’s what I’m here for.”

And I mark my waybill, as Sanger gets red with embarrassment at the short ride, for the all of ten seconds I have her in my taxi.

Sanger, “I really hate this. I just HAVE to quit smoking!”

And we immediately pull over at the top of this moderate hill, near Cal Pacific Medical Center, at Webster.

And the meter reads $4.05.

And Driver feels awkward. Am I REALLY going to charge Sanger for this? It seems so petty. And extravagant. But this IS what I’m out here for… Hell. What would YOU do??

But before I can flounder, Sanger apologizes again for the short ride, albeit gleefully, with, “Thanks again, driver. You really did save my life! Is five okay?”

Driver returns, “Oh, yeah. Uh, sure. Five’s fine.”

As Sanger now gets nervous, “Oh! And PLEASE! Do NOT tell anybody!”

And Sanger gets out, as Driver assures, “Don’t worry. Your secret is safe with me. ‘Discreet’ is a cabbie’s specialty!”


10th & Market. I’m rolling west, semi-fresh from a Financial shuttle, when a generic white dude in an open collar oxford and navy coat flags me, across from Uber’s headquarters.

I pull adjacent the heavily trafficked, and sectioned off, bike lane. And Dan dives between some bikes, navigating for the back seat of my cab.

Dan, “I’m going to that police station, driver. It’s on Turk, I think at Laguna. I was on a 5150 hold last night, because of my crazy roommate. I asked them to hold me. I just couldn’t take my roommate anymore! Now, I’m going to get a restraining order! How are you doing today, driver?”

Driver, “Well, better than you, it sounds like.”

Dan, “Yeah, I’m the master tenant in the house. And this guy has scared all the other good tenants out one by one. And he’s going to get us evicted and cost us our security deposit!

I just don’t get it. The guy has buckets of pot in the garage he could sell. But he’s too lazy! He used to drive for Lyft, but now he just sits on the couch and complains about everything. I get depression. I’m bipolar myself! And this is not my first 5150 hold. But it is the first where I requested it myself! You should have SEEN the police’s reaction! Ha!!

Anyway, I’ve just GOT to get this guy out! He calls the cops on everyone in the house. And for nothing! He keeps threatening to tow everyone’s cars! I DID mention to the police how he keeps a “mess” in the garage. I thought maybe my roommate wouldn’t want them going through his buckets of pot, and he’d stop with all the shit. But it did nothing!

He used to have a coke problem, but that’s not what’s wrong with him. I mean, who HASN’T had a coke problem? Well, anyone who’s tried it, anyway!

I figure if I get a restraining order, he’ll HAVE to get out. I mean, it works that way in abusive relationships, why not with a roommate?”

Driver, getting a word in, “Wow! And I thought I had problems. You see, THIS is why I live alone. I used to have to deal with this shit. I once had a roommate in the Haight who the landlord wouldn’t let have master tenant status, BECAUSE the guy was crazy. The landlord let everyone just have separate leases, instead.

But your situation more reminds me of a group house I lived in back in College Park, Maryland, when I was going to the University. We had a high school acquaintance come into the house just before we all were to sign a new round of our lease. Larry said he’d sign the lease, too. But when the Russian landlord came by with it, Larry inexplicably refused and started pointing out all the damage around the house, presumably that we had caused before his arrival The landlord started getting all upset at Larry’s attitude. But the three other roommates, myself included, ended up just signing the extension without Larry.

Well, lo and behold, shortly after, Larry moved in his girlfriend without asking and at no extra rent, into his attic bedroom. And her broken down Volkswagen Bug suddenly appeared in our driveway’s only spot.

Larry had a job at the local diner as the graveyard cook. He made ok money. But right after he refused to sign the lease and his girlfriend moved in, he stopped paying rent, citing that he’s been having to spend all his money on fixing his girlfriend’s car!

After several months of this, the eviction notice finally came. But as I was NOT going to lose my security deposit over Larry, I told him if he could just come up with that month’s rent, the landlord would let us stay.

Well, this seemed to light a fire under Larry, and as we were all still pretty young, he asked his parents to float him the ‘rent’ for that one month. And Larry unknowingly gave me back my lost security deposit!

A couple days later, I had all the utilities set to turn off, as they were all in my name. And I had spent a day before packing up all of my belongings behind the closed doors of my basement bedroom. All the dishes and furniture were mine, too.

So when the day came, I backed up a U-Haul truck to the back yard, where Larry could not see from his attic bedroom, and moved everything out first thing in the morning before he woke up! Boy! I’ll tell you!! What it must have been like for Larry to wake up with no utilities or furniture or dishes, and with the realization that he paid me back my lost deposit and was STILL evicted!! HA!!!”

We pull up in front of the police station in the left of the two fast moving lanes of Turk. And with cars piling up behind, Dan scoots over and opens the curbside door. But he does NOT reach for his wallet. He just goes over his whole situation in detail, again, totally oblivious to the traffic jam he’s creating behind us. And totally oblivious to that he’s not in a “rideshare” and has to actually pay the metered ride.

I wait for a break in Dan’s rant, to gently remind, “Uh, The fare is $8.45.”

Dan, “Oh! Right! Sorry, I’m so used to Uber. Here’s a ten. Keep it. And wish me luck!”

Yeah. Good luck with all that, Dan.

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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