As I approach what I hope to be lights, and volume, and action, I instead come across a darkened block… with the only sign of life being a small Filipino guy sporting pink hot pants and a tight turquoise wife beater, and clenching a plastic bottle of (actual) water. Hey! He seems to be flagging me, however meekly, from outside of what appears to be a closed 1015 Folsom.
And Citizen’s Cab #26 pulls to the curb.
But instead of going for the back seat, Pepe approaches my closed shotgun window. And I roll it down. And a clearly drunk, undecipherable Pepe speaks.
Pepe, “Scuze.. (HIC!) Yu kno… (HIC!) baaaaath… howse?? (HIC!)”
Driver, “You’re looking for a bath house?”
Pepe, “Yessss… (HIC!) Saaan…. Cisco… baaaaath… howse. (HIC!)”
Driver, “Uh… I don’t really know of any bath houses open. I’m a day driver.”
And with this Pepe stumbles for the back door, and gets in with a “HIC!”
I do not drive. Although, not on account of Rose’s Cab School Commandment: NEVER drive before the passenger has given their SPECIFIC destination!
No, it’s because I have NO IDEA, AT ALL, where Pepe is going!
Pepe drunkenly mimes for me to hand him over my iPhone. I surmise it is to look up his bath house. Well, he’s securely in the cab. I don’t THINK he’ll run off with my phone. And from the looks of things, if he did it wouldn’t be much of a chase!
I hand back my phone to Pepe, who hiccups as he scrolls and taps, with the blue light illuminating his reddened face.
Then, Pepe hands me back up my phone, and offers, “(HIC!) Hi….waaaay.”
Driver, “Huh? The highway?”
Pepe, “Yesssss. (HIC!)’
Driver, “Uh, okay. But WHICH highway?? There are three on-ramps heading different directions near us…”
Pepe, “Oak (HIC!) land… Baaaath…. howse… (HIC!)”
And Driver dutifully marks his waybill, with simply “Oakland,” and heads for the highway, as Pepe settles in back and begins crinkling his water bottle.
As we make it onto the Bay Bridge, I can’t help but wonder if I will be paid for this ride. And there is the toll to tack on, too!
Driver, “Oh! You should know I tack on $4 for the bridge toll, for my return trip.”
But at this, all I get in reply is a “HIC!” and yet another “CRINKLE!”
It’s kind of getting on my nerves.
Then, Pepe adds, “Pleeeze….dowwwn… windowwws…”
Driver rolls down the windows. At least the breaking of the fuselage will mask Pepe’s incessant crinkling!
Once the windows are l down, Pepe leans forward. No, NOT to throw up. But to give a more specific direction.
Pepe, “Un (HIC!) i (HIC!) versity.”
Driver, over the din of 70mph air, “Huh? University? In Oakland? I don’t know what you mean!”
Pepe, again, “Un (HIC!) i (HIC!) versity.”
Driver, “Do you mean the University Boulevard exit in Berkeley? You’re not going to Oakland You want Berkeley?”
Pepe, “(HIC!) Yeeesss! Berke (HIC!) ley.”
Driver, “Uh… Okay.”
Then, Pepe tries to make small talk over the crinkling of his water bottle and the high volume of air flowing through the cab on the open bridge, as he begins leaning forward and repeatedly grabbing my shoulder, in very drunken, badly unintelligible Filipino.
And Driver just nods, feigning affirmation, with each of Pepe’s physical attempts at converse.
And this goes on.
Fifteen minutes later…
Somehow, Pepe has managed to direct me weaving through the industrial side streets off of University, adjacent the highway, in Berkeley. I think he may actually have an idea of where he is going! Sweet! And with a sudden spark of recognition, “(HIC!) Heeeer!!”
And I slam on the brakes, on this darkened block strewn with warehouses.
Driver, “Okay, let’s see. The meter says $33.75. Plus $4 for the bridge toll. It looks like $37.75.”
Pepe, “Bridge (HIC!) toooollll?”
Driver, “Yes. Four dollars. For my return trip over the bridge. I told you about that before.”
Thankfully, Pepe does not pursue. He sloppily extracts two twenties, from I have no idea where crinkles his water bottle and sloshes out of the cab, towards I have no idea where.
Now, back to The City! Before the sun rises, and the Bay Bridge backs up with commuters!
And as I roll the still quiet bridge west, I catch the beauty and splendor of the first crack of sun in my rear view, ever so orange amidst the twilight, as it is just beginning to peak over the silhouetted crest of the Oakland hills.
The day is rising…
Post Script – Jesus, longtime Citizen’s Cab co-manager and dispatcher, had his last day in the taxi biz, on Friday. He’s been a hack since 1976. He is much loved at work, and will be much missed.
I stopped by a cheap Chinese imports store on Mission Street that’s flush with shoddy container ship goods, before end of shift. I was bent on buying him a big gaudy “gold” watch… for under ten dollars. And with the idea of telling him there was an inscription on the back; I just scratched, badly, “Jesus” with my pocket knife.
The Chinese woman who sold me the watch glowed, as she assured me that I had made a very tasteful choice. Then, she began to unfold a thin, cardboard way too small Seiko box, before attempting to shove the no-name brand watch inside of it, to no avail.
I could not think of a better send off for my friend, mentor, and Savior. And upon presenting Jesus with his retirement gift, I swear that I saw a tear come to his eye and befall his Casablanca tie.
God speed, Jesus.
Photo by Alex SacK