It’s 3:15am, on any given weekday. I’m laid out on the couch in my living room after one too many beers last night. (If one could say it is even “today.”) My head is ringing as I am awoken a half hour early by one of my cats scratching away at the litter box in the kitchen. Damn cat.
Alas, time for work…
En route towards the Citizen’s Cab lot, for my girl 26, the Gough Street gauntlet is now placid. Getting up that hour (and a half) earlier these days has really seen the edge taken off. There is really no one out at this time to compete with, vying for line leader down this three lane thoroughfare towards the highway. Still, I can’t seem to break this groove that’s been cut so deep into my being, via years of past contests with whatever ski-racked Audi or Beemer that may be anxiously making the run alongside me.
But, as always, the Lord has sent down an angel. And she’s painted in bold white in the street.
God’s message? STOP AHEAD.
And so, I exhale and comply with His command… to stop a head.
You see, it’s a trade off. Yes, it’s quiet and calm out NOW. But that extra hour of sleep ALSO means something. There is in its stead a price to be paid. ALWAYS. And the bill comes due as a hack’s day wears on, as this driver grows ever weary traversing these embattled San Francisco streets, increasingly robbed of agency.
It’s akin to holding one’s breath underwater all day long. And you are only now swimming up to the surface for air, your lungs bursting, as you pry and push away the water with all that you have. But it’s not enough. It is NEVER enough. And it’s NOT water. It is every motherfucker on the road between you and check-out back at the cab lot. And “road rage” is the name of the game.
Yes, by the end of day, when that last ride is done, and turning it in is within sights, it’s every vehicle for themselves. And your mantra devolves down to “get the fuck out of my way!”
But I digress…
End of Day
I’m cruising the Haight for flags. Tourist season has died down, but there is still hope of a local. Whatever the case, the next ride will be my last today. Per my previous exposition, I’m starting to fade.
I’ve made it all the way down the strip to where Haight Street ends at Amoeba Records and Golden Gate Park, and all the way back to the beginning of the strip at Masonic, sans fare. The light is red here at Masonic. And as I wait for it to turn, I take note of a tall black woman, possibly my age, standing caddy-corner to me at the bus stop. The woman is somehow compelling. She’s fashionable, and tasteful, in her simple black dress, tall black heels, long fake lashes and long, straight reddish-black hair, as sporting a large black handbag. She’s Motown, by way of Seattle.
Hey! I recognize her… I passed her hanging out on this corner about two hours ago! Serendipity. Not sure why, but she was note worthy to me then, too… Hmm. Well, she’s not a prostitute. This isn’t hooker central. It’s hippie central. And this lady is not dressed nearly tacky enough.
Anyway, she seems to be shooting the breeze with some short, Asian cop.
The light turns, and I forge the intersection bearing straight… JUST AS THE COP FLAGS ME!
Some white pickup truck behind me seems to have taken exception to my sudden change of course, as I cut him off on our now communal left turn.
And Citizen’s Cab #26 then VEERS hard to the right, before coming to a halt at the bus stop. Still indignant, however, the white pickup truck violently ZOOMS around my taxi and FLOORS it onward in a show, with one last, final protest.
(Eh, what’s the cop gonna do?? He’s the one who flagged me all last second!)
At the bus stop, 5-0 leans into my shotgun window, with, “Take this lady where’s she is going. And do NOT let her smoke.”
Aside: Technically, it is illegal to smoke in a taxi in San Francisco. It’s a $268 fine for the driver. But, eh, it’s one of those things. I’ve never known a hack to get a ticket for this. If the window is down, and the actual medallion holder (owner) of the taxi doesn’t mind, or notice afterwards, then no harm no foul.
But, hmm. There WAS that haphazardly scribed Sharpie/paper plate sign waiting for me on 26’s steering wheel the other week, reading, “NO SMOKING!!!” I was off the previous shift, so it wasn’t aimed at me. But, still.
Anyway, like a gentleman, 5-0 opens and holds the back door for Jasmine to enter.
And enter she does, in diva fashion, slinking all sultry into her chariot. And in a rich, breathy, sexy melancholy, Jasmine intones, “Westfield Mall, please, driver.”
“Westfield Mall, it is,” Driver repeats back, with clipboard/waybill perched on the steering wheel and marking the trip.
And as we pull away from the curb, Jasmine inquires, “Do you mind if I smoke?”
Driver, nervously, “Uhhh. I normally wouldn’t mind. But this isn’t my cab. And the medallion holder is pretty touchy about cigarette smoke.”
And Jasmine just sighs, and turns to look out her open window.
It’s now right onto Oak, adjacent the Panhandle – with its pungent Eucalyptus, and we’re flying down the three one-way lanes of racers all heading downtown or towards the Octavia on-ramp towards the highway.
A few blocks on, Jasmine gets flighty, and openly wonders, “Hmm. Maybe… Maybe the mall is not the best place for me.” Adding, “Driver, maybe take me… to the Castro.”
Huh?? Come on, lady! That’s three lanes over to the right in tight and fast traffic, and several blocks behind us now! We’ve already passed the turns we’d take. Do you REALLY want to back track now? You sound pretty confused here!
Driver, “Oh, the Castro? Uh, okay.”
And JUST as I’m peeling the right turn off of Oak, Jasmine,
“Noooo… Wait…. Maybe the Castro isn’t right. Driver, can you take me to Grace Cathedral?”
WTF?! That’s back over the three lanes we just swerved over, and back in the direction we were ALREADY HEADING!!!
And Jasmine, “Actually, Driver, please take me to… SF General. I should be safe there.”
And before making the play, I turn to look back at my passenger, to… Hey! There’s a little sandy-colored Chihuahua peeking out of her hand bag! I had no idea! I mean, it’s cool and all. It’s just that it caught me by surprise. How did I miss that??
Driver, “Are you sure? You want to go to SF General??”
Jasmine, now stroking her dog’s head, “Yes, please.”
Driver, “General, it is.” Continuing, “Hey. What’s your dog’s name? He, or uh, she’s cute!”
Jasmine, “I can’t tell you her name. It cannot be spoken aloud.”
Then, Jasmine gets cryptic, “I only started out this day to get my nails done at a salon that had been recommended. But the Haight is so true to its name. The boys there. They are mean. There is no peace and love. They hate. They hate…”
Driver, “Oh? Did you have some kind of problem with the hippie street kids there? They’re usually pretty innocuous. What happened?”
Jasmine, “I cannot say, driver. I cannot say… It is truly fall now. Good summer. Bad summer. But now, here we are… If I have to, I will defend myself… with a knife.”
I VEER over, HARD across the three fast moving lanes of Oak, AGAIN, and make the right down Laguna, towards SF General Hospital.
And as we roll down into the Mission, Jasmine has more second thoughts. She gets nervous, and paranoid, but in a mellow way.
Jasmine, “Driver, do you think they could make their way all the way down to General? Do you think they could find me there? Oh, dear. I suppose dressed all in black this way, I DO stand out.” Before adding, “Driver, do you have any extra clothes in the trunk?”
Driver, “Uh, sorry. I do not.”
Jasmine suddenly gets nervous, and starts to look around, towards the streets outside the cab.
“Is there a thrift store anywhere here? Somewhere?” Jasmine stirs in her seat. “Maybe we could stop at a thrift store for clothes, driver?”
And letting the idea hang, Driver checks the rear view, to see that Jasmine has now broken out a hand mirror of her own. And steeped in her own reflection, she pulls off her long, reddish brown wig, before moving past the thrift store idea, and breathily intoning, “Oh, well. The cat is out of the bag now.”
And now extracting a tissue from her bag, she wipes the thick, blue eye shadow from her lids and sighs, all self conscious.
Driver, assuring, “Oh! I didn’t know it was a wig. But you are still beautiful. You are a ravishing woman. And I think the short hair becomes you. You have a vibe, a beauty that comes from… inside.” Adding, “As a cab driver, I have a good read on people. I can tell these things.”
Jasmine intones, “You are very nice, driver.” Before once again becoming distracted, and goes back to worrying, “Maybe they have a gun. What if I run into them, at General??”
Please, GOD, do NOT change your destination, AGAIN!!!
Driver, “Oh! Those street kids never make it that far across town. The Castro is about as far over this way as I ever see them. I never see them in the Mission here, or over in Potrero near the hospital. Besides, they have police stationed at General. You’ll be safe, for sure!”
But Jasmine just sighs, and continues gazing into her mirror.
“All I wanted was to get my nails done. And those white boys just HAD to start fuckin’ with me. (Sigh.)”
Hmm. What with all of the destination changes, talk of knives and guns, melancholy and withholding of dogs names, I begin to wonder if I’m even getting paid for this ride!
But I will not have to wonder long, as we’re pulling into the turnaround at SF General’s emergency room, presently.
And the meter reads $17.80.
Jasmine hands Driver up a prepaid debit card to swipe. And Driver dutifully inquires about adding a tip, all discreet, with his usual line.
“The fare is $17.80. Uh, would you like me to add anything to that?”
Jasmine sighs once more, before answering with a simple, “No.”
And she exits Citizen’s Cab #26, sashaying off towards the E.R., with her nameless Chihuahua’s sandy-colored head poking out of her shiny black hand bag, leaving Driver behind to ponder…
And what the hell???
Well, whatever is going on with Jasmine, and whatever conflict she’s had with whatever street kids up in the Haight, one can only revel in the mystery…
Anyway, I’m close to the Citizen’s lot now, and it’s quitting time. I mean, what’s REALLY wrong in MY life, when only a mile from salvation…
Photo by Alex SacK