Veteran’s Cab

all-scream-no-border

Taxi driving in San Francisco is a weird job.

I mean, my homeless, transsexual prostitute, and “Gold Bridge”-casing terrorist passengers all now phase me not. But give me an old man looking to take a $60 cab ride to get ice cream, and I am left dumbfounded…

Tuesday

3:45am:
Couldn’t sleep. (What’s new?) I got up “early” this morning and am actually at the lot right at my Prius – 26’s medallion time. And the sky is big above Citizen’s Cab. I can see a million stars, Orion, and Venus flanking the crescent moon. I feel the Lord has shone His unconditional love down upon me. It’s Dreamforce conference week, with its 160,000 attendees. And some of them are even taking cabs! Well, all of the other hacks fighting it out downtown can have at them. This leaves the rest of The City to ME!

Three hours later…

NOT ONE ride, yet! It’s been maddening, with WAY too much head time! What gives!? The city’s population has increased by 15% with this conference, and it feels like a ghost town. Ugh! I fear this is a replay of yesterday.

Yesterday, I also drove around empty in the early hours, trying to keep the faith with the help of Classical KDFC – 90.3FM and the likes of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata #10, in G. Then, out of the blue, EVERYONE and THEIR MOTHERS all left home at the SAME TIME! (Between eight and nine.) And at once, they all started THROWING their virtual bodies out in front of my cab! I’d be way out in the Outer Mission, or in the Castro, and from all the way across town in the Marina, “Cha-ching!” And, ‘Decline.’ “Cha-ching!” And, ‘Decline.’ “Cha-ching!” And, ‘Decline.’

Then, my app-hailing smartphone screen would read, “You seem busy. You have declined the last three rides. You will now be logged out of Cabulous.”

And my phone would turn itself red, ‘Occupied.’ Then, I would just manually hit it back to green, ‘Available.’ And over the course of rush hour, rinse and repeat.

Of course, I WAS catching some old school street flags. And a couple of actual proximate Cabulous app hails. But in driving SF’s indigenous to work, all of the main arteries of the city proved a veritable parking lot, utter gridlock heading anywhere south of Market…

5th Street: What’s new?

6th Street: Not unusual.

8th Street: Hmm. Odd.

10th Street: Jesus, Mary and Joseph!!!

Uber Rant of the Week: According to NPR, the current number of “rideshares” flooding into San Francisco each day to share their sub-prime car leases, and now Hertz and Enterprise daily rentals, has reached 37,000. (37,000!!!) It should be noted that legit taxis are capped by the SFMTA at 1,700. (Part of what opened the door to these gypsy cabs.)

I don’t know if you all have noticed in your town, but every Uber ad here in SF is NOT geared toward getting you to RIDE in an Uber, they’re each and all hyper focused on getting you to DRIVE for Uber! Their attempt at staving off the popping of the Uber bubble is dependent on adding more and more drivers, and all while trying to replace the 45% who drop out every three months after realizing that they’ve only netted $1 a ride. (Don’t get me wrong, in some fashion gypsy cabs are here to stay. In some fashion.) But, Uber does not seem to consider that there are only SO many passengers IN NEED of a ride in this equation. (Although, I guess the income from playing middleman to these subprime leases is not insignificant.)

In the most recent sign of desperation, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has just penned an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle. (With the comments feature disabled, of course.) It seems that this silver spoon, ex-file sharing site owner, Ayn Rand acolyte, who has boasted how much play he gets as the founder of “Boober,” and set a horde of detectives loose to do oppo research in digging though the trash of a female tech writer, a mother, who gave Uber bad marks, has suddenly had his Come-To-Jesus moment. After getting chased out of Austin for refusing driver FBI background checks, and getting successfully sued by the D.A.’s of both SF and LA for lying about the safety of their drivers, Kalanick’s op-ed is all about how society needs to give convicted felons a second chance… driving for Uber! HA!! And Uber is happy to provide that second chance to said felons by way of driving your drunk daughter home alone on Saturday night in a two-ton sub-prime leased Toyota. (This, despite the leaked internal report of 12,000 Uber rapes and sexual assaults.)

So like I said, it’s 6:45am, three hours later.

My generic iPhone ringtone sounds, ” “Bada-Ding-Ding-Boop-Ding-Ding! Bada-Ding-Ding-Boop-Ding-Ding!”

It’s band mate, best friend, and fellow cabbie, Christian!

Aside: For those following, we haven’t heard from Christian in these reports in a while. And no, despite the Change.org petition, he STILL hasn’t re-friended me on Facebook! He un-friended me originally because he was upset about how he was portrayed in one of my reports, and though unspoken, he thought this would deny me access to ripping his photos from Facebook for use in the reports. I should say that I have been having fun with him when we hang out, which we still do, in referencing posts he’s made on Facebook. He seems to be remiss in having not changed his privacy settings, and is constantly baffled with regards to how I have been still able to see his posts:)

Christian, “Dude, come pick me up. I’m starting my first day on the job in the union. We’re doing a presentation set-up for Google at some hall in Fisherman’s Wharf. Something to do with the release of the new Google phone.”

Dude, “Okay! I’ve been out for three hours now, with NOTHING! You’ll be my first ride!”

Christian, “Cool. Get here fast.”

Over the course of my breaking the ice, Christian says he’ll be making $40/hour today. But he also vows to never give up cab driving. Both gigs are pretty flexible. And cab driving is, as I have also found, a deep addiction.

I drop Christian and his newly bought monkey wrench, $15 richer, via credit.

 

10:35am:
Tony comes over the radio relaying a head’s up from a hack out on the street, who’s full, and has passed a flag with luggage.

Tony, “Dere’s ah poss’ble, peeple. Wit luggage. Aht tha Argahnawt.”

The “new” radios in the Citizen’s Cab fleet that Ivan the Manager replaced to save a buck, suck. And hence, it’s often hard to make out any intelligible communiqués.

Another driver comes back over the radio, “I’m sorry. WHERE’s the possible???”

Ah!! A question I have pondered many a time myself, while traversing these mean streets…

 

Noon:
Currently, I am traversing the black, jazz, Fillmore district. Heading south on Fillmore, I catch a flag out of the corner of my eye, at the MUNI bus stop on the opposite side of the street, at O’Farrell.

It’s an old black gentleman, with clean, pressed blue jeans, a pressed khaki jacket, and a stiff, clean Army Vet baseball cap. He’s waving his cane slow and casual, as standing beside a pressed reusable plastic bag, and a nice tan leather shoulder bag.

And Citizen’s Cab #26 flips a U, before pulling up to a stop alongside his flag.

And Belafonte SLOWLY, mindfully canes his way over to 26, and into the back of the taxi. And after carefully settling his bags and cane, he then looks up into the rear view, and with an easy southern disposition, betraying few and crooked teeth, deliberate and calm, Belafonte offers his destination.

Belafonte, “Baskin Robbins.”

Driver, “Uh. Oh. Wow. Baskin Robbins… I KNOW I’ve seen one in the city before. But i forget where… Uh, do you know the cross streets?”

And deliberately, silently, Belafonte hands me up a piece of mail from the V.A., with his destination written in blue ball point pen on the back.

It reads, simply, “Baskin Robbins.”

Hmm.

Well.

Back to the drawing board. I break out my iPhone, and query, “Siri, where is the nearest Baskin Robbins?”

Siri, “The nearest Baskin Robbins is at 570 Battery Street, San Francisco.”

Huh??? That’s in the deep Financial, by the Transamerica Pyramid! Does Belafonte know this? Does he REALLY mean to take a cab ride all the way downtown for generic ice cream?? Does he know that there’s old school San Francisco Mitchell’s Ice Cream being sold only half a block from where we are now???

Driver, “Sir, that Baskin Robbins is way downtown in the Financial district. Did you mean to go all the way down there?”

After a much pregnant pause, Belafonte, replies, again simply, “That’s where he took me before.”

O-kay…

We drive.

And continue on, with a prefect California blue sky, warm sun, and KDFC – Classical 90.3FM setting the mood.

But, jeez. I hope my passenger is aware of how much this ride will cost. It SOUNDS like he’s done the trek before… maybe. But still, I hope dude’s not senile. I HOPE I’m not taking advantage of an infirm Belafonte. And I HOPE I GET PAID!

And a few minutes on, Belafonte breaks radio silence, with a non sequitur.

Belafonte, “Army give me money.”

O-kay…

Driver just lets the statement stand. (Come on! It’s rude to pry about such things. Isn’t it?)

But, hmm. I DO sense that maybe Belafonte is looking to converse. So, Driver obliges.

Driver, “You must REALLY like Baskin Robbins to be going all the way downtown for some. I grew up in the suburbs of D.C. going to birthdays in the back party room of a Baskin Robbins, in Maryland. Yup, 31 Flavors. What’s your favorite?”

Belfonte, “Choc…late.” Before adding, “And… Vanil…la.”

O-kay…

And in a display of true southern charm and hospitality, Belafonte offers, “Would… you… like… an ice… cream?”

Embarrassed, Driver smiles in the rear view, red-faced, pats his belly, and declines,

“Oh! No! Thank you, though! I’m watching the belly! (Heh, heh. Pat, pat.)”

And at this, Belafonte just slowly turns, to look out of his window, and reiterates,

“Army give me money.”

Thirteen minutes later…

We pull up on Baskin Robbins in the closest thing to a strip mall SF has to offer downtown; the retail ground floor space of a huge building of featureless condos.

Belafonte leaves his bags in my taxi, and carefully hobbles out, before moving gradually out of sight into the covered row of shops.

Ten minutes later…

The meter, having ticked up at the less lucrative idling rate, is now at $17.80. And Belafonte reappears… having procured no ice cream, but sporting a bag of Togo’s fast food sandwiches.

And Belafonte, once again, settles into the back of Citizen’s Cab #26.

Driver, “Okay! Now back home to the Fillmore?”

Belafonte, “Hmm. I’d like a ham… burger. Hmm. Not Tommy’s… Joynt. No. Not Tommy’s… Hmm.”

My passenger seems to be trying to recall an old school San Francisco burger joint. Tommy’s is an AWESOME, old school, meat and potatoes place, at Geary and Van Ness – half way between us here, downtown, and the Fillmore. But Tommy’s Joynt doesn’t sell hamburgers.

Driver interjects, “Do you mean Tony’s Cable Car?”

Belafonte, “Uh… No. They got good ham… burgers?”

Driver, “Oh, yeah! It’s old school, fat, cooked to order. And it’s not far from where I picked you up.”

Belafonte, “O-kay… Take me to… Tony’s.” Before adding, “Would you… like… a.. ham… burger?”

We roll out of downtown, making good time as we cut through North Beach and the Broadway Tunnel, where it now seems that my passenger might have second thoughts.

Belafonte, “May-be… we should go… to… Tommy’s… Joynt.”

Driver perks up in his seat and checks the rear view. Driver needs to know, NOW, if the destination has changed. Van Ness, and the turn south towards Tommy’s Joynt, is fast approaching.

Driver, “You want Tommy’s Joynt instead?”

Belafonte, “Hmm… Cable Car got… french… fries?”

Driver, “Oh, yeah! Good, thick, fries!”

Belafonte, “O-kay… Take me to… Tony’s… Cable… Car.”

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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