It’s 4:35am, and I’m weathering this week’s exceptional San Francisco chill from inside of ‘ol Citizen’s Cab #26 as I prep her for the day. (And shiver something fierce while waiting for the heater to kick in!) I am, however, warmed and quite relieved by the assurance I just got from Tony Sr., who’s working back at dispatch.
You see, since Jesus retired, Tony’s been pulling double-duty in also writing the schedule. And every year around this time, there’s been a dance I’ve had to do with management. Every year, I put in a request in August for two shifts off around Christmas – set around my days off, so the kids and I can go “back east” to D.C. to see grandma, and the aunts, uncles and cousins. And every year, Ivan (Russian Citizen’s Cab manager) busts my balls while trying to deny me the time off. (Sans owing gate money.) This, on account of that winter sees a significant number of idle cabs in the lot, due to all the Middle Eastern and West African drivers who regularly go home to another continent for the season. One year, Ivan even challenged me to a game of chess with the idea of giving me a sporting chance of WINNING the time off!
But! Tony just assured me back at dispatch, with a wave of his hand, and in his fog thick old school San Franciscan drawl,
“Dontch yoo worree ’bout it, Sack. Yoo goh bee wit da familee. I gatch ya bahck. Yoo haave ah merree Chrissmas, Sack.”
So yeah, here I am, fully committed to 96.5FM – the Bay Area’s Official Christmas station, as I’m alcohol-wiping down 26’s insides, adjusting her seats and mirrors, and setting up my Cabulous taxi hailing-app smartphone, when,
“Cha-ching! – 2550 23rd Street. Ted. $5 Guaranteed Tip.”
Sweet!! Breaking the ice while still in the lot is ALWAYS welcome! (As is Cabulous’ new guaranteed tip option, from which they cannot legally excise their 13.2% cut!)
But, hmm. That’s the emergency room over at SF General. And whatever the deal is, I’d be rolling into this situation pre-caffeine. But, sure. I ‘Accept.’
I forgo the rest of prep and zoom out, lest Ted see me idle on the real-time map on his phone and cancel.
Three minutes later…
I round the corner from Potrero and crawl slowly up 23rd while scanning the sidewalk for my passenger. The little guy icon on my Cabulous phone shows that Ted has left the ER turnaround, and should now be somewhere at the intersection just outside of the driveway. And sure enough, through the dark, a hip figure clad in a stylish black leather jacket, a stylish navy scarf and stylish grey fedora, sporting geeky-hip thick black-framed glasses and trailing long white iPhone ear bud wires emerges from the bus shelter, and waves his illuminated phone at me.
The eagle has landed.
I flash my hi beams as I zoom up and over to the curb, before my Ted pops in back, with a simple,
“23rd & Minnesota.”
Driver dutifully props his clipboard/waybill up on the steering wheel, scribes Ted’s destination. And right as Burl Ives’ Holly Jolly Christmas takes to the air, Driver repeats back,
“23rd & Minnesota.”
And we drive.
And immediately, over the wafting holiday cheer, a soft breathy strange desperation intones from the back seat.
“It’s just good to hear your voice.”
Crickets fill the cab, as Driver adjusts his game, stunned, and working to formulate a response. But before Driver can, another breathy desperation emanates from the back.
“I just needed to talk to you.”
Now, this is getting creepy!
Driver checks the rear view…
Ted is ON THE PHONE!!
“They say it’s spread to his liver.”
“Yeah, he’s pretty secretive.”
“The doctor’s say it started in his rectum.”
Suddenly, ‘Holly Jolly Christmas’ now seems somehow out of place. Driver turns down the radio.
“I feel really bad for the intern who had to break the news to us. He was pretty young, and looked horrified. But, I’m… I’m still processing all of this.”
“Yeah, he’s going to tell his sister, first. She’s a nurse.”
“Stage four. It’s NOT good.”
“(Sniffle, sniffle.) He’s MORE than family to me. He’s my life partner, mom. Thanks. I just really needed to talk to you right now.”
And Ted wraps up his conversation with mom as we pull up to his single home Victorian, just blocks from the hospital in the Dogpatch neighborhood. (This used to be the meat packing district back in the day. And the scraps attracted a lot of feral dogs.)
“Yeah, I gotta go, mom. I’ll keep you posted. I love you.”
And Ted now addresses Driver as he opens his door, and as Driver plugs the $6.80 fare into the Cabulous phone.
“I’m sorry you had to hear that. My partner was just diagnosed with terminal cancer. And I don’t know how to process this. I don’t know what to say.”
Driver, juggling the expectation that he provide some kind of cabbie wisdom, or some kind words of consolation, falls miserably flat. And defeated, he just throws up his hands… and after a long moment of awkward silence, Driver manages only to eke out a hesitant,
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Photo by Alex SacK