My First Heart Attack

It’s noon, and a little cold out. But with clear beautiful skies above San Francisco. We’ve got a respite from the torrential rains, before they’re set to start again early in the week.

Tony’s back working dispatch at ‘ol Citizen’s Cab. And he’s coming over the radio with an order, “12th ‘n Mahrket… 12th n’ Mahrket… Who I gaht fer da Paratransit ahffice… 12th ‘n Mahrket.”

And your driver bids, “1015. Haight & Fillmore.”

Before Tony comes back, “Aneebodee else? Aneebodee? Nah?? Ohkay, 1015. Goh get da regulah, Maude, aht 68 12th Streeet. Da Paratrahnsit ahffice.”

1015, “1015. Copy. 68 12th Street. For Maude.”

Maude is old school San Francisco, with grown kids born and raised here in the Mission. And as with much of old school San Francisco, she was priced out a couple of years ago and had to move down to Daly City. But she still has roots, and frequents the city a lot. Maude is salty, opinionated, and wields her cane for more than just propping up her septuagenarian bones.

She calls Citizen’s Cab several times a week, for various rides around town: to the hair stylist, mom and pop Mexican food, and medical appointments. I’ve actually been waiting to see her again, to ask if she knows The Mayor of Folsom, Frankie, of last week’s fame. They’re both native San Franciscans, and lived within a block of each other for north of thirty years. She must.

In no time, I’m pulling up in front of the SF Paratransit office – where Maude is no doubt filling up her card with more money, for government subsidized rides on the SF taxpayer’s dime. (Even though she now lives south.)

There’s no need to radio Tony for a call-out, as Maude is unquestionably just inside the doors waiting, and watching. Sure enough, immediately, the automatic doors open and Maude begins waddling out. And immediately, she starts yelling and waving her cane.

“Pull up CLOSER to the curb! You’re too damn far from the curb!!”

Driver rocks 1015 forward and back making adjustments, before Maude goes for the door, throws in her cane, and settles in back.

Then Maude gasps, “Now. (Gasp!) 2238 Geary, driver. Kaiser.”

Driver marks his waybill, and repeats back, “2238 Geary. Kaiser medical building.”

It should be noted that there’s a Kaiser EMERGENCY room just one block up, and across the street, from the medical building. And there is a tree lined median with no left turns on Geary all around there. AND there’s a Kaiser, the French Campus, about a mile further down on Geary, at 6th Ave. So, this is definitely something you want to be clear on when a passenger says “Kaiser.”

En route, Maude snips as she micromanages the ride. The usual.

“Been living in this town for all my life. Some of you drivers know what you’re doing. And some don’t. I remember you, though. You’re one of the good ones.”

After a jaunt up heavily trafficked Franklin, with all three lanes vying for the edge to pass around the ubiquitous construction and slower moving vehicles, we eventually make our left onto Geary. And Maude suddenly gets melancholy, looking out the window, as she begins to openly lament all of the recent changes to the city.

“There ain’t no left turns anywhere in this town anymore. What they done to Van Ness. What they done to Mission Street. And now, they’re gonna do it to Geary, too! They’re all stupid down there at City Hall. Or crazy! They got no clue what they’re doing… For a gay town, nowadays, all you can do is go straight!”

And with this, Driver is reminded to ask Maude about The Mayor of Folsom.

“Oh! Hey! You just reminded me! I drove this old guy last week to his place down on Folsom. Actually, I picked him up from Kaiser! Anyway, he said his name was Frankie. He said he was The Mayor of Folsom. Do you know him? He lived just a block from where you used to, on Folsom. Funny guy.”

Maude, “Oh, yeah. I know Frankie. Frankie knows everyone. They used to call me the Mayor of 24th Street. ‘Cause I knew everyone there. Frankie and I were neighbors for over thirty years. Good guy. And his wife, Gloria, real nice lady. Frankie’s got a mouth on him, though. I’ll tell ya. He’d tell me all his dirty jokes. And I’d lift up my cane and shake it at him, and say, ‘Hey, Frankie. Ya want me to put this up your ass?’ That was how me and Frankie was. We used to go to church together, too. Me and Frankie, and his wife. And my husband. God rest his soul. Died ah cancer fifteen years ago now.”

And we pull up to 2238 Geary, the Kaiser medical building, with Driver finagling around and in between several various shuttle buses, Paratransit and Kaiser, to get Maude to a spot close to the curb. The meter reads $12.30. Maude hands me up her SF Paratransit card, fresh with money, and tells me to take the fixed 10% tip. And Driver obliges.

And as Driver does, a desperate man stumbles up to 1015’s closed shotgun window, huffing and anxious. I mime through the window to hold on, and then point to the back, to indicate I’ll be free right after I finish with Maude. Dude gasps as he watches me swipe Maude’s card and process her fare.

Maude, not one to be left out of any transaction, rolls down her window to tell the guy to wait. But dude beats Maude to the punch, addressing me through her open window before she can get a word out.

“Please! Take me to Kaiser!”


Well, I’m guessing that dude already knows he’s at Kaiser, but probably went to the wrong one for whatever appointment. He probably wants a ride up Geary, to the French Campus.

However, before Driver can get a word out, Maude, ever so helpful, huffs back,

“Why don’t you just take the Kaiser shuttle bus behind us! It’s free!”

And Driver turns to give Maude back her Paratransit card, with a DEEP scowl and a “SSSHHHHH!!!!”

Now, one does not ordinarily “shush” Maude! But thankfully, I can see she immediately has caught herself in this faux pas, with the assistance of my scowl.

Maude bites her lip, and offers, quietly, “Oh. Sorry. I wasn’t thinking.”

And Maude pops out, as dude jumps in back in her place, gasping, huffing, and grabbing his chest. Hey! This guy looks familiar. I must have driven him somewhere before. Hmm.

Driver, with clipboard/waybill at the ready “So, you’re going to the Kaiser at 6th & Geary? The French Campus??”

Dude, “No! I need you to take me to the Kaiser ER. Just up the block. (GASP! GASP!!) I drive for America Taxi. I had to leave my cab back there. (Clutching chest) I’m having a heart attack! PLEASE!! FAST!!! (HUFF! HUFF!)”

Huh!? Oh, JEEZ!!!

I gun it up the block, as warning my patient that I’ll have to do a song and dance to cross Geary safely, and legally.

Driver, “Oh my God! I KNEW you looked familiar! We must have run into each other before, back at the lot!”

Aside: In a recent move to reduce overhead in the age of “rideshares,” Citizen’s Cab now has America Taxi sharing its lot, and its dispatch.

Driver, continuing, “Hey! Don’t worry about the ride. It’s on me! But, just a head’s up. I gotta take the right on Baker. Then I’ll make a quick U, and cross Geary that way. But, I’ll pull right up to where the ambulances roll into the ER, even though we’re not supposed to. And again, DON’T worry about the ride. I got you!”

Lickety-split, we work our way around a doddling ambulance and I ZOOM right up the drive to slam to a… uh, dead stop RIGHT in front of the ER’s sliding doors.

The meter reads $4.60.

And Dude gasps!, huffs!, and reaches into his pocket with one hand, as the other hand stays steadfast clutching his chest! And, he pulls out a twenty and hands it up…

Driver, “What are you doing!? I TOLD you the ride was on me!! Get out of here!!!”

Dude, “(GASP!!) Give me (CLUTCH!) fifteen back! (HUFF!!)”

Driver, scampering for a ten and a five, “JESUS! HERE!!!”

And Dude stumbles out of 1015, and through the automatic doors of the Kaiser ER.


And Driver rolls.

As Tony comes crackling over the radio, “Guys. Aneebodee see da drivah ah 1462? Weyah lookin’ fer da drivah ah 1462. Wee gaht ah APB owt, fer da drivah ah 1462. Aneebodee?”

Driver, “1015. Over…”


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Photo by Alex SacK

Check out Alex’s Book 1 – San Francisco TAXI: A 1st Week in the ZEN Life…
& Book 2 San Francisco TAXI: Life in the Merge Lane…

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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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