My iPhone alarm goes off. It’s 3:45am.
“X#@&%!!… X#@&%!!… X#@&%!!…”
However, today, my alarm was redundant. You see, there’s BIG lightning and thunder outside… IN SAN FRANCISCO!! And there is NEVER lightning and thunder in San Francisco! I wipe my eyes, as it hits me: It’s Inauguration Day.
(Sniff, sniff.) Is that SULFUR I smell?!
Nah. Must be my imagination. I’m still dreaming. (Probably.) To be fair, life in general has taken on a surreal quality of late. And my dreams now seem to have bled into my waking “reality.”
Twenty-five minutes later…
I’m traversing the streets, en route to the Citizen’s Cab lot to pick up my taxi, out on the industrial edge of town. And there is torrential rain, downed trees and flooding… BAD!
It should be said that I’ve been good in the new year about commuting to work sans stress, without competing. Rolling down the Gough Street gauntlet, I just let the Audis pass, as they needlessly cut in front of me with each fresh turned green. (Ski racks, or no.) I do NOT take the bait. Instead, I’ve taken to breathing. And letting go. OOoOOoOoMMmMMMmmm.
However, today, none of that is necessary. Today, Mother Nature has put all of us commuters, however few, soundly in check. She’s given each and every one running the gauntlet on THIS morning a sense of humility, a larger perspective. And on the long mile Octavia on-ramp to 101, each vehicle around me seems KEENLY aware of the dips ahead, where water is known to pool, and hydroplaning is the norm. Even in LIGHT rain. But this deluge is NOT normal. And each sets their speed accordingly.
Sure enough, the most treacherous “usual” spot on the on-ramp for hydroplaning is TOTALLY flooded. But surprisingly STILL, the water is all the way up PAST my minivan’s doors!! Two to three feet!! And there are two Prius washed out in the thick of it, with their hazards on. Each is disabled, flanking the outside lanes, leaving only the middle lane open to pass. “Rideshares” no doubt.
But rideshares, or no. Today, we are ALL drivers. We are all in this thing together. Just trying to make it to our destination, alive. Yes, today… we are ALL Americans.
I’m back in the office, grabbing the key and medallion for my girl, Citizen’s Cab #1015. I throw Tony my five for tip, as the peanut gallery listens in to Tony on the speaker phone over at dispatch, bantering with Crooks.
Recall: Crooks is the disgraced ex-cab driver who, after having to buy his own insurance for too many bad accidents, ultimately lost his A-card (taxi permit) for committing Paratransit fraud. (After holding on to a few cards of the mentally infirm and charging rides that never took place.) With the help of money from his famous actor brother, for a good lawyer, Crooks narrowly escaped Federal prison time. So naturally, he’s been driving for Uber ever since. But, a long time cab driver prior to all of that, Crooks’ heart is still deeply embedded within the taxi community. And he is commonly seen cleaning his Uber out in the lot at the Citizen’s Cab hose and vacuum station. And he is commonly found back in the office hanging out shooting the shit with all of us still legit drivers.
Tony, “Wass goin’ ahn owt dere, Crooks? Wass uhp?”
Crooks, “Man! It’s CRaZY out here! 101 is knee high in water, completely flooded out at Silver, MAN! Tell NOBODY to come down this way!”
Tony, “Reelee? Woww! Dat sownds nuhts! (Heh, heh.)”
Crooks, “And Bayshore, MAN! It’s a RIVER! You need a fuckin’ BOAT!”
Tony, “Wass ah a mattah, Crooks? Kan’t blahck peeple SWIM!!”
The office erupts in laughter.
Tony broadcasts out a warning over the radio, “Bee carefuhl owt dere! 101 aht Silvah derez ah fludd! ‘N Bayshorz nohw ah rivah. Ahl drivahz, carful owt dere!”
Then, the speaker again comes crackling to life.
852, “852. Over.”
Tony, “852. Wass ur ovah?”
852, “Uh… 852. I need a tow out here. I got washed out on the Octavia on-ramp, heading south.”
Tony, “Copee, 852. Ile cahl yah ah tow. Hol ahn tite dere. Mabee fortee-fiv minites, ta ah howr.”
I’m rolling up 16th, fresh from Starbucks. There was a break in the rain as I went in. But I got pelted as I was coming back out, and had to make a run for 1015. It’s been an odd storm over the last few days, coming and going every few minutes and every few hours, in fits and starts.
Waiting at a red, at 16th & Potrero, through the dark and rain I suddenly catch a hand rising into the air across the intersection, flagging. Dude’s illuminated by a street lamp at the corner, in front of Potrero Shopping Center, just past one of the homeless tent encampments found so ubiquitous in these parts. But I can make out that he looks clean, and is sporting some kind of corporate ID laminate on his belt. Anyway, sweet. My first ride. Fresh out of Starbucks.
The light turns, and I throw on my hazards and zoom across the intersection to the corner. No need to zoom, though. It’s still pretty sparse out here.
Ben gets in back, and immediately comes across as cordial, articulate and personable. I immediately like him. Good.
Ben, “Thanks for stopping. This rain is something, eh? I’m headed up to Bush & Powell, in Union Square. How’s your morning going?”
Driver, finishing a sip from his coffee, “Oh. I just started. Bush and Powell, it is.”
Ben continues, “I’m headed to work. But I just finished visiting a friend who lives in a tent here. He’s homeless now. But we used to work together. The weird thing is, he chose to be homeless. He was miserable when we worked together. My friend even owned a home and everything. But he started getting into meth. And he let it all go. Funny thing is, he seems so much happier now. He’s got his friends and his drugs. And that’s all he seems to need, or want. He feels he’s living a more authentic life now.”
Well. Nice weather we’re having.
Driver, “Wow. Yeah. It’s been interesting driving a cab for the last six years. I’ve really seen it all play out from the streets, seen the homeless population explode here in the city, along with the tent encampments. And the homeless are NOT a monolith, either! Yeah, some are schizophrenic, or drug addicts. But some of the newer ones have college degrees, and jobs! They just didn’t have a safety net, when they got priced out of their apartments.
Anyway, that’s cool, if your friend is happy and all now. I mean, who are we to say who’s crazy? We’ve got nuclear weapons. And we’re ignoring climate change, which will be the end of us all. And of all days, today, who are we to say who’s crazy! We’re about to swear in an incurious, lawless, insecure, hateful reality TV star to the presidency!”
Nervous laughs permeate the cab, as we digress back to the rain.
Ben, “Well, I guess with all of this rain, the drought ought to be taken care of.”
Driver, “Actually, I listen to too much NPR. Apparently, the north and south, the big cities are getting all of the rain. And the Central Valley is bone dry. Over the thick of the drought, the farmers were all bribing the well drillers to put them at the head of the line. NASA had pictures from space of the aquifers all drying up. They say the Central Valley dried up like a sponge, and you could see the ground sink however many inches. They say it’ll take years to replenish all the aquifers. And the bread basket there is not getting any of this rain!”
Ben, “Actually, I heard about that. I’ve been thinking of doing a research project. I have a theory that the rain is tracking along in parallel with the income inequality gap.”
Again, the cab erupts in laughter.
Driver, “Oh, my god! You’re right!! HA!” Before continuing, “Hey! I’m curious. How is your friend dealing with all of this rain right now? It’s been pretty much a monsoon out there, for the last week or so!”
Ben, “Well, he’s had to get his game on. They’ve been grabbing pallets, and layering them with cardboard, and then a tarp. The sidewalks are a river. And there are slopes everywhere. The pallets are the key. But even when it’s not raining, you need several thick layers of cardboard. The sidewalk is really cold.”
Hmm. Good info. But, how is my passenger so personally privy to all of this?
Ben, continuing, “Anyway, it’s pretty nuts how people treat my friend. People offer food. But he’s always skeptical to take it. One time, some people he thought were nice gave him a burrito. It wasn’t leftovers, either. It was in a bag and wrapped in the foil. But, inside the tortilla it was a pile of shit! Who the hell DOES that to a homeless person! Man. There are some sick people out there. I mean, it obviously took them some time and care to put that whole thing together.”
Driver, “Damn. That IS fucked up!! Us cab drivers actually have a rule about not taking food from passengers. I guess that’s why! I’ve never heard of a driver having a problem But then, that’s probably because we don’t accept the food.
Actually, I bring a sandwich every day to work Peanut butter, or ham and cheese. I usually give half, if not all of it, away to a random homeless guy on the street during my shift. Sometimes they don’t want it. And that’s cool. I don’t take offense. Over the course of the day, there’s always someone who’s happy to take it. But, JEEZ! I guess I know why some don’t want it now!
Anyway, there but for the grace of God.”
We pull up on Bush and Stockton. And the meter reads $11.75. Ben smiles, and hands me up a ten and a five. He gets out of the cab, and parts with, “Keep the change. And stay dry out there!”
You bet. And you as well, friend.