Salt of the Earth

As presented to you passengers on my last report, it’s a new year for your driver, with a new taxi. (Sorta.) My regular Prius, Citizen’s Cab 26, has been transformed. With paint job and medallion anew, she is now 1015. And this morning, Tony the Dispatcher says that she’s shopped; for grinding brakes.

Back in the office, Tony scratches his chin as checking the pegboard of keys and medallions. He then turns to me, defeated, and drawls,

“Uh, Sack… Sorree. All’s I gahts leff izz ah Fushion spare, tirteen-ffiffee-tree. Ya wahnt dat wun?”

Well, Tony. Um. What choice do I have??

Citizen’s Cab #1353. A Ford Fusion spare, with 315K on her.


It should be noted that this shift will see your driver roaming the streets of San Francisco on THE coldest day in collective memory. This MUST be some kind of arctic blast. I mean, it is FRIGID! And the news has been all abuzz the last few days, awaiting “the biggest storm to hit the Bay Area in a quarter century!” Major flooding, blasting winds, pelting rain, fire and brimstone are all but assured. Lock up the kids!

Shivering, I run out into the lot, and go prep my rented mule; 1353.

Forty minutes later…


I’ve just returned from the airport, fresh from an order that I got right out of the lot. “Cha-ching!” It was a Cabulous taxi-app hail, from over in the Castro. $45.

But clearly, that is NOT the “FUCK!” part. You see, I had smelled something amiss, when I first started this spare back at the lot. I’d noted that the night driver had left the thermostat on 90 degrees, its highest setting. So, when rolling to the order, I kept telling myself that the cab’s engine “just needed to warm up.” Alas, no. I CAN SEE MY DAMN BREATH! And my usual fashion plate statement of black cargo shorts, with protruding black long johns, and a long sleeve waffle over a T is just NOT cutting it!!!

To make matters worse, on the return from SFO, a warning light came on in the cab, indicating an OVERHEATING engine! Well. How’s THAT for irony??

Like I said, FUCK!

It should be said, that a while back, there was a memo posted on the cork board back at the lot, saying that any driver who ignores an overheating engine light will be on the hook for however many thousands it takes to replace the seized engine. Hmm.

Screw it. Tony said this was the last cab. And I need the money! So, an overheating engine. And no heat IN the cab! And on the coldest day of the, well… EVER!!

Ugh. I’m just going to ignore it all. And head home for some winter gloves and my Russian Ushanka hat.

On the bright, new years-ey side, at least this proves that there is balance in the world. And that there IS a God!

And, that She hates me.


Rush hour is fast approaching. And with this extreme chill will come many passengers, each looking for a warm ride within which to escape it. And I, your driver, am here for you… I just hope that you brought your winter coat!

I’m en route to an order Tony dispatched. It’s a regular named Helen who lives up in Russian Hill. She takes rides daily to her admin job for the Federal government, downtown at Battery and Jackson. And she always pays cash. $12.

As I roll up Jones out of Fisherman’s Wharf, 1353’s engine starts puttering. She’s REAL sluggish going up the hill. And she now sounds like a military helicopter when I push too hard on the gas. Well, maybe if I ease off, and avoid any of the hills around SAN FRANCISCO! Maybe, I’ll make it through this shift. TBD.

Eh, no “maybe” about it. Rent is due. I’m sticking with this until ONE of us SEIZES!

I radio in to Tony for a call-out, “1353. Please call out Helen.”

And Tony comes back, “Tirteen-fiffee-tree. Ahn da waa owt.”

Soon enough, there is a 300-pound Helen in the back of my cab; long black hair, and of Polynesian decent.

Helen, “How are you doing today, driver? Is it cold enough for ya?”

Driver, “Yeah. I apologize. My regular cab is shopped. I seen to have gotten lucky with a spare with no heat. You headed to the usual? Battery and Jackson?”

Helen, “Yup. I would have taken off today, but my fourteen person team is down to six. And they got me working ten hours a day now! SOMEONE’s got to do the ordering for the government!”

Driver, “Hey! What’s that like, anyway. You buying $500 hammers and all that? (Heh, heh.) I’ve got a good friend, an old music mentor, who some years ago auditioned for the Airmen of Note as a jazz guitarist. The funny thing is, he’s a pacifist and a spiritual seeker. Anyway, he made the audition, and then he had to join the Air Force! He had to go through boot camp and everything!

He said that his drill sergeant was particularly hard on him. Apparently, the drill sergeant didn’t like the fact that he’d be outranked by a full-time jazz guitarist, once my friend made it through boot camp. Now though, it sounds like congress may be defunding all of the military bands! I know that my friend uses his own guitar, but there’s some sexy story in the press about the Air Force buying some $30,000 saxophone. Anyway, my friend has a wife and kids and a house, and he’s been pretty worried about it.”

Helen, “Well, I dunno about all that. But I CAN tell you that there ARE inefficiencies. Let me tell you, people are stupid! I was once told to order three Dodge Chargers, with all of the special police lights and sirens and everything. $70K a pop! But some dumb-ass manager sent them to a department that weren’t police. And they weren’t allowed to drive them! Hell. I could’ve have bought them three Ford Fusions they COULD have used for the price of ONE of the decked-out Chargers!

ANOTHER time, I was made to order a 4×4 Jeep with a canine cage for a CITY in New Mexico that had no use for a 4×4. And they DIDN’T HAVE A CANINE UNIT! They called back asking what the hell they were supposed to do with it! They asked if they were allowed to take the cage out!”

Aside: I used to do ordering for an insurance company and one time got audited by corporate for the candy in the dish at reception, which our RVP wanted. Jeez. Who has time to audit candy?

Driver, “Wow! That IS crazy! In a past life, I used to work admin at an insurance company here downtown. The RVP liked to have a candy dish at reception. One time, I got a call from corporate, back in New Jersey, trying to audit me on the candy! I mean, jeez. Doesn’t anyone have anything better to do!? Still, it sounds like you’ve got that beat at your job. Our hard earned tax dollars at work!”

As we roll up on Helen’s office on Battery, she hands me up the usual ten and two ones for the ride. And as she exits 1353, Helen wishes me a “Happy Friday!” on this Thursday.

An afterthought, I call back, “Hey! Maybe you should send that town a dog!”


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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