Salt of the Earth

The sun is up, and warming up the cab… a little. The skies are clear. It is the calm before the weekend storm.

I just bid on, and won, another order Tony put out over the radio. It’s another regular, out in the Excelsior district on the edge of town, not far from all the cab lots. 65 Hale. Eileen is really nice, and old school San Francisco. And this trip will be all the way across town, to her own insurance admin job next to the iconic Ferry Building. A good $30 ride, after her usual $6 tip – via AMEX.

Yeah, like I said, Eileen is really sweet. A curious woman in her late 60’s, with a blue collar New York drawl. She traveled to SF from New York back in the Summer of Love. She was a hippie, and still is, with her long blonde hair, her stoner prescription sunglasses – straight out of Easy Rider, and tie-dye T-shirts that she even wears to her insurance job. But, Eileen was raised Catholic. And she always heeded her father’s advice to treat her body with respect. “Yah bodees yah temple, dahd awways sed.” So, although a full-fledged hippie, Woodstock and all, she’s never even smoked pot, let alone tripped acid!

Eileen glows at the sight of me, as she enters my cab, “Awww. Iss you! Iss so GUUD ta see you! How you doin’!”

You, “Oh, I’m ok. A little cold, but I’ll live. It’s good to see you, too! You headed downtown? The usual?”

Eileen, “Yup! You gaht it! Howz da kidz? Da kidz okaa??”

You, “Yeah, they’re doing great. We just got back from seeing Grandma and the family, back in Maryland, over Christmas.”

Eileen, “Aww. Dat’s niiiice. My husb’nd fin’lly passe’d ovah da holidaa. You kno how it waz. He gaht dat dementchya. ‘N den he wenn en ah coma. Now he’z en ah bettah plaace. He nevah reelee gaht ovah owr oldess son, Gareez deth. Frum dah cahr accid’nt. Garee waz my husb’ndz favrit, to. My husbnd’z wit ’em now doh. ‘N deyz bowt wit Gahd. Derez ah tim ‘n ah place fer evereewun, ya kno? Iz ahhrite, doh. I stiill gaht da ress ah my kidz. Dey ahll grown uhp ‘n ahll. Buht, you kno. We’z tigght. We’z spendt Chrissmas tahgetha. Et waz reel niiice.”

You, “I’m sorry. I forget, Eileen. How many kids do you have? And how many are in the Bay Area?”

Eileen, “Aww, dats awwrighht. I gahts aight kidz. Welll, beefor Garee dyed en da accid’nt. Dah ress ah ’em still arownd. Dey ahll marriet Fillipinoz. ‘Neewaa, my ma awwaayz tawt me tah prayy ta da Vergin Maree. Shee waz awways clutchin’ er rosearee, ‘n praayin. ‘N I evin goh ta confess’n wunce ah month, see. I kno Gahds gaht ah plan fer uhs ahll.”

Eileen digresses, and retells stories about her life that she’s told over past rides, “Yeeah, I muuve ta da Haight en da Summr ah Luv, bahck en ’67. Ma wuud see me hangin’ owt wit my hippie frendz bahck en Nu York ‘n she’d git reel worreed. Shee’d saa, ‘Whaatta da naybers tink!? Soh, I muuve ta Saan Fran. Liv’d uhp ahn Bevadeer Street. I waz sortaa ah den mutha fer ahll da loss kidz, ahll ahn drugz. Cuz I waz nevah takin’ ’em. Causa waat dahd tawt mee… Yah kno, wunce I saawz Bahb Dyllahn plaa en Phili. ‘N I hung owt aftah da sho, ‘n I met iz manahgr.”

I check the rear view to notice Eileen suddenly aglow, and with a guilty glint in her eye, “We maade owt ahn doze stepz, ware dat Rockee statew iz now. (Heh, heh.) He wuz reel nice, hee waz. Bahb Dyllahn’z manahgr waz reel niiice. Dat waz a beeutifull nite. We kist ’til da sun come uhp, dere ahn da stepz.”

As we roll up on Eileen’s office at the end of Market, on a dock on the Bay, she suddenly leans forward, perched on the edge of her seat. And she grabs the back of my head rest, with,

“I relee likez you, You gahtz guud energee. You gahhta giv mee yer ma’z adress. Iz gahnna rite ‘er a lettr. Tellz ‘er watt ah grate son she’z gaht.”

Great Son, “Aww. Thanks, Eileen. You’ve got a good energy, too.” Adding, “How much should I run your Amex for?”

As rush hour has come and gone, I forgo moving on with the usual ritual of classical, then jazz, then news. I just cannot bring myself to dive into my usual binge of NPR. And so, I’m sticking with jazz – KCSM 91.1FM.

I’ve been thinking lately, about a special I caught some years ago, with Dr. Andrew Weil hawking his book ‘8 Weeks to Optimum Health‘ on PBS. Dude was one of the acid-head ivy league college instructor “gurus” back in the 60’s, alongside Ram Dass and Timothy Leary. I don’t remember too much from his PBS infomercial, but two of the steps that I DO remember have always rung true with me: Don’t drink coffee. And DON’T read the newspaper.

It’s kind of hard to argue with this. Especially, in light of all the death in the world, currently. And in light of the recent death of our democracy.

Anyway, the year is still young. And, although not necessarily a new year’s resolution, I willfully choose ignorance… for now. And at the moment, that comes in the form of Rosemary Clooney’s ‘Hey There.


Tony has graced me with yet another winning bid on an order; 615 Ellsworth. Up in blue collar Bernal Heights, nestled between the cab lots and the Mission district. (Well, it USED to be blue collar.)

Betty, flipping back her long scraggly blonde hair and adjusting her glasses, “Thanks fer comin’, drivah. I’m headin’ over ta 2100 Webster – CPMC. My ma’s in tha hospital.”

Driver, with pen and waybill ready to mark the ride, repeats back, “2100 Webster. Sorry to hear that. I hope she’s okay…”

Betty, “Yeah. I hope so, too. She’s gettin’ old. I am, too. I seen a lot in dis town. A lotta changes.”

Driver, “Oh? Are you a native?”

Betty, “Well, I been here a long time. I move from tha east coast, back when I was en high school, en tha 60’s. Don’ remember much from back den, tho. I was too stoned all tha time. I stop smokin’ en 1980. I realize, I don’ need ta be stoned en San Francisco. Dis place is weird enuff, straight!”

Driver, “HA! VERY true!” Adding, “Hey! What was it like when you moved here? Well, the parts you DO remember. I just LOVE the history of this town.”

Betty, “Oh, well… When I was younger, I was what dey call ah ‘B-girl.’ I worked at a bar up in North Beach. It was my job ta hang out wit all tha johns, ta get ta talkin’ wit ’em. ‘N get ’em ta buy ah expensive bottle ah champagne. All tha bars en North Beach, dey were all controlt back den by tha mafia. Buht, it’s all chang’d now.”

As we proceed across town, Betty gets increasingly anxious about all the traffic. I get that she’s worried about her mom, and also start to gather that she doesn’t leave the house much these days. And traffic in San Francisco is NOT old school.

Not far from the hospital, there’s a car in front of us driving kind of slow-ish up Steiner, as we approach California. It’s not doing anything wrong, but Betty starts rocking in her seat, albeit quietly. To please my passenger, I zoom around, just as the offending Kia peels off onto Cal. And Betty seems pleased.

Lickety-split, we arrive at 2100 Webster. And the meter reads $17.75.

Betty starts digging through her large brown leather bag for remittance. And as she does, she expresses, pretty sincerely, that, “It was good talkin’ wit you. I jus LOVE cabs.”

Betty pulls two rolls of quarters out of her bag. $20. And she hands them up to me, with, “I hope ya don mind. All I gaht is quarters.”

Driver, “No! I don’t mind at all… Laundry!” Adding, “Hey, Betty. Good luck with your mom, eh?”

And Betty exits 1353, offering, “Yeah. ‘N you stay safe out dere!”

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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