Well, okay… It’s 5am, post-Starbucks. And I’m settled in comfortably at the helm of my trusty ‘ol Prius – Citizen’s Cab 1015. I can feel my body just beginning to buzz, as the caffeine courses through my veins, now kicking in. And mine eyes are peeled like sacred grapes – however odd the thought, as scanning all grid-like through the pre-dawn drizzle of San Francisco.
But I’m not really looking for a flag, just yet. You see, I’d succumbed to a great guilt this morning, for having not given away half (or all) of my daily bread to some random homeless pilgrim over several shifts now. And so, I made a second PB sandwich this morning, for alms.
As I cruise past the bustling crack and meth scene on 16th Street here, mixed in amongst a seemingly endless sprawl of tents, tarps and bicycle parts, I roll down into the Mission, on a mission…
And at 16th & South Van Ness, there he is: A twenty-something disheveled white dude, with a 15 o’clock shadow. He’s pushing a stolen shopping cart full of his life’s possessions with one hand, and managing a Hefty bag full of cans slung over his back with the other.
The light is red. And I roll down my shotgun, as waving my Ziplocked offering.
“You want a sandwich??”
Boxcar stops in his tracks. Then he looks over at me all perplexed, before almost visibly, a light bulb illuminates over his head. And Boxcar abandons his shopping cart at the sidewalk, as he slogs over to my window and takes the baggie from my outstretched hand.
“Peanut butter,” I specify.
To a simple, if not fatigued, “Thanks.”
The light turns. And I offer a parting, “Good morning,” out through my open shotgun window over to Boxcar, who has already starting walking off. (And who, from the looks of it, has more likely been up all night.)
Now, time to pay the rent…
I’m headed west up Market, fresh from a drop down in the deep Financial – a stock caller who was quite stressed about being late for work. (East coast time.)
Since drop, the two miles rolling up Market, to Van Ness here, were a bust. However, this early, this is to be expected. (Barring some colorful ride hailed at 6th or 7th, straddling the Loin.)
I’m zoning out to KDFC Classical 90.3FM. Speedballing, one might say. Now that I am fully caffeinated, I’m attempting to calm my nerves with Erik Satie’s Gnossienne No. 1, 2, & 3. And it’s working.
Suddenly, a hand rises in the dark, mid-block before Van Ness. It’s an unlikely spot for a hail, as these are all corporate offices here. None of which are open, yet. And as I throw on my hazards and pull over in the bike lane, I see that my passenger is no suit.
It’s a black woman, in a long winter jacket with a fur-lined hood, a la T.J. Maxx. And she’s crying, hard.
Driver, pen and waybill at the ready, “Where to, ma’am?”
Albeit muted, LaShawna wails, “(SNIFF! SNIFF!) Good morn’in drivah. Well, naht sucha good morn’in’. I gaht in ah fite wit my husb’nd. I nee ta goh ta 16th ‘n Capp. Den bahck ta urr ho’tel aht Fell n’ Van Ne’ss, pleeze.” Before adding a guilt ridden, hesitant, “I tink you kno. (SNIFF!)”
Yeah, I know.
Driver repeating back, as notating, “16th & Capp. Then back to your SRO on Fell, at Van Ness. And don’t worry. I don’t judge. We’ve all done our time. Anyway, sorry to hear you got in a fight with your husband.”
LaShawna offering nervously, as an afterthought, “(SNIFF!) ‘N don woree, drivah. I gaht monee.”
Drivah, “Oh! No worries.”
As we start off the few blocks towards the drug markets hidden in the alley streets around 16th & Mission, La Shawna straightens up a little, stops crying a little, and looks for some comfort in small talk.
LaShawna, “Howz yer morn’in’ goin’, drivah?”
Drivah, “Well, better than yours, it sounds like. I didn’t get in any fights with MY husband. Come to think of it, I don’t even have one! I guess that’s why, eh? Too much drama. Still, life always finds a way of throwing you drama, husband or not! I got kids for that. Teenagers! (Heh, heh.)
Anyway, whenever I feel down, I just think about how there’s always SOMEONE having a worse day… Like YOU! Uh… er…sorry. (Heh, heh.)”
LaShawna, “Dats okay, drivah. I gaht ah sunn, too. He ay-teen. Live in Aht-lanta. Dats ware I frum.”
Drivah, continuing with the small talk, “Oh? How do you like San Francisco? I mean, compared to Atlanta?”
LaShawna, “Wellll, I ghat brahnkit’us. ‘N da wether ’round he-yah, iss unpree-dic’ble. Ya nevah kno what ta ex’pect. So, iss bettah bahck in Aht-lanta, fer dat.”
And in short order, we turn in the dark of Capp Street, off of 16th.
LaShawna leans forward in her seat, suddenly energized and scanning for a familiar face. Upon seeing a group hanging outside of another Single Room Occupancy in like winter jackets with fur-lined hoods loitering around on BMX bikes, LaShawna barkers out, “Dere! Stahp dere, driavah!”
And she jumps out of the taxi and heads back to her boys, as I lose sight of her amidst the dark and bustle.
And Drivah waits…
Hmm… I don’t THINK LaShawna’s a runner? It’s been a couple of minutes now. But, I really didn’t get that vibe from her.
Right on cue, just as worry nears parity with faith, I see LaShawna’s tan colored, knee length coat emerge from the group.
LaShawna jumps in back, again. And with new life, again directs, “Okaay, now. Bahck ta Fell. Aht Van Ne’ss, drivah. Tha ho-tel dere.”
And as we do, LaShawna immediately dives into unfolding a little package, a piece of paper in her lap. And she hunches over in the darkened cab, to inspect.
Drivah, broaching nervously, “Uh… Do you mind? If I ask? What it is it, exactly, that they sell back there? Is it crack? Or heroin?”
LaShawna, suddenly paranoid, “You ain’t no po-lice! Is you??”
Drivah,, “No! No! I’m just curious. That’s all!”
LaShawna, seemingly comfortable with my answer, but hesitant, “Welll… I don do no her-o-in.”
And at that, we leave it be.
Drivah, changing the subject, well… somewhat, “Like I said, we’ve all done our time. I got down to pot and alcohol as I got older. But, I’ve actually been pretty good about that lately. It’s been a couple of months now. The belly was getting too big. And saving for rent too small. I have to say, I’ve been sleeping better. And I feel clearer. And less depressed.”
Suddenly, my passenger perks up from her inspection, and jumps on this.
LaShawna “Ye-ah, we ALL dun urr time! Buht, dat’s GRATE ta HE-yah, drivah! I give you reel props! I kno it ain’t easee. You inspayah me! You keep dat uhp!” Before going a bit melancholy, “I wish I hahd da stennth ta do dat. I keep prayun ta Gahd, asskin’ quesshiuns. Da ting ’bout dat iss, da answahs awways ah’readee dere! “fore wee ahsk! Wee juss naht lissin’in…”
And Drivah JUMPS on that, “TOTALLY! God’s ALWAYS guiding us! We just gets too caught up in our drama’s to hear it!
With a wave of positivity, and a connection having now overtaken Citizen’s Cab 1015, silence ensues, but for KDFC Classical 90.3FM, and Erik Satie.
LaShawna, “I like dis musik. It relaxx mee.”
Drivah, “Yeah. Me, too.”