The Hope Dealer

Hope Dealer - no border

It’s 4:30 in the am, and Tony is sending me darting out of the office with an order up in Holly Park, a residential hood not far from the Citizen’s Cab lot out here at the edge of San Francisco. No, it’s not an airport. And no, I didn’t grease him an extra five for the ride. It’s just an early morning regular who works down at Salesforce, downtown in the deep Financial.

As I run out to my trusty Prius – 1015, I just catch the tail end of Tony’s signature slur, bemoaning to a Peruvian driver as he hands him the key and medallion to 1353,

“Duhhh, I hope dat et stahrts tahdayyy.”

I have no idea why Holly goes to work so early at this West Coast-based cloud computing firm, if she’s on East Coast time or what, but she does. And the stress aside, of scrambling out of the lot sans first prepping and sanitizing my taxi, it’s a good $26 start to my shift right off the bat. (Courtesy of Amex.)

Holly is an uneventful ride, one of which I’ll spare you the details. Let’s just suffice it to say, I am regularly kept up to date on the newest high school friend or extended family member she’s unfriended on Facebook over politics.

The twenty-six bucks aside, it’s always a welcome change that this ride brings me downtown so early. There is an open Starbucks at California & Battery, not far from Holly’s drop. And the deviation of being left to strategize the still asleep city from there, instead of my usual 17th & Kansas Starbucks, is a definite treat. Even if the variant 1-2-3-4-5 bathroom code throws me off.

 

6:30am:
It’s been quiet, and I’ve been thinking a lot. Too much. Holly’s the only ride that I’ve got under my belt. And my mind has moved on from the contemplation of human nature and the Universe, to “WHAT THE FUCK AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE!”

Yeah, it’s quiet out. And cold. San Francisco “wet” cold. A kind of cold that gets through your clothes and permeates your bones. Anyway, in the spirit of a morning of mixing it up, I’ve just veered off of Market from Westfield Mall, where the empty streets provide a sublime backdrop to Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.5, with thick clouds of steam rising up from the manhole covers and dissipating into the yellow glow of the street lamps above.

Actually, my hands seemed to act on their own as I veered off and up Turk here, into the Tenderloin. And it continues rolling sublime, as I come upon a school of three-wheeled DPT Interceptors, like pilot fish, with each passing one after the other around a BIG trudging street sweeper doing the LOUD work of brushing up all the broken glass, fast food container trash and feces with its giant circular jaws of steel teeth.

After the Interceptors take the lead, they begin tacking and passing one another and to take advantage of ample opportunities for ticketing those (who out of ignorance, incapacitation or apathy) have been remiss in having not moved their cars for street sweeping day.

But, enough of my navel gazing. Up the road, at the corner of Jones, there’s a flag…

I flash my lights and zoom to a stop at the curb, just ahead of the encroaching Interceptors. And Mary quickly jumps in back, before they get the chance to hassle me.

And Mary anxiously settles in back, and gasps, “Hillcrest Elementary, please. 810 Silver Ave.”

Sweet!

This is a freeway ride, not far from Holly Park, actually. Another twenty dollar plus fare.

Driver hitting the gas, marking his waybill and repeating back, “810 Silver. And how is your morning going?”

Mary, “Oh! I’m a little rushed for work, driver. And it’s been kind of hard, lately. You see, I’m a teacher over at Hillcrest. And the kids have all been pretty upset lately, scared they’re going to be deported.

Hillcrest has the highest percentage of undocumented students within the city, you see. And with all that’s going on with the Trump administration and ICE, some of the kids are deathly scared to come to school now. A lot of the students I now have to talk down from crying uncontrollably, and hyperventilating, on and off throughout the day.”

Driver, “Wow. That sucks. Well, you are a saint. God bless you for the work that you do!”

Mary, ignoring the admiration, goes on, “It’s actually worse than that, driver. You see, we have a lot of undocumented teachers as well, at Hillcrest. And they are also scared. I have always looked out for them. They’re quite good people. We are all practically sisters. I actually get paid on their behalf, with my social security number, and then hand checks of my own out to them on payday.”

Driver, maybe a little too exuberant, “Jeez! Wow! How does that work? I mean how does the school handle that? What with the bureaucracy and all? And what about your taxes??”

Mary, suddenly paranoid, looks up to assess me in the rear view, and then just answers coyly, “Oh, it works out.”

DAMN! I really AM curious about that!

After about a fifteen minute drive under the rising sun, through the nascent rush hour, we roll up at Hillcrest Elementary, out in the Excelsior district. As we navigate around the first of the school buses lining up to drop, Mary simultaneously opens her door and digs through her purse for remittance. And then she hurriedly hands me up a twenty and a five for the $14.60 fare, saying to keep it, as she darts out of Citizen’s Cab 1015 and off to her sisters and kids.

Sweet! Hail Mary, indeed!

Eight minutes later…

I’m on the return from Mary, and rolling up 24th Street, in the Mission. This is an historical Mexican commercial strip, complete with taquerias and panaderias. But with its proximity to 101 south and Silicon Valley, the Mexican staples have been getting increasingly replaced by hipster coffee joints and a the likes of Wise Sons – a quite expensive, hipster Jewish deli. (Yes, you read that right.)

Still, I often score a Mexican mother here with a young son, flagging me in need of a ride just a few blocks up the street to get her kid to school. Strangely, it’s never the SAME Mexican mother and young son. Hmm.

I’m currently waiting at a red at South Van Ness, approaching a planned left onto Mission up ahead in two blocks. And I have not scored a Mexican mother with her young son.

However!

There’s a Mexican man, alone, with a thick, waxed tip mustache and coke-bottle glasses standing caddy corner and flagging me.

I wave to Jorge. And he signals for me to make a U turn in front of him, once the light turns. The light turns, and I zoom ahead and put on my turn signal to steal the U ahead of traffic approaching from ahead and behind… as Jorge crosses the street to the side I am in the midst of turning from.

WTF?! Come on, Jorge! We had a DEAL!!

Ugh!

But, whatever. I just put on my flashers and wait at the corner Jorge had originally flagged me from, as he waits for traffic to clear, before jaywalking back to my cab.

And Jorge gets in back, beaming ignorantly, yet pleasant, “Tank yoo fer stoppeeng driverrr. How arrr yoo dooeeng toodayyy?”

Driverrr, clipbaird and waybill at the ready, “Oh, I’m good. Where to?”

Jorge, “I am wellll. Yoo are wellll, too?”

Uh, yeah. I think we covered this ground already, Jorge.

Driverrr, “Yeah, I’m great. Where to?” I repeat.

Jorge, “Ohh! I goeeng too Turrrd ‘n Ceezar Chavezzz, driverrr. Tank yoo fer stopeeeng.”

As we drive, Jorge and I make conversation about how the rent in San Francisco is too damn high, and how he has an 19-year-old son down in Mexico that he sends money back to. He also clarifies that he’s actually dropping a little past 3rd Street, in the bowels of an industrial area where he has a van parked in which he has been living for the past year.

Jorge, “I weell show yooo, driverrr, wherrre mi vann eeez. I gaht ah stovvve too cook onnn, n’ evreeteeeng. Eet savvvves mi ah LOTTT ahf moneeee. ‘Nn forrr ah showerrr I juss goh too tha paark, twentee seeex ‘n Harrrisonnn. Ees no prahblem, driverrr.”

Of course! That park has a public pool and everything! Hmm. And it’s not far from where I picked Jorge up. I must admit, I do often fantasize about how I’d get my homeless game on.

We surf the greens down Cesar Chavez, weaving through now full bore rush hour traffic, and literally cross the tracks into a sea of warehouses, chain link fences and barbed wire adjacent the Bay. And Jorge directs me onward to his home, a rusty old Dodge Caravan with all flat tires, parked between two box trucks in front of a loading dock to a boarded up warehouse.

And it seems I am now Jorge’s guest.

Jorge, “Woood yoo likkke some hasssh ‘n egggs, driverrr? I makkke yoo breakkfasss!”

Driverrr, “Oh! Thank you, but no. I have to go out and make money.” Adding with nervous laugh, “(Heh, heh.) To pay the rent. I have two teenage boys who need money, too!”

Jorge, persisting, “Reeelyyy, driverrr. I amm ah gooood coooook. I cooook yoo someteeng!”

Driverrr, persisting, “Really. Thanks. But I have to go make money.”

And Jorge relents, albeit while now looking a bit sad, “Ohhh… Okkkayyy…. How muuuch ees tha riiide, driverrr?”

The meter reads $11.20. And Jorge forces a smile as he hands me a ten and a five, with another, “Tank yoo fer stopeeeng. Yoo keeep eet, driverrrr. Havvve ah gooood dayyy!”

And Jorge’s smile returns to full beam, as Citizen’s Cab 1015 rolls off back towards the Mission.

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 14 and (a hormonal) 16. 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...