Cab School (Day 1)

Cab School (Day 1)

Flashback this week, folks. To where the whole ride started…

And excerpt from:
San Francisco TAXI: A 1st Week in the ZEN life… (Book 1)


9am, and here I am a stone’s throw from 16th & Mission – junkie central, infused with a heavy mix of Mexican illegals, hipsters and red-light runners.

My four-day class at Cab Driver Institute is here, housed up three flights in a worn-down, antiquated former union building imbued with the soft squeal of a (hopefully) broken burglar alarm that wafts through the air. The elevator is slow to the shared office space where Rose runs her show.

An older cabbie woman, heavy set with a great sense of humor and stories galore, Rose reminds me of my mother. She owns her own “school” and, when not driving twice a week, organizes taxi drivers within an unofficial union, all while keeping steeped deep in San Francisco cabbie politics.

Back in ’73, Rose quickly realized that any hopes of a living she could pursue based upon her master’s in Middle English would not prove nearly as lucrative as the cabbie job that had once-upon-a-time paid for her studies.

Seemingly happy despite an intermittent emphysematous hack, dues from years of driving amongst clouds of CO2, Rose is queen of her circle.

Upon arrival with the prerequisite driver’s license, pen, Thomas Guide map book, comfortable shoes and “smile”, it seems I was remiss in not bringing in some necessary form stamped by the M.T.A. (Mass Transit Authority).

Rose readily admits her website needs updating to mention the requirement, but it seems her webmaster recently died.

Anyway, it immediately becomes apparent that I am not the only one in our class of five who is missing prerequisites: Samhil (former Chicago cabbie from Somalia who at one time raised camels) also didn’t have his M.T.A. form, Abdul (sleeper cell member from Yemen) didn’t have his Thomas Guide, and Gomer (who previously raised peacocks in Redding, CA and is quite possibly the dumbest person I have ever met) was late, forgot his Thomas Guide, M.T.A. form, and the $125 cash tuition. (There was also Vishnu, but somehow he had everything.)

So, off we scuttled to fix amends post-haste!

Samhil and I split a cab to the M.T.A. office – located just a few blocks away on South Van Ness.
(Not sure what happened to Gomer.)

Once at the M.T.A. – after flashing ID, signing-in with security, and being screened through a metal detector – Samhil and I headed to the 7th floor where we proceeded to a bullet-proof glass window to procure the necessary forms… and get them stamped.

There a young, and highly impatient, Asian woman began stoically asking Samhil and me four questions designed solely to affirm we could speak and understand English.

Among the questions, I was asked if I possessed a commercial driver’s license to which I replied “no”, chuckled nervously, and asked in return if it was required.

Shit. Was class over before it even started!?

It was not; Asia simply needed to verify that I understood the question, in English!

Now, all within the span of a half hour, it was back to class – by way of splitting another cab with Samhil – our stamped M.T.A. forms in Hand!

Side note: I remain truly baffled how Abdul could possibly have passed his English test. Surely his sleeper cell provided him a forgery.

So, the next couple of hours at class were spent under Rose’s guidance flipping through our Thomas Guide map books and getting tips on who the best tippers are, the ultimate being lawyers from New York who at one time worked in the service industry. “Have you ever seen a doctor come to YOU? All limos.”

Other Rose pointers included the likes of, “When scouting a street fair for flags, drive along the street at the top of the hill,” as drunks don’t like to walk uphill.

Ah, which brings us to the “Vomit Charge” – by law, $100 plus the original fare.

The charge is on account of that precious time is wasted cleaning up vomit (though apparently you will have a homeless associate on-call and ready to do an immaculate job for a twenty).

And if the drunk refuses to pay? Lock the doors and drive to the nearest police station with a citizen’s arrest. (Oh, the ride to the police department is chargeable, too) 🙂

However, it turns out a citizen’s arrest need never come into play as once this is threatened, your passenger will NOT refuse the charge. Explaining a night in jail to the family, it seems, is never preferable to shelling out the hundred bucks.

So, once finished with the map studies, some safety tips and various tricks of the trade, us boys are sent off to the aforementioned nearby 16th & Mission corner with a shared clipboard in hand to study this sketchy intersection’s traffic scene, in detail…

How long does it take for pedestrians to cross? Approach them and ask if they felt they had enough time to cross. Ask a disabled person, too. What street signage was observed? What traffic violations were observed? What legal and illegal activities made the intersection unsafe? Blah, blah.

Mind you, this was a difficult team to come to consensus with; even when just timing the durations of red, yellow and green lights! I ultimately gave up and just ended up watching Samhil, Vishnu and Gomer deliberate – while Abdul just stood there dumbfounded.

Very sweet guys, though. At one point I ran out for coffee, and when I’d returned I found that Samhil had bought a banana for me in my absence. He passed it on with a warm smile and a generous tip about the vendor, “Best price for produce in the city.”

At about 5 o’clock, having just finished with our assignment at the corner, it was back to Rose – who only then realized we had all missed lunch (unless just feigning as a ruse to make up for lost time at the start). An apple was given to all and cordial good byes exchanged, until day two.

So it’s off to home, and diving into the estimated hour and a half of homework – however unlikely to be checked. After months on the couch, I can’t wait to start my new life, although I have the feeling I just have.

THIS is why my former career-in-a-cubicle fades in the rear view…



Please SHARE if so inclined, folks!

Photo by Christian Lewis

Check out Alex’s Book 1 – San Francisco TAXI: A 1st Week in the ZEN Life…
& Book 2 San Francisco TAXI: Life in the Merge Lane…


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...

Latest posts by Alex Sack (see all)