Irene & NOT Me

Citizen’s Cab 1015 is driving me aimless across a ghostly quiet San Francisco predawn. There’s a nowadays rare fog (thanks, global warming) blanketing the Marina district down here. And KCSM 91.1FM – The Bay Area’s Jazz station – and Artie Shaw’s St. James Infirmary sets the mood for one hack’s imminent introspections. Navel gazing, as ma calls it.

As I pass an overturned municipal trash receptacle at the corner of Fillmore & Lombard, my mind runs. I consider how this is no small feat. I mean, these things are pretty heavy and sturdy, all concrete and steel. A casualty of last night’s bar patrons, no doubt. It’s that ex-frat boy crowd local to these parts. Post graduation, they’ve all scored professional day jobs in the financial sector. And now, they’re all in that grey period between pretending they’re drinking back at the frat, making babies, and their first divorce. Hence, this awkward late night show of alcohol-fueled testosterone.

These are the kind of guys who call me “buddy.” Trying to score cred with the blue collar cabbie. “Hey, buddy. Howz yer day goin’? Eh?”

This reminds me of a fly-on-the-wall ride I once took, with two mid-20’s slicked-back hair suits headed from the Marina down to the Financial on a rush hour shuttle. These guys didn’t call me “buddy,” though. They just ignored me. And I just drove, while silently listening in as one of the bros was telling the other of his exploits from the night before in one of these very bars. Dude was gloating on about his angle. About how he wears a wedding ring when he’s on the prowl, although he’s not married. Apparently, it “turns the chicks on.”

Of course, this ride was in the days before Uber. These guys now ALL take Uber.

Navel gazing continued…

I guess my larger point is (yes, there is a larger point, ma.) that I’ve come to note how passengers all project onto their taxi driver. They project that which they want to see. Or expect. One bro might be calling you “buddy” one minute, and the next guy you pick up in the Loin in a drab military jacket might be ranting on about “niggers” and “Asian drivers” – presumably, along with you.

Well, folks. This aside has gone on a bit long… It’s brought us all the way to 9am. And Junior is back at the Citizen’s Cab dispatch, visibly sweating on the radio as he calls out “Union & Kearny.” You can hear it in his voice. He sounds defeated right out of the gate. This is cause he knows that NO ONE is going to accept “Union & Kearny.” It’s Irene.

Irene’s angle? She thinks that I’m a good Catholic. (Or, she’ll make the most of the one minute ride down the hill from her North Beach apartment to her bank on Columbus to make sure I BECOME one!) I guess it’s understandable how she’s able to project this. It’s because I’m agreeable. And I usually just shut up and listen. Well, I guess I DO add a good Catholic story of my own, or two. Hmm.

Anyway, don’t get me wrong. Irene’s REAL nice. She’s always asking about the kids, and their souls. And I REALLY feel for her. Irene’s got issues. She wears those dark prescription glasses for glaucoma. And she needs a cane for her club foot. And then there’s the car sickness. But she doesn’t complain, or anything. And she keeps stylish, with a purple beret and a silver rosary.

Still, Irene calls for a cab everyday day for this ride. And it’s invariably a ride where she will take ten minutes to make it down the stairs of her building, with her club foot and cane, even though she KNOWS when to expect her taxi. And then, while taking your arm to the cab, she’ll IN ADVANCE micromanage how she wants you to adjust the taxi JUST RIGHT adjacent the curb. And THEN, she’ll ask you to move the shotgun seat ALL THE WAY back – after you’ve removed your office from it, on account of her car sickness. And all of this, for the all of sixty second drive down the hill. After which she’ll pay by paratransit, as apologizing for telling you to not add the 10% fixed paratransit tip.

No, it’s not so much all of that, why she doesn’t get picked up. It’s the constant proselytizing of Jesus, and the Virgin Mary, and your soul.

Oh, who am I kidding? It’s ALL OF IT!!!

Junior, “(Sigh.) Union & Kearny. Union & Kearny.”

417, “417. Broadway & Montgomery.”

Junior, “417. Okay! Go get Irene, 417! 395 Union!”

417, “Copy. 395 Union.”

Oh, my GOD! Who is in 417??

Oh! It’s that new guy. Some Asian dude. Poor bastard. Doesn’t know what he’s in for!!


In other news, I’ve just rolled empty, west up Market, from a Financial shuttle. I’m in the left turn lane for Valencia, doing the usual rounds with the Mission up next. But, wait! What is this?

A flag!

Some short, unshaven, meek looking, middle aged white dude, looks down on his luck. Well, this is fitting. If he’s staying at that Travelodge behind him, it’s infested with bed bugs. And crackheads.

I flip a U to pick Dave up. And he slogs into the back seat of Citizen’s Cab 1015.

Dave, “I’m jus’ goin’ ha short distance, drivah. Ta ’round 18th ‘n Mission. I tink it’s 18th. I’ll kno it whin I see it.” He looks out his window, before adding nervously, “Dere’s ah pawn shop dere.”

Drivah, “Ah! I think I know the one. Eagle Pawn? If it’s the one I’m thinking of, I used to pawn a guitar there, back when I had a desk job, and delivered food was my drug. They’d only give me around $200 for a really nice Tele worth around $2K. But, that was for the best. That way I was sure I could pay it back. Yeah, Eagle is on Mission, at 18th. If that’s the one.”

Dave, looking dejected and obviously justifying, “Yeah, I’m stayin’ at tha Travelodge. I don’ tink I should be keepin’ my Macbook dere. Might git stolen.”

Drivah, “Oh? Yeah, uh… probably the best thing to do. So, how is it in that Travelodge? I hear it’s cheap, but not really an SRO. I’ve driven some people there before with drama, though. Other people there probably get in your business, eh?”

Dave, curt and sad, “Well, no. I don’ got no bidness fer dem ta get into.”

Halfway the several blocks to 18th & Mission, Dave comes out with it.

Dave, “Uh, kin you wait fer me while I run in? Den take me back ta tha Travelodge? I’ll only be ah minute inside.”

Great. Dude has no money for the cab. He’s banking on pawning his Macbook for the cash. From my experience, in a past life, it might only take a minute. But it might take fifteen. Depends on if there’s a line. And if Dave is already on file there for having pawned his laptop in the past. They’ll already have checked if it’s stolen, how much he gets for it, and have his contact info.

Anyway, it looks like the answer to Dave’s question about me waiting better be “yes.” Or I’m not likely getting paid for this ride.

Drivah, “Oh, sure. I’ll wait, and take you back. Have you pawned that laptop there before?”

Dave, curt and sighing, “Yeah.”

We roll up Mission, passing 18th Street and Eagle Pawn, and are now moving slowly up in the bus/taxi lane, as we pass 19th. (Well, pawn shops ARE pretty ubiquitous in the Mission.)

Suddenly, Dave sits up in his seat and barks, “DERE!” when he sees it, mid block between 19th & 20th.

I pull to a stop right out in front of Mission Jewelry & Loan, put on my hazards and park in the bus/taxi lane.

Dave, “You kin pull up ‘n park in dat spot ah few cars up, if ya want. I’ll only be ah minute.”

Drivah, “Uh, that’s ok. It’s quiet out. And I’m a taxi. I’m allowed to be in this lane. I’ll just wait for you here.”

So I can keep an eye on the door.

Yet AGAIN, I am breaking cab school teacher Rose’s Commandment #3: NEVER let them out of the cab without paying first! OR, with an “I’ll be right back!”

Anyway, I window shop as I wait. These pawn shops always have the most off beat music gear hanging in their windows. Old, off brand, quirky stuff you’d never see at Guitar Center. This one has ALL of that AND an usual supply of machetes on display, to boot.

Dave runs inside, as the radio crackles to life.

“417. Over. 417. Where the hell is my passenger?? I’ve been waiting outside of 395 Union for TEN MINUTES!!”

Junior comes back at dispatch, “Hold on, 417. Irene will be right down.”

One minute later…

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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