A now lighter Dave pops out of Mission Jewelry & Loan, with a folded up pink pawn ticket, some cash in hand, and a spring in his step. He jumps back in the cab, renewed.
Dave, “Here. Here’s ah twinty. Kin we run by 9th ‘n Mission, ‘fore headin’ back ta tha Travelodge? I gotta see ah friend over dere. He’s always out on tha corner. Dis twinty should do it, yeah?”
Well. The meter currently reads $10.10. And I kind like Dave. Eh, sure. Why not?
I turn off the meter, and we ease into our trek, with Dave bringing up the state of the cab industry and showing a decent knowledge of the evolution of taxi medallions in the city; going from a cabbie’s retirement, to selling for ~$200K, to becoming worthless in the age of unregulated numbers of artificially cheap “rideshares.”
Once rolling up 9th, not terribly far from Dave’s pawn shop and pretty close to the Travelodge, he drops the shop talk, and again perks up in his seat to scan the streets. Dave tells me to slow down after Howard, as he scours the sidewalk…
Then, Dave barks, “Dat’s him! Dat’s my friend! Go ’round tha block, dough. Would ya? Dis is ah bad place ta stop.”
We circle the block, working the one-way streets here by navigating down Washburn and Dore alleys, until we are again rolling slowly up 9th. And again, Dave perks up in his seat.
Dave, flustered and agitated, “Where could he ah gone? Where tha hell did he go?? He was JUS’ here!” Adding, “Kin we circle again, drivah? Here. Here’s anotha couple bucks fer yer trouble. I do ‘ppreciate it.”
Dave throws me up two more dollars, as he anxiously cranes around talking to himself, lamenting about how he’s lost sight of his man.
On the third circle, Dave straightens up, and again barks, “DERE! DERE he is! Pull ovah here, drivah!”
Drivah pulls over at 9th & Howard, as Dave rolls down his window and starts yelling, “Pedro! Pedro!! OVER HERE! PEDRO!!”
But, Pedro does not hear. So driver taps his horn. HONK! Pedro now turns to investigate. Then, Pedro walks back towards us and over to Dave’s window, who is now half leaning out of his window and all excited to see his friend.
Dave, “Give me tree. Here.”
I watch in the side view, as Dave hands Pedro some bills and Pedro takes something out of his mouth and places it in Dave’s outstretched palm. And without another word, their business is complete.
Dave, a mix now of relieved and anxious, “Okay, drivah. Tanks. Back ta tha Travelodge now.”
Curious, Driver perks up and peeks in the rear view. He breaks the now uncomfortable silence, and cabbie etiquette, with a verboten query.
Driver, “Uh, I’m kind of curious. Do you mind if I ask? Is that heroin?”
Dave, leery of the question, “Uh, naw. I don’ do heroin no more.”
Then, Dave expounds, “Heroin screwt me up good. It kilt my kidneys. I got dialysis fer tha resta my life now. I was shootin it up, ‘n it got ta tha point where I was muslin’ it. I got all sortsa infections from dat. Dey actually tink it was tha anti-botics, dough, fer tha abscesses, dat’s what kilt my kidneys. I start’d pissin’ clear. ‘N tha doc says dat ain’t ah good ting.”
Driver, lost, “Wait. What’s ‘muscling’?”
Dave, “Dats when yer veins are shot, so ya start shootin’ tha dope right in yer muscles. Ting is, yer liver can’ process it dat way, ‘n it screws up yer kidneys. Wish I’d bin smartah in dose days. Gotta deal wit dis fer tha resta my life now.”
And with this, we pull into the parking lot of the Travelodge. And Dave thanks me, as he rushes out of my taxi and off into his motel room on the ground floor, with its shades drawn, out of what has become a quite sunny and beautiful California day.
I’m doing the rounds, and am just about to breach the upper Haight. At the four-way stop at Haight & Central, I just start to go ahead of a UPS truck to my left, when some middle aged guy who’s just crossed through the crosswalk suddenly turns around and flags me, and immediately goes for the back door of my cab.
I grab my clipboard/waybill. But, before I can ask “Where to?” Bob has already directed, confidently, with one word, “Airport.”
I surmise my potential bounty. Hmm. No luggage. Short cropped grey hair. And Bob’s wearing a faded green sweat shirt and blue jeans. He doesn’t look homeless or anything. But he doesn’t look like he’s been planning to travel, either. He seems kind of otherworldly, somehow. And his jumping into my taxi, well, it seemed like kind of an afterthought.
SOMETHING is not right.
Bob calmly, quietly looks out of his window, as Driver with the clipboard presses further, “And what airline will you be flying?”
Bob turns to look up at me, pauses briefly, and then responds simply, again with one word, “United.” Then, he again turns to look out of his window.
That kind of felt like he just blurted out the first airline that came to mind. And so, I mark my waybill. And I drive.
Flying down Oak towards the highway, I check the rear view now and then, careful to not make eye contact, but also trying to figure out if Bob is for real, or not. The cab remains silent. Damn, Alex. Are you about to take this guy all the way to the airport just to have him run on you? And then ride back empty. Shit! What have I gotten myself into?
In my peripheral, I catch Bob handling something in his lap. A cell phone? Maybe he’s checking in with his flight! But still, no luggage??
As we approach the Octavia on-ramp to 101, traffic gets heavy over the last blocks before the highway. Suddenly, while stopped in traffic, adjacent a row of Victorians, and newer housing with retail on the ground levels, out of nowhere Bob throws open his door and brusquely exits the cab with only a matter of fact, “Excuse me.”
And I watch, stuck in traffic, as Bob walks off down the block and ducks into a cafe’ without ever having looked back, or even having seemed to wonder if he was being chased. Odd.
I clear the meter of the $8.45 fare. And once traffic lets up, I head back up towards the Haight.
I just got a call from my best friend, band mate, and night driver Christian. He wants a ride down to 850 Bryant, the courthouse. He says he was asked to testify regarding some footage of a robbery that was caught on his taxi cam while cruising through the Loin on a night shift some weeks ago.
Christian says he’s at 5th & Mission. And he asked where I am. Well, 5th & Market! Westfield Mall, empty and headed east looking for flags. Eh, why not pick him up? He says he’ll throw me five bucks. This’ll take me away from Market Street, a potentially lucrative area. But, “a bird in the hand,” I guess.
I take the right down 5th, and swerve around some chicks who have just exited their Uber – on the wrong side of the street from the mall, of course, and who thought waving their iPhones at me while they jaywalk across oncoming traffic was how this all works.
No, ladies. THAT’s how this works!
And I immediately come to a stop, for Christian. He jumps in back.
Christian, “Were those chicks trying to flag you?”
Me, “No. They just got out of an Uber and got dropped on the wrong side of the street, as usual. They thought that because they were showing me their iPhones and just got out of an Uber, it gave them permission to walk into traffic.”
I go on to tell Christian about my runner, and how odd the whole thing was, and how I couldn’t really decide how to handle it. And how glad I was that he ditched before I got on the highway south. Even closed the door, bless him.
And Christian relays his own story:
“That happened to me, once. I didn’t know what to do, either. Some drunk black dude at a MUNI bus island jumped in my cab without luggage. it seemed like an afterthought, too. Said “airport.” And I drove him! I was being rude to him the whole time, though. Dude was drunk and I was SURE I wasn’t getting paid.
But when we got to SFO, Delta, the guy pulls out a wad of bills and a bunch of hundreds fall ALL OVER his LAP! The guy must have had thousands of dollars! I felt really bad for being rude to him the whole ride. At the airport, he looked at me with a look of “So you thought I was gonna run on you, huh?” And dude gave me a twenty dollar tip!
I should have apologized to the guy. It was weird, though. Totally drunk and no luggage. And you could tell he wasn’t planning on taking a cab. You just never know.”
I drop Christian amidst a gaggle of police hanging outside of 850 Bryant. And I zoom back to Market, to score a fat pig.
Three minutes later…
I’ve just passed Westfield Mall, when a hand rises from the curb. It’s some older looking dark-haired, possibly Middle Eastern woman, with serious prescription glasses, flagging me.
I zoom to the curb, and Zelda settles quietly in back, with “Tiburon Boulevard.”
With clipboard/waybill at the ready, a confused driver comes back, “Tiburon Boulevard? Is that in San Francisco? Sorry, I don’t know it.”
Zelda, “It’s in Tiburon. Over the Golden Gate bridge. Past Sausalito.”
Driver, “Oh! THAT Tiburon. ROBIN WILLIAMS Tiburon! Ok, no problem!”
I put down my clipboard, plug Zelda’s address into my iPhone’s GPS, and head off towards the Golden Gate.
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Photo by Alex SacK