There’s No Place Like Home

I DO admit, I have been compelled by this vision going back all the way to my early teens. This vision of living a monk’s simple life. I can’t help but admit that I’d be interested in the challenge. Not so much of being homeless, per se. (That would be easy.) But, of confronting society’s REACTION to it, to me, as domestically challenged. The fear, of association. Of perceived insecurity. Of identification with a lower Maslow’s rung. A lack of faith. The only REAL problem would be what to do with my cats. (Anybody?)

And to put it mildly, ma would not be happy.

Oh, I don’t know.

For now, I am budgeting better. And I probably will pick up an extra shift. But, the hill is steep. And so, for the first time, I have listed some music gear for sale on Craigslist. (Anybody looking to by a Marshall JCM 800 2×12 combo amp and a Les Paul? Just $1675! Special for you, my passengers!)

Which brings us now, to the skinny black guy in the running outfit, flagging me up the hill here in front of the bus stop on Union, at Polk…

I pull over. It’s 5:30am, and this’ll be my first ride.

A well spoken Benjamin jumps in back of Citizen’s Cab 1015, with, “Thank you for stopping, driver. I need to get to 7th & Folsom, fast. I’m late for my running group.” Adding, “Driver, I only have ten dollars. Will that be enough?”

Hmm. This is a pretty well-off part of town, full of young and educated professionals. And Benjamin comes across as if he is par for this setting. Well, except for all of these young, educated professionals work out in the Soul Cycles and Crunch Gyms so ubiquitous to Polk Gulch and Cow Hollow here. It’s not really the “let’s go running down in industrial SOMA” crew.

Driver, “Ten bucks? Uh, sure. I’ll just turn off the meter. No problem.” Adding, “You want me to drop you off down the block from your running group? I wouldn’t imagine it looks good, you taking a cab to go exercise! Ha!”

Benjamin, “Oh! No, driver! Actually, bring me right up to the group. They should still be stretching when we get there. I want them to see I paid for a taxi to make it on time. You see, I’m homeless. And the leader of the group gave me some money last night. And I want to show him it’s going to good use.”

Driver, “Wow. You’re homeless? In Polk Gulch? If you don’t mind I ask, how did you come to be homeless?”

Benjamin, “Oh! I don’t mind at all! This running group is really a homeless support group called ‘Back On My Feet.’ It’s wonderful! You see, I moved to San Francisco six months ago and I didn’t plan very well for the housing situation. I had no idea it was so bad! I came for a job. But it wasn’t enough to get a lace. My boss knows I’m homeless, but he’s cool. And work is great! They have showers there, and lockers. It makes it easy to go from my running group straight to work.

Last night, I spent the night in Fort Mason, at the hostel. It’s only $43 a night. I rarely have to spend the night on the street. I usually stay at bars until they close, and have one night stands for a place to sleep. But when I DO sleep on the street, I have a place, a nook next to the stairs of someone’s apartment down on Lafayette alley, in SOMA. It’s out of the way, and not far from work. No one has ever messed with me there. But I do sleep with a cover over me, when I have to do that.”

Driver, “Oh! The hostel at Fort Mason! THAT’s why you’re over this way. Well, you’re lucky no one messes with you. Or steals your stuff! I have an old homeless musician friend, born and raised in the city, who sleeps over sometimes. He’s always getting his keyboard stolen. And even his shoes!

Anyway, $43 a night? Isn’t that expensive, uh… for you?”

Benjamin, slightly taken aback, “No! $43 is CHEAP! You just have to do some chores in the morning, in addition to the fee. I’ll tell you, driver. You do NOT want to be homeless! It’s no fun. But, ‘Back On My Feet’ is a WONDERFUL program! It REALLY helps.”

I can’t help but think to myself what Benjamin’s end game would be here. I mean, the Bay Area is SO insane, six figure techies are living out of box trucks in the Google parking lot. And many are moving up to Portland, and down to L.A. NO ONE on an everyman’s wage could even remotely hope to live within an hour of San Francisco today. (Ghost Ship fire, anyone? Or, how about the $500/month dirt crawl space for rent on Craigslist? Anyone??)

Driver, “If you don’t mind I ask, how many times have you had to sleep on the street? You said you landed in S.F. six months ago? Ten times? A hundred?”

Benjamin, “Yeah, six months. Well, more than ten. But, WAY less than a hundred. I really avoid it as much as I can. Like I said, the bars help.”

And with this, we roll up in the dark on a group decked out in running attire, stretching adjacent a small park near 7th & Folsom, in industrial SOMA. Benjamin gushes, all excited to see his compatriots, and excited to have them see him rolling up in a cab, as he throws me up two crisp fives, all proud.

I thank Benjamin, assuring him that he has done his part keeping one cabbie off the streets, for now, as he exits my taxi, all sprightly, running for support, and wishing me a good day.

On Good Friday.

And I ponder some more, it’s kind of fitting my first ride today should be a homeless dude on the mend, with what all has been foremost in my own mind this past week. Maybe THIS is a sign.

Maybe this Easter will see ME rise, as well…



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Photo by Alex SacK

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...

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