A Driver’s Worst Nightmare

A Driver's Worst Nightmare

It’s 4:10 in the A.M., and I’m rolling the Gough gauntlet in my van towards the Citizen’s Cab lot. But this three lane thoroughfare all downhill to the highway, with its timed lights, is proving no gauntlet on this early Monday morning. It seems that no players have shown up for the match today, but me. And just as well. At present, I’m not really in the mood to be competing with some Audi (sporting ski racks) who is just SCRATCHING to pass on my left and cut me off on a just turned green, in some petty bid to secure pole position for 101. I’d rather watch my breath, set a positive tone for the day’s taxi shift, and heed what the iridescent signs embedded in these San Francisco streets beckon me to: KEEP CLEAR.

OOOooOooOoOMMmmmmMMM…

Success! I’m at the last light to the Octavia on-ramp, at Market. And have arrived sans drama.

Shit.

There’s police activity, road flares melting red, and glowing and bubble gum lights. The on-ramp is sealed off, and I’m going to have to navigate a workaround to the highway. Thing is, it’s right turn-only onto Market from here. And there are cars coming off the highway heading straight onto Octavia, albeit slowly. Probably no advised to force an illegal left and jump over to the South Van Ness entrance to 101… like that white Beemer SUV just did! Sweet!! God bless him.

ZOOM!

And, freedom!

4:20am:
I’m pulling up the alley adjacent the Citizen’s Cab lot’s triple tiered barbed wire fence, and looking for parking.

Hey. There’s Tony. Outside of the office, and away from dispatch. Odd. He’s out here in the alley smoking a cigarette and hanging with Bill, Machu Picchu and Ahmet.

Bill: Proud homeless driver who lives out in the alley in his truck. He’s mellow and likes to project wisdom and intelligence. This is offset, however, by the fact that he’s always looking pretty slack in his old baseball cap and faded sweatpants, as well as the fact that he either shuns his dentures, or just doesn’t care to fill in the gap left by his front four missing teeth. I like Bill. And he likes me. There is a mutual respect. But, let’s just leave it at; Bill has long since given up any pretense of looking for woman.

Machu Picchu: Some Peruvian driver, not homeless, I don’t think? But, he seems to always be around the lot, hanging out and socializing. I find Machu kind of cute, in his signature colorfully knitted Peruvian hat, with the ear flaps. And he’s real good-natured.

Ahmet: Well, what to say about Ahmet? I don’t really know him. He’s a short, pudgy Turkish driver with large bags under his eyes. Ahmet seems really sweet, also good-natured. But he’s always pretty quiet. More in a humble kind of way, though.

Though, what’s going on with this scene? Ahmet, upon closer inspection, is crying. I park next to his personal car – a faded red, beat up old Ford Focus, around which the group is gathered. And I exit my van to say hi, and see what’s up.

Sack, “Hey guys, how’s -”

HOLY SHIT!!!

Ahmet’s car is SIGNIFICANTLY more “beat up” than usual! It’s got dents ALL OVER the hood… and a massive HUMAN SIZED HOLE in the WINDSHIELD, with the Dupont glass all SHATTERED and SAGGING two feet INSIDE the driver’s area, with the bits around the HUMAN SIZED HOLE all stuck together.

JEEZ! This does NOT look good!!

Bill gets off a phone call, and hands the cell to Ahmet.

Bill, “Okay. The police are on their way. You know, there is a homeless encampment right there at the on-ramp. The guy probably jumped in front of you to commit suicide.”

Ahmet, eyes more swollen than usual, teary, “I did not see anything. I did not see. There was nothing. I did not see ANYTHING. There was nothing there.”

He just keeps repeating that, stunned, a deer in headlights… er, so to speak. Poor Ahmet is in shock.

Well, thank GOD it was Ahmet’s personal car, and NOT a Citizen’s Cab. This way, the headlines at least will NOT read: Taxi Slaughters Pedestrian. Hit and Run.

Still, I don’t understand why Bill seems so sure it was suicide. Hmm. He might just be projecting.

Hearing that the cops are on their way, and seeing me ready for work, Tony wishes Ahmet “Good luck” as he snuffs out his cigarette, and then walks with me back into the office.

Tony, “Sack. I gaht bad nuws fer ya. 1015’s shahpped.”

Sack, “Shopped! AGAIN!? This is the FOURTH Monday in a row! What the hell!?”

Tony, “Sorree, Sack. I dunno what tah tell ya. Duh nite drivah sez its dah brakes dis tiiime.”

Sack, “Well, let me take her out again. If it’s not too bad, I’ll just bring her back in at nine, when the mechanics get in.”

Tony, “Okaaay, Sack. If ya waaaant.”

Note: I don’t believe I’ve been mentioning it, but the last three Mondays I came in from my weekend to find a pink shop ticket on the pegboard along with 1015’s key and medallion, each for a “flat tire.” Really, they were just slow leaks on account of a nail. I was able to get away with it until the mechanics got in, when I found myself near the lot.

Okay, okay. There was the ONE Monday, where I had nurse going out to UCSF – Mission Bay, and the front right tire had gotten COMPLETELY flat over the course of our ride. But the dude had ear buds in, blasting techno. I don’t think he could hear the grinding of the rim, and the loud, distinctive sound of flat steel-belted rubber flapping across the asphalt. Dude still tipped me pretty good.

4:35am:
I’m done sanitizing Citizen’s Cab 1015 – my regular Prius, and I’m out on the highway bound for Starbucks, and testing the brakes. Eh, it’s just a light grinding sound coming from the right front, off and on. Really, folks. It’s only off and on.

I’ll just write this off as the pebble in my shoe. I AM, after all, still working with a Jesus complex…

 

Fifteen minutes later…

I’m post-Starbucks, and rolling fareless, south on Mission. I’ve been shaking up my regular groove of late, and have started checking out the 24th & Mission BART station early morning now. There’s lots of competition. But many a fare, as well, coming into San Francisco to work, from the South Bay.

I tune into NPR: “And now, it’s Joe McConnell with traffic. Hey, Joe.”

Joe, “It’s looking like pretty light out there this morning, so far. But, we do have a pedestrian fatality in San Francisco, at the Octavia on-ramp at Market. Be advised to steer clear of that, and plan a workaround for getting onto 101.”

Hmm.

Anyway, as I approach the 24th Street BART, I’ve got the green here on Mission. And, of course, there’s some tall, lanky dude dressed all in black, with a black hoodie, up ahead jaywalking SLOWLY across my path on Mission here. And I am damn SICK of it! What the hell is up with people playing chicken ALL DAY LONG with speeding two-ton vehicles in this town!?

I pretend I don’t see dude, and go to buzz him.

But, huh!? I think dude GENUINELY does NOT see ME!!!

SCCREEEEEECHHH!! GRRRRRRIIINNDDDD!!! HHHHOOOONNNKKK!!!!!

I simultaneously SLAM on my brakes (well, what’s left of them) and SWERVE HARD around dude, as he SUDDENLY comes to, and DIVES for the sidewalk!!!

WHEW!

But, hmm. Maybe I should readjust this tactic going forward. I’ve long been working “the buzz” to make my protest against assholes who casually jaywalk in front of my cab, challenging me with some narcissistic sense of entitlement. I guess I have to acknowledge now that it is a new day in this town. That we have reached a new phase, where there are NO RULES. It’s just every man FOR HIMSELF. It’s just full on now, “I DON’T CARE. FUCK YOU. AND I’M READY TO DIE FOR IT.”

Note to self: You do NOT want to be pulling an Ahmet today!

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...

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