A Driver’s Worst Nightmare

10:30am:
The rush hour is over. I’ve done pretty well. And I have long decided to just go with the brakes grinding during this shift. I’ll just end my shift a little early for the mechanics to work it out for the night driver. Anyway, while it’s made me a little nervous, none of my passengers have said anything about it.

Junior is a dispatch, and suddenly comes crackling over the radio with some bad news.

Junior, “Be advised, drivers. Cabulous is down. Cabulous is down. They’re working on getting it back up. I’ll let you know when I hear something. I repeat, Cabulous is down. I’ll let you know.”

Damn.

Well, at least I made it through the morning rush hour. Even scored an airport. Honestly, I couldn’t even tell. Cabulous app hails seem to commonly slow down around now, anyway. Still. I better adapt, and play downtown a bit more today, until it’s back up…

My iPhone rings, “Bada-Ding-Ding-Boop-Ding-Ding! Bada-Ding-Ding-Boop-Ding-Ding!

Hey! It’s best friend, band mate and night driver, Christian!

I answer, to an emphatic Christian, “Dude! Cabulous is down!”

I guess Christian is out driving now. He left Citizen’s Cab some months ago for DeSoto. And though he’s traditionally a night driver, DeSoto lets him work long, odd shifts whenever he wants. But, wait! Some months ago, they ditched the old school taxi meters for the new smartphone “soft meters.” They are ONLY working on Cabulous phones now!! Damn, that sucks!

Alex, “Dude! Are you screwed? Is your meter working??”

Christian, “I was screwed! But, I turned on the wireless hotspot on my personal phone. And then, I went into the Cabulous phone and turned on ‘connect to local wi-fi.’ And now I’m one of THREE drivers in the WHOLE CITY running CABULOUS! Dude! I’m CLEANING UP!!”

Suddenly, I hear in the background of our call, “Cha-Ching! Cha-Ching! Cha-Ching!”

Christian, “Dude! I gotta go!! I’m getting hailed, AGAIN!!”

Well.

After hanging up, I go into my personal Cabulous app (which the kids and I use to go to the movies, etc. on my days off) and sure enough, there are only THREE CABS lit up on the app’s real time map. Three cabs… in ALL OF SAN FRANCISCO!

A tech savvy Luddite, I follow Christian’s instructs, which upon completion, is immediately followed by, “Cha-Ching! Cha-Ching! Cha-Ching!”

Hmm. Maybe I better re-think this “taking it in early” for the brakes thing. I mean, there are going to be people around town in need of a ride out there today. No, no, no passengers! You’ve got me ALL wrong! It’s NOT that I’ll be making hand over fist ALL DAY LONG. It’s just, well, it’s just… my social duty.

Anyway, excuse me, folks. I gotta take this.

 

Noon:
Well, I’m headed to 90 Heather right now, on my SIXTH Cabulous order since I last checked in with you! SIXTH!!

I pull up to a short Asian American woman, maybe in her 20’s, dressed for the Financial. She’s standing in front of her apartment building at 90 Heather here behind Laurel Village, and waving her phone at me. “Jen?” I offer, to my passenger’s confirming nod.

Doh! I gotta stop offering the name first! You’re supposed to query your potential ride’s name, to see if they get it right. While this is my sixth Cabulous app-hail since it’s been “down,” it’s actually only my FIFTH Cabulous RIDE since. I accidentally picked up two Asian American suits down in the Financial who were standing in front of the First Republic Bank, at Front & Market. You see, my Cabulous hail, Dan, called me through the app and arranged to me in front of the bank there. So, when these two suits were waving at me, and no one else was, well… you get the picture.

Seriously, though. If I ask if your name is “Dan” why the hell are you going to just smile and nod affirmatively when asked, if you didn’t understand the question. Needless to say, my heart sank when the ride was ‘Cancelled’ mid-way en route to my suits’ Vietnamese lunch spot.

Driver, “You said your name was Dan!”

Not-Dan, “Oh, sorry. I didn’t understand what you were asking.”

Jeez. While I’m making bank today with this “Cabulous down” stuff, us taxi drivers REALLY do NOT need people losing faith in the only legitimate cab hailing-app serving San Francisco!

But, I digress.

90 Heather, and “Jen” gets in back.

Jen, sniffling, “(Sniff.) 1st & Market, please. Oh, and by chance, do you have a tissue? (Sniff.)”

Driver, scribing on his waybill and repeating back, “1st & Market.” Adding, “Why, yes. Yes, I do! Actually though, it’s a Starbucks napkin. But, don’t worry. It’s clean. I steal a wad of them first thing in the morning, every shift. God bless Starbucks!”

Jen cracks a smile, sniffles, takes the napkin and blows.

Driver, continuing, as craning for eye contact in the rear view, “You got allergies? I hear it’s a bad time for them.”

Jen, “No. Well, yes. But, that’s not it. I’m crying.”

(Crickets.)

Driver, treading lightly, “Uh, should I be asking? I AM a cab driver. Is it something in your personal life? Or at work?”Adding, “It’s okay if you don’t want to talk about it.”

Jen, sniffling more, “(Sniff.) It’s not work. (Sniff.) Um, do you have another napkin? (Sniff.)”

Driver, “Uh, sure. Here! Have two!”

Jen, “(Sniff.) Thanks. (Sniff.)”

(Crickets.)

We ride down Bush, rocking the lights in silence, but for the occasional sniffle, blow, and burst of tears. Oh! And KDFC Classical – 90.3 FM wafting Chopin’s Prelude in G flat major, Op. 51 over the radio. (I haven’t much had the nerve for NPR today.)

Suddenly, I sense something, in the air. A want. A need. I check the rear view…

Driver, “Do you need another napkin?”

Jen, chuckling nervously, “(Sniff.) Yes, please.”

Driver, handing back two more, “Here you go. I have plenty. Don’t be afraid to ask!”

Jen, “Thanks. (Sniff.)”

A couple minutes later…

Suddenly, I feel some kind of tension in the air. Some kind of want. A need. I check the rear view…

Driver, “One more?”

Jen, with another nervous chuckle, “(Heh, heh.) Yes, please. (Sniff.) Thanks.”

And I hand back three more Starbucks napkins.

Soon enough, we arrive at Jen’s drop on 1st, past Market. Salesforce, the back side of 50 Fremont, actually. As I punch the $13.40 fare into the Cabulous smartphone, Jen opens her door. But, she hesitates to exit the taxi. She stops to offer a last thanks, for my understanding. And then, Jen stays paused…

Driver, “Would you like another napkin?”

Jen, with a nervous chuckle, “(Sniff.) Yes, please.”

 

1:45pm:
I’m rolling west up Market, away from yet ANOTHER Cabulous scored ride to the Financial. It’s been good day. No complaints, but this time, I’ve actually made it four whole blocks without a “Cha-ching!”

At Third & Market, what’s this? A guy, a carrot top in gym shorts and a baseball cap, actually FLAGGING me! I almost forgot what that was like!

Suddenly, “Cha-ching!”

Eh, I ‘Decline’ the Cabulous app hail, go red, a.k.a. ‘Occupied’ on the phone, and I pull over for dude, who… hey! He’s got a cat carrier! And complete with a cat inside! Well, sure. I like cats. Actually, as a cab driver of seven years now, I have become very much acquainted with the various veterinarian offices around town.

Mickey opens the back door, and very carefully slides his cat carrier across the back seat, and attempts to soothe his skittishly meowing kitty.

Mickey, “There, there, Rocky. We’re just going for a little ride. It’ll be alright. I’m here, Rocky. Daddy’s here.” Now turning to Driver, “Thanks for stopping. I actually need to go to the Chevron at 6th & Harrison. I’m supposed to meet someone there who has my wallet. Then, I need to come back here to the Powell BART Station. Do you mind waiting for a minute at the Chevron? I’ll make it worth your while.”

Driver, “Oh! No problem! Glad to help.” With a scribble, scribble on the waybill, and repeating back, “6th & Harrison. Wait. Then, back here to Powell BART.”

Hmm. I wonder of dude has any money, outside of expecting his wallet. Eh, I don’t get a bad vibe from Mickey. Whatever.

En route to the Chevron, Mickey gets talkative, coming out of the blue with regards to Rocky’s origins.

Mickey, “I didn’t used to like cats. But I rescued Rocky here, along with the rest of the litter he was in, from my landlord.”

O-kaaayy. Do tell…

Mickey, “His eighteen-year-old son was torturing them.”

This gets my attention in the rear view, where I witness and angry scowl coming over Mickey’s face.

Mickey, continuing, “I caught him one day breaking their tails, and breaking their paws. And he was punching them in the face until their eyes got all swollen. A few of them DIED, too! A total fucking sociopath, future serial killer. Yeah, I never used to like cats. But when I saw that, I don’t know, I think it brought up something from my childhood. I don’t usually fight. But, I just lost it.

I got in his face, and waited for him to take the first punch. I was totally goading him. I know California law. We’re a ‘stand your ground’ state. After he punched me first, I could’ve fucking shot him and got away with it. He’s lucky I didn’t have a gun, too. When I was growing up, my dad taught me to do whatever I have to do in a fight, and worry about the consequences later. So, I didn’t fight fair.”

Driver, “Wow! What a psycho! You’re right, too! People who torture animals are usually just practicing for eventually graduating to humans. Maybe you taught him a lesson? Do you think? Though, I guess not. He’ll probably just be more careful next time to not get caught. Anyway, what do you mean that you didn’t fight fair?”

Mickey, “Nah. I researched it online. That guy is gonna be a psycho his whole life He will DEFINITELY do it again. And just be more careful to not get caught.

Anyway, I kicked him in the balls, like FIVE times! And then, when he was down, I stomped on his chest. Broke two of his ribs. The landlord tried to evict me for it, after. But I told him I’d go to the press with it and that he better think first about seeing his name in the media for his kid torturing and killing kittens. Then, the landlord tried to pay me $30,000 to leave! But, I’m not goin’ nowhere! Funny thing is, they live in the building with me. I see his son all the time. He’s scared as shit of me now, and shies away when I’m near. And now, when I walk by him, I stop and taunt him with shit like, ‘Kitten killer!’ and ‘How do you like it?? YOU’RE the kitten NOW!’ Fucker. Torturing kittens. I do NOT go for THAT shit!”

Driver, “Wow! Well, good for you! I have cats. That’s some crazy shit. You did the right thing. Man, you’re the Patron Saint of Kittens, if you ask me!”

Mickey, as we pull into his Chevron, playing humble, “Well, I don’t know about all that. Hey, thanks for waiting. Here’s a fifty as collateral, until I get back. I’m gonna take Rocky with me, though. He needs my company.”

Mickey gets out and crosses the lot.  hang tight in the cab, and meditate. It’s a beautiful day. And within a few minutes, a guy pulls up in a blue Camaro and hands Mickey what looks like his wallet. (Sorry, don’t really know the story on that, passengers.)

And Mickey returns with Rocky, picking up where he left off,

“Yeah, so I put Rocky’s brothers and sisters up to be re-homed on Craigslist. The ones that lived, anyway. I asked for money in the ad, to make sure they could take care of the kitten. But when I liked someone enough to give one , I wouldn’t take any money for the shots or vet visits I already did. I would just follow them to Petco and make them spend the money they brought on supplies, to make sure that the kittens were covered.

If you give away a cat for free, you never know who is gonna show up. It might be some fucker like my landlord’s son, who’s just looking to torture an animal. If they gotta pay for it, you know they’re not gonna end up being some kind of fucking sociopath.”

Driver interjecting, “Dude! I can NOT believe you never liked cats before. You really ARE the Patron Saint of Cats!”

However, Mickey again deflects from the praise and digresses to glow about Rocky,

“Well, Rocky’s really a dog in a cat’s body.” Mickey glows, visibly, “He even barks at me when he wants to go over to Golden Gate Park for a walk. And if we run into a dog there, he chases THEM and barks! And even gets up on his hind legs to attack them,” Mickey chuckles, and continues, “He mimics bird sounds, too. Crazy cat. There was once a bird ten feet outside of our window on a wire. We live on the third floor. And Rocky JUMPED out after the bird! He had NO chance of catching the bird, either. Instead, he just fell and landed on the roof of a parked car. Poor Rocky. He broke his foot. Had to take him to the vet for that one, too.”

And with this, we pull up on Mickey and Rocky’s drop adjacent Westfield Mall; the Powell Street BART Station.

The meter reads only $11.20, as the time sitting idle at the Chevron ticks the meter up at a lower rate than actually driving, 55 cents a minute versus 55 cents a fifth of a mile. And as promised, Mickey looks out for me, indeed.

Mickey, “Just give me back ten on that fifty. I appreciate you waiting.”

Hell, yeah!

Driver, “Wow! Thanks, man! And God bless you, and all that you do for the cats. You really ARE the Patron Saint of Cats!”

And Mickey, I’ll hear no talk of it, otherwise.

_____

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Photo by Christian Lewis

www.AlexSacK.com

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 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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