Thai Leather

Rolling the empty pre-dawn streets in ‘ol Citizen’s Cab 1015, it’s like old times. Karl’s back. (Karl the Fog, for those not following him on Twitter.)

While San Francisco is known for its iconic fog, I often joke with tourists that we are “one of the winners of global warming,” with relentless, perfect, beautiful sunny days throughout the year. This, where like clockwork, it used to be fog in the morning that would burn off around 10am, and then roll back in from the ocean around 4pm. Rinse and repeat. (Oh, and with rainy, overcast Seattle-like winters.) With the years long drought, though, no such deal. But, I guess you may have heard that California’s drought ended with the deluge that we’d scored in previous months. And now, Karl seems to feel it’s safe for his return, too.

Aside: Okay. Our ride has officially started now, with this discussion of the weather. It’s either: “How are you doing today, driver?” “What’s the weather looking like?” Or, “Um, I was wondering. Has Uber affected your business any?” at the beginning of a taxi ride. (To secure a comfort zone for strangers who’ve suddenly found themselves confined together in a speeding, two-ton metal box.)

And, of course, KDFC – Classical 90.3FM sets the mood for Karl, perfectly. With The Choir of New College, Oxford performing ‘Agnus Dei’, after Hoyt Smith gives his thoughts on the news of the day, that of a bread factory which has recently burned down in India.

“Hmm. I wonder if the fire smelled like toast…”


I’m cruising the Castro for flags. The part of San Francisco which my son, in younger years, used to refer to as “Gay Town.”

While waiting at a red at Market and Castro, I’m taken in by the dinging bell of an historic 50’s F-line street car, departing from the beginning of his route in front of Orphan Andy’s – the 24 hour gay diner which I’d waited tables at once upon a time. (As a token straight waiter.) Good times.

I am suddenly awaken from my state of wonder, when a tall leather fag with a long white beard and glasses comes running over to me with a pair of lace up, knee high, black leather boots in his hands, screaming, “TAXI! TAXI!! TAXI!!!”

For God’s sake, man. I hear you!

The light turns green. And I nervously throw on my flashers, pissing off the line of cars behind me, praying that Woody jumps in back quickly.

And Woody does.

“Tanks fer waitin’, drivah. How ya doin’ today?”


Driver, “Great! Are we going straight!? Or right!?”

Woody, “Oh! Um… goh straight ‘head dere,”

I forgo the clipboard/waybill shtick, for now, and we ROLL!!

Woody, continuing, “I’s goin’ ta ah cobbler up en Russian Hill, ahn Hyde. Some little place, aht Washingst’n, I tink. Goin’ ta get my boots resoled. Jahn Fahng Custum Leatha. Ya kno da place, drivah?”

Driver, “Uh, no. But, I know Washington and Hyde We’ll find it.”

Woody, “Good. Iss a little hole en tha wall, been tolt. He’s ‘specting me. Iss not easee ta fin’ good leatha guys dese days. ‘N dese boots been wit me ah loooong time.”


Woody, expounding, “I’s jus’ goin’ ta drop ahf da boots, den I’s headed back herah ta da Castro, if yous kin wait.”

Driver, “Sure. I can wait.”


This is now looking to be twenty-five dollar ride! And baby needs a new pair of shoes. (Er, so to speak.)

Woody gets chatty, “I’s sixtee-eight ye-ahs olt, drivah. ‘N I seen ah lot. Used ta be ah nurse, too. ‘N ah boxah. Buht now, I gaht medical prahblems, wit my spine. Nevah broke my nose, doe. ‘N I don’ gaht no cauliflower ea-ahs! DID break anotha guy’s nose once, doe. Cause I’s big, he kept pushin’ me ta spar. ‘N I’s dint wanna, cause he was small. Buht he kept pushin’ me, ‘n pushin’. ‘N I warnt ’em. Den we spar. ‘N I pounded ’em sometin’ good. Broke iss nose. Even wit ’em wearin’ head ge-ah!”

Driver, interjecting, “Wait. What is cauliflower ears?”

Woody, “Ah, iss somethin’ boxahs git. Aftah gettin’ punch’d too manee times en tha head. Ya ea-ahs git sep’rated frum ya head, ‘n dey die. Buht dey stay ahn. I don’ gaht dat.”


Woody digresses, “Ye-ah, I’s sixtee-eight. Movt ta Frisco back en ’78, frum New Yoahk. Dad wuz ah Bapt’st. Dat son uh ah bitch. Ah reeeel prick!

Wunce, my brotha gaht caught en bed wit anotha man, by ‘is wife. ‘N she outed him ta dad. ‘N dad nevah spoke ta my brotha ahgin. Tha prick. So, I nevah tolt ’em I wuz gay, too. Why tell da son uh ah bitch? I jus’ movt owt he-yah ta be part uh da scene. Wuz en da riots, too!”

Driver, “Wow! You were in the White Night Riots? What was that? ’79??”

Woody, “Ye-ah. ’79. Dat wuz crazzee times den. Jonztown, Harvey gittin’ shat. ‘N dat Dan White gettin’ ahf wit dat lite sent’nce. ‘N den da police raidin’ da Castro barz. Crazzee times.”

We pull up on a little wood door, inconspicuously concealed next to a garage door on the ground floor of an apartment building, with a small sign reading ‘John Fong Custom Footwear and Leather Co.’ Woody lights up, and clutches his tall leather boots. The meter is currently at $12.30 and Woody inexplicably throws me up a twenty and a five, with, “Tanks fer waitin’. I’s bee rite bahck!”

Then, Woody jumps anxiously out of the taxi, and disappears into the little shop.

Five minutes later…

Woody pops out, and gets back in my cab, all giddy, with, “Dey sed dey bee dune by fo-ah, ta-day!” Adding, “Oh-kay, now bahck ta dah Castro!”

En route, Woody gets in to talking about a past lover, because… well, why not?

Woody, “I’s wunce livt wit ah guy, dis little short, faht Thai guy. He’d get liposuct’n ah lot, ’cause he dint wanna work owt. He liket me ’cause I’s big, ‘n tall, ‘n hansome, ‘n white. ‘N musculah frum all dat workin’ owt boxin’.

Wee had ah fallin’ owt, doe. My Thai lovah wood git monee frum iss rich parents bahck en D.C. Two towsnd dahllahs ah mont. He triet ta lahck me owt ah da appahrtmnt when we broke uhp, doe. Buht I’s had my receets ‘n went ta da Ten’nts Union. ‘N I gaht some monee frum dat. Two towsnd dahllahs.”

Suddenly, Woody gets all contemplative looking. And then, “Hey, drivah. I tink I wanna change my min’ ’bout goin’ bahck ta da Castro now. Yous kno anee Muay Thai boxin’ places opin now? I’s wanna buy sume ge-ah. Tink deres wun owt ne-ah da V.A., we-ah I’s use’d ta werk.”

Uh, I’ve never even HEARD of Muy Thai boxing. But, I check my iPhone. And sure enough, there’s one out in the deep Richmond, not far from the V.A., and the beach.

Looks like your driver won’t be eating dog food for dinner again tonight!

We ride… with Woody rambling on and reiterating about how he never had a broken nose, or cauliflower ears. And how, now that he’s done with a heretofore undisclosed cataract surgery, his spine is his only real problem.

Woody, “Buht tha doctahs aht Genr’l tink I’s jus’ drug shappin! I tells ya! I’s like ta KILL ALL dem doctahs! Buht dass wun ting, I ain’t nevah bin ta jail! ‘N I aint gonna kill dem doctahs ‘n go ta jail NOW!”

We eventually roll up on the Bushido Fitness Center, out on Balboa. The meter’s at $28.80. Woody throws me up another five, adding to the twenty and the five he put up back at the cobbler’s. And Woody says for me to keep the change. Cheapo. (Still, it’s a good fare.)

But as Woody begins to exit Citizen’s Cab 1015, he stops with the door open, and one foot on the ground. And he turns back towards his driver with the most serious, intense look.

Woody, “Lemme tells you DIS, drivah! Dis is my FREE advice ta yous. Da WUN ting I nevah had, was ah HERN-YAH! ‘N you DON’ wan NO hern-yah! TRUSS me!

‘N ya know WHYs I nevah had NO hern-yah???



Alwayz, ALWAYZ, we-yah ya JAHCK-STRAHP!!”

And THIS, my passengers, is one of the MANY lessons that a taxi man learns amidst his travels, out on THESE city streets. And NOW, it is a cabbie wisdom that I freely impart to YOU! One word.




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Photo by Alex SacK

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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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