It’s 4:40 in the am, and your driver is leaving the loo at his regular Potrero Hill Starbucks purged, refreshed, caffeinated, stocked with napkins and with the day’s Tweet behind him. (So to speak.)
As headed for the door to an awaiting Citizen’s Cab 1015 outside, a voice rings out across the Starbucks.
“Hey! Are you the cab driver??”
I gulp the coffee still swishing around in my mouth, and turn to witness rushing towards me a skinny, long straighten-haired thirty-something black woman in big furry boots, tight camouflage pants, a furry black vest atop a white wife beater, and all under a leopard print baseball cap reading “Tigress” in rhinestones.
But before I can answer the query, Wanda dips her chin and flashes me a nervous beaming smile, showing off a large gap between her front two teeth, as she blinks her long fake eye lashes and shakes questionably large breasts. (Questionable, on account of her skinny frame.) And Wanda repeats herself, this time a little more subdued, and a lot more sultry.
“Are you the cab driver? (Blink, blink.) (Shake, shake.)”
Cab Driver, “Yeah. (Gulp.) You need a ride?”
Wanda, “Yeah. (Blink, blink.) (Shake, shake.)”
Cab Driver, “Okay. (Sip.)”
We quietly, awkwardly head towards the door together, as I hold it open for the lady and search for something to say, to break the early morning ice.
Cab Driver, “So, where are you headed?”
Wanda, “(Nervous.) Uh… 22nd ‘n Missouri.”
Oh! That’s why all the charm! San Francisco’s oldest projects. The Potrero Hill projects are just a few blocks away. But enough blocks and up a steep enough hill to make them worthy of a cab ride. Not the most violent of The City’s projects, but still a destination one or two cab drivers have likely denied Wanda a ride to in the past.
As we settle in 1015 and start to roll, I find Wanda sweet, and appreciative of the ride. And talkative.
Wanda, “You got ta excuse me. I needed ta git outta tha house. I got some niggers there I pick’d up on Mission… (DOH!)”
Wanda catches herself, and quickly covers her mouth.
White Cab Driver, assuring, “Oh, don’t worry about me. It’s all good. What’s going on at your house? They partying too much?”
Wanda, “Oh, you know how it is. You meet people ‘n bring ’em home. Then, they start takin’ over, disrespectin’ things n’ actin’ like niggers. (DOH!)”
Wanda quickly covers her mouth again.
Cab Driver, relating, “Oh, yeah. I have an old homeless hippie friend, grew up with his aunt who owned a house out in Ocean View. Even when he lived out there, he would still spend most nights sleeping out on the street, or the floor of my kitchen or some other friend’s house.
A real sweet guy. And people often take advantage of that.
Well, his aunt got put up in Laguna Honda when her health went into decline, and he started spending more time at the house, bringing some of the Haight Street Scum Fuck crew back there to hang out. They completely dominated and trashed the place. Not that it was in the greatest shape before.
When his aunt later died, I think he inherited the place. But, The City took it to pay for her Laguna Honda stay. He would have never been able to deal with the logistics of owning a house, anyway. The property taxes and such. Pretty sad. If he could have managed to hold on to and sell it, it would have been some money for him. For the lot, if nothing else.
Anyway, what’s your rent there in the projects? If you don’t mind I ask.”
Wanda, “Oh, only thirty bucks a month.”
Cab Driver, shocked, “Holy crap! Thirty bucks!?”
Wanda, latching on to the aunt thing, “Yeah, I got a sweet old aunt, lost ‘er house, too. Someone give ‘er ah drug cocktail. ‘N it make ‘er snap! She schizophrenic now. But really nice.
She only git angry when she think someone took somethin’ ah hers. But, she sometime start yellin’ at Satan, ‘Git ‘way frum me Satan! Go back ta Hell where ya belong!! Leave me be!!!’
I kin calm ‘er down, though. I put my hand on ‘er shoulder ‘n calm ‘er, offerin’ my help. ‘Auntie, you tell me where he is. ‘N I git rid ah ‘im for you.’ But, she say she kin only hear ’em tauntin’ ‘er. Can’t point out where he is. Still, she smile whin I try. ‘N it help ‘er out.”
And with this, we pull into Wanda’s row of dilapidated single level apartments on this graffiti covered dead end street, boxed in by a wall of rock, a chain link fence, a slew of trash receptacles, and trash.
It would seem that I have, yet again, foregone cab school teacher Rose’s Commandment IV: If a passenger’s drop is in an alley, always BACK into the alley!
And I just now realize, that in the dark and fog of early morning, I’ve been remiss in having not turned on the meter. Whatever. This is not a super lucrative ride, however you slice it. And I like Wanda. I don’t mind giving her a break.
Cab Driver, as starting in to executing a quite inartful ten-point turn, to face the taxi towards a quick exit from Wanda’s street,
“Sorry. It looks like I forgot to turn on the meter. It’s cool, though. Pay whatever you want.”
Wanda, eye lashes all a-blink, “Awww. You sweet.” Adding, “Thank you fer tha ride. It was really nice ta talk to you,” as she hands me up a five.
Cab Driver, “You too, Wanda. And good luck with your niggers!”
(Okay, I didn’t really say that last part:)
Now, how to strategize?
Ah! I should probably roll out of here past SF General. It’s just over the hill. Maybe someone got shot last night, with superficial wound, and needs a ride home from the ER.
Soon enough, I’m over the hill and passing SF General… only to find my hopes a bust. Oh, well. It looks like the usual from here, up 24th Street and into the Mission.
I find the strip of panaderias, encroaching techie coffee joints, and bars all still shuttered at this early hour. And likewise, a bust.
However, once up at 24th & Mission, as I jump a right turn on red, thwarting a Yellow Cab across the light and positioned for his left and the lead on a run up Mission, I am immediately flagged by two dudes at the bus stop.
Sweet! Take THAT, Yellow!
Hmm. It’s a large forty-ish drunk dude in shorts and an SF Giants T-shirt, with a younger Mexican dude in a baseball cap with a bike. And Baseball Cap Bike approaches my open shotgun window, as I preempt.
Driver, “You need me to help put your bike in the back?”
Baseball Cap Bike, “Nah, man. My friend here needs a ride to South City. He don’t have no money. But if his daughter don’t answer the door and pay, my address is 1298 Potrero. You come by tomorrow at noon, and I’ll make it right. My friend here’s real drunk and needs to get home.”
I take a closer look at Gomez, who’s swaying silently behind Baseball Cap Bike. I guess they’re being upfront about this all. I might as well help Gomez out. Per last week’s report, THIS is my call into service of the Lord.
Driver, “Sure. I’ll help out.”
Baseball Cap Bike thanks me profusely and reiterates his address and offer to insure Gomez’ ride. He then begins pouring his friend into the back seat of 1015, adding,
“Gomez, make sure you make it to work on time at the hospital, in the morning! Okay??”
However, Gomez just ignores his friend. And in a display of pride, as sloshing in back, Gomez turns to address Driver,
“Don’ woreee. (Burp!) Dell answurr tha door. You (Burp!) ‘ll get ur monee.” Confidently directing, “Goh dowun Cesar Chavez. Iss 26 Wick (Burp!) low. Sowth Citeeee.”
But I opt for 25th down to the highway, as I plug in Gomez’ address near the airport into my iPhone.
Gomez, “What ‘r you DOIN’? I sed Ce-sar (Burp!) Cha-VEZ!”
Driver, “It’s cool. 25th has fewer lights. Don’t worry. I’ll get you home.”
Gomez, “Ok-kaa. I’ll tell you (Burp!) how ta go. Lemme call my (Burp!) wife. Kin I (Burp!) use yer (Burp!) phone?”
Driver, “Uh, sure. What’s the number? I’ll dial for you.”
Gomez relays his wife’s phone number, I dial, put it on speaker, and hand my phone back to Gomez.
Rrrriiinnnnggg… Rrrriiinnnnggg… Rrrriiinnnnggg…
A sweet, if groggy voice eventually answers, “Hell-o?”
Gomez, “(Burp!) Maria! Honee! Ahn my way (Burp!) hoome. Took ah cahb. Kin you have yer credit (Burp!) cahrd redee?”
And in the voice of an angel, with the patience of a saint, Maria, “Okay… Okay, honey. I’ll have it ready.”
It is clear that Maria has seen this movie many, many times before.
As we veer onto the curvy on-ramp towards 280 south, I dial in some tunes on 103.7FM. And iHeart 80s is playing a very apt selection, The Cars ‘Drive‘.
“Who’s gonna tell you when it’s too late
Who’s gonna tell you things aren’t so great
You can’t go on thinking nothing’s wrong
Who’s gonna drive you home tonight”
I check the rear view, and catch Gomez swaying wildly across the back seat on the curve. Like a classic kid’s punching bag, he falls over, and pops back up with a (Burp!), and then suddenly moans BIG!
Oh, shit! Am I about to have my first puker!?
I mean, over my seven years driving I have several times INHERITED a cab, from a night driver, with the remnants of that very distinct aromatic effervescence! But in my status as a day driver, I have never myself experienced an actual puker!
This is NOT what I signed up for, Lord!
As we straighten out onto the highway, I check the rear view…
I check Steve Jobs’ instruct for our exit off of 280, though we have some time. Serramonte, he says. I know it. That’s the Target I’ve gone to many times with the kids.
Gomez speaks up, as if having read my mind, “(Burp!) Yur gonna take the (Burp!) Hick-ey exit. (Burp!)”
Driver, “My phone says Serramonte.”
Gomez, not to be challenged, “HICK (Burp!) EY!”
Driver, “Okay. You can direct from there? I guess you know where you live.”
We continue on in the dark down 280, as I immerse myself in The Cars. Ah, the 80s. Remember Paulina Porizkova in that video? The supermodel married to the bassist? Man was SHE hot!
Gomez, “WHAT (Burp!) ‘R you DOIN’!? (Burp!) You PASS’D HICK (Burp!) EY!!” Protesting further, “(Burp!) I AIN’T PAYIN’ NO JACK”D UP CAHB FAAARE! (Burp!)”
I look out at the exit we’re passing, Eastmoor Ave. Hmm. I’m pretty sure Hickey is a few exits on, the one after Serramonte. I’m pretty damn sure. But I HAVE been spacing out. And Gomez seems pretty confident.
Driver, “Isn’t Hickey after Serramonte? We just passed Eastmoor. It’s still a few exits, isn’t it??”
Gomez, “NO!! (Burp!) You PASS’D IT! I AIN’T PAYIN’NO JACK’D UHP FAAAARE!”
Driver, “I’m sorry! DON’T worry about the meter! I’ll make it right. Umm. Well, we’ll just get off at the next exit and turn around. The meter was at $25. When we get to Hickey, we’ll just do the math. Sorry!”
I nervously zoom ahead to get off at the Highway 1 exit, and come around to get back onto 280 north, as Gomez is now burping and swaying in back, all angry and grumbling about the meter.
And once back two exits north of our deviation,
Gomez, “WHAAAAT!? GEN (Burp!) EVEA!?!? Where DA HELL you (Burp!) GOIN’!!!”
Driver, “DUDE! We did NOT pass Hickey! You were WRONG! It IS past Serramonte!! You yelled at me and sent me on this HUGE roundabout. And you’re complaining about the meter!
Man! I’ll get you home by MY directions. You don’t know where the HELL you are! And I’ll give you SOME kind of break on the meter. But NOT much!! This was YOUR fault!!”
With this, Gomez burps and grumbles in back, mumbling something about Hickey and the meter.
Eventually, as we begin weaving back into Gomez’ single-family home, working class American dream community, he confidently directs as I ignore him and watch my phone’s GPS navigation. (Which does match Gomez’ instructs now, for what it’s worth.)
Once pulled up outside of Gomez’ house, the meter reads $51.35. I tell him not to worry about a tip and we’ll call it fifty even.
Gomez, “(Burp!) I AIN’T payin’ NO FIFTEE BUHCKS fer ah cahb ride TA SOWTH CITTEE frum THA MISSHUN! (Burp!)”
Driver, “WELL! THEN, I’M CALLIN’ THE COPS!”
I shoot back, bluffing. I’ve never called the cops. I don’t have the fortitude to deal. And it would just be more down time, and likely fruitless.
Ah! I’ll call his wife! Maria! Her number’s in my phone. And she’s got to come out and pay with HER card, anyway. From the sound of her, she’d probably understand. And make this right.
Driver, “Ma’am, this is the cab driver. Can you come help me with your husband? He’s saying he’s not going to pay the fare. He had me turn around on the highway and gave me bad directions. I’ll lower the fare a little. But this was his doing?”
Maybe a bit much for Maria over the phone?
In short order, a semi pretty, if not fatigued looking woman in pink pajama pants and a pink T-shirt reading “Angel” on it comes out to the cab. But before she can hand me in her credit card through the open shotgun window, Gomez yells from the back.
“DON’ (Burp!) PAY ‘EM HONEE! AIN’T NO FIFFE DAHLLER (Burp!) RIIIDE FRUM THA MISSHUN!” Adding, “SED HE’Z GUNNA CALL DA CAHPS!!”
A sweet Maria hands me in her credit card, casually, as calmly addressing Gomez,
“Don’t worry, honey. We’ll figure this out.”
Gomez, “DON’ PAY!! (Burp!) GIT ‘IS NUMBERR!!”
Maria, “It’s okay, honey. We’ll work it out.”
I grab a Citizen’s Cab business card and write my name on it, to help Maria out and put on a show for Gomez.
Driver, “Here’s my name and number, ma’am. Can you sign here, please?”
I hold my phone over at the shotgun for Maria to sign the screen for Square credit card charging app. And she does.
Maria opens the door and guides her man out of the cab, and braces him walking back into the house, as Gomez grumbles and burps across his front lawn.
I don’t get the sense that Maria will protest the charge later. I hope. She seems to know the deal. She probably knows that he’ll forget about the whole thing, after distracting Gomez with something shiny. Like his bed.
Hmm. Wonder if Gomez is going to make it to work later this morning, at the hospital?
30 minutes later…
I’m back in The City. And I’ve thus far rolled fareless back up through the Mission, the Castro, the Upper Haight, and am currently rolling down into the Lower Haight, as Tony calls my phone from dispatch.
Tony, “Sack! Turn ’round! Goh back uhp Haight! Tah Central dere. Jus’ got ah cahl from some guy goin’ owt tah Conc’rd!”
Sack, “SWEET!!! Did you tell him it’s meter and a half??”
Tony, “Yeah, tolt ’em ah hunderd fortee fer da ride! ‘N gave ’em ur cahb numbah. Goh! Fass, Sack! He’s waitin’ aht da corner dere, Haight ‘n Central!”
Okay! Thanks, Tony!!
Better floor it! I’m TWO whole minutes away! And they don’t call Tony “The No-go King” for nothing! I swear, he has the Midas touch… but in reverse. Regardless, dude might just jump in the first cab he sees going by, anyway.
30 seconds later…
I SCREECH to the corner of Haight and Central. And…
Just some crazy old man with a long white beard in a wheelchair spinning and talking to himself in the crosswalk. There’s some mental rehab home here, down half a block. You commonly see their inhabitants out walking the streets early and talking to themselves, or twitching nervously. Like some street performance of ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’.
I radio Tony, “Tony. What’s up? I have a bad feeling he’s gone. Can you call him back? Do you have a number? There’s no one at the corner here.”
Tony, “Okaaay, Sack. I’ll cahl.”
Tony comes back, “Sack! Sayz ‘ess still dere! He wuz callin’ fer some guy en ah wheelchaah! Dere aht da cornah! You see ah guy dere en ah wheelchaah aneeweyah??”
Sack, “Uhh… Yeah. He’s been here shaking his head all violent, and talking to himself. He’s spinning circles in the middle of the crosswalk.”
Hmm. What do you passengers think? Should I take the chance?? Spend the next hour and a half taking Bancini out to Concord?
That’s what I thought.
Sack, “1015. This is a no-go. Rolling.”
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Photo by Alex SacK
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