The Rodent Zone

Rodent Zone - Borderless

Thursday

High noon:
I’m rolling Citizen’s Cab 1015 west up Market, approaching San Francisco’s Westfield Mall – flush at this hour with international tourists and suburbanites of means.

Hey. What is that? Up ahead…

I am suddenly caught, and drawn in, as if snared by some tractor beam at the command of some otherworldly apparition.

Albeit, with olive skin… Or, under a solid layer of dirt. (Hard to tell.)

MINNIE MOUSE: Semi chubby Asian-American female, presumably Terran, early 20’s? (hard to tell), wearing bloomers, and disheveled in a doll-like red and white polk-a-dot dress with a short, very fluffy skirt, all reminiscent of a feral Raggedy Ann the morning after a hot date. Minnie complements the ensemble with a large white Victorian neck ruff, and badly frazzled bleached yellow hair, neck length, with a good two inches of dark roots on show. Oh, and she’s swaying side to side, REAL slow, as tightly clutching a heavily soiled cat-sized Mickey Mouse doll around its neck, and pressing it ever so firmly against her stomach.

Odd.

I pull up in a line of “rideshares” cued waiting for the red at 5th, trapped, wedged between the MUNI bus island on my left – separating the two westbound lanes of Market, and the BART transit plaza on my right – host to illegal buskers, and permitted vendors hawking colorful knitted owl-themed hats and cheap beaded necklaces.

Minnie is now at my shotgun, looking all shell shocked. She’s just standing there at my window, swaying in front of the public toilet/needle disposal, crushing Mickey. She’s not flagging me, per se. But, she looks… longing.

Driver, leaning towards his shotgun, “Do you need a ride?”

I’ve seen this movie before. Minnie is one of “them.” The “them” that cannot seem to grasp the basic social concept of raising a hand in the air to actually signal when in need of a taxi. Somehow, them psychically emit that aforementioned kind of “longing” vibe. Ever reticent, them do almost make eye contact. Almost. However, invariably to them, the contract is solely, mistakenly, empathic.

Driver and Minnie stare each other down…

Who will blink first?

Minnie smacks her lips, sways a little more, and then squeezes Mickey impossibly tighter.

This moment in time is awkward, with a vacant Minnie just standing there right outside of my cab, silent, in curious demeanor and questionable presentation.

The light turns. And Citizen’s Cab 1015 only creeps forward at first, inching, before shortly resigning to acceleration away from the ethereal scene. Glancing back in the rear view, in a kind of WTF?? awe, Driver suddenly feels a hot flash come across his face, as he catches Minnie eyes, full on now, affixed and tracking his escape.

 

Friday

2:25pm:
I’m getting edgy already. Dunno why. I DID sleep last night. And it’s been a pleasantly busy day. (So, I cannot blame it on those usual head games due to too long driving vacant.) I’ve sold one book, for ten bucks. (Which is saying something, because I do NOT try to sell books. I just have a placard over the back credit card screen reading, “Ask about my book!” So, the onus is on you, my passenger.) And from the looks of my waybill, I’d say I’m about $160 in the green. (The book aside.) I mean, it’s not the heady summer days of yore. But, it’s sustainable. And I do accept.

Anyway, I’ve been taking a break from NPR, on account of my head. But alas, even Erik Satie’s Gymnopédie No.1 performed by the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal is not working to calm me.

Yeah, I’ve devolved a bit earlier than usual in my shift. And I’m even cutting off cab drivers now! Not just Uber. Actual cab drivers, with fares! I should probably call it, after this bout of road rage with Mohammed, driving Yellow Cab 987.

I’m rolling west up Market, again. Back at Front Street, while waiting for the green, Mohammed had pulled up a good deal after me to the red, in the lane to my left. Sure enough, a horde of Ubers and Lyfts just HAD to push their light crossing Market. And the Financial district’s mass of pedestrians predictably flooded into their crosswalk once they got the walk sign, vehicular traffic be damned. (Funny how that works.) So yeah, as without fail, the scab cabs all ended up “blocking the box” in front of both Mohammed’s and my westbound lanes. Anyway, it wouldn’t have been petty of me had I not gunned it at the green to cut off Mohammed, and cross over the double yellow to veer around this, um, disruption.

Now, it’s a RACE!!

Citizen’s Cab 1015 is IN THE LEAD! Weaving around MUNI buses and street cars, the 6, the 9, the F!!

SWERVE!!!

That Uber is IN THE DITCH!!

A yellow light at Sutter, with Mohammed tracking my every veer, screech and SWERVE!!!

He’s pissed, no doubt. And rightfully so. But man, I DID notice that he had a passenger. (All the more reason it was neither here nor there had he gone ahead of me.) What must his passenger be thinking??

I ZOOM the yellow at Sutter, Mohammed SCREECHES to a halt at his now red!

HA!!!

But, this is NOT over… On the westbound run up Market, every light is a tactical decision, every mid block a pass and weave DO-or-DIE!

The immediate light ahead, at 2nd, has just turned. RED! And there’s a 10-Townsend bus in the left lane there waiting, and two Ubers in the right lane between the bus island and the sidewalk. And one has his HAZARDS ON!!

Think, Sack! THINK!!!

Well, that 10-Townsend takes a LEFT onto 2nd Street for his route. And on account of the line of cars across from him waiting for the pedestrians to clear, so they can make their RIGHT onto 2nd, there is no question that no one but NO ONE is making this light behind that 10-Townsend. Maybe Uber will do his pick up, or drop, fast. The RIGHT lane it IS, Sack!

GREEN!!

And, HERE COMES MOHAMMED!!!

The Uber was just dropping, the 10-Townsend is a road block, and the right lane is moving… with MOHAMMED GUNNING IT TO CATCH UP!!

The next light, Kearny, a predictable cornucopia with a multitude of MUNI bus lines pulled over on the right at their sidewalk stop. (Just to confuse, not all buses use the left lane islands.) And the buses in the Financial invariably take MINUTES to lower their lifts to load the inevitable wheelchair. To boot, it’s ALWAYS a cluster of taxis AND Uber/Lyfts just past this bus stop, all aiming to veer right and up into the heart of tourist, shopping and hotel ubiquitous Union Square.

THE LEFT LANE IT IS, SACK!

SWEET! That 9-San Bruno is PULLING AWAY from the bus island for A GREEN AT 3RD!!

ZZZOOOOMMM!!!!

In the rear view, Mohammed is huffing, and SPEEDING. I can almost see the whites of his eyes! And what’s that he’s screaming??? ALLAHU AKBAR!?!

I’M ACROSS 3RD!!!

Mohammed CAUGHT at the RED!!! (Maybe try a ‘Hail Mary’ next time, byatch!)

I CUT OFF a silver Uber Honda Accord in the now red carpeted bus/taxi-only lane, and WEAVE around a line of Lyfts on my right, JUMP ahead a car length and SQUEEZE right to CUT OFF a black Uber Prius JUST SHORT of REAR ENDING an historic 50’s era F-line Street Car!!

SUCCESS!!

Ain’t NO WAY Mohammed comin’ outta THAT cluster to catch up NOW! It’s 4TH and MARKET, baby! Westfield MALL!!! Pedestrians, tourists, cops, Uber and Lyfts galore, buses and street cars in the left bus/taxi-only lane, and buses and commercial trucks and EVERYONE ELSE in the RIGHT!

WHEW!

I’m in the clear now. I go to calm the adrenaline, and coolly cruise ahead in the left bus/taxi-only lane towards the red at 5th, which flanks the mall.

Huh??

Great. The 7-Haight is loading a wheelchair at the bus island. Whatever. I’ll cross over via the right. Yeah, there’s a cluster of scab cabs and civilians all lined up. But even if I miss a light cycle, for one too many blocking the boxed in cue behind, waiting for pedestrian traffic to clear for their right up Cyril Magnin, it should move quicker than waiting for that 7-Haight’s wheelchair to load.

Hey. Wha?? Wait.

Here I am again, across from Westfield, trapped between the MUNI bus island on my left – separating the two westbound lanes of Market, and the BART transit plaza on my right – host to illegal buskers, and permitted vendors hawking colorful knitted owl-themed hats and cheap beaded necklaces. (Sound familiar?)

And, there’s MINNIE MOUSE!!

AGAIN standing there! AGAIN with her thousand yard stare, swaying in front of the public toilet/needle disposal! AGAIN choking the life out of her Mickey Mouse doll, pressed HARD to her stomach! AND she’s wearing the SAME outfit, AGAIN!!

And HERE I am. Huh. Pulled up right alongside her. Minnie is JUST outside of my open shotgun window, looking into 1015… longingly!

A woozy feeling overcomes me… Has time even passed? Am I trapped in some cosmic hyperloop? Hanuman‘s dream?? Have I been abducted by aliens??? Everything seems… different.

I stand dazed and blocking traffic in the right lane now on a green, as Mohammed slowly pulls past me in the left bus/taxi-only… but not before shaking his fist, and gloating.

Once again face to face with Minnie Mouse, I feel as if I’m in some dimension as vast as space. And as timeless as infinity. As if it were some middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, public toilet and bus island. I feel as if I now lay between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. In the dimension of imagination. Forever bound to this area which we call… The Citizen’s Cab Zone!

Driver, leaning towards his shotgun, “Do you need a ride?”

And AGAIN with the awkward, reticent vacancy, as Driver and Minnie stare each other down…

An eternity of (crickets) sound off.

Driver, once more, more s l o w  l  y, “Do… you… need… a… ride??”

Minnie intones, hesitantly, “U.C. Berkeley.”

WHOA!

But, wait. Wait just one minute!

I check the clock: 2:30pm.

Hmm. The Bay Bridge over to Berkeley? And back? At this time?? It should be noted that San Francisco was recently ranked the 4th worst traffic IN THE WORLD! I have NO idea what to expect, traffic-wise, in either direction right now. I DO know this taxi turns into a pumpkin at 4 ‘o clock. And I DO know that have found myself waiting to get back through the toll plaza and back over the bridge for as much as an hour on returns from East Bay rides in the past. Hmm.

And, HEY! Does this chick even HAVE MONEY?! MAN, Minnie’s STILL all spacey!

Driver, “Uhhh… Sorry.” I look off up ahead, and point. “Uhhh… I’m on my way to an order.”

Minnie, crunching her Mickey Mouse, “U.C. Berkeley.”

Driver, “Sorry. I can’t.”

And I began to scooch the taxi forward, with the light now green, but the cue not yet free to cross over 5th, for a Lyft waiting for pedestrians to clear for his planned right turn up Cyril Magnin.

Damn. I kinda feel like shit now for denying Minnie. I’m not sure I remember EVER having denied a passenger in my seven years of driving a cab! Technically, you are not allowed to IF you have time for the ride, and time to make it back to the lot prior to medallion time. (It’s an SFMTA regulation.) Well, this IS a question. However, MONEY is even MORE of a question. Besides, I am not altogether convinced that Minnie even has business in Berkeley!

Having inched ahead a car length or so, I am now itching to make this green, on account of  I’m still carrying that edgy head that had me already shooting for the lot – and road raging with Mohammed. And now, I’m flustered and embarrassed for denying Minnie, and lying SO badly about it, on top of that!

AH!!!

At my SHOTGUN!! It’s MINNIE!!!

“U.C. Berkeley.”

Driver, “I can’t!”

Minnie, “127 Cedar Street.”

HUH? She has an actual address?? Damn, though. I’m pretty deep in the lie, now. Besides, I STILL am unsure if I’d make it over the bridge and back in time. And I STILL don’t really trust that the mouse has money!

It’s CLEAR ahead!

Driver, “Sorry!”

ZZZOOOMM!!!!

Whew!

Now, back to the lot to call this a day! Well, unless I score a quick local between here and the lot, in the Mission or whatever.

Huh.

What’s that pang?

In my stomach?

No. Alex, NO!

I continue west on Market, towards Valencia and the Mission.

Six minutes later…

Damn. I shoulda hooked Minnie up. Even if she didn’t have money. I mean, my night driver’s cool. If I were a little late, he wouldn’t crucify me. Like how I feel right NOW!

OH, GOD! WHAT DID I DO!?!

It’s been KILLING me to wonder what her deal is, too! WOULD she have paid??? And what if this wasn’t even ABOUT Minnie?? WHAT if this was a test, from GOD! And I flunked!?

GGGGGrrrrrOOOOOaaaaNNNN!!!

Or, what if Minnie was REALLY an EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL! And she is scouting for pious Earthlings to SAVE from Earth’s IMMINENT ANNIHILATION!!! WHAT if I just BLEW the SEATS that Minnie had RESERVED for ME and MY KIDS on the Battlestar Galactica!!

I feel SO much guilt right now, regret, curiosity!

I FAILED THE TEST!

I’m rolling Valencia through the Mission now. And I can SMELL the Citizen’s Cab lot… But, I CAN’T stop thinking about MINNIE. She’s in my head, echoing, “U.C. Berkeley. U.C. Berkeley. U.C. Berkeley.”

I CAN’T take it! I flip a U.

Shit.

What am I doing? Will Minnie even still be there?? She MAY still be standing there, all creepy, keeping sentinel. Or, after having failed my test, she MAY have gone and dematerialized BACK to HER dimension!

Ahhh, SCREW IT!!

Another U-turn. Back to MY dimension! The 3RD dimension! Back to SANITY!! Back to Earth!!! Back to a place where EVERYTHING is NORMAL, for the LOVE OF ROD SERLING! And Donald Trump is President of the United Sta-

Wait…

HOLD THAT SHIP!!!!

 

_____

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Photo by Alex SacK

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…

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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 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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