It’s Monday. The Citizen’s Cab lot’s amber lamps are off for some random reason. And it is dark, but for the light of an almost full moon bouncing off the yellow roofs in this sea of latent taxis. (Yeah, I’m a poet.)
I stumble over to my Prius, #1015. She’s getting old. Pushing 300K and “spare” cab status. Weeks ago, the mechanics hot-glued some rectangular piece of plastic over her “eco” and “power” mode buttons, robbing me of both saving a couple bucks in gas, and the option of gunning it off the line to cut off the Ubers in that three-lane trafficky Tetris run down Hyde.
As I stumble over to my girl, pre-coffee, I note her windows are all down, full. And the windshield is all opaque with condensation. Once inside her, I roll up the windows and hit the defogger. And… BOOM! There it is.
It’s been a while. A long while. But, it is unmistakable…
I roll all the windows BACK down, full. And I head out towards Starbucks.
I actually woke up to my alarm this morning; 3:45am. This is a mixed bag. I’ve long since come to hate The Choir of New College, Oxford’s The Bluebird, what was originally intended as a relaxed swelling choral music to ease me into consciousness. Still, this means I actually slept last night. Like I said, a mixed bag.
Anyway, with all the cliche’ about of cabs smelling like vomit, I hope my passengers today realize that it is not MY vomit. And more than likely, it is not the stomach contents of the night driver before me who (I hope) did his best to clean it up. No, passengers. This vomit is yours.
With all the rape and suicide of cab reports of late, I’d like to start this one out on a positive note. (Vomit aside.) Friday, I made $265! I am caught up on rent!! And, pending San Francisco’s imminent “Big One,” life for this hack is… OK.
4:30am – Starbucks:
I stumble to the door, reach for it, and pull.
Huh? I see the baristas inside. They should be open now.
Pull again, and…
The baristas are all looking at me funny from inside, as mine eyes suddenly focus on a sheet of white printer paper right in front of my face taped to the inside of the door. It’s got something scribbled on it in black Sharpie.
CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE.
OUR REGISTERS DON’T WORK.
Aside: Doesn’t Starbucks know these are dire times? I mean, the H.E.B Grocery in Houston was handing out free hot lunches and bottled water in like conditions!
I get back in 1015, and radio-in to Junior at dispatch. Maybe I’ll just hit the highway and knock out Sheba, the regular who chefs at LinkedIn. Start the day with her usual $26 Amex charge under my belt. (Sans tip, as usual.) And then hit the Starbucks downtown there on Battery, after.
Sack, “Junior. It’s Sack. Anyone on Sheba? You see any cabs out there waiting on Sadowa?”
Junior, “Nope. She hasn’t called, yet. But it doesn’t look like anyone’s out there, on the GPS.”
Sack, “Ok. I’m gonna roll out there.”
Hmm. There’ve been a few drivers stalking her call, lately. But, she hasn’t called. And Junior doesn’t see anyone out that way…
Sadowa, it is.
I jump on 280 south in Potrero Hill, with Frederic Chopin’s Fantaisie-Impromptu in C#minor – Op.66 smoothing out the bumpy ride this first stretch of elevated highway has on offer.
Ten minutes later…
I pull up on 163 Sadowa, in this historically black, working class hood of single family homes, set on the outskirts of San Francisco. And, I wait.
Five minutes (of Facebook time) later…
Citizen’s Cab #666 rolls down the block, and pulls up alongside of me.
And this salty, old driver, Victor, with his cigarettes and alcohol rasp (okay, okay, glass houses) rolls down his window to address.
Victor, “What arr ya doin’ he-yah!? I gaht Sheba.”
Sack, “What do you mean? Junior sent me. Her order hasn’t gone out over the radio.”
Victor, “Sheba callt me. Dis iz mine. Yer lyin’. Junyah ain’t werkin taday.”
Sack, “YOU’RE lying. Junior IS working. He SENT me here. And Sheba ALWAYS calls dispatch for her rides. You tell me what her number is, and THEN I’ll roll.”
Victor starts fumbling with his phone. And I call Junior from my phone.
Sack, “Junior. It’s Sack. I got 666 out here. He says Sheba called him.”
Junior, “Sheba doesn’t call drivers. She calls dispatch. He’s lying.”
Sack, “That’s what I said! What’s Sheba’s number?”
Junior, “(415) 555-5555.”
Sack, “Cool. Thanks. I’ll deal with Victor.”
Victor holds his phone out the window, and shows me the screen.
Damn. He’s got her number. But, he’s STILL lying about her booking him. I KNOW IT!
I radio-in to Junior.
Sack, “1015. I’m rolling. Victor’s taking this. Can you throw me a bonus load for coming all the way out here for nothing?”
Junior, “Yeah, 1015. I got you. I’ll mark you down for a bonus load.”
Man, this is fucked up. What a waste! And Victor is TOTALLY lying. Sheba DOESN’T book people. (Sigh.) Well, at least that’s $10 off my gate (cab rental) today. Now, where’s the nearest Starbucks?
I jump back on 280 bound for The Mission, as the radio crackles to life. It’s Victor.
Victor, “666. Over.”
Junior, “666. What’s your over.”
Victor, “You bess naht be doin’ dat again.”
Junior, “Doing what?”
Victor, “Sellin’ rides. You bess naht.”
Junior, “You’re breaking up, 666. I do NOT think I heard you right.”
Junior, “Get off the radio, 666. CALL me, if you got a problem!”
Victor, “You bess naht do it again.”
Victor just called Junior a liar over the radio! And for ALL to hear!! (Forget that there are FCC regulations to consider here, with implications for selling rides.) In ANY event, one does NOT bite the hand that dispatches!
I’ve rolled back into the city via The Mission, up 24th Street. And here I am now on 18th in the Castro, yet to crack a fare. And here I am now, pulling up on Starbucks.
I get out my taxi, only to suddenly note… a sheet of white printer paper, face level, taped to the inside of the door. It’s got scribbled on it in black Sharpie.
Onto the Haight.
Three (fareless, uncaffeinated) minutes later…
In the dark up ahead, at the bus stop in front of Buena Vista Park’s big peace sign shrubbery statement, a hand rises through the air.
I flip an adrenaline-fueled U, and SCREECH to a stop in front of a slightly swaying, thirty-something Irishman, Aidan, in construction. (They ALL work in construction.)
Aidan sloshes in back, slumping. And he calmly directs, “Golden Gate and Arguello.” Adding carefully, as if to show pride in an ability to hold his liquor, “Take Baker ta Fell, if ya don’ mind.”
We ride in silence alongside the Panhandle, with the looming Eucalyptus, and their pungent oils quite efficiently masking the residual air of Eau du Vom’it.
A few mellow minutes on, in the Inner Richmond, I pull over for Aidan at his desired intersection amidst a sleepy grid of old Victorians and “modern” 50’s smallish apartment buildings. The meter reads $8.45. Aidan sifts through a wad of bills in his wallet, hands up a twenty and asks for eight back. (Well, ok.)
We quietly do the deal. Then, Aidan exits 1015 and staggers (gently) down the block, as I pull away. I head back towards the Haight, and switch gears to NPR:
Strangely Familiar Voice, “I’m a computer nerd, and I think Bitcoin is still kind of confusing, so that is actually the most difficult part for most people.”
David Greene (Morning Edition), “That computer nerd is Sean Sullivan with the Helsinki-based cybersecurity firm F-Secure. Hackers use Bitcoin because it is anonymous and cannot be traced easily, but actually paying ransom in Bitcoin in one of the cyberattacks we’ve seen so much in the last year can be daunting.”
Hey. Sean Sullivan? Helsinki?? F-Secure??? That’s my cousin on NPR!!!
Suddenly, Cabulous lights up the phone velcroed to my dash with an app hail.
“CHA-CHING! CHA-CHING! – 23 Noe. Jonathan.”
And, I ‘Accept’ the order.
Jonathan’s a Cabulous order I seem to catch a lot. This town is smaller than one might think. He has 80% of San Francisco’s taxi drivers at his fingertips. (At the push of a button, one might say.) Anyway, Jonathan’s a nice, good looking gay guy who does his regular short jaunt over to Kaiser for his early nursing shift, ten blocks north of the Lower Haight here.
I pull a U in front of Jonathan, who is waiting outside, as usual. And he pops in back with the usual warm smile, and a simple “Hey,” knowing there is no need to follow up with a destination.
And then, Jonathan continues. NOT usual.
Jonathan, “Did you know there’s a wallet on your back seat?”
No. No, I did not.
He cracks it open to inspect, before handing it up to me.
Jonathan, “The license says Aidan Maloney.”
I did not drop Aidan at a specific address. He just kind of stumbled (gently) off. I inspect the wallet: California Driver’s License, business cards with an email address, and a counterpart business MasterCard for a ‘Maloney Brothers Construction.’
Well, I guess I’ll email him, and see what I can do about getting Aidan his wallet back later. (After what I imagine will be most of his morning spent sleeping.) If he asks me to drive it back to him, protocol says I can charge him the meter from wherever I am, to wherever he wants me to drop it off. But, I usually don’t bring that up in these cases. I prefer to just leave these matters to human decency.
The sun is rising. I’m riding another Cabulous app hail, from her large apartment building adjacent Buena Vista Park, down to her Union Square haute couture retail job. Prada and I just bitch about the state of politics and the world, and how we’re both holding our breath waiting for the locusts next, or some resurgence of the Black Plague, in superbug form.
At Prada’s drop, O’Farrell and Powell, I punch her fare amount into the smartphone while we wish each other luck. And a scruffy country-looking dude in his 20’s, worn plaid flannel shirt, jeans with holes – looking as if acquired POST register, an olive tan, and a dirty red baseball cap holds the door open for Prada. And with his free hand behind him, Jed is gripping a rolling suitcase.
Jed, “You open?”
Dude looks like he knows work. A little out of place here in Union Square. But he doesn’t really strike me as homeless. Airport??
Driver, “Yeah, I’m open.”
But before I can get out and open the hatch, Jed takes it upon himself to throw his luggage in the back seat, himself. This is usually a bad sign, as it’s usually followed up with an “I’m just going short ride over to (FILL IN THE BLANK.)”
Jed, “Do you know any bars open right now?”
Driver, “Uh, um… I’m a day driver. Hmm. This isn’t really my forte’. Uh, there’s probably one or two open in the Castro? Do you know what that is? Do you mind having a drink in a gay bar?”
Jed, chuckling, “Well, I’m just trying to spend some time before I need to go to the airport, around nine. I’m from up north. My friends told me about a place called ‘The Mission.’ You think there’s any bars open there now? Is that close to the airport?”
Driver, “Well, it’s CLOSER to SFO. The highway is right there.” Adding, resigned to a frozen brain, “Let me radio my dispatcher. He’d probably know what’s up.”
1015, “1015. Over.”
Junior, “Yeah, 1015. What’s your over?”
1015, “You know any bars open this early in The Mission?”
Junior, “Uh, um… Oh, yeah! Try The 500 Club. On Guerrero!”
Driver, assuring Jed, “Yeah! That’s a down and dirty old school place, with bad house liquor. It’s got a BIG sign over the door that says ‘OPEN AT 6AM.’ You’ll like it. It’s just the right amount of dirt.”
Jed, chuckling, “Okay. I like a little dirt. But, my friends warned me not to go to the Tenderloin. It’s not that much dirt, is it?”
Driver, “(Ha!) Nah. It’s not like The Loin. There’s no needles or shit on the sidewalk out front. Someone WAS shot there a little over a year ago. But, that was just a fluke. The 500 Club‘s just the right amount of seedy.”
As we roll up Market and away from downtown, Jed gets to telling me about life up in Humboldt County. Which can mean only ONE possible thing.
Driver, “Oh? How do you like it up in Humboldt?”
Jed, “Well, I was born and raised in Eureka. But, it’s changing.”
Jed is coy. No worries, passengers. Your driver will get to the bottom of this!
Driver, “Don’t tell me that techies are moving up to Humboldt!”
Jed, “Nah. It’s still a pretty much blue collar place. It’s, uh, um, the weed industry. It’s changed. A lot.
Driver, “Oh? Medicinal’s doing great. And with Prop 64 passing in California last year for personal for sale in stores, too, come January, I would think you’re kicking ass up there!” Feigning hesitation, “Uh, you grow. Don’t you?” (Blink, blink.)
Jed, flowing, “Yeah. That’s all the trouble. Since medicinal’s taken off all big, everyone’s been competing for turf. Everyone’s got bigger grows, year after year. And with it about to be legal for sale, the grows this year have been off the hook. There’s a lot of greed now. It’s gotten ugly. Things have changed. People call the cops on each other now, to take out their competition.”
Driver, “Wow! You’d think it becoming legal, that would make everything cool!”
Jed, lighting up, “Yeah, you’d think!”
Driver, “What’s the deal with the cops these days? I’ve read different things. Like the Humboldt sheriffs understand that your family is just doing your local thing. And that pot’s… What? 90% of the economy up there?”
Jed, gushing, “Yeah, the sheriffs ARE cool. It’s the Feds you gotta watch out for. But, they’re pretty much focused on the Mexicans these days, diverting and polluting the water with pesticides. And all their guns. If you grab a spot next to one of their grows, they’re going to take you down. These are gangs! And everyone’s greedy, and paranoid.
This one gang thinks my best friend’s dad called the cops on them. He didn’t! It was just that their grow got too big, and the Feds found it.
Yeah, it’s gotten ugly, man. And too much competition. The old school families are all getting put out by all these people, big-time growers, all corporate-like. And then, on the other side, by the gangs. With their guns. Everybody’s shootin’ everybody. They shot him last week. They shot my best friend’s dad.”
Driver, “Oh, man! Yeah, uh. (Gulp!) That DOES suck! Sorry, man.”
Jed, down to a trickle, “Yeah, it’s sweating out all the families who’ve just done personal grows all their life, and just getting by. Like me. I’m thinking about selling my parcel. I grow year-round, you see, just to keep my head above water. And the indoor grows in winter cost a shitload in electricity. I only took in $40,000 this year, man. And only cleared like $10,000 in profit. Man, I got employees to pay! Yeah, it’s gotten worse year after year. It’s gotten bad. REAL bad.”
JEEZ. This story hits just a LITTLE bit too close to home. Death by a thousand cuts.
Jed, dry, “A lot of the people I know now don’t even bother selling on the street in California, anymore. I can’t blame ’em, neither. It’s pointless now. Everybody’s gotten legit, with medical.
And yeah, nobody buys on the street, anymore. You got to export it to other states, where it’s NOT legal. Well, if you want to make a living. Nah, the grows us locals are doing up in Humboldt we don’t sell at all in California now. That market’s gone. Looong gone. And it’s gettin’ worse.
Ha! I have ONE friend, though. A crazy guy. A Sicilian, from the Bronx, and half Irish. AND he was BORN in Jamaica! He’s got an Irish-Jamacian-Bronx accent. HA!”
Driver, “Wow. That’s hard to wrap my head around. I do not believe I’ve ever heard one of those.”
Jed, gushing again, “HA! NO ONE HAS! My friend’s a REAL odd dude. He’s old school. THIS guy is REAL. They don’t make ’em like THAT, anymore. He actually brings his product down to the Bahamas to sell. And Barbados. AND he takes it down there, HIMSELF!”
Driver, “Man! That sounds dangerous. Uh, how does he get it out of the country? If you don’t mind.”
Jed, “Dude has his ways. He’s CONNECTED. From his New York family.”
With this, we pull up on The 500 Club, to find its dual swinging doors in front, closed. And padlocked! RIGHT under the large, dilapidated – just the right amount, ‘OPEN AT 6AM’ sign.
Driver, embarrassed, “What the fuck! Sorry, Jed. It SAYS it’s open at six! Jeez!”
Driver, regrouping, “Well, I THINK I’ve noticed some other dive bar open pretty early out on 24th. Actually, if the one I’m thinking of IS open, it’ll put you even CLOSER to the highway. And the airport. AND, you’ll have NO problem catching a cab on 24th there, when you’re ready.”
Aside: Yeah, yeah. Why am I not giving him my number and setting it up to drive Jed to the airport later, myself. Would you believe, it just doesn’t cross my mind?
Jed, looking at the meter – now at $15.60, “Yeah, sure. It’s closer to the airport you say? Let’s check it out.”
We roll down Mission Street with Jed staring in wonder at the “just the right amount of dirt” which emanates from these third world taquerias, thrift shops, and little phone card storefronts – with their signs in Spanish, and the ubiquitous Hispanic justice-themed murals and graffiti which flanks our ride. I explain to Jed about the changing nature of The Mission, gentrification, displacement, and the techies who have so changed the face of this historically ethnic, working class enclave. With all having moved into The Mission on account of its proximity to 101 south, and Silicon Valley where they work, where a fleet of various private buses await them in public bus stops to shuttle them down. (Sigh.)
But, I’ve probably mentioned all this before. Eh?
Soon enough, we come up on a flickering neon pink and blue light on 24th, at York; Pop’s Bar. And ITS swinging doors are OPEN! And pretty happening for 7am, I should say. With a small dedicated-looking gaggle of local alcoholics inside at the old wood bar, and out in front smoking. And all with (yeah, you got it) just the right amount of dirt!
My passenger looks approving of the scene, and ready for a drink, and um, at the $18.90 meter.
Jed sorts through his wallet, as simultaneously, he quickly throws open his door and out his luggage, parting with, “Here’s a twenty. Thanks.”
The day rolls on…
And it’s been a lucrative one. (Thank GOD!) But now, 4 ‘o clock – and 1015’s medallion pumpkin time, is nearing.
Junior comes over the radio, “1015. 1015. Over.”
Junior, “1015. Go get 2238 Geary. The Kaiser there. Sheba needs a ride home. Ask her what happened with 666 this morning.”
1015, “1015. Copy. 2238 Geary. Sheba.”
So, uh, Sheba…
Holy crap! Victor WASN’T lying! Sheba says she DID give him her number! She DID book Victor!
I end the day dropping Sheba at her home on the outskirts of The City, proximate to gas, and home to the Citizen’s Cab lot. (Via highway 280, anyway.) $31, Amex. (No tip.)
Postscript: Aidan, of Maloney Brothers Construction/wallet fame, emailed me back. He opted to meet me at home after work. (Pulling up in his company Ford F350 pickup, sans his driver’s license.) I run down to meet him, wallet in hand. His $80 cash and credit cards, etc. all still intact.
Aidan sincerely thanks me, taking his wallet back without checking its contents first, offering, “Yer a life savah. Tanks. I didnt evin no eye lost et!” He nervously adds, as stuffing a readied $100 wad of twenties into my hand, “Ehh. I wuz pretty drunk lass night. Do ya mind if I ask? Where’d ya pick me uhp? Were you drivin’ ah Uber?”
Now, usually I wouldn’t accept any kind of reward here, seeing that Aidan came to me.
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Photo by Alex SacK