Okay, passengers. This week your driver’s back with an old-timey San Francisco ride-along in his trusty ‘ol Prius, Citizen’s Cab #1015. No more detours through rape, suicide or Buddha complexes. No more me. And no more NOT me! (Ah-hem.) After all, the meter’s on. And this is YOUR taxi. Yes, passengers, this week it’s back to transportation basics: the usual urine-soaked fare, and a warm back seat…
I’m doing the rounds through commercial foot traffic fishing for flags, Cabulous app-hails, and with a keen ear to the dispatch CB. Currently I’m rolling north on Mission, after having flipped my illegal U at 24th, and now on the return from an empty run into the belly of the Chupacabra.
I scan the sidewalks and bus stops for a longing glance, as filtering out all the vibrant third world action down here; the odd Mexican ice cream cart vendor, a lone mariachi picking, and various other “illegals” selling fruit, bacon-wrapped hot dogs, wallets and baseball caps. (Sans permit.)
Suddenly, out of nowhere, a LOUD ROAR RIPS the sky!!
It has begun. A Navy Blue Angel flies (what seems like) only feet above my cab. He’s on a practice run for the big show taking place this weekend over The Bay and The City. It’s Fleet Week, again.
Aside: I’ve found it curious how native San Franciscans are of a split mind on all this raucous jet activity that happens each year at this time, leading up to and over the weekend’s two four-hour shows. I guess a lot of pets DO get spooked. But, I’m not really all up in arms about it, myself. It’s unusual. And unusual is ok in my book.
Full disclosure: My grandpa (George F. Titterton) worked for Grumman back in the day as an engineer during WWII, before having ultimately moved into upper management by his retirement in ’68. He was once given a signed, framed picture of the ’66 Blue Angles flying over Big Ben, with a caption reading, ” To George, with appreciation for designing planes we love to fly.” (This wasn’t grandpa’s first career choice, however. He couldn’t cut it as a cab driver.)
Aside (Continued…): I will concede that the deafening RIP of the low flying jet engines does seem to come at you all at once, out of the blue, repeatedly, many times over the course of hours, for several days in a row. Pets and interrupted conversations aside, some San Franciscans express being put off by having a military display over an urban American center. Or, fear a crash. (This IS the Left Coast, people!) There’s a petition out now with over 25,000 signatures on it aimed at stopping the celebration, now in its 37th year. Anyway, San Francisco has a population of almost a million. So, there’s that.
As I watch the jet veer off hard towards the Haight, I come SCREECHING to a HALT! JUST missing hitting some old man who’s DARTED out into Mission Street and is waving his arms at me SUPER frantic!!
Hmm. I had a great morning. Made my nut by 9am. Then, business died. For ALL of the LAST THREE HOURS! The early lead that I’d gained has long since been neutered. Now, I’ll be lucky to walk with a hundred bucks at shift’s end.
Anyway, this old codger looks kind of weathered, with long, disheveled, frizzy white hair sticking out from the sides of his head, all Bernie-style. But longer. And bald on top. Dirty white pants. Dirty white Hawaiian floral print shirt. No teeth. Forget Bernie. This is more like Christopher Lloyd’s “Doc” from Back To The Future… on LSD!
Still, the toothless smile that he’s beaming at me through the windshield, all cackling, and with his hands splayed out across and pressed on 1015’s hood is… kind of cute. He’s like some old prospector.
Art scampers around to the back door, and JUMPS in back.
Yeah, he’s a cute old codger, alright. Like some old gold prospector… REEKING OF URINE!!!
GOD!!! (I hold my breath.)
Art, “Miss’d my bus ta Reno, drivah! Luckee Chances! Colma!”
Huh?? SWEET!!! Lucky Chances is that casino down by the airport! This is around a $40 fare!
Wait… Am I getting paid for this ride??? It’s a long way down to Colma, and back, only to find that Art is as out of his mind as he looks! (PEW!!) And SMELLS!!!
I roll down the windows, ALL of them, FULL!
Eh, I guess I’ll just have to see how this plays out. It’s been SLOW. I mean, what other option do I have?
I hit the meter.
Driver, marking his waybill and repeating back, “Lucky Chances. Colma.” Adding, “Hey. It’s such a beautiful day. Do you mind if we keep the windows all down for the highway ride south?”
Art, “Don’ matter nuthin’ ta me! Jus’ git me dere!”
And I pull away down 22nd, on towards the highway, before I am suddenly surprised by a great THUNK! on the center arm rest console next to me.
Art, “HEYAH, drivah! I gaht sumthin’ fer ya! KIMCHEE NOODLES! Jus’ add water! HA!!”
Driver, taking the Styrofoam package and throwing it over on the shotgun seat, “Uh… thanks. My kid loves instant noodles.”
Art, cackling, “Dis gunna be my luckee day, drivah! Kin FEEL it! Wunce I won twinty gran aht slots! Won tha JACKPOT I DID!! Din’t ‘spect dat! Nope. (Heh! Heh!) Buht, pokerz my game. Good aht math, I am! All I kin ask, is ta play all nite, n’ drink fer free. Maybee come owt wit a few buhcks aht tha end. Jus’ have me ah good ‘ol time.”
Drivah, “Wow! You won $20,000!? If you don’t mind I ask, how much did you have to pay in taxes on that? $9K?”
Art, “Nope. Onlee five!”
Rolling 280 south now, we yell over the noise of the highway and wind flooding the cab, the volume something akin to the breach of a jetliner’s fuselage.
Drivah, “THAT’s GREAT!! HOW DID YOU CELEBRATE???”
Art, “By GAMBLIN’ THA NEX NITE!! DAT’s HOW! (HEH! HEH!)” Adding, “YOU GAHT A GAME, DRIVAH!?”
Drivah, “WELL, BLACKJACK! SORTA!!”
Art, “EH??? WHAT’RE YA SAYIN’, DRIVAH!? CAN’ HEER YOU! YOU MIN’ IF WE CLOSE DESE WINDAHS UHP?!? CAN’ HEER A WERD!!”
Driver, closing the windows – and fighting back tears, “Blackjack, I said. But I just use my intuition. It doesn’t make me very popular with the pros at the table who are all working together to bust the dealer. I get dirty looks for hitting on 13. But the last time I played, I drank for free all night. And I walked at sunrise ninety bucks richer! That was a good night by my estimation.
Uh, I actually used a little different strategy that time, though. I wasn’t JUST playing by intuition. I, uh, sat back and walked around studying the different Blackjack tables, and watched all the dealers. It always blows my mind how much they get 21! What’s UP with that! Anyway, uh, I started to notice that the more oppressed the race and sex of the dealer, the more hands the players seemed to win. So, I just followed around this Black woman dealer from table to table as she was rotated. I know, it’s kind of a messed up strategy. But it WORKED!”
Art, randomly digressing, “Grew uhp workin’ in tha fields, uhp in Reddin’. Pop die whin he wuz ninee-two! Same age ah me, rite now! He werkin’ that farm rite uhp ta tha en’. Pickin’ wahlnuts, peecan, alm’nd n’ cherrie, figs ‘n pears! Waz a hardt uhpbringin’. Buht ah hones’ wun!”
And with this, we roll off of 280 and head for the horizon, due east, straight towards the vast hills and green expanse that is cemetery row; Colma Cremation, Woodlawn Memorial, Green Lawn Memorial, Cypress Lawn Memorial, Hoy Sun Memorial, Home of Peace and Holy Cross Catholic Cemeteries. And all of this, directly across the street from Art’s destination; Lucky Chances Casino. (Striking me as somehow quite apt, and maybe even convenient.)
Note: This is where they moved all the bodies evicted in mass from the numerous graveyards in San Francisco’s city limits around the turn of the century, as the population boomed. And then in another wave, when rebuilding after the Great Quake and Fire of 1906. When what HAD been the edge of The City was all of a sudden central, valuable property. Well, they moved the bodies of the RICH, anyway. Along with their headstones. The poor were paved over in construction. And their headstones used to shore up the seawall out at Ocean Beach, and as material for the curb around Buena Vista Park, and what. They still find bodies near where I live! And around USF, on the dig of a new project.
We pull into the horseshoe drive under the ominous, if not eerily antiseptic, Spanish tiled carport of the Lucky Chances Casino. (The scene out front more befitting the graveyards across the street, than any Vegas-style extravaganza.)
But don’t tell Art. He starts cackling giddy, and bouncing in his seat. A man ready for action!
Now, to get paid.
Drivah, “So, uh, it looks like the meter’s at $35.40.”
Art, “Well, ALLLL-RITEY! Heyah’s my chance ta tip you good, drivah! Fer GOOOOOD LUCK!! Yup, fer GOOOOOD LUCK!” Art now shuffles through his dirty, urine-stained pants pockets, emptying their random contents all over the back seat. He sifts some crumpled up bills from the mess, and stretches out a twenty, a ten, a five, and a single.
And Art hands the bills up to me, with, “Waity, waity RITE HEYAH, drivah! Dat’s jus’ tha fayah! Now, lemme TIP you GOOOOD! Fer GOOOOD LUCK!”
And I stuff the bills into my bankroll, as Art swipes the contents from his pockets from across the back seat into a pile, and starts shoveling it all back into his pockets, as still sifting for one more bill.
“HA!!” barks Art, having found my tip, folding it and closing the bill into my hand, with, “Heyah ya go, drivah! Now wish me LUCK! ‘N maybee I’ll be seein’ ya aht tha tables!”
I do wish Art luck, as he scampers out of Citizen’s Cab #1015 and cackling off into the Lucky Chances. Then I turn, wincing, to assess the state of the back seat.
Is there a wide sheen of urine to address? A thick streak of bodily fluids to contend with? Before accepting my next fare? Or HELL, my highway ride BACK!! Well, I guess thank God (and the lot mechanics) that the seats in 1015 have all long been reupholstered with cheap vinyl. I DO have my alcohol wipes.
Hey… Nothing. No sheen, shine, streak or gleam! (Sniff, sniff.) And NO deathly stench of URINE!!
Still, I think I’ll ride back up 280 with the windows cracked. (And, uh, of course alcohol wipe the seats down, anyway. For good luck.)
As I pull out of the drive, I go to mark my waybill. And sort Art’s tip into my bankroll.
A FIFTY DOLLAR BILL?!
I’m BACK in the GAME!
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Photo by Alex SacK
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