Shelter From The Storm (Part I)

Citizen’s Cab #1015 – San Francisco

Morning rush hour is picking up. I’m headed east up Market, fresh from shuttling a suit down to The Financial. But who’s butt will fill the vinyl-covered back seat of my Prius next? A crack head? A Ninth Circuit Justice? An undocumented kitchen worker? Or that big tranny up ahead holding the Chihuahua, running out from the drug scene at Civic Center, in big red glitter sunglasses, bright pink lipstick, and navy mini skirt with matching low-cut blazer from which her two HUGE breast implants fervently fight their expulsion?

Hint: Number four.

Candy jumps in back huffing, before adjusting her blazer’s oversized shoulder pads with a good jiggle of her breasts. (Okay, they didn’t really jiggle. Much too overstuffed.) And in a DEEP baritone, pre-hormone replacement therapy Candy bellows, “Thank you SO much for stopping, driver! 21st and Potrero, please. FAST!”

Ah, 21st and Potrero. This means S.F. General’s methadone clinic.

Driver marks his waybill, and confirms, “21st and Potrero.”

And Driver drives.

Candy, “I have to tell you now, Driver, that I only have $16 cash on me. But I’m just running in to get something really quick. Can you wait? After, I need to go to 25th Street, just past 3rd. I have a debit card with some money on it, too, if the ride costs more.”

Driver, “Oh. No Problem. I drive people to the methadone clinic all the time. I know the deal is fast.” (No need to beat around the bush.)

I check the rear view to gauge Candy’s reaction to my having outed her. (As well as gauge the likelihood of getting paid for this ride.) But my attention is immediately co-opted by Candy’s accessory, who’s sitting atop her lap cocking its head, and staring back at me, all cute, with nostrils aflare.

Candy, “Oh, you know the place?” Continuing nervously, “Thank you, driver. I’ve been going through hard times. My husband and I have been homeless. And he has COPD. But it’s not from drugs. He’s never done drugs. It’s from smoking. Anyway, we recently got spaces in Navigation Centers. But their policies are really fucked up. They treated us as separate cases and have us staying at different centers, because I was able to turn enough tricks for us to stay in SRO‘s.”

Driver, “Huh? I thought the whole point of the navigation centers was that they’d give you a room to stay with your partner, and pets, and let you do drugs? So long as you took them up on their social services to get you off drugs, get a job, and score a more solid roof!”

Candy, “Yeah, well, we found out the hard way that you have to have been homeless like thirteen years, and living with your partner on the street in a tent the whole time. It’s too late for us. But if you’re ever homeless, Driver, let me tell you the trick is to lie about it! Otherwise, they don’t make you a priority.

Candy, continuing, “(Sigh.) Driver, I’ve been trying to get clean and back on my feet with my husband, by the book! But everywhere we turn, the system is screwing us… And little Pepper here, too!” Candy, stroking her Chihuahua’s head. “My husband and I have been splitting little Pepper up between our centers.”

Pepper? Boy or girl?? Hmm. Even Candy’s dog is androgynous! (Fitting, I guess.) Should I ask? Nah. Whatever. We’ll just let sleeping dogs lie.

We pull into the drive in front of the old red brick Building #90 within the S.F. General complex, one of the few buildings Mark Zuckerberg has yet to demolish and rebuild in glass and steel in His image, and affix his name to, in what has been rebranded ‘Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center.’

Note: The SOLE trauma center in San Francisco, which is expecting “The Big One” any second now…

With the meter at $11.20, Candy and Pepper excitedly pop out, huffing, with, “Thanks, Driver! We’ll be right back!”

Ten minutes (and $5.50) later…

Candy scurries out of Building #90 in her stilettos, with Pepper in arms. (Yes, both huffing.) And again pops in back.

Candy, “WHEW! I’m SO sorry that took so long, Driver! There was a crazy guy holding up the line. And some new guy working the window that couldn’t tell Dick from Jane! How much is the meter now?”

Driver, “Uh, $16.70.”

Candy, “Oh, ok. Well, Like I said. I have a debit card with money on it, too. Here, take my $16 cash now. To start.”

Candy hands Driver up a crumpled up wad of bills, which Driver shoves under his waybill/clipboard on the shotgun seat.

Driver, “No problem. It’s all good. So, next stop, 25th and 3rd.” (Leave it to San Francisco to have numbered streets intersect. And those are NOT the only two!)

Driver drives.

Citizen’s Cab #1015 weaves and winds over Potrero Hill and through the projects to grandmoth, er, to Candy and Pepper’s transitional homeless shelter in The Dogpatch.

Driver, “Hey, Candy. Do you know how The Dogpatch got its name?”

Candy, “Uh, no. I guess I never thought about it.”

Driver, “Well, back in the day, this used to be the meat packing district. And they would throw all the meat scraps they couldn’t use out in the streets, feeding all the stray dogs, which all thrived and multiplied on account of all the meat.”

Candy giggles in back and strokes her Chihuahua, with, “You hear THAT, Pepper!”

We cross 3rd Street, bump over the train tracks, and roll out 25th flanked by razor-wire chain link fences and industrial corrugated steel warehouses, until 25th dead ends at a complex of trailers sitting atop a dock of The Bay.

I stop the meter at $26.80. And Candy pulls out a Kardashian Kard pre-paid debit from her hand purse and hands it up to Driver.

Candy, “Make it for $30 total, Driver. I really appreciate you stopping for me and Pepper.”

I break out my iPhone and Square credit card reader, plug in the $14 balance that Candy still owes, and I swipe…


Driver, “Uh, it declined.”

Candy, aghast, “WHAT!? Don’t TELL me that damn Arab ripped me off! (GASP!!) Driver, I turned tricks ALL night last night, sucking some John’s dick! And with this other pervert looking to get ass fucked by a tranny! There’s a corner store back in the Tenderloin where this Arab charges to put my Johns’ payments on this debit card. He must have ripped me off! I’m SO sorry! Hey, there should be SOMETHING on there, though. Try running it for $10.”

I plug in $10, and I swipe…


I try $5, and I swipe…


Candy, “THAT ARAB FUCKER!!! I’m SO sorry, Driver!”

Driver, assuaging, “It’s okay. I’m not worried about it. For what it’s worth, it may just be a problem with it being a PRE-PAID debit card. I’ve seen Square decline them once or twice before. If you go to an ATM, you might actually have money on it. But, don’t worry about it. This part of the ride’s on me. It sounds like you and pepper have enough on your plate.”

Candy sighs, “God BLESS you, Driver! Thank you SO much!!”

And God bless you, as well, Candy.



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Photo by Alex SacK

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 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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