Shelter From The Storm (Part II)

When we last checked in on our driver, Alex had just dropped off a recovering junkie tranny named Candy – and her androgynous Chihuahua, Pepper, at their homeless shelter out in the industrial Dogpatch where Candy is housed separately from her ailing-from-COPD husband, on account of the Gordian knot codified in San Francisco protocols that one must solve to navigate social services.

As I once again roll Citizen’s Cab #1015 west up Market, and once more approach Civic Center where she had flagged, I still have Candy on my mind. And all of the hoops she’s been going through with The City. (At the holidays, no less.) It makes my financial stresses seem glaringly trite in comparison.

Still, with the coming of Thanksgiving each year the taxi business invariably takes a dive. A HARD dive. And this dearth plays out all through Christmas, and the New Year, with a promise to not come back engines roaring until the spring. Maybe April. Well after the holidays, when new shoots poke through the pavement and tourism again begins to flower, as the locals, too, emerge from hibernation to slowly re-engage society concordant the lift of winter’s fog.

Alas, what’s that! Up ahead there? At Civic Center Plaza?? Amidst the same seedy street scene from which Candy had flagged? It’s a young mother, with three children, spanning a range of ages from maybe seven to fifteen. And they’re all toting luggage, and flagging.

Yes, these are soon to be passengers in one Toyota Prius, yellow – with green checkers; Citizen’s Cab #1015. But, this is NO airport…

I pull up short of the MUNI bus island populated by the likes of an old toothless black man in a wheelchair, a young crackhead white girl with purple hair, and bruises, and an old indigenous Chinese woman in Asian dress who’s hawking food-bank stuffs to all, all of whom who are obviously not actually WAITING for the bus.

Jaime Lynn bends into my open shotgun window and raises her pencil-thin painted on eyebrows with, “You think you can fit us all in, with our luggage? We’re not going far. Just to 17th and Valencia. We don’t mind squeezing in.”

Jaime Lynn seems beat. She sighs as I gauge her kids, the youngest a boy, maybe seven. And the older two, girls, maybe ten and fifteen. (With the fifteen-ish sporting large geeky black-rimmed glasses and carrying school books.) The kids are all quiet and well behaved. And they seem to have a well established deference to ma, who, despite her fatigue, is clearly in charge.

Driver, “Sure! No problem. We’ll make it fit!”

I jump out and around to help load the large rolling suitcases into the hatch, as the kids each do their part heaving to lift their heavy bags and hand them to me one at a time from the curb.

One large bag rides shotgun, three ride in the hatch, and my four passengers squeeze into the back seat, as Driver hits the meter and repeats, “17th and Valencia. The Mission.”

We drive.

And I catch Jaime Lynn looking wearily out her window, as she settles back on the couch for therapy.

Jaime Lynn, “Man, this city’s so messed up. You probably guessed we’re homeless. Been out here on the streets for six months, ever since our landlord tripled the rent. I’m trying hard to stay strong, I GOT TO, for my kids! But, man. The system is SO messed up. It SUCKS. We just been falling through the cracks. They won’t put us in a Navigation Center cause my husband makes minimum wage, and I panhandle enough every day that we can afford to sleep in some infested SRO. They say that means we’re not homeless! Messed… UP!

Man, I’m not a junkie. I don’t have HIV, or hepatitis, or cancer… They do everything around points. And they tell me that it don’t matter that I have kids! MESSED UP!!”

Driver, “Wow! That IS messed up! I drive homeless people all of the time. But I didn’t know about the points thing. Well, I guess I knew that they prioritize, and don’t have nearly enough beds at the Navigation Centers. But, I thought being a family put you at the top of the list!”

Jaime Lynn, “Yeah, you’d think. But they tell me the waiting list for the Navigation Centers is crazy long. And the regular shelters are dangerous. People doing drugs, stealing from you. I’m NOT having my daughters sleep overnight at one of those! And what’s worse is it sucks moving from place to place, every… single… day. You CAN’T get ahead. And the city doesn’t help!

I swear to God, too. We’ve been getting bumped for illegals. I know I look kinda Hispanic, but I’m white. And I SWEAR they count that against you! Points, points, points!

Driver, “Jeez. That pains me to hear. I thought the Navigation Centers sounded like a good idea, being able to stay with your pet, and partner, do drugs privately in your room – if you’re addicted, and working with them all the while to get clean, get a job, and eventually into stable housing.

Actually, now that you mention it. I drove a woman just this morning who was complaining about how, on account of the bureaucracy, they don’t have her and her husband staying in the same place. She was telling me you have to lie to the social workers, and say you’ve been living in a tent on the streets to get a space. I guess, what with all of the local businesses and residents complaining all the time about needles and feces outside of their doors, I’m not surprised the tent encampments are what they’re focusing on first. Hmm.

But, undocumented homeless are bumping you on the list? Crazy.”

Jaime Lynn, “Yeah, we should probably lie to get in. Doing the right thing doesn’t seem to be getting us anywhere.”

Driver, “Actually, another time I drove a woman about your age. She was a recovering junkie, with a five year old daughter. She looked white. But, she said she was actually Native American. She said that that helped her score a permanent one bedroom in The Mission, for cheap. Like $400 a month! She DID have a five year old daughter, though. Still, I can’t believe that having three kids doesn’t get you help!”

Jaime Lynn, “Like I said, it’s ALL about those MESSED UP POINTS! Like panhandling for an SRO and a minimum wage job makes us NOT homeless in San Francisco. I was born and raised in The Mission!”

We begin pulling up on 17th and Valencia, as Jaime Lynn sits up and scans the buildings for her family’s SRO du jour. And I turn off the meter at $7.45, with a pang of guilt at the idea of taking money from Jaime Lynn and the family. I begin to consider offering this ride pro bono, or maybe saying it’s cool for Jaime Lynn to just throw me a five.

However, before I can decide, Jaime Lynn has already reached into her weathered jeans pocket, with the audible jingling of a large quantity of change, and she has extracted and held up for examination, a decent wad of crumpled up bills. (Bounty from a panhandling shift, no doubt.)

Jaime Lynn, “ANOTHER thing that’s messed up, is what’s happened to all of you CAB drivers! With all these damn Ubers and Lyfts everywhere! I HATE them! They all drive dangerous as hell. My kids aren’t safe out here! And I DON’T think it’s fair how they’ve all ruined your business! And with the city and mayor behind them ALL OF THE WAY!

Here! I want you to have a good tip. Here’s twelve, driver. Sorry it couldn’t be more.”

Huh?! Jaime Lynn is feeling sorry for ME?? As a cab driver in this current, twisted race to the bottom??? Well…

Driver, “Uh. Thanks, Jaime Lynn. You know… I COULD actually use the money. I got kids, myself. And, uh, rent IS due…

I’ll come out and help with your luggage!

Stay strong! And you kids stay strong, too! You got a good mother!




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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…

If you like this stuff enough to want to help me pay rent, visit my new Patreon page to support! Hell, if a lot of dough comes in, I’ve got big plans to make a crazy SF Taxi movie!

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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