The Chase

It’s that time of year… The annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, where suits from around the world to converge on San Francisco to schmooze, darting between Union Square’s bustling cafe’s and hotel conference rooms, and with each and all reading their tea leaves for the market’s benefaction this year regarding all investments healthcare, and in particular, pharmaceutical.

Due to a prior commitment with a federal penitentiary, I do not believe one Martin Shkreli will be in attendance.

Nor, one U.S. Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions. (But we’ll get to that, later.)

Disclaimer: Yes, passengers, this is one of those occasional, odd liberal screeds which Alex thinly veils as his weekly cab report.

So yeah, the annual Chase conference. That January blessing to SF’s cabbies which rings in an otherwise quiet, dead-for-taxis beginning of each new year. Though, this homeless offering – as not centered as the Moscone Center conference complex, will see your driver providing short shuttles between the downtown hotels and restaurants – each within a two to six block radius, it will still mean back to back $10 rides all day long for your driver. (Thank you, AMEX.)

And, as usual, these oracles of future markets did not come prepared for the San Francisco winter.

Gekko, “What’s with all this rain! I thought this was California!”

Milken, “Where’s the closest place I can buy an umbrella, driver!?”

Madoff, “Damn! Why didn’t I bring my rain coat!!”

Yup, this will be a shift spent shooting fish in a barrel, with back to back rides traversing total gridlock. As one gets out, another suit is there going long, holding open the cab door and ready to take their place. (Now, THAT’S market efficiency!)

These are mostly right wing financial types, older, moneyed white men, flying in from the homogeneous suburbs of “real” America.

But there are also some outliers, like Mary, my pregnant passenger from Chicago who apologized for her short ride, citing, “I found myself just a little too far from a bathroom.” A short that did not preclude Mary from giving her driver some thoughts on the GOP’s newly signed tax scam for corporations and the 1%.

“The markets are forward looking, by nature. That’s why we saw such a bull in 2017. But now that the bill is signed into law, what do the markets have to rally around? It was a sugar rush.”

Driver, “Oh! And congrats on your baby… Uh, do you know if it’s a boy or girl?”

Mary, “It’s a girl.”

Insider information.

Also, there was Ben, who has some particular thoughts on AG Jeff Sessions’ recent attack on marijuana, with the Justice Department’s rescinding of the Obama-era Cole Memo, which stated that the department’s resources should only be spent on operations not complying with state law, or those targeting pot sales to children.

Driver, “This Sessions thing with rescinding the Cole Memo is a joke. There’s WAY too much money in the market to pull back now. Hell, my mother just made $6K in stock the day after California made personal use legal! I tell my kids now that grandma is a drug dealer. And she’s gonna buy them each a car!”

Ben, “Ha! Ha! Yeah, no WAY this will hurt the marijuana markets. We’re well past that.”

Driver, “And the current instructs from Sessions are that are free to make their own decisions on whether to bring a case. Well, federal prosecutors are all infamously politically minded, with their sights set on higher office. I do NOT think you are going to get elected to ANY office in California after making pot prosecutions your claim to fame! I recently heard the stat that 66% of the country now lives in a place where access to pot is legal, be it medicinal or personal.

Hell, and just think of all that the CBD-only strains are doing for those with Parkinson’s tremors, or epileptic children suffering from seizures! What do they call that strain for kids, that has no THC and doesn’t get you high? Oh yeah, Charlotte’s Web! Nope. Political suicide. The toothpaste is outta the tube, man!”

Ben, “Yeah! There’s no WAY they can take it back!”

Driver, “Anyway, the 9th Circuit already ruled that the feds can’t use any money to prosecute marijuana cases that adhere to state law. And that law was put in place by a Republican congressman from California, Dana Rohrabacher ! States rights, baby. How’s that federalism working out for you, bitches!

It should not be lost that, while denying it at his Senate confirmation hearing, Beauregard was reported as having once said, ‘I thought the Ku Klux Klan were OK, until I learned they smoke pot.’”

Ben, “HA!!!”

Aside: Okay, I concede. This wasn’t so much a Ben perspective, as driver monologue.

Then, there were the two Danes I picked up at The Four Seasons downtown who were heading out to their Airbnb in Haight-Ashbury. (Of which its hippie, rock ‘n roll history the two were completely oblivious.)

Driver, “So, you guys don’t SOUND like you’re from California. Where are you from?”

Danes, “We are from Denmark.”

Driver, shaking his solidarity fist in the air, “Yaaaaay! Socialism!!”

Danes, laughing, “Ah, you know of Denmark. Well, we do not see ourselves as a Socialist country. We simply see ourselves as normal. We are a bit curious as to what is going on in your country right now, actually.”

Driver, “(UGH!) Yeah, we JUST got over apologizing to the world for George Bush, with Obama. And then, we DOUBLE DOWN with Trump!”

Driver continuing, over the laughter from the back seat, “Still, you guys and the rest of Europe have been seeing quite the xenophobic, nationalist backlash, too. I guess after Bush started a domino effect after invading Iraq and destabilizing the Middle East, and creating the greatest refugee crisis and mass migration in history – with 158 Million feeling, you guys were bound to get sucked in to it somehow. But, what’s your take on how the politics are changing in Denmark?”

Danes, “Well, yes. We have seen an unfortunate rise in the nationalist Danish People’s Party. Unlike the U.S., Denmark was founded as a Christian nation. It is in our constitution. And there are some who fear the fast moving changes in our culture.”

Driver, “Wow. I didn’t know you guys were declared a Christian country. I always thought you were pretty secular.”

Danes, “Oh, we are. We do not go to church. But, it is our history. And some are worried about all of the immigration we are seeing now. And the changes.”

Driver, “Yeah, I guess America was always something of a melting pot. Actually, I’ve heard it more appropriately referred to as a ‘salad.’ And you guys have always been somewhat more homogeneous. All blonde hair and blue eyes. Denmark is no shithole country! (Laughs.) I’ve actually heard that difference as an argument as to why European-style democratic socialism wouldn’t work in America. Some say it’s apples and oranges.

On that note, who would you guys like to have seen won the 2016 election here?”

Danes, “Well, Bernie Sanders looked pretty good.”

But like I said, most of my fares have proved themselves as predominantly older, white, moneyed, right wing conservative die hards. You know, the stereotypical financial type.

Meet Joe…

I’m first in the cab line at The Four Seasons on Market. (“On the throne,” as they say.) I’m only even in the line here because it’s been moving, um, like a flood. Still, I don’t know how I even made it back here after my last drop, up at The Westin St. Francis, without some soaked suit throwing his or her body out in front of my cab. (Thank God for rain!)

Three white septuagenarian suits stroll out of the Four Seasons making a break through the downpour and into ‘ol Citizen’s Cab #1015. Two settle in back, as the apparent alpha, Joe, sits up front to ride shotgun.

Joe, “Westin St. Francis, please. (WHEW!) How are you doing today, driver? You must be cleaning up! I bet you’re even beating out Uber! Where the hell did all of this rain come from?? This is supposed to be San Francisco!”

Driver, “Yeah, I actually am doing pretty good today. Which is good, cause I got a kid headed to college, soon. Well, to be fair, the boy has done pretty good throughout high school getting all A’s. And in AP classes. So, it looks like he’ll probably be getting a free ride to UC Berkeley, thanks to grants. Oh, and me being poor. Yay, socialism!”

Joe, “Well, good for him. I’m glad to see at least SOME tax payer dollars going to help out actual Americans.”

Driver, “Oh? Where are you from? Where else do you see those dollars going?”

Joe, “I live down in San Diego. The hospitals are overrun down there with Mexicans crossing the border and filling the ER’s and getting free medical treatment on our dime. It’s a real problem. They sucking up all of our resources.”

Driver, “Hmm. That’s interesting. I haven’t heard about that. Up here, I’ve just noted that maybe 5% of my rides are undocumented. They tell me their stories. And they always pay cash.

Anyway, I have to warn you, I listen to WAY too much NPR. I’ve actually heard that because the undocumented usually use social security numbers that aren’t theirs, they end up paying into the system and never see any money back from it. I’ve heard, despite that argument from the right, they actually are a net plus to the system, to the tune of $12 billion a year!”

Joe, “Well, I haven’t heard about that.”

Driver, “And despite many have heard Obama pinned with that ‘Deporter in Chief’ moniker, they think migration from Mexico only went down after Trump got elected. While it’s true that illegal immigration to the U.S. has gone way down under Trump, even to the point where there’s now a crisis of Muslims crossing into Canada from the U.S. and declaring asylum, immigration from Mexico actually hit a net negative during Obama’s last term!

Anyway, after the hurricanes, Houston NEEDS those undocumented to rebuild.  Half of the construction workers in Texas are undocumented. Literally, HALF! And you, being a California have to take note that we are the bread basket of the country, thanks to all of those Mexicans picking fruit and what in the Central Valley. No American is willing to do that. They all quit on their first day on the job!”

Joe, cool, but holding back from grumbling, “The Central Valley isn’t so big on farming, anymore.”

Huh? Did he really just say that??

Driver, offering an olive branch, “Well, uh, we still have our avocados. (Heh, heh.)”

Joe, “Okay, yes. We still grow avocados.”

(Crickets in back.)

Driver, “Anyway, thanks for letting me engage in a little friendly debate. I apologize, if too much. I had a large coffee today, instead of my usual small. (Heh, heh.)”

Driver, extending further the olive branch, “You’ll be happy to know that my college-bound son is a Trump supporter. Well, he was at least. When I ask him now, he just mumbles something about ‘still supporting’ some of his ‘policies.’

My father used to joke before he passed that my kid’s teenage rebellion would take the form of him being a Republican. (God rest his soul.) I’m just glad dad died before seeing his grandson turn out a Trump-supporting Libertarian! HA!!”

Joe, “Well, not all of us Republicans are crazy.”

Driver, “Oh, don’t get me wrong! I read David Brooks now and then. He offers good food for thought. And he gives a compelling case, a lot. But, I still more often than not disagree with him. He almost always cherry picks to exclusion to support his extensive arguments. (Though, I guess we all do.)

Like that piece he got some trouble for, after arguing for the prohibition of marijuana while conveniently leaving out any acknowledgement of the inequality in pot incarcerations of non-whites, and the devastating effects that’s had on those minorities’ future, after having a record for life.”

Joe, “Well, you can’t argue that Trump hasn’t been great for the economy!”

Driver, “As if the stock market didn’t more than DOUBLE under Obama! And after inheriting the Great Recession from Bush, we saw seventy-five months of steady job creation under his eight years!

Anyway, 2017 was still Obama’s budget in action. Tell me, aside from deregulating coal ash from being dumped in West Virginia rivers, what actual concrete actions has Trump undertaken to spur job creation?”

Joe, “Obama never passed a budget. And deregulation has set the ground for business to start investing again! And the tax bill. Look at AT&T, giving out bonuses and raising wages. And Walmart!”

Driver, “Okay, touche’. Unremarkable continuing resolutions instead of a proper budget, thanks to congressional gridlock.

But, the tax bill isn’t supposed to have any effect on wages until the freed up monies for investment trickle down to create more demand for product a year, or more, from now. Any immediate bonuses or wage increases is purely for show.

Yes, let’s look at AT&T. Those raises and bonuses were already negotiated weeks earlier with the unions, after they were threatening to strike. And right after the bill passed, at Christmas, AT&T announced that they’re laying off over a thousand workers. They’re only giving Trump and the tax law credit because they’re pursuing that merger with Time Warner, which the Trump administration has scrutinized and threatened to shoot down!”

Hmm. Joe’s friends in back have been oddly quiet.

Driver, on a roll, “And let’s look at Walmart’s bonuses and raises. They announced the closing of sixty-three Sam’s Club stores and the laying off of thousands in the same breath!

It’s all smoke and mirrors.”

Joe, “Well, Obamacare was a failure.”

Driver, “It was a right wing think tank, a Heritage Foundation idea. Mitt Romney instituted it as a Republican governor of Massachusetts. That’s why Obama pursued that idea. He figured Republicans would be open to their own idea. And after a year of negotiating, and giving concessions, not ONE Republican voted for it! (Thank you, Mitch McConnell.)”

Joe, “Well, I don’t know about that.” But now continuing with an inspiration, “Well, look at North Korea. They’ve finally come around, after Trump’s tough talk.”

Driver, “Yeah, to bilateral talks with South Korea over the Olympics, leaving the U.S. marginalized.

Kim Jong-un is only more fired up to keep nukes now, out of fear we’ll invade him. And Trump’s talk and his National Security Advisor McMaster’s idea of a ‘bloody nose’ is NOT going to help THAT any! North Korea’s not going to strike first. It’s all about self-preservation.

Anyway, how’s that working out for Hawaii! I saw a video of a dad lowering his kids down into a sewer after that false missile strike alarm. With all of Trump’s saber rattling, it was all too believable for them. As it should be for all of us here on the West Coast.

Er, uh, but… I REALLY appreciate hearing your opinion. it looks like we’re here now.

The Westin St. Francis!”

The meter reads $16.70, after much time spent in, um, gridlock.

Joe hands me up a credit card, looking a bit peaked.

Driver, “Uh, really, thanks for the friendly debate. Hope I wasn’t TOO caffeinated! (Heh, heh.)” Continuing, “Oh, and would you like me to add anything to that?”

Joe, “Make it twenty. And good luck with your son.”

And thank you, American Express.



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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…

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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