Traditionally, the week after Christmas is dead for the hack. (Okay, so is the week before Christmas.) A funny way to celebrate the hope of new life, if you ask me. Still, here I am cruising the streets of San Francisco streets in my trusty ‘ol Prius – Citizen’s Cab #1015, praying for a lucrative New Year.
Civilians often ponder aloud that this time of year must be a windfall for your driver, with nonstop rides to the airport. The reality is, though, rides to the airport are sporadic. It’s mostly jaunts riding the bag laden holiday shopper home from Westfield Mall, and the odd octogenarian medical appointment. Reality is, school is out, and the corporate world goes into a state of suspended animation, with the suits all having left town to return to the Midwest to be with family. (Okay, and God bless the Mexican dish washer.)
Yet, still, I drive…
And with a lot of time to think. I warm myself with the thought of Queen Sheba’s recent benefaction – that early morning regular I take to LinkedIn, where she’s a chef. I consider our last ride before the holiday break, where she paid cash. And made a point of making sure that I looked at what she handed me before stuffing the bills into the pocket of my cargo shorts. You see, usually when the Queen hands me up cash it’s our negotiated straight $25. This, versus the straight $26.05 metered fare when it’s on her Amex. (Always sans tip, of course.)
Sheba, “You didn’t look at what I gave you!”
Huh? Two twenties!?
Driver, “You are a classy lady, Sheba. Merry Christmas. And happy New Year!”
The recollection brings with it a pang of guilt. I haven’t given away my peanut butter sandwich to a homeless person in weeks. And it’s Christmas. Well, past Christmas now… Guess I just worked out New Year’s resolution number one.
I’m rolling west up Market from downtown, yet to break the ice. Up ahead at Geary, a large black dude and a short Hispanic chick, both donning brown MUNI outfits, suddenly jump out in the street and begin vehemently flagging me. Well, ok. Let’s get this holiday party started!
Competition between drivers in these times of famine get especially cutthroat. I do not even scan for that Yellow bitch who might try to swoop on my meal. I flash my lights, GUN the cab the half block up, and ZOOM to the curb!
And my bus driving passengers jump in back giddy and laughing.
Large Black Dude, “We jus’ miss’d tha 38, man. We gonna be late fa werk!”
Short Hispanic Chick, “Presidio ‘n Geary, drivah! You know tha MUNI bus lot up dere?? FASS! We gotta be dere in FIIIIVE MINUTE!!”
Driver, forgoing his waybill, “You guys got in the right cab! Presidio and Geary, it is!!”
This time of the morning has its own rules. The police aren’t really out ticketing for U-turns and speeders at this time. That’s for the motorcycle cops. And you don’t really see them around before sunup. So, Rose’s (cab school teacher) Commandments be damned.
Specifically, Commandment IX: NEVER speed, make an illegal U-turn OR an illegal left, run a red light, or break ANY traffic laws, AT ALL, JUST because you’re fare is “in a HUGE hurry!!!” (They wouldn’t be taking a cab in the first place, if they weren’t. And no tip, no matter HOW large, is worth more than your livelihood.)
I FLOOR it up Geary, masterfully working the taxi/bus-lane through Union Square, weaving around double-parked black Town Cars and Ubers, catching greens and yellows the whole way, until a red in Japantown. (Meh.) The grace! the beauty! Santa’s on the ride! Neigh, it is no less than Christ HIMSELF working through me!!
Under the bridge at Fillmore, an Uber senses a challenge and guns it to keep pace. But alas, he is merely mortal. I leave Uber in the dust as I fly through the yellow at Divisadero, now just three blocks from my passengers’ drop at the MUNI bus lot.
WHOOOOP!!! WHOOOP!!! RRRRAWWWLLL!!! WHOOOOP!!! WHOOOP!!!
I don’t suppose those pretty red and blue lights in my rear view are coming from some Christmas tree giving chase. And that sure don’t SOUND like ‘Auld Land Syne.‘
So much for Christ working through me.
Driver, “Uh, you guys might want to just settle now and walk the next two blocks. I did you good enough that you’ll still make it on time.”
Short Hispanic Chick, “How much we owe you?”
I check the meter, which it seems I forgot to turn on in my zealousness.
Deflated, and more consumed with the young Asian American cop now approaching my window with his hand on his holstered gun, and his ticket book, I shoot low.
Driver, “Uh, I forgot to turn on the meter. It’d be around ten bucks, though. Cool?”
Short Hispanic Chick turns to Large Black Dude with, “You got dis?”
Large Black Dude affirms, “Yeah,” as he hands me up a credit card, saying, “Make it ten.”
And my passengers start back in to laughing all giddy, as they jump out of my taxi and start running up Geary.
Note to Self: From now on, HEED Rose!
Young Asian American Cop, “Sir, do you know what the speed limit is on this road?”
Deflated Driver, “Uh, actually, I don’t.”
Young Asian American Cop, “It’s 35 miles per hour, sir. I got you on radar doing 52. License and registration, please.”
This guy’s in a police cruiser. What the HELL is he doing out at 5am setting up speed traps!? (Sigh.) Dude’s pretty young. Me thinks that maybe HE’s the zealous one!
Okay, okay. I’ll take my medicine. I do actually have a clean license, at present. And for a cab driver, that’s way more important than any fine. ($238 and one point, if this guy shows mercy and knocks it down to 50 m.p.h., which he will.) Regarding points, aside from the increased insurance premium for three years out on my personal vehicle, a color scheme will put a driver “out of service” after accruing three points, on account of uninsurability via the company’s policy.
An ace in the deck, though, is a (roughly) eight-hour private traffic school. If one hasn’t attended in the past eighteen months, you can pay the $238 fine, plus an extra $52 “administrative fee,” plus $40 for the school, and your debt to society will be settled – sans having incurred any points on your license! However, this should always be kept as a last resort. And as mentioned, I have a clean license, and hence room to play.
But, that’s only cause I got my game on working the system.
1.) Mail in the $238 “bail” and a Trial by Written Declaration, pleading simply “NOT GUILTY.”
2.) When the “GUILTY” finding gets mailed back, mail in a request for a Trial De Novo.
3.) Delay the court date, which in a Trial De Novo you actually have to appear at 850 Bryant.
4.) Then, months down the road when you actually show up for court, the cop does not.
5.) Case dismissed! (And wait four months for the check returning your “bail” to be issued.)
Oh, and if the cop DOES show??
“May I request traffic school, your honor?”
Anyway, I know what you’re thinking: peanut butter karma.
NPR: “And here’s Joe McConnell with traffic. Joe?”
Joe McConnell, “Well, it’s slow traffic on the Nimitz at 98th Avenue, in Oakland. CHP reports dollar bills flying around the highway. Hopefully, it’s JUST dollar bills.”
“Cha-Ching! – 680 Noe. Adrian.”
My Cabulous taxi hailing-app comes ringing to life with an order in the Castro. Adrian. I know him. He’s a fellow writer who used to regularly call Citizen’s Cab dispatch proper, before getting turned on to the app – which 80% of San Francisco’s cab drivers are currently plugged-in to. Still, I seem to get a lot of the same passengers via the app.
Adrian is an older gay dude, commonly donned in loose white linen and sandals, who projects the Indian guru look. He often reminds me of his “exile” status from his “very, VERY, wealthy” east coast family, whose surname he can’t reveal. He says he was exiled on account of that they could not accept his artist, or homosexual, lifestyle. Adrian used to be very supportive of my cab reports, until one day he inexplicably unsubscribed. I’m not sure why (and the issue has been carefully avoided), but my best guess is that I didn’t pursue his suggestion I submit my cabbie tome to the East Bay indie publishing outfit his friends own, which specializes in Lesbian erotica. In any event, in past exchanges on writing it’s come out that we have a mutual friend in the great Mike Larsen. (San Francisco writer’s agent extraordinaire, who retired from the biz immediately after I began courting him professionally. We’ve since become great friends. I love you, Mike!)
I pull up to 680 Noe, and hit ‘Call Passenger’ on the app. And in short order, Adrian sashays out to my taxi, gets in back, and sighs.
In addition to the loose white linen pants – with the easy access drawstring, and white linen Nehru jacket, today Adrian is sporting a white linen kufi cap.
Adrian, suddenly realizing, perks up, “Oh, hello! It’s you!” Then returns another sigh, and to slumping in back, “I’m dying, Alex. It’s cancer. I do not have much time left on this earth.”
Alex, “Uh, 400 Parnassus, then? UCSF?”
Adrian, surprised, “Why, yes. That’s right. Always the consummate professional, Alex.”
I hit the meter, and drive.
Alex, “So, what are you writing now?”
Adrian, “It is an epic poem. Something that has never been attempted. It tracks the evolution of social justice, by way of the history of mankind in metaphor, utilizing astrology and the Greek calendar. I have a publisher’s interest right now. However, it is a question as to whether I will live long enough to see it through.”
Alex, “Well, I don’t know about you. But, I see my writing as a legacy thing. Right now, I write to keep in touch with my ma. But after I’m gone, I figure my kids might be interested to see what I was up to, and my perspective on life.” Catching himself, “Uh, but I guess you don’t have kids, eh? Well, finish ‘er up and get published! For your legacy! Sounds like interesting work!”
Adrian, “I do not write for my legacy. (Sigh.) You know, I come from a very wealthy family back east.” Adrian leans forward and makes eye contact via the rear view, before continuing, “VERY wealthy. And they do not understand my life’s work. Alas, I will try to finish before I go. The chemo is no friend to writing, however. Which is as the case now stands.”
Too soon, we have arrived at what I presume is Adrian’s chemo appointment. He leaves me $10 on the $7.90 meter, Visa. And I watch, possibly for the last time, as Adrian’s flowing white garb recedes into the sprawling UCSF medical complex, akin a setting sun. (Too cheesy?)
And the day puts on…
I just dropped an older, well-to-do woman with bags up at her condo in Russian Hill. She was a score on Market, from in front of Westfield Mall. As that’s where all the action seems to be, I’m rolling back down Mason towards Market with the hopes of reloading.
Once down at Mason and Market, and stopped for a red here at the edge of The Loin, a wrinkly, weathered, wrinkly old black woman in an Aunt Jemima doo rag, with few teeth, stumbles over to my taxi and leans in my open shotgun window.
Jemima, seemingly confused and smacking her lips, “Whassa kin-ya mm goin needa take em ta cuple blachks way ahn dere merkit dowwwn?”
Driver, “Sure, get in!”
It’s time to do more than just give out my peanut butter sandwich, which I still have saved. It’s time to give out something a little bit more: dignity.
Jemima creaks in back and settles in, as Driver hits the meter. Now, hmm. It’s a 50/50 chance, which way to turn. I opt for the left, east down Market. (It only being a coincidence, mind you, that Westfield Mall is just one block in that direction.)
I check the rear view… Jemima seems content with the left, before going on to clarify her destination.
Jemima, “Goin ta sessa mure blahk kin-ya den fer needa tak em me jus Merkit.”
Driver, “Okay. No problem. I got you.”
I haven’t a clue where the hell Jemima is headed. But only a half block up, right in front of Westfield Mall, I suddenly take note of a lost looking blonde family half-heartedly flagging, ME, with luggage.
I scan for any Yellow Cabs looking to swoop, ZOOM ahead FAST, and VEER HARD to the curb directly in front of my dinn-, er, family.
I hit the meter off, now at $4.05, after having bumped up one 55 cent tick from the starting $3.50 charge. And I turn around to address Jemima.
Driver, “Is this good? Oh, no charge, by the way. Merry Christmas. And happy New Year!”
A confused looking Jemima replies, “Mee uhp en okum heer Merkit kay,” JUST as blonde mom swings open Jemima’s door to get in, likewise confused that I have a passenger.
Seemingly satisfied, Jemima stumbles out of the taxi, as Driver jumps out and around to load the hatch of Citizen’s Cab #1015with blonde mom, blonde teenage son, blonde teenage daughter and blonde dad’s luggage.
And all cram into the taxi, as Driver grabs his waybill/clipboard ready to note, with, “Okay. Where to?”
Blonde Dad, in a thick French accent, “Du yoo kno… whare… LeMeridian Otel?”
Damn. NOT an airport. And the badly broken English does NOT bode well for a tip on this short ride.
Driver, “Sure. LeMeridian. Battery and Sansome. It’s just a few blocks.”
After riding in silence, a few blocks on, we pull into the drive of the LeMeridian Hotel, where the doorman jumps to unload my French family’s luggage from the hatch. The meter reads $6.80. Blonde Dad looks confused, as he sorts through a five, a one, and eight dimes, before handing them over to me from the shotgun seat with, “Th-ank… yoo.”
“Cha-ching! – 2 Embarcadero. Jenny.”
I haven’t even pulled out of the drive of LeMeridian, yet. Now, THIS is how cab driving is SUPPOSED to go!
And, I ‘Accept’ the order.
2 Embarcadero is an open air mall here downtown, just two blocks away. And I make it to the Sacramento side, where the little icon of my passenger on the screen looks to be waiting, lickety-split.
As I pull up, an older, well dressed Asian American woman with a warm smile waves her phone at me.
I pull alongside the woman, who dips towards the shotgun with, “Alexander?”
Alexander, “Yup! Jenny, right?”
Jenny, beaming, “Yes!”
She gets in back, with, “Thanks so much for coming. I’m headed to Westfield Mall.” And with another warm smile, adds, “How are you doing today?”
But before I can answer, I am caught, suddenly, by the vision of a badly soiled, disheveled man in ripped olive drab clothing, with long greasy brown hair and with a long greasy beard. He is sitting just a few feet ahead us on the curb with his legs in the street, wild eyed and cackling to himself, as contorting his body all herky-jerky.
Alexander, “Excuse me, ma’am. If you don’t mind, I have a peanut butter sandwich to give away.”
I roll the cab forward, as extracting the Ziploc’ed goods from the center console armrest. I lean towards the open shotgun, and extend my arm out, dangling the sandwich.
“Hey! HEY! You want a peanut butter sandwich?”
And although this man can obviously walk, he CRAWLS over to the window, plunks his hands on the door, and pulls his chin over the sill to rest, as he begins drooling and rolling his eyes back into his head.
With a great cackle, in his best Cookie Monster, he now speaks, “I am ToneEEee. Frum tha plan-et VEN-USSS!! Heh, HEH, heh!!! I eat Tur-KEY left-OVERssss. Heh, HEH, heH!!! StiLLLL lunnnCHH! CHH!! CHH!!! StiLLL MUUUUuuUuuNCCHHH!!!! Heh, HEH, heH!!!”
ToneEEee now opens his mouth, WIDE, sans breaking from his cackle. And with this successful communication, I extend my arm further out, and again shake the Ziploc bag containing my sandwich.
On cue, ToneEEee lunges forward and clamps down on the sandwich, with his disjointed yellowed teeth, Ziploc bag and all And he chomps! And he CHOMPS!! And he shakes his head side to side, trashing and cackling. And I throw up a peace sign, as I begin to roll.
And I turn back towards my passenger, and repeat back “Westfield Mall,” as I slowly accelerate, with ToneEEee’s hands and head still plucked over the door of the taxi, trashing the baggie, drooling and cackling.
ToneEEee FINALLY falls by the wayside of the cab, as I yell back sincere,
“MERRY CHRISTMAS!! And HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!”
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Photo by Alex SacK