I have an oldie but goodie for you this week.
4:20am: “Bloo-DoDo-Bloo-DingDing… Bloo-DoDo-Bloo-DingDing… Bloo-DoDo-Bloo-DingDing…”
I changed my iPhone alarm-tone to the generic Apple-supplied Harp one. I can never listen to Japanese flute again. It would seem I’d stuck with that particular custom tone for about six months too many. And I liked Japanese flute. (Anyway, ya gotta mix it up and live a little! Eh?)
I had a little bit of a hard time sleeping last night. (Yeah, what’s new?) But, this time it was on account of my left elbow and shoulder have been aching. Every time I rolled over, a dull pain would wake me from some pretty crazy dream. (But, that’s another story.)
I have been driving 137 exclusively for a bit over a week now, a 4:15 medallion. She’s a “new” Prius – which means 80K on her and a thorough spraying with an entire bottle of new car smell. I thought it’d be nice, but I never realized the ergonomic implications of having the same cab day to day. (At least one with such tight steering action.) Yeah, she’s nice and clean and I know what to expect, but my left elbow/shoulder deal is totally due to repetitive motion from the stiff steering, and I’m kinda worried about it.
Sure, an asymmetrically large right calf and sunburned left forearm are some to-be-expected cabbie side effects, but it seems breaking up between Escapes, Camrys, Fusions and Priusususes can mitigate some of the others by spreading out the work between different muscles and tendons, etc. – due to the differing steering wheel sizes, tensions, seat and arm rest positions and such. Yeah, it’s definitely way more ergonomically correct to break it up amongst a few different rides. Think I’ll pray to Jesus for my old situation back.
4:55am: I’m back in the Citizen’s Cab office and there seems to be a lively scene. Tony’s working the office and has a rapt audience of drivers listening to a story about how Lazaro’s (Luxor Cab owner) son was chased into the Citizen’s office last night by two masked, knife-wielding Hell’s Angels.
Seems Milford was working dispatch and quickly slammed and locked the heavy door all super scared out of his wits, then quickly called 911. Tony says it has something to do with the 3-alarm fire from a couple weeks ago that burned to the ground the Luxor garage housed right next door to Citizen’s. He goes on to say something about how the Hell’s Angels have some kind of partial ownership of the garage and a there’s been an ongoing family dispute and the fire might not have been accidental. Don’t know if he meant “not accidental” with regards to insurance, or revenge. But worse, it seems the Angels had some uninsured bikes that burned in the blaze. That can’t be good, for somebody.
Anyway, that fire was quite a deal! I was working that day and saw the smoke from miles away as I was getting on 101 south with an airport (around noon). And this was all the way from the Financial! As we neared the scene, my fare and I grew more and more impressed with all the news helicopters and fire crews, 50-foot flames and smoke. I was noting to my tourist passenger how close it was to the Citizen’s Cab lot just off the highway as we passed. Little did I know at the time that it was right next door!
There were fire engines fighting it from inside our lot! And they shut off the street. Citizen’s had to wing a staging area in exile a block away for cabs coming in from the day shift. Crazy.
5:00am: I’m in 137, and one perk now is that the cab only needs a light “going to town” each morning, with regards to my alcohol-wipe/sanitize-the-cab ritual. After all, it’s only been a few hours since I last drove her.
Now, off to the second, um, “movement” of my morning ritual…
Starbucks, 5:15am: I head to the register for my “tall” coffee and pay with one from a stock of empty Starbucks bean bags my sister gives me every Christmas. (How embarrassing. Thanks, Mar.) Each one earns you a free cup. I do tip extra though, as to not feel like a total geek.
The barista this morning is a cute blonde who’s a dead ringer for Cate Blanchett, big rose tattoo on her chest aside. She’s been a little cold to me lately though, and I’m not sure why. It might be that she had to wait a little too long one recent morning for me to do my deal in the bathroom. Or, it might be about a drama that transpired a few weeks ago with some new cocky barista dude with a Mohawk.
My brother had emailed me a code for a free coffee and Mohawk was all rude and dismissive saying that the code meant nothing to him, and he wouldn’t even try entering it. I explained calmly that I had successfully used a like code in the past, but Mohawk was having none of it. So, we got into it as Blanchett came running to the rescue to assuage “the regular” Mohawk was clueless with whom he was fucking.
Dude did apologize the next time I saw him, but that was the last time I saw him. Maybe Blanchett thinks I complained to corporate and got Mohawk fired. Whatever. In any event, I wish my family would stop giving me shady notes for free coffee. I can’t deal with looks askance pre-caffeine.
Anyway, post-coffee procurement and napkin theft, I exit the throne room to find a man sitting in a chair waiting outside of the door, squirming, legs crossed and looking up at me head cocked to the side and bug-eyed. I know that look. He’s about to shit himself.
(Okay, okay. Blachett’s deal is probably more about #1.)
8:15am: I’m cruising the Upper Haight. It’s very quiet up here early morning, aside from police rousting the ubiquitous homeless street kids (and their dogs) sleeping in the various head shop doorways and writing them Sit/Lie Law citations.
I’m approaching the end of the strip – near Shrader, when I spot an older retired-looking couple awkwardly flagging me in the middle of the intersection.
It’s an odd sight. They’re hanging with some hippie-gypsy street kid with colorful patch-strewn jeans, a fedora – complete with feather of course, a vibrant kerchief-laden walking stick… and a cat on his shoulder.
But the older couple – my flags – are clutching expensive-looking cameras hung ’round their necks. And the man is sporting a khaki fishing vest. They look like they’re on safari.
I pull over, older couple gets in…
“Driver, can you please take us to…” (Sir Burton fumbles through a paper map spread across his lap) “Do-lor-es Park.”
Then, Dame Goodall turns to whisper to her man, as if I can’t hear.
“Do you think we’ll find good subjects in the park? I was disappointed with what we’ve found at this last stop.”
However, Sir Burton doth protest!
He gushes a loud response, “Well, what did you think of Captain Beefheart?”
Goodall, “Captain Beefheart? Hmm. I don’t know…”
Sir Burton, “Rate him! 1 to 10!”
And Goodall, “Do I rate him on the shot? Or, the experience?”
An excited Sir Burton almost cuts her off, “Both!”
“Well, I would rate the experience a 7, but the shot a 3.
In any event, are you ok? I didn’t realize that wasn’t a cigarette he was holding until we saw it on the camera! Do you feel strange?”
“No. I’m ok. I just hope we find the park more fruitful. Maybe it’s too early.”
(Yeah, it’s too early. The Haight doesn’t liven up until well after noon.)
Approaching the top of 17th Street – at Clayton, we pass a Prius with a futuristic spinning mechanism on its roof.
Sir Burton is giddy with wonder,
“Driver! What is that vehicle??”
“Oh. It’s a Google Street View car taking updated pictures for Google maps.”
Sir Burton and Dame Goodall burst with excitement,
Sir Burton quickly grabs his camera and snaps away before showing-off a proud shot to Goodall with, “Rate it! Rate it!”
Goodall gives it a disappointing “2”…
But Sir Burton is not fazed. He straightens his back and lifts his finger, boldly asserting,
“I predict that in our children’s lifetimes, there will be cars driven by robots!”
His Dame glows in wonder at the pronouncement.
(Yeah, NPR has them on the roads in 5 years; current working Google prototypes aside.)
Then, Goodall leans up to address “Driver”,
“Driver, will we see gay people? I’d really like to get a shot of a rainbow in a crosswalk. Can you tell us where to find one?”
“A gay person? Or a rainbow in a crosswalk?
Well, Dolores Park is not far from the Castro. But I don’t know about any rainbows in crosswalks…”
Dame Goodall settles back sighing in disappointment at Driver’s answer and turns, digressing, into letting Sir Burton in on a family scandal back in Wisconsin.
Seems Goodall’s Aunt and Uncle didn’t know until recently that her cousin was (gasp) gay. Goodall goes on to surmise that the parents must have been in denial all those years – despite all of the “clues”. It seems everyone else in the family knew. With this, Sir Burton relays that he knew of no gays in his home state of Texas.
Sir Burton and Dame Goodall begin to wear a little thin now on me about now and I decide to navigate around the Castro, lest they fall in love with its vibrancy and jump out there taking snaps of all the indigenous.
Besides, going through this gay mecca would surely rob me of an extra metered dollar, should I not take them all the way to the park.
(Yeah, I feel a little bad. I am all about supporting the arts. But, I have to be honest and rate this experience a “2”.)
We approach Dolores Park, and I decide to make it up to them by dropping at the corner of 20th & Church; it’s one of the more amazing views of San Francisco. Absolutely breathtaking.
And the safari is not disappointed.
But suddenly, Sir Burton breaks Goodall’s sublime mood with references to his ex, and how she was bi-sexual curious (only). Sir Burton chuckles heartily that maybe if they meet a gay, he and Goodall will end up in an orgy.
But Goodall frowns at the thought! And bitterly asserts that she is not bi and not his ex!
But she adds, “Maybe they’ll convert YOU!”
The fare is $11.20.
Out of nowhere, I feel a sharp dig in my shoulder and turn stunned to find Goodall poking my collar bone with a twenty, her head still turned addressing Sir Burton and jeering on about his off remark.
She does break momentarily to address Driver, asking for 7 dollars back.
And, as Sir Burton and Dame Goodall exit the taxi, both put on smiles and lean-in to address the local cabbie, slowly and d e l i b e r a t e l y, with assurance,
“We love your city… And your people…”
9:19am: “Cha-ching! – 25 Glendale. Carrie. Dispatch.”
When you are a cabbie and someone calls, you may sometimes be transporting them from the lowest point in their life…
I pull up to this apartment building at the top of Market to find a 20-something brunette Carrie, sitting out front on her steps, mid-cell conversation:
“Can you take me to the apartments by Westlake Shopping Center in Daly City? Thanks.”
And Carrie dives back into her cell,
“Dude, I’m fucked.”
“I came home last night to find my two roommates sitting out front saying the locks won’t work! I said, ‘What do you mean the locks don’t work?’”
“They said they’ve been changed. Fuck!”
“Dude… This is SO fucked!”
“They said that security came and FOUND MY BONG! And took pictures of my room and took all my stuff!!”
“This is hella fucked! What do I do? Call the police?”
“I went to security and they said they don’t have my stuff. They said they’re not authorized to take it. They don’t do that. Dude, what do I do??”
“No! It’s not my BONG! It’s ALL MY STUFF!!”
“I’m fucked, dude!”
(Carrie then gets all sweet-voiced.)
“I don’t want to go to the police alone… What are you doing later?”
“Ok. Give me a fuckin’ holla after you get outta class. Fuck.”
“Dude. Fo sho.”
“No. I can’t go to work like this! I worked in these clothes yesterday. What’ll they think? I’m HELLA fucked.”
Carrie then turns to me,
“I literally just moved in March 1st. It was a Craigslist thing! It was bad enough when the utilities were turned off last week! I guess they didn’t pay the bill, huh? Fuck. Dude…”
And Wise Cabbie speaks,
“Uh, you should call the police. San Francisco also has some free tenant’s rights lawyers you can call.”
“Really? Thanks, I’ll do that. That was all my money. I still can’t believe this is happening. It’s all so surreal. I keep thinking I’ll wake up. I think I’m in denial.”
“Man, that sucks.”
10:32am: I’m rolling up Castro approaching Market.
I look for a flag at the bus stop there. It often bears fruit.
And it does…
A late 40’s white guy wearing an Indian kurta, jovial smile, glasses and grey beard flags me.
I pull over and Ricky gets in back gasping,
“Oh my goodness! I’m an hour late to meet my ex up in the Haight! Clayton & Waller, please!”
I return wryly,
“Well, I don’t think I can help get you there an hour ago, but I’ll see what I can do!”
“We’re getting our locks changed and have to meet the locksmith. I hope they’re still there!”
Ok, I’ll bite…
“Why are you having your locks changed?”
“We were burgled yesterday. Fifty thousand dollars worth of jewelry was stolen,” Ricky relays with a casual smile.
(Ok. Living with ex? And why is Ricky so easy about it?)
“I don’t mind being late, really,” Ricky beams. “I just spent the night out! My ex is a dick.”
I hope to spin positive about the burglary,
“Any contenders for the theft? Any chance of getting your stuff back?”
“Well,” continues Ricky, “there are two possibles. Our other roommate had a trick over the night before last, and then there’s my ex’s brother in-law. But, if the thief is smart, he’ll sell it all outside of the state. I know these things, I’m in the industry. But, my ex’s brother in-law is NOT smart! (he, he.) But, who knows? We did fill-out a police report. I am not hopeful, however,” Ricky says, all while still a-glow.
“Well, you still have your health,” I awkwardly add.
(Doh! How cliche’.)
I try to recover, “Anything sentimental get taken?”
“Oh, my! Yes! My grandmother’s gold rose watch from the 20’s! And it was worth $20K! And some gold cufflinks my father gave me that had belonged to his father. Dad knew I was the responsible one in the family. Anyway, I had a wonderful night out,” Ricky beams. “Don’t get me wrong, I never cheated on my ex! (He, he.)”
I decide to contribute,
“Well, at one time I was a token straight waiter at Orphan Andy’s, the 24 hour diner there where I picked you up, and another gay waiter schooled me back then about how all gay men think ‘monogamy’ is a wood.”
And Ricky bursts,
“Wonderful! Great! So true! I will simply have to use that!”
And, we arrive mid-block on Clayton (between Waller & Frederick) to find no one waiting out front.
“Oh, well. I hope my ex has the keys…”
And he exits the cab, leaving yours truly $11 on a $7.40 fare. But before walking off, Ricky leans towards my half-open shotgun window, grins wide and yells,
“I can’t believe I opened up to you!”
As I roll out of the drive, I yell back to laughs,
“I’m a cab driver. It’s my job!”
(POW! Wise Cabbie strikes again!)
My custom Spermulator ring-tone goes off (not my alarm-tone.)
It’s Christian! He wants a ride from his place in the Tenderloin to the Metreon Center’s City Target. I’m actually at Turk & Market now – only blocks away, and fareless. What the hell. Why not?
I catch him walking down Turk and pick him up. (He gets in back.)
Christian immediately breaks out his phone to show me a video from an interesting ride he had last night. He pulled the cab camera’s SD card to get the footage.
I quickly come to realize that pulling the card (against Citizen’s rules) was well worth the risk to his career.
It’s a 20-something couple, a guy and a tipsy chick in a flapper’s costume.
And this video has audio! (I didn’t think the cameras recorded sound!)
Anyway, Boop just giggles away as dude gives Christian a destination, before promptly asking Christian if he wants to see Boop’s tits.
But before Christian can answer, Boop drops her top and starts vigorously jiggling – with manual support – two very large melons. She leans forward giggling.
Christian is dazed.
Boop puts her top back up, blinks her big fake lashes and proceeds asking sweetly, “Do you mind if I smoke an e-Cig in your cab?”
Not missing a beat, Christian shoots back, “After that, you can smoke anything you want in here!” as he wipes the drool from his agape mouth.
And with that, Boop drops her top again – for good, pulls out an e-Cig and goes on discussing (punk band) The Melvins songs with Christian. Boop converses all matter-of-factly, but diverts at every stop to squeal and jiggle at each red’s neighboring car.
2:35pm: I’m cruising the Mission, on Valencia near 20th.
Gettin’ kinda tired. May call it soon.
Then, a 30-something dude in a navy sport coat pops out from the curb outside some hipster café to flag. I pull over.
It seems my fare is actually two start-up techie 30-somethings; both wearing cool sunglasses, shiny black shoes and day-old beards – although one is rocking an open collar blue oxford (untucked) and jeans, and the other said navy sport coat and jeans.
As they get in back Gates glowers envious on how Jobs always scores a cab instantly and effortless. Gates relays this to Jobs in front of me as if I were not there, as if I were an extension of an app.
“Hey, Buddy. We‘re heading to 21st & Harrision.”
And Jobs and Gates dive right into business, talking about “turn-key solutions” and “going live” before Gates diverts all incredulous (or, again envious) to how they know #15 on The Business Times recently published top 20 list of Coolest Tech CEOs. Gates laments (definitely envious now) on how #15 just “blows smoke up people’s asses”.
Despite the strange urge to take a shower after drop, I do appreciate that this was an actual old-school flag off the street (as opposed to an app hail). And that at the end of the six-block ride, Jobs hands me seven actual paper dollars!
Yes, yes. I’ll stop griping,
Okay, one more ride…
2:45pm: I’m headed up 18th back toward where I picked up Jobs and Gates; my best, closest chance for a fare.
Sure enough, outside Tartine (hipster French bakery) at 18th & Guerrero, I catch two sexagenarians flagging me. I have to make a sharp U at the intersection to grab them, and do so masterfully… but just as the one with the cane starts hobbling into the street.
Cane seems kinda freaked-out by my U. But I quickly realize though, it was just ’cause he thought I was going to pass him. It was not for fear of me running him down.
Cane is wearing a worn brown bomber jacket, a military troop-specific baseball cap, blue jeans, “The Matrix” sunglasses and is slurping from a 20oz. Sprite can. He complements the ensemble with a trimmed grey mustache.
His friend – dressed a bit more cultured – opens the rear door for Cane, who then stumbles in back, reeking of gin.
And cultured “friend” walks off.
I have a bad feeling about this…
In a gruff, ripped-up gravel, “I’s go-in’ ta Sint Luu-ke’s… 17-80 Vah-lesi-ahhh. I git off da busss heer, n it wunt rit!”
“St. Luke’s, it is,” I confirm, and I drive.
Thank God it’s only a few blocks straight down Valencia.
Definitely my last ride today.
And bonus; it’s not far from the Citizen’s lot.
As we drive, I find dude drunk as hell, but nice enough. He sips from his “Sprite” and starts-in rambling about how “I amm noht a riiich maannn. Buuht, I wuz a Team-ssster ‘n haad muney bac whin, ‘n tha 70’s” before going on about how he and a friend once flew to the famous Mustang Ranch brothel in Nevada, partook of the wares there, and made it back to San Francisco in just three hours… back when he was married.
But now, “Myyy WIIFE iss, deeaaaaaddd. And THAT, makes me… MAAAAD.”
A bright disposition slowly turns a belligerent hue.
“Gaa dam Sint LUKESSS! THEezE SeRGEONS arR MUTHERFUKeRSS! THAy cutt u nooo… slak!I
I staaay ther unce, ‘n wak uuup, n’ cee, a Gaa dam Filipino staahndin ovrrr ME!
Dun wannna cee NO Filipino! …
I thougght Iz inn NNAAAAAMMM!
And Nam goes on, “Were u inn… NAAAAMM?? Nahhhh, u to yung ta beeee inn… NAAAM!”
(Okay, Alex. Maybe a change of subject is in order?)
“Uh, I was too young, But I’m old enough that I have kids…”
“I bin ta NAAAAMM, maaan. Shiiit.”
“‘Dun eeven no WHYY!
I waz kiillin people… I haahd kno biz-ness kiihllin!
Dun eev-en no whhyyy I wuz kiillin ‘em! BUT!”
“They’z try-in ta kiill MMEEE, ALLL ovr tha PLAC!
Thay MAK mee KIILL‘em.”
“I giv ‘em evry chanceee… Shhiiit,”
“Iiii’d rathr kiill a buncha muther fukers inn THIsS TOwWwN!”
And Nam and I arrive outside of St. Luke’s, 1580 Valencia.
Nam had asked to go to St Luke’s at “17“80 Valencia.
But Valencia dead-ends at Mission after the 1600 block.
Anyway, he probably won’t realize.
“Iz thi-sss 1850 Vahlen-ceea?
Now, wherz my caaardd…”
Damn, he noticed.
But now he’s looking for his medical card with the address, to confirm. I assure Nam that this is St, Luke’s and that there is no 1780, or 1850, Valencia, as
“It dead-ends at Mission. You can see, just up ahead.”
But, Nam is more concerned about his medical card and shuffles through his jeans and bomber pockets. But first, to free his hands, he guzzles down the rest of his “Sprite”, crushes the can and throws it to the curb outside the hospital, just missing an old Mexican woman with a walker.
And, “Whin u pic ME uuup, Iz in tha rong PLAC!
‘N I cahhnt WALLK!
I AINT gittin owt til I git myyy CAAAHRD!
‘N u AINT maakin ME!
Iz THISSS 17-80 Vahlennncee-ah?
Lass tim I git inn a caa-b, it wuz a dam A-RAB!
I git inna fit wittth thhat dam A-RAB!! I sead…
GIt OWT! I guna KIK Ur AASSSSS! ‘N I git owt to KIK HIZ ASSSS…
Buht, thh-at DAM A-RAB lok tha door ‘n driv OFFF withhh MY SHIIIIT! Dam.
I waNa DRINK nowww.”
Meanwhile, in emptying his pockets all over the back seat, Nam does actually come across some cash – two fifty dollar bills! He hands me up one of them. The meter reads $9.80.
Hmmm. This might take a minute. Best make the change, but hold onto it up front until Nam finds his medical card. I’ll let the meter run, even if just at the slower 55 cent/minute “idling” rate.
While Nam mumbles (alternately loud and soft) in back and shuffles through his pockets in search of his medical card while ranting out non-existent street addresses, I take a moment to make some story notes on the back of some meter receipt tape.
All the while, I intermittently move one dollar bills from his change to a separate pile of my own on the shotgun seat, with every other 55-cent click of the meter.
And this goes on…
Suddenly, Nam breaks from turning out his pockets and catches me putting my receipt notes away in my wallet.
Nam gets serious.
He tilts his head down and dips his “The Matrix” sunglasses to peer at me all steely – with blue, beady, bloodshot eyes.
“Wahhtch… U GAHT… ‘A MIIINNNe!!”
Taken a-back, I assure, “Nothing, man. I was just writing.
But I’m pretty sure they’ll know you here, even without your card.
If you stayed here, they should have you in the computer.”
(Awww. Poor guy. I don’t take it personal. He’s really hurting. Namaste’, Nam.)
“U try-in ta pull wun ovrrr, ahn mMEEE! U try-in ta PLAAA MEE?? I AINT gittin OWT… til u giv mE whats MIIIInEE!!”
(Nam just needs someone to listen to him. He needs help.)
I move dollar number nine to my pile.
“I… WAHNT whatzzz MIIINE!
Sweeer Ahn uurrr KIIIDSS life!! u AINT taaaake, nu-thINN…”
(Ok, keep it cool, Alex. You have time… And this guy needs you. He was sent by God. A test… To heal. After all, “Alexander” means “helper of men”.)
“I AINT… GITTINNN OOWTTT!!”
(Ok, Alex. Do you physically remove him yourself? Or, call the police!)
“TaaaKK ME… ta tha Eeee-ArrR. A-round tha, coooohrn-errr.”
Once around the corner at the E.R dock, Nam directs me to park out of the way of incoming ambulances… so he can continue the quest for his medical card.
I exchange the nine ones in my pile for a ten from his change.
“I thawwwt, U, waz MYYY frEEENdddd…
BuHt! U… LiiieD. Ta mEE!”
“No, brother. I am your friend. All I got is love…”
And Nam opens the door.
Praise the Lord!
He s l o w l y stuffs his various papers back in his pockets and hangs on the open door.
I hand Nam out his cane, as he once again dips his “The Matrix” sunglasses to size me up.
“U aint… LiiiiEE?? Ta MEE?”
“No, brother. Here’s your change.”
And I hand Nam back $24 on his 50, assuming no tip.
Still, shoulda been a $10 ride.
I get the distinct feeling Nam’s not used to parting from cabs without a fight.
Nam stares at the remaining bills in his hand and grumbles, “U CHarrrg myyy AaSSss HOWWW Muuuch???”
And with Nam’s change returned, I wonder if I can break away safely, before he tries getting back in, or holding me hostage leaning on the door for another ten minutes.
Alas, there are hospital cameras everywhere outside the E.R., and I’m not looking to hurt the guy speeding off, regardless.
Thankfully, Nam does close the door, but he does not relent.
Nam never breaks his gaze sternly fixed upon me, suspect.
I gaze back like.
As slowly, carefully, pulling away in retreat…
Fare thee well on your path, Nam.
I’m walking with $192.
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Photo by Christian Lewis