Back at the Citizen’s Cab lot, drivers mill about and shoot the shit exchanging war stories, as offering up warm wishes to each other’s families, and the occasional good natured jab. Often this is in passing, however, while awaiting the return of your taxi, or as grabbing your key and medallion from Tony at dispatch before running out to an order. (Hopefully.)
There is the more proper pow-wow on occasion, also, at the steps of the rustic porch, by the Coke machine and posted MTA notices. When on certain holidays – or a notable retirement, Juan the head mechanic breaks out the lot’s grill and fires up his quite formidable carne asada, and pollo. And the Citizen’s management splurges for a Mexican buffet of rice, chips, guacamole and salsa.
However, the banter requires a dance, whether fleeting or extended, as none of us drivers were initially introduced to one another. And after already having found your place within the Citizen’s family international, with various bonds long cemented, to exchange names now would only prove… awkward.
As for those bonds NOT cemented, those voices from the radio which you suddenly recognize between the crunching of tortilla chips, a murmured California drawl from so many orders bid upon, that deep baritone of the Russian driver WAY too reminiscent of Dracula, you make a calculation. How much to engage? As drivers come and go. These are only voices, even if now presenting with a face. And checking in crackling with “Citizen’s Cab #666, Market and Castro,” is NOT a name. Eh, the math is done. An exchange here seems… superfluous.
Over the years, though, for those fellow travelers a driver senses as somehow more symbiotic, those with that spark, the inexplicably kindred, somewhere you bent in to glean (if only) a surname from Tony, as he was handing them over their key and medallion, or informed them that their regular cab was shopped, before directing them to the portable starter to go out and jump their day’s assigned spare. (Or, as pointing out a name newly up on the “Out of Service” whiteboard – for too much back gate owed, or after having been found uninsurable with the accumulation of three points on their license.)
Hmm. In light of this, who needs a name in the cab industry? There’s so much coming and going, a driver just naturally hits the ground running, merging into traffic, divining the rhythm of the cabbie exchange on the rustic porch or back in the office, regardless. You see, working the streets for a living etches “flow” in the hack. This, without a moniker. It is musical.
Tony the Dispatcher, “Queen Sheba callt. Owt dere ahn Sadowa. You gunna goh git ‘er, Sack?”
They call me Sack.
The early morning has been steady. Sheba got me started right with twenty-five dollars cash, in lieu of the $26.60 meter charged to her card, sans tip. (That’s okay, the early morning bird in the hand during the traditionally slow winter season is well worth it.)
My head has thankfully been occupied even past the early morning, hustling from A to B with locals, and with the beautiful nuevo California drought playing backdrop.
Aside: The brains on NPR now say that the 2011-2017 California drought never actually ended. They now say that the rains of last year were just a respite, with the lack of snow pack in the Sierra dire, as the rainy season comes to an end after having had little to no rain.
As was my refrain with tourists back when, with no swimming pools or lawns to remind a San Franciscan, these perfect, beautiful, temperate days simply serve to mark us as a winner of global warming.
I’m cruising Mission near 18th, when, “Cha-ching! – 307 Church Street. Kenzie.”
My Cabulous taxi- app smartphone comes ringing to life with a mobile hail. And, I ‘Accept.’
I navigate the bus/taxi lane up Church passing the lane on my right full of Ubers and Lyfts stuck in rush hour gridlock. And at 15th Street, I pull up outside of Warakubune Sushi to find a trim forty-something long haired brunette, Kenzie, waiting outside at the corner, with luggage.
I jump out and around to load the hatch of one Citizen’s Cab #1015.
Kenzie, “Thank you for coming, driver. Are you alright with a trip down to SFO?”
Driver, “Well, I don’t see any problem with that. Which airline are you flying?”
Kenzine, “Oh, United. But we need to pickup my two lady friends on the way to the highway, please. It’s a mommies getaway. We’re flying to Arizona, to just go sit by a pool, and relax. I’m a bit nervous, though. This will be my first trip away from my one & a half-year-old son.”
Driver, “Oh? Are you going to miss him?”
Kenzie, “Yes. But this will be good for me. And for him, too, I think. I have a five and seven year-old, too. I’ll miss them all. But I really need the break.”
Driver, “So, there’ll be margaritas?”
Kenzie, “Oh, my other mommy friends will be making sure of that.”
Kenzie settles in back, before directing me to the corner of 24th & Fair Oaks, in the Mission, just a little ways over from here in the Castro. She says the second of her mommy friends will be there outside waiting at the corner.
En route, we talk about children, and grandmas, and Vancouver, B.C. where her mother lives when she’s not down in SF watching the kids, as she is now.
I relay how I did a road trip a couple years ago with my then 13 year-old, cruising up the coastal highway casually to Vancouver. I remark about what a wonderful a city it is.
Driver, “Reminds me of San Francisco, but like twenty years ago. My son and I stayed in the gay district, too. Just off Davies Street. So, you KNOW there was good food to be had. We ate at an incredible Middle Eastern place with REALLY good lamb. Where there are gays, there is culture. And great food! It was also really nice biking around Stanley Park, too. All the beaches! Just a fantastic city.”
I get a pretty subdued vibe from Kenzie, and a little hesitance. And as we pull to the corner at 24th & Fair Oaks in front a bottle blonde with red sparkly luggage, I get the sense that this one’s the alpha. Maybe it’s the flashy luggage? Or maybe it’s the way she’s pumping her fist in the air, hooting and yelling,
Kenzie, a little stiff, “That’s Blair.”
I jump out help load Blair’s sparkly suitcase in back, as she hoots and jumps in back giving Kenzie a hug, and going on, salty.
Blair, “I can’t fuckin’ BELIEVE it! We’re off to Arizona, and the woman who took my dad’s Platinum Elite Rewards card messed up our confirmation at the J.W. Marriott! My dad’s long retired. But he worked his ASS off all those years, and traveled like nobody’s business. He EARNED those rewards. And I LOVE using them! HA! He traveled so much, he even became FRIENDS with the Marriotts! They STILL send him goddamn CHRISTMAS cards, EVERY YEAR!
Hey! Driver! 24th and Treat!!”
We continue down 24th into the thick of the Mission, inching ever closer to 101 south and SFO. But one more mommy to pick up, first.
Blair is talking LOUD in back, and throwing in a “FUCK!” every few sentences, just for good measure, I guess. Crossing Mission, a school bus suddenly JERKS away from the curb and cuts us off HARD, very nearly SIDESWIPING US!!
I VEER and SLAM on the brakes!
Blair, “What the FUCK! How the FUCK could that stupid BUS not SEE US!?” Before, on a dime, Blair moves on, “Oh! Driver, turn left here! HERE!
Carly’s is the third house down, on the right. Pull in the driveway and wait. I’ll go up and get her.”
Driver does, as told, to back into the drive of a remodeled Victorian single family home, with black paint, slate steps and iron railings. Blair goes up the steps, and a vibrant Carly answers the door with an energetic Black Lab running around her feet.
Carly yells down to me and Kenzie, “I’ll just be a minute!”
Five minutes later…
I get out to intercept Carly and Blair at the top of the steps, and to help load luggage.
Carly, “Why are we taking a taxi, Blair? Don’t you still have a shitload of Uber credits racked up from before you left for maternity leave?”
Blair, “Yeah, but Kenzie ordered a Cabulous.”
I throw Carly’s suitcase into the back, and she goes to sit up front. We head for 101, with Driver now just a fly on the wall, and the conversation turning as if he were invisible.
Blair, “So, Carly. This is your first time away from work since giving birth? How are your nipples?”
Carly, “Oh my GOD! My ducts were TOTALLY clogged last night! But I pumped out about a GALLON of milk! Last time I went on vacation after giving birth, to Jen, I brought my pump along and pumped at the pool. I put out like FIFTY pounds of milk! My damn nipples were BLEEDING! I wasn’t thinking. I really needed an extra suitcase to fly home with all of that MILK!
What about YOUR nipples, Blair?”
Blair, “Oh, they’re cracked and sore, and painful as FUCK! My nipples have been shrinking, too! I’m definitely gonna get a nipple shield after we get back.”
I check the rear view, to catch Kenzie just biting her lip quietly, and squirming in her seat.
And, I do concur. I mean your driver, passengers, is by NO means squeamish. My two boys were both home, water births, once upon a time. And they were breast fed until around two. (Though, not by me.) I’m all about La Leche League, but you don’t see me busting out in this enclosed two-ton metal box speeding down the highway, with trying to relate by going into the finer details of my most recent prostate exam!
It’s as if I’ve somehow gotten trapped in an episode of Sex and the City. And it’s freaking me out, man!
Suddenly, a white Camry Uber SWERVES right across TWO LANES, veering HARD and CUTS us off in a VERY NEAR COLLISION! It looks as if a last second scramble to not miss his exit, at Cow Palace.
Blair, “FUCK that guy! What the HELL is wrong with people around here!? That’s what other cities call ‘Bay Area Mental Syndrome’!”
Kenzie chimes in, for the first time, “You are SO right! I watched at 24th & Church the other day as someone almost ran over a baby in a stroller… in the crosswalk! They ran the red, trying to beat out the J Church! What is WRONG with people around here??”
Blair, “FUCK! No car is gonna win THAT match, against a MUNI train!”
Kenzie, emboldened, “I almost took a picture of the car’s license plate! How can you not stop for a baby!?”
Blair, changing the subject, gently, “How is Harvie adjusting to her new life as a girl, Kenzie? Are her teachers respecting the change of pronouns?”
Kenzie, gushing, “Oh! Harvie’s Kindergarten teacher has been just WONDERFUL! She didn’t even flinch. It’s been a very smooth transition. And Harvie has been just aglow with her new wardrobe. I got her the cutest little bathing suit. She’s just the happiest five year-old in the world!
When grandma came down this time, Harvie was in the backyard frolicking around in one of her new dresses, and mom pulled me aside and asked, ‘So, it’s complete now? We are referring to Harvie as ‘she’ from here on out? And I said, ‘Yup!’ Everything just couldn’t have gone smoother.”
Blair, “Well, I think that’s just FABULOUS! And I just LOVE the gender-nuetral ‘ie’ in the spelling of Harvie. HA! It couldn’t be more perfect!
You know, I ran into an old college buddy at a reunion, recently. He’s thirty-six and JUST recently came out transgender. Wow, was it a surprise! I mean, back in college this guy was the life of the party, he was Animal House! Doing things like wearing a diaper at parties. And he’d always be the one to bring bottles and bottles of wine.
He’s been a pretty successful entrepreneur since college. Made a LOT of money! But he was telling me at the reunion, how he can be feeling beautiful and fabulous one day, and then have it all crushed by something as simple as someone referring to her as ‘he’ just in passing!
I am just SO happy for you and Harvie! Even though I still get mad at everything that’s been going on, lately, I do remind myself about all of the progressive battles that have been won over the past few years.
We pull into Terminal 3 at SFO – United. And I turn to Carly riding shotgun,
“So, are you guys flying premier? Or economy?”
Carly, confused, “I don’t know. What’s the difference?”
Driver, “Well, premier is some kind of red carpet part of the terminal, for frequent flyers of United. I’m not really sure of all the perks.”
Carly, looking into the back seat for confirmation, as answering hesitantly, “I guess economy.”
Driver, “In that case, I’ll slow as we pass. And you ladies get ready to tuck and roll…”
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Photo by Alex SacK