Dolly the Cancer Dog

It’s Friday, the end of a week of taxi’ing, which saw bipolar weather patterns exercising fight or flight across San Francisco, modulating from deluge to clear blue sky every two minutes, or two blocks. (Whichever came sooner.) It’s noon. I’m dropping some nondescript flag, a 30-something white dude, headed from 16th and Mission to Polk and Eddy.

Okay, maybe Dave’s a little descript. Passing 14th and Mission, we somehow got onto the topic of porn, about how I used to regularly drive talent to SFO fresh from a bondage shoot there at’s home in the old world-style fortress, San Francisco Armory. This, before California scared film production off to Nevada back in 2017, after Proposition 60; a ballot measure that sought to mandate condom use industry wide in California.

Aside: Prop 60 failed 54 to 46. But the threat was reported to have been the final straw in Kink‘s Founder and CEO Peter Acworth’s decision to move.

It seems that Dave has a Kink story of his own.

“I did some design contracting work there at The Armory, once. It was really awkward, discussing swatches with the founder. We were sorting through samples, and there was this editor working behind him at a HUGE Mac monitor. The whole time, he was looping this actress with jet black hair, in skimpy black latex. She was chained upside down from the ceiling, spread eagle, with all these leather straps and chains going in and out of her piercings. And she was being ‘pleasured’ by this weird steam powered Industrial Revolution-era contraption. It had all these belts and cranks. I think it was a cotton gin.”

As Dave gets out, we agree on a takeaway: When one finds themselves in the midst of a porn operation, pass on craft service.

I’m notating my makeshift waybill with Dave’s $10 bounty (thank you, AMEX), when I realize there’s some middle aged black dude who’s been standing meekly outside of Citizen’s Cab #1015, waiting for Dave and me to finish our deal.

Faded light blue Member’s Only jacket, untamed fro and a learned skittishness, the tale of Richard’s lower socioeconomic status – oh, and blackness – precede him. He’s thinking the cabbie will deny him a ride.

Richard prostrates himself outside of Dave’s door as he exits, and with a lisp, broaches,

“’Scuse me. Do you take Paratransit?”

Doh! Another of San Francisco’s old or infirm, regular Joes and Jills, spurned by a taxi driver rejecting rides offering a city-subsidized Paratransit card to swipe for payment – along with a fixed 10% tip, passenger willing.

Aside: I’ve never understood why so many cabbies reject Paratransit. Sure, the 10% tip is kinda cheap. But you just turn in the receipts at EOD at the lot for cash, straight up. And these days, you gotta take whatever you can get! I don’t know who these drivers are.

Many used to lie about their credit card machines being broken. But, these were generally third world drivers who didn’t have bank accounts to receive the deposits. (Or, those old school drivers protesting the move from the knuckle buster – where you’d turn in your credit card receipts at EOD for cash, straight up like Paratransit, sans any fee. That new day, which sparked protests back in 2010 – where cabs would circle City Hall en mass, honking their horns, entailed the installation of wireless credit card reading equipment in the cabs that now saw a driver waiting three business days for the money to hit your bank – minus the new middle man’s highway robbery, in the form of their 5% “fee.”)

Dutiful Cabbie, “Why, yes! I take Paratransit. I’m so sorry you even had to ask!”

Richard, pointing across Polk, “Alright! Kin you come ’round fer my friend ovah dere?”

I wait for the parade of bikes and rideshares cruising up and down the Polk Street strip, and flip a U when safe, to come up alongside an older white man sitting on the curb.

Meet Gene: Tinted prescription glasses, thin pasty skin, a dirty white bucket hat – a la Gilligan’s Island, a cane, and a wiry white stache half hovering over a smile beaming with brown crooked teeth – presumably at his mate Richard’s success in getting him a cab. Oh, and Gene is companioned with a pretty spunky orange Chihuahua mix in a rainbow doggie sweater.

Richard helps Gene to his feet and into the back of 1015. But not without significant help from one orange Chihuahua mix, in the form of exuberant barking and an erratic circling around Gene’s feet.

As Dutiful Cabbie continues, “You know, us cab drivers HAVE to take Paratransit. It’s in the regulations. We HAVE to accept. I’m SO sorry that you’ve had drivers turn you away. I, for one, am happy to serve. Next time, you should turn those bastards in to the MTA. They’ll get their A-card suspended, until they’ve gone back and retaken the one-day MTA class and test for drivers.

I mean, it’s hard enough in SF these days for the wheelchair community, what with the gutting of our ramp taxi fleet.” This, on account of an exodus of ramp certified drivers from the industry. (Ahem! Disruption.) “You guys shouldn’t be getting turned away by REGULAR taxis, too!”

I wasn’t trying to be funny, but Richard and Gene share a hearty laugh at my diatribe. I guess they think it’s funny that I’d suggest turning in another driver. Anyway, their symbiotic reaction, along with Richard’s care in handling Gene, is giving me a clearer picture of their relationship. Okay, Richard’s lisp offered some clues, too. Anyway, it’s clearly a deep bond that they share. And it is infectious to be around. (Okay, jeez, people. Not THAT infectious!)

Once settled, Gene takes the lead.

Gene, “Well, thanks fer picking us up, driver. We sure do ‘ppreciate it. We’re going ta 420 Berry.”

Ah, Crescent Cove. A quite clean, and modern, low income apartment complex over by the ballpark, in Mission Bay.

And I stand corrected. Gene’s orange Chihuahua mix takes the lead, as it immediately jumps up onto the center armrest/glove box console on my right, to stand proudly at the fore. The wily beast sniffs and sneezes in my ear, licks my cheek, and then scampers full bore onto my lap and around my office, as leaping over to the shotgun seat, where my hand towel, waybill and PB sandwich lie.

Gene gushes, as Richard smiles and nods affirmatively, “Oh! Dolly LIKES you! HA! Precious either likes people, or she HATES ’em!”

I engage in the rear view, noting as Richard nods even more emphatically.

Gene, continuing, “‘N my baby KNOWS right away! She liked our last cab driver, too! What she DON’T like, is uniforms… See, Dolly’s been abandoned three times in her life. Each time, they found her hidin’ in the cold, in the back of some MUNI lot. So boy, wowee, we can’t take the bus when we go out, no more. She’ll bark, ‘n run under the feet of the driver, ’til they kick us off the bus! EV’RY TIME!

Ever since the day I pick’d up my baby from The Grateful Dog, Dolly’s been my girl. ‘N I’ve been ‘er daddy. Ain’t that right, baby girl?”

Gene puckers his lips and makes kissy faces. And I do not know if it was the invocation of “baby girl” or Gene’s kissing sounds, but Dolly perks up from the floor of the shotgun seat – where she’s (no doubt) been sniffing the scent of my cats on my backpack, and she looks back and barks at her daddy.

Gene, “‘N Dolly’s real protective of daddy, too!”

In the rear view, Richard dutifully nods, grunting a supportive, “Mmm!”

Gene, “It’s gotten to where I can’t take baby girl out to my chemo treatments no more. She sees the doctor comin’ at me with the needle, ‘n she starts growlin’, ‘n tryin’ to bite ’em! She thinks she’s defendin’ me!”

Richard, “MMmm! Yesssssss!”

Suddenly, in mid turn onto Division, Dolly jumps back up on my lap and leaps back onto the center armrest/glove box console and starts running in circles, barking, and jumping up towards the roof of the cab. Startled, and confused, I look for an explanation in the rear view. To find both Gene and Richard laughing.

Gene, “Dolly always gets riled, chasin’ lights! We got a laser at home, keep ‘er goin’ fer hours! HA!”

I look up, to see some bright spot dancing around 1015’s ceiling, a reflection coming from, well, I don’t know. But baby girl is ALL about it!


All laugh.

And as we do, Gene drops a few more casual audibles about his various cancer treatments between talk of their recent move into the Crescent Cove housing complex, where Richard has been impressed over his regular walks, by their neighbors living in the floating house community on adjacent Mission Creek, just before AT&T Park.

Richard, lisping in awe, “How DO dose people live dere in tha watah???”

After a few more casual references from Gene about his terminal cancer, and subsequent treatments, we peel off 7th Street, and roll out 100 yards or so on a pointless jaunt to some relatively new roundabout leading to nowhere and nothing. But, which one is forced to pursue out, around, and back, if wanting access to Berry. (Anybody?)

And lickety-split, we roll up out in front of Gene and Richard’s kempt, almost office park-like 420 Berry, adjacent The Bay.

Gene notes the $9 meter, and hands me up his Paratransit card.

“Here ya go, driver. ‘N make sure ya take yer ten percent tip, too!” Adding, “I gotta go talk ta Bill, now. He watches Dolly when I go to the doctor, tho she don’t like bein’ left none. I been watchin’ Bill’s dog when he needs it, too.”

As I swipe, I am warmed by another shot of old San Francisco. Those neighborly, salt-of-the-earth types. If nothing else, it mixes up my day, keeps things interesting in the grand scheme.

And as I process Gene’s payment, with all of the love and attention centered around Dolly that immediately commandeered the cab, we only now get to broaching the weather.

Driver, handing back his waybill/clipboard with Gene’s Paratransit receipt to sign.

“How about this weather? Crazy how we’ve been getting these breaks from the rains all week, off and on, with beautiful blue skies and some cumulus puffs, and then more deluge. Rinse and repeat. I don’t know about you. But I like it all.”

Dolly cocks her head, and barks on cue.




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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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