“There are no laws in this town, anymore. There is only what you can get away with.” – Alex SacK
That’s what I tell my passengers when invariably making that illegal U on Market in front of the Ritz-Carlton Residences, anyway, to make the then right to head up Kearny. This is my response when they’re expressing more concern than me about my license. To cap my point, invariably as I’m telling them this, I’ll be simultaneously contending with some Uber/Lyft driver on my left who’s stuck half on Market and half in the middle of a flooded Kearny crosswalk and anxious to get out, who was either too stupid (or lazy) for the U at The Ritz, and just went straight for the illegal left onto Kearny DIRECTLY from Market!
However, this goes down not without protest from the eastbound traffic on Market imminent, and now obstructed from their green.
Yeah, no laws. Mayor Ed Lee, who unleashed Uber and Lyft on the world – what were in 2010 clearly gypsy cab racketeers, is dead. But he is not forgotten.
To be fair, it seems like this zeitgeist is international. Somehow intertwined with the erosion of the middle class, inhumanity to refugees, and the nationalist xenophobic embers burning worldwide. But what does that have to do with cab driving? Oh, yeah. Illegal U-turns.
Tony sent me out in a spare, today. Citizen’s Cab #2965, Prius, 345K on her. Air of cigarettes, third world knock-off cologne, and B.O. (Eh, who am I kidding. That’s EVERY taxi’s ambiance.)
The only real issue I have with her, besides the $14 short tank she presented me with out of the lot, is there’s a warning message on the dash saying “Check Hybrid System.” This means she’s all gas engine today. No electric power on slow city streets, or when waiting in the driveway of an order, or (not) idling at a red. Hence, the $14 short tank. In a working hybrid, $14 would MAYBE be gas for your entire shift!
It’s not so much the gas she’ll use that’s the issue, though. Some time ago, the then new Russian manager of Citizen’s Cab, Ivan, raised drivers’ gates by $10. He cited the deadline for the government regulation that San Francisco’s taxi fleet was to be 90% electric, natural gas, or hybrid. Ivan cited the cost of those vehicles, as well the savings in gas to us drivers. HMPH! So now, whenever I get a spare with its hybrid system down, I go back in the office to Ivan and make sure I get my gate reduced, ten bucks. Alas, Dmitry will be working checkout today. And he always gives me a $10 bonus load/reduced gate, anyway, because… well, just because. Of course, I always tip him an extra five for doing so. (SIGH.)
No, the issue is my emasculation. I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about “toxic masculinity” as the cause of all the horrendous violence we’ve been seeing. An article I read cited the cop out blaming gun violence on mental illness, citing that it’s too wide a label, and that the mentally ill are more often the victims of violent crime. (Hence, the author’s approval of Trump rescinding Obama’s directive that those unable to attend to their own affairs, e.g., the mentally ill, be barred from owning guns.) Toxic masculinity. Hmm. Now that we have a label for the REAL culprit, it should be no time before we can address and conquer this most modern problem of macho males. Nip it in the bud. And here, I thought it might be guns that were the problem.
Me? I don’t own one. I’ve got a taxi. (Er, with the hybrid out.) Oh right, my emasculation. Oddly, when the electric engine on a hybrid is out, you get absolutely NO pickup coming off the line. And here now, west bound on Market, and first at the red at 8th in the inside bus/taxi-lane, I could not help but SMELL the Yellow bastard zooming up behind me.
After crossing over Van Ness, Moe KNOWS it’s only one lane for several blocks – with only commercial vehicles, buses and taxis allowed to continue on, until 8th Street. Here. Moe ALSO knows that I was first in leading the (potentially lucrative) run downtown, even as it now splits into two lanes. Right is right, man. I mean, what’s his deal? Well, I’ll tell you Moe’s deal…
Despite the red, he ZOOMED to secure the outside lane and gain pole position before the red. He keeps inching forward, ever more into the crosswalk. (Yeah, that guy.) I pretend not to notice as Moe jockeys. In these scenarios, one does not announce their intentions. Especially, when their hybrid is out.
It is no accident that I am rolling the inside lane of Market. I have seen this movie before. It may seem counter-intuitive to you, my passenger, allowing a Yellow to secure the lane flanking a bustling commercial district sidewalk. But for those who have witnessed first-hand the warm confusion that is transit on Market Street, San Francisco, you will have borne witness to the bus and classic F-line street car MUMI islands situated at the end of every block, for the loading and unloading of passengers. They bisect the two lanes running both eastbound and west, and hold many an anxious would-be public transit rider late for work, or chemo. Not only does the inside lane set me up for that bounty, but Moe will fail.
Market Street is bike central. And Moe’s right lane, a sanctioned bike lane, is sure to be overrun with human powered wheels of all stripes and sans-helmet cyclists of varying dubious talent, rocking those Ford and Uber city “share” bikes that are now available, well, EVERYWHERE. If I don’t pick this Yellow bastard off around Skip and his clunky GoBike, there is SURE to be a double-parked delivery truck, or ten, denying Moe the gold.
The light turns green.
And, Sack PUTTS! off the line…
And Sack immediately VEERS right to hug the border between lanes… RIGHT BEHIND a Ford GoBike that’s just breezed between us, as jumping the light, and who is, at present, meandering over to secure a safe place in front of Moe riding directly down the MIDDLE of the right, bike-friendly lane. Moe haphazardly SLAMS on his brakes, and begins angrily tailgating Skip, as Sack continues on putting down the inside lane of Market, in the lead.
But make no mistake, we know the games have only just begun. And I get a nervous twitch, recalling a past “Check Hybrid System” match, about two years ago, down at Sutter & Market, with an Uber.
Heading west up Market, at a red, I was positioned in the outside lane alongside a black Uber Camry to my left, as we both witnessed the 10 Townsend casually peel around onto Market from Sutter, and stop for a red a half block up at 2nd, at the bus island.
Well, anyone worth their salt knows that the 10 Townsend’s route sees it take the MUNI only left turn down 2nd Street from there. MUNI only, on account of with all of the traffic across that intersection going for their right down 2nd, coupled with the deluge of deep Financial workers perpetually in that crosswalk, means that anyone stuck behind the 10 Townsend is going to sit there and watch as it stakes a claim in the intersection, and then waits for the red to turn, with you sitting for, alas, one more red.
Uber FLOORS it, and IMMEDIATELY starts cutting into my lane before the MUNI island, fast approaching, locks him in behind the 10. As I PUTT! LIKE HELL, veering left towards him, in the attempt to sweat, but only catching a couple inches of his tail, as Uber, smelling weakness shakes and weaves erratically, presumably to sweat me back, as both suddenly take stock of a double-parked Fed Ex truck up on the right, which drastically narrows my options for staying the course.
Going for broke, Uber GUNS it and SWERVES HARD! across into my lane at the Fed Ex truck, narrowly missing crashing into the sand break cylinders protecting the bus island, as I stay fixed STRAIGHT, with my hobbled Prius’ nose just a HALF INCH from the rear-est of the rear left of Uber’s sub-prime leased Camry.
I sideswipe the double-parked Fed Ex truck, catching the side of its steel front bumper, its sharp edges digging a gash down the entire right side of my Citizen’s spare. Game over.
It’s okay, though. I AM a non-practicing Buddhist. Every now and then, I need a good challenge to my ego, my pride. Lest I succumb to toxic masculinity. Besides, I made up for it by taking it out on a Lyft the very next day.
Heading up Castro, from ground zero at Market, as coming to stop behind several cars all waiting patiently for their turn at the four-way stop at 16th, I couldn’t help but watch as a fuzzy pink mustachioed Corolla, with dealer plates, was picking up some young, professional blonde outside of her kempt Victorian right at the four-way stop, with Lyft Boy loading alongside the curb.
Of course, he signals his bid to re-enter society at the four-way stop, alongside me, just as it’s my turn to proceed on up Castro. But this day, my hybrid is working. Parole is denied.
I GUN my trusty Prius across the intersection, as Lyft Boy follows suit, his Corolla’s engine GROWLING virile, the paper plates from his Sacramento dealership shaking with testosterone in my side view. Lyft Boy FLOORS it to keep pace, as vying for satisfaction via eeking out a space only an inch or two to my right, between me – in my single lane, with a double yellow on my left, and vehicles parked nose to tail along the curb as far as the eye can see. But, as my cousin relays how it is put in North Carolina, I simply “maintain my lane.”
To invoke another southern colloquialism, bless Lyft Boy’s heart.
Neck and neck, inch by half-inch, swerving, veering, revving, we FLY up hilly Castro Street until parked alongside the curb just over the hill at Beaver…
Lyft Boy HHHHHHOOONKKKSSS!!! And, SWWWWEEVVVVVESSSS!!!
And I maintain.
SMASH! RIP!! SHATTER!!! CRUNCH!!!!
Lyft Boy sideswipes the moving truck, decimating his right side view, which falls to the street, shattering, and tears a DEEP GASH down the side of his brand new Corolla. I check my rear view, as I mosey on… to watch as Lyft Boy slows, for about four seconds, and then GUNS it off and turns a SCREECHING right down Henry.
HIT and RUN!! HIT and RUN!!!
Well. THIS will be awkward for Lyft Boy. I mean, how does he open with talk about the weather with that blonde sharing his ride NOW! I guess he could just write it off to disruption.
Anyway, why did he even take a hand off the wheel to honk? I’ve been thinking about this, lately. Honking. It’s kind of a third world thing. I moved to San Francisco in ’98. And it immediately struck me that this city was quiet. And there was no incessant cacophony of horns blaring in the background all day long. (I even wrote a song about it.) Needless to say, in the two decades since, with the changing face of San Francisco, the critical mass, and the influx of third world Uber and Lyft drivers, with respect to horns, things a have changed.
Still, what good? Honking a horn? You’re just exposing your belly to the beast. And with no desired result to possibly come from it. THAT is toxic. Just drive, man.
Back in the future…
I assure you, you’ll not see Moe honk his horn when I take him out. Yeah, he may be driving for Yellow, the worst of the worst. But we are taxi men. WE are professionals.
Rolling on down Market, passing Civic Center – and its open air drug market, I’m pacing Skip and hugging the line dividing the lanes between me and Moe. In my rear view now, I see that a cop has joined the party. He’s cruising slowly behind me in the bus/taxi lane. Eh, it’s an old white Crown Vic. He’s probably scanning the sidewalks around the BART station here for drug deals. Really, it takes a motorcycle cop to get this driver on his best behavior. Traffic tickets are the domain of Jon and Ponch. (Ain’t takin’ bank robbers to jail on the backs of their bikes.)
Approaching 7th Street, I can FEEL Moe’s eyes go WIDE, as we close in on a MUNI bus up ahead at the island, “kneeling” and lowering its wheelchair ramp for that ten minute exercise that is loading a handicapped passenger, in the Tenderloin. And we both salivate, as both seemed to have underestimated the electric assistance of Skip’s GoBike. Skip is now flying towards 7th Street, and has just passed an 18-wheeler double-parked in Moe’s lane unloading, just feet shy of the dividing bus island.
Yellow Moe, “ZZOOOOMMM!!!!”
Cops be damned.
Citizen’s Cab #2965, “PUTT!!! PUUUUTTTTT!!!!”
And I save NO shame in IMMEDIATELY swerving to cut off Moe, as breathing down Skips clueless neck!
Citizen’s Cab #2965, “SWERVVVEE!!!”
Yellow Moe, “SCREEECCHH!!!!”
DOH! The cop. I check the rear view, to catch Barney Miller making a U-turn, presumably to go and further scope out the street scene back at the Civic Center BART station. But I do not DARE check or make eye contact with Moe in my rear view. No. I am SURE he is pissed. But, fuck ’em. HE was the one trying to steal MY dinner! I’ll just play dumb. Though, out of the corner of my eye, I DO glance in the SIDE view to make sure I wasn’t wrong, that he isn’t just expediting drop of a passenger, that his top light is indeed lit, available, and his back seat is cold.
Yup. Lit up, like Liberty herself!
Fuck ’em, I think again, reassuring myself. As suddenly, I’m startled by a large man with long dark greasy hair, and a thick beaded necklace, leaning in at my shotgun window, and addressing me with the most meek and high pitched of men’s voices, a la Michael Jackson.
“Excuse me, driver. Are you available to give me a ride?”
Hey! I know that voice… It IS Michael! I drove him like a year ago. Actually, he hailed me from this very SAME corner! And it was a FORTY DOLLAR ride!!
Driver, “Sure! Get in!”
The light turns green, MUNI is loading its wheelchair passenger from the bus island on my left, and Moe is now stuck behind me, trapped, forced to bear witness as I load a bounty that was, for him, not to be.
HA! Take THAT, Moe! You mess wit da Sack!? And it will be YOU who’s left holding the bag, BITCH!!
In reality, Moe probably wouldn’t have picked up Michael, anyway. He’s probably back there behind me laughing. He’s probably thinking that I’ve got some Tenderloin dreg, some schizophrenic meth head who’s going to plant roots in my back seat and give aimless directions riding me all over town towards some non-existent destination, before ultimately, somewhere at the edge of town, he stumbles out of my cab mumbling to himself at a busy green light in traffic, and stiffing me.
On any other day, here in the Loin, Moe might have been right. But, not today.
Michael, now settled in back with some plastic shopping bags, “Oh, THANK you for picking me up, driver! I pay in cash, don’t worry.”
Driver, “Oh! I remember you. I know you’re good. I drove you once, I think it was last spring, down south to your tent under 101, at Sierra Point. You had a bag of bottled water, just like you do now! You said the cops looked out for you there, to make sure you were safe, cause there’s no other homeless IN Brisbane! And I remember you were reading the Bible every night before sleep. You’re a good Christian!”
Michael, blushing, “Oh! You remember me?? How nice! Yes, I am going south, to Sierra Point again. But, I had to move my tent. The police said they were worried about what would happen to me under the on-ramp if there was an earthquake. So, I moved out a little further around some bushes.”
Driver, “Well, that sounds weird. That kinda sucks, what with the cold and rain we’ve been getting in the last week. Are you sure that was really why they told you to move. Before, you said they check in on you, and look out for you.”
Michael, “Oh, they do. They gave me their card, and said to call if I ever have any trouble. But that’s why I live down there. I was raised in San Francisco. My mother still lives here. But everybody on the street has dramas, and do drugs. And they steal from you.”
Aside: Michael’s spot is half way to the airport. I was taken aback at the time that a homeless guy would be taking a cab so far. And that that forty bucks he gave me last time was on a $28 meter! I was likewise taken aback that he’s homeless in Brisbane. This is a desolate patch where 101 straddles The Bay, with little to no commerce near. Michael’s camp is flanked by a mountain on one side, and an expanse of industrially manicured office parks on the other that stretch south along The Bay to the end of the world.
Michael continues, with confession, “I haven’t been as good about reading my Bible, recently. I don’t know. I think I’m… I think… I’m afraid of finishing it. I’m at Revelations now. And I do pray. A lot. And oh, I do LOVE my dear Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. He has blessed me, truly. I just came from my case worker, and bought some water, and food. Also, I have a sister and brother in-law living down in San Mateo. They work at a produce mart. And they bring me fruit to my tent, and juice, from time to time.”
Driver, “Haven’t you been getting wet, though. In the tent? Do you have a wood pallet to put it on? I’ve seen a lot of others do that, to keep from getting soaked in spontaneous rivers!”
Michael, “Oh, no. I sleep well. And my tent keeps me dry. It’s a good tent. The Lord provides. Blessed be the Lord.”
We turn off 101, shortly after the ghostly vacancy where Candlestick Park once stood sentry over The Bay. Michael directs me, ever so humbly and polite, the same area under 101 to which I drove him before. He has already sorted out some bills, and hands me up $35 this time, on the again $28.25 meter.
Michael, “Thank you SO much for the ride, driver. Oh, look at that wind blowing the bushes around. I hope it will not be TOO cold for me here tonight. Will you pray for me, driver?”
I turn to look Michael in the eyes, as he exits my taxi with this simple request.
Driver, “Oh! Uh, yes. Yes! I will pray for you tonight, Michael! DO stay warm and dry!”
Michael, “Oh, thank you, driver. The ramp back to the highway is just down the road, then on your left. Be blessed.”
And you, as well, Michael. I hit the highway north, reciting the Hail Mary prayer my ma raised me with. I don’t pray to the Virgin, often. But when I do, well, let’s just say she listens.
I’ve had half of my peanut butter sandwich saved to give away to a homeless du jour! I should have totally given it to Michael. UGH! Ah, well. I’ll have plenty of opportunities to give away back around the Citizen’s lot. There are recycling plants all around there, and the industrial nature of the ‘hood has been a natural draw for all sorts of beat up RVs, tents, and make-shift plywood shacks for the homeless.
I’m out in my van, post checking out with Dmitry, handing in that receipt for 2965’s $14 short tank, and scoring my usual $10 bonus load from him. I didn’t even bother mentioning that the hybrid was out. And I still walked with a solid $150. Not bad for this time of year. Praise Jesus.
As I start her up, an old black man slowly wheels by me with a shopping cart of aluminum cans, as yelling out hellos to various people out on the sidewalks here keeping house in their tents, etc.
Sack, “Yo! YO!! You want half a peanut butter sandwich!”
Old Black Man, smiling, “Why, sure! Thanks, man! Hey! You got seventy-five cents, too?”
Sack, “Well, I got a bunch of pennies here in a tray. You cool with that?”
Old Black Man, “Yeah, man. Anything is appreciated! Hey, man. Be safe. This weatha is somethin’, huh? Hot one minute. Freezin’ tha nex. And that rain, man? Maaaaaaaan! You KNOW what dat means.”
A blank look comes over my face, before Old Black Man shows mercy.
“Maaaaaan! Dis is EARTQUAKE WEATHA!!
Be safe, my passengers.
Oh, also, It isn’t really cab related, per se. But, is there anything really not cab related?
Spent WAY too much time working on a political video last week. (Yes, I know Republicans buy shoes, too.)
Please SHARE if so inclined, folks!
Photo by Alex SacK