Señora CRaZy and the Watermelon Man

It’s 4:30am, doesn’t really matter what day; I’m out in the lot prepping a Prius spare, Citizen’s Cab #2974 – with 320K on her. (My regular girl, 1015, is shopped, on account of the night driver bent her hood somehow, and it won’t stay shut.) Business has been good this week. San Francisco’s been seeing rain off and on, and it’s just now rolling by in another one of its fits.

And my morning officially starts, with 2974’s radio crackling to life, allowing me privy to a radio communiqué. Though, privy to just one side, oddly; the dispatcher’s side.

Aside: Oh, by the way, Citizen’s has a new dispatcher named Wiggy. He’s a white dude about my age, a night driver, who used to do live sound for heavy metal bands once upon a time. Wiggy recently boasted to me about how he even toured doing sound for one of those big multi-band thrash/metal festivals: BoneCrunchSlaughterFest 2003.

The radio…

Wiggy, “417. I don’t know. You know that cab better than anyone. You drive it all the time.”

417,  “…”

Wiggy, “Well, if it won’t start for you, why would it work for any other driver turning the key instead of you?”

417, “…”

Wiggy, “Look, 417. Just RELAX… Take a minute… Put your HEAD back, and give it a minute. Then, try it again… from a different PLACE.”

Ah! Early morn cabbie Zen.

OOoOOooOOoMMMMmMmmm.

It sounds like 417 must be tripping a bit. Hmm. I wonder where he is.

Wiggy, “Well, why the HELL did you turn it off, 417!? I NEVER turn my cab off! Not even at the AIRPORT! Look, 417. You want me to call for a tow???”

So much for Zen.

I finish sanitizing 2974, and dart out for Queen Sheba, my early morning regular ride from straight out of the lot. Recall, Sheba lives out on the edge of town, in Ingleside, and heads downtown Monday through Friday to her chef job at LinkedIn, 2nd & Howard. Although I’m early, I feel quite well rested this morning, and hence, edgy. I GUN it down 280 south, doing 90, as I suddenly realize that my turn signals don’t work.

Damn. This could be a rough day.

Cabbing it in downtown San Francisco in the dark and rain, sans turn signals? Ugh! I should probably go back and see if Wiggy has another spare for me, after I drop Sheba. Shit.

Then again, nah. I have a BETTER idea.

Just RELAX, Sack…. Breathe… Take a minute… Put your HEAD back… And give it a minute… Then, try it again… from a different PLACE.

OOoOOooOOoMMMMmMmmm.

And, like a flash, Sack is graced with divine inspiration, as if straight from the patron saint of taxis, himself; Fiacre!

Try turning on your hazards, Sack…

All at once, everything kicks in. And my turn signals WORK!!!

Namaste’.

 

Late in the day…

I’ve had a pretty decent run today, with rides almost nonstop. As one body is getting out, another’s holding the door to get it. Just like old times. Thank Fiacre for the rain!

I was just rolling Mission south, towards 24th Street, when my Cabulous-supplied smartphone came Cha-ching!-ing to life with a taxi app-hail. The app says my passenger’s name is Neil. And it shows on the real time map that he’s pretty close by, down at 24th & Folsom.

I roll up on the corner of 24th & Folsom, to find two impeccably dressed middle-aged men standing at the corner outside of the overpriced, hipster, New York-style Wise Sons deli. And one of the men is waving his phone at me. Neil.

The avant-garde, thick, black round-frame glasses that Neil’s wearing, coupled with the dark tweed suit with pink strands his friend is wearing, tell a driver the tale that these guys work in interior design. (Or, something.) Both sport tan colored Italian leather loafers.

I pull to the curb, as Neil doesn’t even wait for me to come to a complete stop, before reaching over, opening and holding the door for Bob. And they do not break from their conversation about a client, but to curtly offer, “165 10th Street.”

Fair enough. I do not need to be acknowledged. After all, I AM a non-practicing Buddhist! Besides, this isn’t about ego. It’s strictly business. And, while I didn’t just win the lottery with this ride, Neil and Bob will be positioning me perfectly for a run down Market, post drop.

En route, Driver plays fly on the wall to an in depth scrutiny of the architectural design of every building of note between the Mission and Mid-Market.

And lickety-split, we arrive at Neil and Bob’s drop. No drama. Just show me the cash. (Er, credit.) I plug the nine dollar-even fare into my Cabulous phone, to a remittance affirming “Cha-ching!” Upon exit, Neil stops to hold the cab door open, again. But this time, for an older woman who has meandered over, and is now nervously hovering around outside of 2974, while talking to herself. And yeah, in want of my taxi services.

Neil and Bob walk off gushing at the serendipity, and Neil at his public service vis-à-vis holding the door for Phyllis. With BIG 70’s movie star sunglasses, a leopard print mumu, a red-sequined purse and a disheveled blonde wig reminiscent of Phyllis Diller, the wrinkled old woman bends into the door of 2974, as shuffling her hands, before looking off into space and mumbling.

“Pine & Polk? Pine & Polk, drivah? I’m very sick. Can you take me ta Pine & Polk?”

Damn. Is it still flu season? Thus far, I’ve dodged it… Wait. Does Phyllis mean that she’s very sick, PHYSICALLY??

Driver, waybill at the ready, “Sure. Pine & Polk. Get in.”

And we drive.

Phyllis, shifting nervously in her seat, “I’m dyin’, driver! I got the flu! ‘N dose doctahs been attackin’ me! How dey gonna attack an old woman wit tha flu?? Dey’re tryin’ ta KILL me, drivah! Yeah, I been diagnosed bipolar. But I ain’t NO TRET ta NO ONE! Dem doctors are jus’ SCREWIN’ wit me! How dey gonna screw wit an oldt bipolar woman! Wit tha FLU! (COUGH! COUGH!!)”

Driver rolls down his window, all the way, before tackling Phyllis’ rhetorical question.

Driver, “Jeez. I dunno. That sounds terrible. Who’s your doctor?”

Phyllis, ignoring my question, “I was marriet once, drivah. Liv’d down in L.A. (COUGH!!) My ex-husb’nd’s down dere STILL. I’m an ARTIS’! We’s SUPPOSED ta be ‘ccentric! Dem docs jus’ don’ undahstant! Dey keep callin’ me ah liah. What kinda medicine dey practicin’ I ask ya! Liah DIS! Liah DAT! Dey tink I jus’ wan’ tha drugs. But I’m sick! I’m DYIN’!! (COUGH!!)”

Okay, Sack… Quiet. Stay REAL quiet. And NO sudden movements!

Phyllis, “Dey keep givin’ me bad pickup dates fer tha drugs. I’ll DIE witout ’em! Das what dey want! I’m TELLIN’ ya!! I ain’t no tret! NO TRET!! (COUGH! COUGH!!)”

After FLYING up Larkin, and then FLYING down Pine… WHEW!! We arrive at Phyllis’ drop, Pine & Po– Ah! The Baker Hotel, I bet. The one-and-a-half star Baker Hotel.

Phyllis, “Dey jus’ keep callin’ me a liah! Fer tha drugs! ‘N CRaZy! I ain’t CRaZy! Jus’ a little screwy is all. I’m an ARTIS’! Asides, how are them doctors gonna be treatin’ a dyin’ person this way! (COUGH! COUGH!!) I ain’t no threat!” Continuing, “Hey! We’s hee-yah! Dat was fass, drivah! Iss tha Baker Hotel, right dere b’fore Polk, on tha leff. (COUGH!!)

Thankfully, Phyllis proves sane enough to proactively ask how much is her ride.

Phyllis, “How much I owe ya, drivah? Dat was FASS! (COUGH!)”

Drivah, “Oh, uh, it looks like the meter’s at $7.55.”

Phyllis takes a wad of bills out from some curious safe space, presumably, under her leopard print mumu. And Phyllis peels out a ten, and hands it up to Drivah, with, “Yous keep dat, drivah! You really sav’t my bacon back dere, gettin’ me tha HELL ‘way from dem doctahs! Tryin’ ta KILL me! (COUGH! COUGH!!)”

And Drivah takes the…

Hey!

WHY is this ten SOGGY???

SNIFF! SNIFF!!

Well, it’s wet. But it smells like money. And ONLY money.

And, I accept.

 

3:00pm:
I’m getting a little loopy. Yeah, 2974’s a 4 ‘o clock medallion, like 1015. But, I always consider it a plus to have made it back to the Citizen’s lot at EOD without having killed anyone. Myself, included.

I guess I’ll do another of my rounds through the Mission, Castro, the Haight, and then downtown via Market, before I figure I’ve earned calling it a day. Maybe score one more ride.

3:25pm:
The Mission: Bust.
Castro: Nope.
The Haights, both Upper AND Lower: Nah, ah.
Downtown: TBD.

I made it down to the Ferry Building, empty, and most of the way back up Market, STILL empty. And I am now rolling past U.N. Plaza – of note, the birth place of the U.N., with drug dealers, drug users, and homeless all milling about from here to a half a block up, around Civic Center BART. And those mindful, careful in trying to keep off the radar of the ubiquitous police presence here.

Hyde & Market, red light, MUNI bus island, Civic Center BART… a hand rises into the air.

SCORE!

And one dark-skinned black man, black jeans, black sweatshirt, excitedly gets into the back of 2974, and starts gushing in a thick West African accent.

Kwame, “Tank yoo soo mooch fuwah stohpeeng, dryvah. Noh uddah cahbs wood stohp fuah me. I am soo quyte reeleeved nahw to hahve fahnd yoo!”

Dryvah, pained, “Oh, jeez. I am SO sorry that some cabs won’t stop for black people. I’m sure it’s especially hard around Civic Center and the Tenderloin there. We’re a pretty eclectic bunch. I can’t speak for any of them. But, I’m glad that IU was able to help you out.”

Dryvah, getting down to business, “So, uh, where are you headed?”

Kwame, “Ah! Yees! I ahm gooing to Seeks-teen ahnd Meeshoon.” Adding, excitedly, “Dryvah, pleeze. May wee leesten to soom museek? I ahm veree mooch in thee mood.”

Dryvah, flipping to KCSM 91.1FM – San Francisco’s jazz station, with Herbie Hancock’s Watermelon Man currently on offer, “Sure! I hope you like jazz.”

Kwame, “Ah! YEES!!” Explaining, I guess, “I hahve bean oop fuh fuwah dayahs strayht smooking crahck, ahnd hahving seex wit manee, manee deeferent beahuteeful weemon, dryvah! Oh, eet hahs been a woondahful tyme! Seemplee WOONDAHFUL!”

Hmm. O-kay.

Dryvah, “Uh, if you don’t mind I ask. How is it that you can afford to pay for four days straight of smoking crack?”

Kwame, “Ah! Yees! I hahve smooked fuah towsahnd dahllahs wert ohf crahck een joost fuwah dayahs! I hahve ah veree, VEREE good johb, dryvah. I seal eleektrohnics. Ahnd I reely, REELY hoostle!”

Kwame, continuing, “Ah! Buht thee seex I hahve hahd een theese lahst fuwah dahys, dryvah! Oh, LAHD!! I hahve joost nahw coom froom ah hohteel room, wheer I hahve speent thee nyte weet ah nyneteen-yeer-ohld FREEK, mahn! AH FREEK!! I leek evahree paaht ohf  ‘er! Tahp to bohwtoom, mahn! Ah FREEK! Ahnd, shee LYKE to smooke.”

Dryvah, “Wow. Uh, it sounds like you’re really living it up… Uh, man.” Dryvah, curious, “Where exactly did you find her?”

Kwame, “Nyneteenth ahnd Shahtwheel, mahn. Bahck een thee allee, theeyah.” Digressing, “Dryvah, doo yoo myahnd eef I smooke een thee cahb?

Cigarettes. Ugh!

Dryvah, “Uh, well, technically it’s against MTA regulations. Division II of the transportation code, it’s section 1108 (e) (33). I COULD get fined twenty-nine bucks. (SIGH.) But, I guess if you roll down the windows, and look out for police, it should be okay.”

Kwame dutifully rolls down his window, and grows distracted fumbling for his cigarettes and lighter, as I begin zoning out to Mr. Hancock’s groove-a-licious jams – compliments of 91.1FM. And as we approach Van Ness & Market, and coincidentally, the offices of the SFMTA, I take note of a black and white SFPD cruiser headed towards us on Market, from the opposite direction. I go to alert Kwame via the rear view, as HOLY GOD!!!

Kwame’s got a CRACK PIPE OUT! And he’s fiddling with a weak Bic lighter, trying repeatedly to torch his CRACK!! But the draft from the open window keeps blowing out the flame. JEEZ!!!

With my jaw agape and eyes wide, STUNNED, I watch as Kwame rolls his window all the way back UP! And he is SUCCESSFUL in firing up a HUGE HIT of CRACK… JUST as the police cruiser PASSES US!!!

Kwame holds it… holds it… and then, he exhales a BIG sickly-sweet CLOUD of CRACK SMOKE that FILLS THE CAB!!!

Damn.

I’m quite sure that this is against MTA regulations. Though, at present, the specific code and sub-section escapes me. I’m thinking that the fine is likely more than twenty-nine dollars, though.

Dryvah, “Hey. Um, do you think you could roll your window down, a bit more? The front of the taxi up here, uh, seems to be getting a lot of smoke. Uh, I’m just a little worried that the night driver might, maybe, have a problem with the smell.”

Kwame, “Ah! No prahblem, mahn!”

And Kwame takes another hit with the window down, and holds it… hold it… as he rolls his window down, and exhales out of it. And he puts away the crack.

WHEW!!!

But, jeez. Kwame didn’t even offer me any. How rude.

I dunno. For some inexplicable reason, I kind of want this ride over, soon. When, suddenly, I am overcome with the most compelling inspiration to GUN 2479!! And JUMP EVERY LIGHT from here at Market & Valencia to Kwame’s 16th & Mission drop!!

ZZZOOOOOMMMM!!!!

And Kwame seems to approve, as he starts chortling giddily in back, in his West African accent.

Kwame, “HO! HO!! HA!!! HO! HO! POONCH DAT GHAS, MAHN!”

Kwame really seems to appreciate my driving. And me. And, you know, he actually seems like a pretty nice guy.

Just as I’m spinning wheels breezing through the yellow onto Duboce, I am all at once confronted with a dirty, used iPad that Kwame is now shoving in my face.

Kwame, “Mahn! Wood yoo lahyke to bye dis heer aye-Pahd. I geeve yoo ah gooood pryce, mahn!”

Hey. Wait. No box? I wonder, just where DOES Kwame work out of? Selling electronics?? And just WHERE does he procure his stock from???

Oh, damn.

Dryvah, “Oh, uh, thanks. But, money’s tight. And I still have an old iPad 2 that gets me online, in the bathroom. I’m good. But, uh, yeah. Thanks.”

SCREEEEECCH!!!!

I FLOOR it right onto Mission and HIT THE GAS!!!

14th Street!

15th Street!!

16th STREET!!!

BRAKE!!!!

Dryvah, “Well, it looks like we’re here. 16th & Mission.”

I check the fare on the meter – none dollars even, as Kwame lights up at a crowd of young, black males in hoodies, milling about on the sidewalk just outside of the cab. Kwame yells out of his open window to them, beaming, “HEY! MAAAHN!!”

And the group clearly recognizes Kwame, as they all begin shouting back, and likewise, light up. (Er, so to speak.)

Dryvah, “So, it looks like the fare is nine, even.”

And still immersed in the scene out on the street, Kwame does not break his attention from bantering with his crew, as he hands me up a credit card.

Kwame, “I lyke yoo, mahn! Yoo ahre ah GOOOOD mahn! Yoo goh aheed ahnd chahrge tha cahrd fuhr tirtee dohllahs.”

Huh? The fare was only nine!

SWEET!

Wait. Uh…

I swipe Kwame’s Mastercard, and… it goes through! But I make DOUBLE sure that he signs for the charge!

He does. And as I hand back Kwame’s card, I can’t help but ask.

Dryvah, “Man, how many days are you gonna stay up partying?”

Kwame, “HA!! Mahn, I wuhnce staaaid uhp fuh twillve dahys STRUHYT!”

Dryvah, “DUDE!! You MUST have been hallucinating!”

Kwame, “HEELL, YEES!! HA!”

And with this, Kwame opens his door to exit. But then he pauses, and turns back, as we make eye contact for the very first time. And with blood shot eyes, and his infectious laugh, Kwame begins gesticulating wildly, making large rounded shapes in the air and squeezing his hands, as if fumbling to keep control of an unwieldy watermelon.

“OH, LAHD! Dat geerl wuhz ah FREEK, mahn!! Ahnd, dat SWEEYT, TAYGHT, nyneteen-yeer-ohld AHYSSS!! MAHN!!!”

Yeah. Guess I’ll be calling it a day, now.

 

_____

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Photo by Alex SacK

www.AlexSacK.com

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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