Gertrude

Monday

Noon:
“Cha-ching! – 68 12th Street. Paratransit.”

I was just rolling east down Market (in my new girl Citizen’s Cab #204) for a run into the Financial. But since the culling of half of Cabulous’ taxi-app fleet several weeks ago, I do not get very far before, “Cha-ching!” And my landlord is happy.

Note: Rather, he WOULD be if the new Cabulous app owners actually PAID me! Currently, it’s random amounts hitting my bank account, via direct deposit, with each unrelated to a day’s take, and roughly two weeks behind? This is the best I’ve been able to glean.

Update: I promised you an update on the operation of my new Boeing Fusion – 204’s turn signal. It’s still a work in progress. But, I have noticed that when I go to signal a lane change, after completion of the change, the turn signal seems to go off by ITSELF! Well, most of the time. I’ll keep you posted…

Now, back to “Cha-ching! – 68 12th Street.” Yeah, I ‘Accept’ the order.

This is the Paratransit office, located on an isolated, highly inaccessible block of 12th Street, found wedged in-between Market and the intersection of South Van Ness and Mission. After making an illegal U-turn on Market – post aborting your empty run into the Finacnial, you have to make an even more egregious illegal left onto 12th, without creating a backup of honking cars behind you headed west on Market, and AFTER the east-bound traffic on Market has completed their lagging green at 12th. However, with much practice, the Sack has mastered this maneuver.

So, the Paratransit office has a newish “system” for hailing cabs for their old and/or infirm clientele. I hear tell that they have a Cabulous button under the desk that “Cha-chings” me and several other taxis all at once, after a new class of Paratransit card holders has let out from orientation. There is no name of the passenger you are to pick up. There is just a tricking out from the Paratransit office’s automatic doors of various wheelchairs and walkers, each looking confused, as they all stop to stare blankly at the plethora of cabs waiting out in front. (Cabs which are suspiciously also comprised of Yellows, CiyWides and Luxors, who have all been locked out of the Cabulous app. They’re all here fishing.)

Can you say, musical chairs?

In the scrum, the smart driver, me, makes sure to be first to jump out and secure a walker, before lying to your silver-haired bounty with an assurance that you are specifically the cab that was called for them. Then, you take the new Paratransit card they invariably seem uncomfortable holding, after unnecessarily offering it up to you at the BEGINNING of the ride. Last, you flush out the Cabulous order on the supplied smartphone, by way of entering a zero dollar amount into the app, confirm the amount is zero – after prompting, hit Paratransit as the reason, and then decline an emailed receipt for the zero dollar amount. (These cards can only be processed through the regular cab meter and tablet equipment.)

Ah! An osteoporosis, wrap-around sunglasses, silver hair comes staggering out of the automatic doors, albeit at a good clip. But as I jump out to grab her walker, I note that in lieu of the usual baffled expression, Gertrude is beaming with a warm and genuine smile, despite her lack of teeth.

Driver, “Here! Let me help you with your walker. Your cab is right over here.”

Gertrude, “Are you my driver?”

Driver, “Yes. I’ll stow this in the trunk for you after I help you into the back seat.”

Gertrude, “Oh, thank you. But I prefer to sit up front. And I don’t need help. I still have a few years left on this earth, and my legs know it! (Cackle! Cackle!) Here’s the card they gave me. I guess you want that now?”

Driver, “Uh, sure. Oh! Let me go clear my stuff off the front seat for you.”

I clear my “office” from the front, stow Gertrude’s walker in 204’s trunk, and then help to settle her up front, but ONLY via reaching across to secure her seat belt.

Driver, pen and waybill at the ready, “So, where to, ma’am?”

Gertrude, “300 Lake. St. Anne’s Little Sisters of the Poor, out by the Presidio. You know the place?”

Driver, “Sure! It’s been a few years. But, I’ve driven there a few times. I AM a professional, ma’am.”

Gertrude turns her dark wraparounds to look in my direction, and cackles toothless. Then, she scans the dashboard area of my taxi…

Gertrude, “I’m mostly blind. Glaucoma, Driver. I’m 97 years old. But I can still see all these lights here in your taxi. Is this Star Trek? The Enterprise, Driver?? (Cackle! Cackle!) I LOVE that show.”

Driver, “Oh! The original series? I love Star Trek, too!”

Gertrude, “Next Generation.”

GULP!

Gertrude IS an aficionado!

Driver, “Oh! Next Generation is awesome, too!”Adding “I do have to say, your glaucoma aside, you are WAY more mobile than many Paratransit passengers I drive that are thirty years younger! I also have an 84 year-old mother that you are more mobile than.”

Gertrude, cackling, “84?? She ain’t got nuthin’ on me! (Cackle! Cackle!) I DO have a few years left on this earth, Driver!” Adding, “Oh, but my, how things have changed in San Francisco. All of this traffic. Construction everywhere. Rents going crazy!”

Which segues into her life story.

Gertrude, “I was born in Los Angeles, Driver. But we moved to the Bay Area when I was just a baby. Only six months old. Lived here pretty much all my life… My husband is long dead, now.”

She, again, turns to look vaguely in my direction. Adding, now sans her signature toothless cackle, “Being old ain’t all it’s cracked up to be, Driver. It’s lonely. All of my friends have passed.” Then, “Things breaking all the time ain’t easy, either! (Cackle! Cackle!)”

Driver, “Well, don’t you have any friends at St. Anne’s?”

Gertrude, “Well, none my age. They’re all twenty years younger. It does make a difference. (Sigh.)” Expounding, “I guess I DO have one friend at the home. But, the rest I just say good morning to. None of them are people I would say good morning to in the REAL world, though.

No, it’s lonely being old, Driver. I only have one friend left in the real world. And she’s not even someone I’m great friends with. I’ve known her seventy years. A Japanese woman. We became friends during the war. She didn’t have to do the concentration camps, though. She went to New York to escape all of that. And that’s where she lives now. (Sigh.)

And again, Gertrude flips like a switch, in a beaming toothless grin and companion cackle.

Gertrude, looking in my direction, “I have two REAL daughters in this world, though. The one friend at St. Anne’s is one of ’em! And I have one biological son.”

I have no idea what Gertrude means about two “real’ daughters, but politely smile and laugh as if I got the reference.

Driver, “Oh? Where is your son?”

Gertrude, “He lives in town. He’s sixty. Rent control. We talk about the state of things. Whether there’ll be peace in the world. You would like him. He thinks we’re due for nuclear war. (Cackle! Cackle!)”

I don’t know why Gertrude has this impression of me… er, despite being right.

We pull through the black rod iron gates of St. Anne’s, 300 Lake, and into the horseshoe drive and around the manicured lawn, at whose center stands an ornate marble statue fountain, what I presume to be St Anne, herself. And I pull up to the entrance, surrounded by a multitude of various colorful flowers and tamed shrubbery. It’s quiet and serene here, much like the Presidio, just over the stone wall behind St. Anne’s.

There are two white haired women sitting in front here, chatting on a marble bench. They do not acknowledge Gertrude. And upon hearing their voices, Gertrude does not jump to comment.

I process Gertrude’s Paratransit card for the $16.70 fare, and am presumptuous in adding the fixed 10% tip.

Driver, “Do you want me to sign UTS for you? Unable To Sign? That’s usually what my blind passengers have me do.”

Gertrude, “Oh, uh, yes. Thank you, Driver.”

And I set my Cabulous phone to green/available, unclick Gertrude’s seat belt, and jump out for her walker, as she opens the door herself and proceeds out of Citizen’s Cab #204, with,

“(Cackle! Cackle!)  I still have a few years left on this earth!”

And judging from the spring in Gertrude’s staggering step, I would definitely have to agree.

I hand Gertrude her walker, facing it towards the entrance to St Anne’s, when suddenly,

“Cha-ching! … Ch-ching! … Cha-ching! …”

Startled, Gertrude turns back, with, “What? What was that?? Do I DO something, Driver???”

Driver, “Oh, no, ma’am. That was just Data’s neural net malfunctioning, back on the bridge.”

Gertrude beams chuckling, and toothless. As the old woman turns, lurching off with her walker through the automatic gates of St. Anne’s.

 

_____

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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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