Cabulous “Cha-ching!”-ed me five minutes ago for a passenger directly across from City Hall. The dedicated smartphone Velcro-ed to the dash of Citizen’s Cab #474 (don’t ask about #204) shows the little man icon for “Joe” hanging inside the knobby, leafless English Sycamore tree-lined plaza between the War Memorial Opera House and the Herbst Theatre/Veteran’s Building.
Having just dropped in The Loin, I was nearby and hit ‘Arrived’ within one minute of ‘Accept’-ing the order. And I have now been waiting for four.
I did hit ‘Call Passenger’ after three, and got Joe’s voicemail.
Note: Cabulous protocol has it so that after waiting five minutes, and then calling, a driver can cancel, cite as a no-go, and at least roll with five bucks (courtesy of the passenger’s on-file credit card) for the wasted effort.
I hit ‘Cancel Order.’
“Are You Sure You Want To Cancel?”
I start to drive off, cutting off an Uber as working my way back into the construction and rideshare-related gridlock that is Van Ness proximate Civic Center. (Okay, proximate ALL of San Francisco.)
But before finalizing with the last, requisite ‘No Show’ answer to get paid, I spot some thirty-something blue-eyed, blonde hair dude hobbling towards me on crutches, vehemently, wearing a generic white T-shirt and cut-off jeans, out of which only one leg protrudes.
I hit the last ditch ‘X’ above ‘No Show’ on the Cabulous phone to cancel the cancellation.
And I zoom out of the Van Ness gridlock that I just forced my way into, and pull back over to the passenger loading zone for my man.
Excited and huffing, albeit palpably tamping all that down, Joe ably throws his crutches and asymmetrical body into the back of my Ford Escape, directing,
“SF General. The methadone clinic at 22nd. They close at ten. Do you think we can make it there in six minutes? They won’t wait for anybody.”
I hit the meter, and ROLL!
Driver, “Well, you’re in the right cab! But, man… These next few blocks of Van Ness to Division usually suck. I’ll do what I can. I DO have better luck a lot of times hitting the side streets.”
Joe jumps on his smartphone, checking Google Maps for the traffic and proffered ETA to his fix, should we make it in time.
Joe, nervously, “Google Maps says eight minutes, but that Van Ness to Division is the best route. Just stay on that, and do what you can. They don’t usually unlock the doors when people are late. But that’s because some people are always late, and then get in their faces about it. I’ve never been late once. Maybe they’ll make a onetime exception for me. Maybe.”
Driver, “Uh, I probably shouldn’t bring this up, but I was waiting there for five minutes. I called you, too, but got voicemail.”
Joe, still holding his shit, but shaking a little, “You were?? MAN! A friend booked the ride for me. It wasn’t ordered through my phone. MAN! Well, just do what you can.”
And we get unusually lucky with traffic over the next few blocks to Division, with Joe’s eyes glued to Google Maps.
Joe, “(WHEW!) Google Maps says we just gained a minute. We MIGHT just make it!”
Driver, “Yeah, we got pretty lucky on Van Ness there.” Digressing, “Uh, do you mind if I ask… how you came to get addicted to opiates? Was it related to your medical condition?”
Joe, “Oh, I don’t mind. Yeah, I did tours in Iraq AND Afghanistan. I was a Marine. And after an IED took out my Humvee and they had to take my leg, yeah, I got addicted while recovering from the surgery.
I was actually doing good. I was clean for SIX years. I had a house, a wife, a six figure job. ALL of that. Then, I relapsed. And it all went out the window. I was even training for the Paralympics. That’s the kind of guy I am. Everything, full force.”
Driver, “Wow! That sucks. You always hear about people getting addicted coming out of various medical operations.” Adding, “Uh, do you mind if I ask how you relapsed? What was the trigger?”
Joe, “Well, it was stupid, really. Training for the Paralympics, I was going too hard and fast on my one good leg. I started getting blisters and was dealing with a lot of pain, pushing that foot too hard. And I fell back into drugs. But this time, I was scoring heroin on the street. And then, that progressed into shooting fentanyl.”
Driver, “Fentanyl!? That killed Prince! And Tom Petty! I hear cops have even overdosed from just a puff getting released while processing the scene of a drug bust. How do you SHOOT it??”
Joe, “Oh, it’s nothing. I have a pretty good tolerance. Those guys probably died from hot shots, after not doing it for a while, or something.”
Checking his phone, Joe breathes a nervous sigh, with, “Google says we gained another minute. Thanks, man. I think we’re gonna make it.”
Joe, continuing, “Yeah, I was homeless, living on the streets in the Castro. And my whole life was drugs. I’m doing a little better now. My ex still talks to me. But I don’t blame her for anything. I understand. My addiction was too much for her to deal with.”
Driver, weaving in and out of traffic across Potrero, working the timed lights and nearing General, “Hey, I used to be a token straight waiter at Orphan Andy’s in the Castro. The 24-hour gay diner there?”
Joe, lighting up, “You did? HA! I know that place. Yeah, I didn’t mention before, but my wife is trans. A really beautiful woman, and soul. She didn’t deserve any of this.”
We ZOOM left onto 22nd inside the SF General Hospital complex, and left under the old rusty International Orange iron arches that welcome you into the back lot of the methadone clinic. And we come to an immediate halt, blocked by a SF Sheriff’s vehicle stopped in our path ahead, dealing with a schizophrenic in blue hospital pants, with no shoes, standing on a patch of manicured grass adjacent the clinic and smacking himself in the head while screaming profanities.
Joe, “God! We’re here! Move it! MOVE IT!! PLEEEASE!!!”
Then right on cue, as if the Lord Himself has heard Joe’s cry, the escaped schizophrenic runs off all herky-jerky into the greater parking lot, screaming even louder, and leading the Sheriff and his Crown Vic off in hot pursuit.
Joe, “(WHEW!) THANK you! THANK YOU!!”
And I GUN it around the corner to the doors of Joe’s methadone clinic, the clock yet to hit 10:01. But, still…
Joe throws open 474’s rear door and throws out his crutches. And he hobbles off, vehemently, on his one blistered foot to knock desperately on the closed doors of the clinic for his fix.
And as I drive off, Joe shouts after, “THANKS! I’ll tell my friend to leave you a good tip!”
Well, the Cabulous tip is already set to his friend’s default. But, whatever. Just you be well, Joe.
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Photo by Alex SacK