Dreams of a Short


I haven’t slept.

Well, I haven’t slept well. Okay, okay, I admit it… I relapsed into nighttime cough syrup abuse. And sedatives of this type are widely reputed to rob you of vital R.E.M. (Thanks, NPR.)

Maybe I’ll just go into Citizen’s Cab late today. At this point, I am willing to exchange the first few hours of the day and it’s $20-80 remuneration for a few more hours of half-sleep. (Actually, as it goes, I did just start getting some R.E.M. about an hour before my alarm went off.)

I better call-in to Kojak, though. Let him know. If you don’t show around an hour after your medallion time – 4:15am in my case, the dispatcher/office guy can (and usually will) give away your shift to a newbie not on the schedule.


Sack, “Koj, it’s Sack. I’ll be in around 7. Hold 137 for me.”

Koj, “Sack, you wanna see if I can get you a short?”

I hear Kojak broadcast over the radio, “Anybody want a short? Anybody want a short?”


Note: A “short shift” is a half day and can be worked on the front end, or back. The taxi-exchanging drivers just split the medallion time and the gate (cab rental) to suit.

Koj, “Sack, I can’t find you a short. You come in at 7. And don’t mess me up!”

Sack, “I won’t, old man. I’ll be in at 7.”

But, what? Mess him up?? What does that even mean? I’m still on the hook for the $91 gate.


ZZZZ-zzzzzz-ZZZZZ… (Snort!) ZZZ-zzzzzzzzz… (Snort! Snort!!) ZZZZ-zzzzzz-ZZZZZ…


5-ish am:
Bllll-iiiinggg… Bllll-ooooppp… Bllll-iiinnnggg… (My generic iPhone harp ring-tone goes off.)

Kojak, “Sack, I got you a short. Come in at 9.”

Sack, “Ok. Thanks, Koj. See you at 9.”

Hmm. This’ll be new. Never done an afternoon short before. But I have been on the other end, turning it in early on account of when driving around sans-fare for too long has gotten too dejecting.



I’m out in the lot at ‘ol Citizen’s Cab prepping my mule. Kojak ended up giving away 137 (my regular Prius) and had 215 waiting for me, a Ford Escape with 243K on her. Despite the miles, she’s not a bad cab. Looks generally clean at first glance.

Oh, wait… What’s this?? Some large, dried, undisclosed liquid stain all over the inside of the driver’s door. (Sniff… Sniff…) Nope. Not vomit. Well, probably not worth wasting water from my bottle to clean it. (I do wish they’d stop turning off the hose in the lot! Drought-schmought!) And wait… what’s this?? The clock has some questionable residue covering it that won’t seem to scrape off. I’ll be roughly guessing what pick-up times to fill on my waybill today. Eh, not worth taking out my phone for time checks, either.

I roll.

Post-Starbucks, and I have yet to break the ice. But I’m not trippin’. But I do have to say, this whole scenario has been kind of weird. The sun was fully up when I came in. And there was traffic getting to work. Actual traffic! And my morning Starbucks ritual was pretty disorienting, as the place was packed, bustling with patrons. And some dumb lady kept repeatedly pressing the code for the bathroom while I was performing my Sackrament. She even went to call over a barista to verify that she was entering the right code for the door… rather than ask if by some strange chance the loo might be OCCUPIED!? I hadn’t been in there a minute! Jeez. And I even mercy flushed to announce my presence! What a world… What a world…

Anyway, I’m finding myself fighting the nervous urge to play catch-up. I’m used to making my nut (bribes, gas, gate) by 10. It’s ingrained in you. It now comes to mind how Christian recently said how he felt like a fish out of water when he deviated from his night driving shtick to pick up a day shift at the behest of Jesus (Citizen’s Manager). I understand now. Well, I’ll just have to let Christ take the wheel today… Or Buddha. Whoever.



I’m rolling fruitless down Hyde, still sans-fare. Think I’ll mix things up. (It seems to be the day for that.) I’ll cross over Market onto 8th and head out Mission, instead of the usual west up Market.

And… score! Just as I cross Market, the doorman from the Holiday Inn steps out onto 8th with his taxi whistle blowing and hand high in the air waving. Sweet! Maybe an airport?

I pull over and the doorman opens the rear door for a suit, with just a laptop case.

“Moscone Center West, driver.”

Oh, right! It’s the yearly Salesforce conference, Dreamforce! They say there’s over 170,000 people in town for it. They even have a cruise ship they call the Dreamboat docked at Pier 27 that’s serving exclusively as a hotel for the event! (Apparently, this is a first.)

Well, it’ll just be a $7 ride, and no doubt via AMEX. But the back seat is warm, finally! Anyway, note to self: Stay AWAY from Downtown and SOMA. Nightmare alert!! Eh, with all the other scab “rideshares” and taxis all playing Moscone, I’ve found the outskirts of S.F. in at these times to be in dire need of rides. And I am their man.

Suit and I ride in short silence. I mean, how exciting a topic of converse is cloud computing, anyway?

Well, the day has begun. And the ice has broken!


I’m cruising east down Market, heading downtown into the Financial and scanning for luggage. But alas, I am kidding myself. I’ll not catch any day trippers leaving fresh from the pitch this early. But maybe I will catch one of ’em headed to an early power lunch.

Suddenly, two business dudes flag me at the corner of Front, across the red here on Market… The light turns. And some Yellow Cab fucker tries speeding ahead of me and veering over from his inside lane to snatch my bounty!

Not without a fight!





Yellow is no match for the Sack!

I pull over in front of my dinner. And suits pop in back.

Suit #1, “Lucas. In the Presidio, driver.”

Suit #2, “Industrial Light & Magic.”

Driver, “1 Letterman – Building A, it is. We’re off!”

Ok. Not too bad a fare. Probably twenty bucks. And this’ll place me near the commercial Marina strip.

I play fly on the wall en route…

Suit #1, “Yeah, so my wife said, ‘You go to the emergency room RIGHT NOW or we’re getting a divorce!’ So, I go. And the E.M.T.s look pretty worried. I was thinking, ‘I thought you guys have seen it all! You all should not look so scared.’ And now this scenario has me scared! The doc says my B.P.M. is 30. He was completely shocked. He goes on to say, ‘Two of your four ventricles aren’t working. You should not even be able to sit up right now!’ So, they gave me a temporary pacemaker right then and there… with just a local! Then, they held me for the night and put a permanent one in the next morning… with STILL just a local!”

Suit #2, “Holy crap. Well, they had me fully anesthetized when I went in for my double bypass!”

We ride on, with Suits #1 & #2 exchanging stories of various surgeries accumulated over their years. And ten minutes later we cross the threshold of the Lombard Gate, into the heavily contrasted quiet, this other world of rolling green lawns and abundant Eucalyptus that is the Presidio.

I drop adjacent the Yoda fountain outside of 1 Letterman – Building A, Industrial Light & Magic. And Suit #1 throws me up an AMEX saying to add four bucks to the $17.55 fare. Well, yes. I do ‘Accept’.

And may the Force be with you guys!


“Cha-ching! -500 Stanyan. Cherry. Dispatch.”

It’s interesting how sometimes you and a fare are in sync for a spell. This’ll be the third shift in a row I’ve picked up Cherry. But prior to this week I hadn’t seen her in over a year! You seem to go in and out of grooves with some regulars; sometimes not seeing them for months, and sometimes every day.

Anyway, Cherry is crazy. I like her a lot. She’s an old dancer, very trim, with a thick, curly red wig. But Cherry dresses like she still has a young tight body, in short shorts and a tank top; albeit underneath her signature long, open, trench khaki raincoat, despite the commonly sunny weather. And Cherry always has on these huge sound-silencing headphones, all jackhammer-style.

To better give you a picture, Cherry once commented on a picture of my kids I used to have mounted adjacent the taxi’s meter, “Oh! Lord!! Are those your kids?? They’re beautiful! VERY androgynous! HA!”


Recall: Rose (cab school teacher) Commandment #7: “Put up a picture of your kids in the cab. If you DO NOT have kids… GET a picture of kids!”

Oh, and Cherry on her neighbors, “I had to take them to court for a Vicious and Dangerous Dog Hearing. I lost the case, however. It is a sad state of affairs when dogs have more rights than humans. My friends in New England do not even believe me! That virulent little beast has no business walking this earth!”

On life in the city (in a wavering defeatist voice), “Oh, San Francisco… San Francisco… I just give up. HA! You have GOT me!” Before her usual punctuation, “HA! HA! HA! HA!”

I’ll be driving a post-knee surgery Cherry from her apartment across from Golden Gate Park, to her doctor’s up in Pacific Heights, OR to Trader Joe’s and then on to the dry cleaners. These are the two options.

I roll up on 500 Stanyan… and wait the usual eight to ten minutes for Cherry to come down.

Today, it’s her doctor’s.

We drive.

And Cherry dives right into her usual dreamy lamentation on city life, yet again. But today we see the addition of her openly musing of moving to a cabin up in rural Marin, before digressing back into reminisces of her days in the ballet.

At drop, Cherry flitters out my my cab and off into the world as usual, with her headphone silencers tightly secured and a, “I’M SORRY! DID YOU SAY SOMETHING?!” And with yours truly $9.55 richer, thanks to San Francisco’s socialist Paratransit program – standard 10% tip included.


I’m driving down the hill from the Upper Haight and have just broached the Lower Haight. I’m fishing. (OM, baby.)

At Scott, a hip late 20-something blonde jumps out from the sidewalk to vociferously flag. I pull over…

And Kat (I’m sure her name is Kat) throws herself into 215’s back seat.

Kat, “I was SUPER drunk last night and had to move my car like FOUR times! Now, I can’t find it and I’m crazy late! We gotta drive around looking for it. It’s a gold ’87 Mercedes station wagon. You down??”

My thoughts freeze… Was that a question? Whatever.

Compliant Cabbie, “Uh, sure. Why not?”

And Kat and I embark on a zig-zag of the Lower Haight’s streets, all accordion-style.

Ten minutes later…

On Haight, we find a gold ’87 Mercedes station wagon… a half a block down from Scott where I picked Kat up!!

Kat, “YES! Thank you, DUDE!! I have to go meet a friend for breakfast! And then get a tattoo! AND buy some pot!! YOU SAVED MY LIFE!”

Sounds like a rough morning to get a late start on, er… at one in the afternoon. I roll $15 richer, cash, on a $12.55 meter.

And the day moves on…

It’s 3 o’ clock, and I’m starting to get a bit loopy after having dodged more than one jaywalking pedestrian vying for a Darwin Award on their cell, usually while playing chicken against my green.

Actually, the diving-for-cover surprised reaction I got from that tourist couple (to my ZOOM! and HHHOOOOOONNNKKK!) as I buzzed them standing IN THE MIDDLE of California Street just over the apex of the hill as they were mindlessly bending over to study, in detail, the cable that runs beneath the tracks WAS a bit amusing. I do admit:)

But this probably means I should gas it up, and bring 215 back to the lot.


I’m at the cheapo independent gas station on Cesar Chavez, at Bryant, and ready to fill ‘er up.

Despite the short shift, I’m feeling pretty drained. But by my calculations, I’ll likely be walking with around $160! No airports today. But I did get pretty busy with the locals. Hell, $160 is pretty good for a FULL shift these days!

From the pump, I wave over at the stoic Ecuadorian on the other side of the bullet proof glass to turn on the gas.

Note: It’s a nice perk that taxis are not asked to pay first at most gas stations. I guess the idea being that one is not going to steal gas for, and then drive off in, a brightly-painted vehicle with large numbers plastered all over it specific to one’s medallion, cab company, and the phone number for said color scheme.

Gas comes up to $14.75. Damn. That’s more than my regular Prius (137) drinks over the course of a full shift! And with airports! This is where these mileage-heavy Ford Escapes will get you. Hybrid, my ass!

I head into the gas station office to pay the Stoic Ecuadorian. As usual, he ignores me at first as he just continues on with eating some greasy chicken and rice plate. Today he has his boys in this small office, too, all hooting and hollering loudly in Spanish at some soccer (sorry, fútbol) game on Telemundo. I hold out fifteen ones just as some chicken drops from near the mole on Stoic’s heavily stubbled upper lip. I watch as it travels down his grease-stained wife beater and over his large, hairy, exposed belly before finally sliding to rest on the floor.

And still chewing, Stoic only now turns to make eye contact. He speaks, with chicken and rice spewing from his lips, “Why you always give me ones! Always ones! ONES!! You make me a STRIPPER!! EH!?”

Cabbie of Uncanny Wit, “It’s just the potbelly… It’s so SEXY!!”

I gaze all wide-eyed at Stoic’s bulging gut… and DIVE to stuff a dollar in his waistband, as I bark, “AND THERE’S MORE WHERE THAT CAME FROM IF YOU DANCE FOR ME!!”

Stoic JUMPS back BEHIND THE CASH REGISTER with a raised eyebrow in TERROR and SHOCK! And all his buddies burst out laughing as they point at Stoic.

I do believe we are done here… Yup, all in a short day’s work.


Photo by Christian Lewis
Check out Alex’s book San Francisco TAXI: A 1st Week in the ZEN Life…
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