I’ve been having some weird sepia-tone dreams this past week. They’ve all involved escaping from one or some other long, drawn-out, violent and bloody urban drama. I don’t know if it’s the sickness I slogged through (which kept me home the first couple of days with chills, lethargy and a cough), or if it’s the craziness in our collective air that’s been so terribly self-evident. But SOMETHING is definitely off… these unsettling dreams even SMELL sepia-tone!
Once back out on the streets of San Francisco playing cabbie, on Thursday, I found that business (or rather, lack thereof) had proven a sad continuation of the previous week; an unusual and exceptional quiet for July. (I noticed even the “rideshares” were all rolling empty and desperate.)
I mean, where the HELL is everybody! HELLO!!! (O…o…o…o…) Anybody OUT THERE!? (Ere…ere…ere…ere…)
Like I said, it’s been a scary-slow couple of weeks. And this gives a taxi man WAY too much time to think.
I round the left onto Valencia, from 16th in the Mission, sucking down some of the first of my day’s caffeine allotment. And here on Valencia, I find life!
It’s an older black dude with REAL thick coke bottle glasses, grayish dreads – hanging out from under a blue knit beanie, and suited up in an oil stained, navy blue, one-piece mechanics outfit. He’s flagging me from the bike lane, all hesitant, though. Probably thinks no taxi is going to stop for him. Or probably, he’s being trying to flag an empty cab and none HAS stopped for him!
I have to admit, this doesn’t smell like a regular fare. But it doesn’t smell like sepia-tone, either.
I pull over.
And, instead of going for the back seat of Citizen’s Cab 2976 – the best damn spare in the lot, Sanford slowly approaches my closed shotgun window, seemingly uncertain.
I roll down the window.
“Uhhh… Do you think you can help me with a jump? I’ll give ya twenty bucks…”
Taxi man looks past Sanford, to note a beat up early 90’s Ford Taurus suddenly come into focus, parked alone, alongside the west curb of Valencia Street. It looks like it’s street sweeping day, and Sanford is imminent for a $68 ticket if he doesn’t move, fast.
I begin to utter “sure,” happy for the chance to break some random, disturbing thoughts that had been occupying my undistracted head, prior to our encounter. And “sure,” happy at the chance to appease some pent-up cabbie guilt. But then, I remember: I don’t carry jumper cables in the taxi.
“Sur… Uh, um… Do you have any jumper cables?”
Sanford, “Yeah, I got cables.”
Cabbie, “Sure. No problem. You don’t have to pay me, though. It’s all good. I’ll go up and turn around for you.”
I roll forward a bit, readying to flip an illegal U on the barren early morning Valencia. And as rolling forward, verifying no traffic, I watch Sanford in the rear view, imagining that he’s praying I don’t just roll off and leave him.
I don’t. And I pull 2976 up – against the legal direction of the lane, until head-to-head with Sanford’s disabled Taurus. And I pop the hood.
Sanford seems to know what he’s doing. But I get out to help, anyway. I take one end of the cables and make sure the red and black clamps are separated, as Sanford affixes the other end to the positive and negative terminals of our patient. He then takes the clamps from me, and I jump back in the cab to rev the engine, to give her some juice.
And Sanford turns her over… His engine begins to sputter out some unenthusiastic chugs, and his windshield wipers come to life. Dude! When jumping a car, you’re other electronics are supposed to be off, and not sucking the juice from the effort!
Suddenly, I get a nervous flashback, to a couple of weeks ago, when I was circling my block after work looking for parking, and came upon a neighbor from the projects across the street dressed in her Sunday best (on a Monday) waving for me to stop and help jump HER beat up jalopy!
Note: And note that, even in THESE last two weeks, these are not the only jumps that I’ve been enlisted in to help! I keep stopping and thinking that I’ll get out of the deal, as I don’t keep cables. But my petitioners seem to ALWAYS have them at the ready! Whatever. I guess it feeds my Jesus complex. I DO seem to relish in delusions of crucifixion. And as I’ve mentioned before, “Alexander” does mean “helper of men.” Maybe I’ll just change careers, and become a tow truck driver. (Probably pays more at this point. Maybe even minimum wage!)
After trying in vain, for like fifteen minutes to jump Sunday Esther, I went to check her gas gauge and realized that she was just out of gas! But after trying to start her car repeatedly with no gas, even once fueled, she would still need a jump.
After alerting Sunday Esther to the sitch, I offered to grab a five from her and go get a spot of gas. But…
“Oh, damn. I don’t have a gas can! Shoot.”
Sunday Esther, “Oh! I gahts one rite he-yah!”
Future Tow Truck Driver, “Sure. No problem.”
But instead handing over a five, Sunday Esther only has a hundred dollar bill on her. And without hesitation, she hands me the hundred and a red plastic gas can. And I’m off!
Once returned, I hand over Sunday Esther her $95 change, and then go to pour the gas into Sunday’s tank. I then affix the jumper cables to my van and Sunday’s jalopy, and go back to rev my van, while telling Sunday to start pumping her gas pedal.
And we wait…
Then, I yell for Sunday to try and turn it over.
CHUG! … CHUG! … CHUG! … SPUTTER!!
Eventually, the scene ends up attracting another dude from the projects, who had been watching us the whole time out of his tenement window, in his wife beater. Dude comes out and promptly pulls the big, round cover off of Sunday’s air filter, that’s situated on top of the engine, and then grabs the gas can and pours some of what was left of the gas into the middle of the doughnut-shaped filter, DIRECTLY into the carburetor. (Cool! Never seen that trick!)
CHUG! … CHUG! … CHUG!… VVVRRROOOOM!!
CHUG! … SPUTTER!!
By this point, the town idiot has arrived at the scene. It’s this, um… “mentally challenged” white dude who also lives across the street from my flat, at these projects. Forrest does odd jobs for the City, cleaning up trash around the grounds of the complex, as well as working stock off and on at the mom and pop corner store adjacent our current gathering.
So, Forrest strolls up barking salutations at us all in his usual, unusually LOUD midrange grate, and giving all cross-eyed eye contact one by one, as he approaches the engine compartment sucking down a cigarette.
“HOW Y’ALL DOIN’!!!”
And Tenement Mechanic takes exception.
“GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE WITH THAT CIGARETTE, MAN!!!”
And Forrest retreats, dejected and sad. He goes back to stand behind some bushes to watch, silent.
CHUG! … CHUG! … CHUG!… VVVRRROOOOM! … SPUTTER!
Then, Tenement Mechanic yells, “FIRE!! FIRE!!!”
And I look through the small space below my open van hood, to see BIG flames violently SHOOTING out of Sunday’s carburetor!! And tenement Mechanic rips off his shirt and starts BEATING DOWN the flames!!!
And, WHEW!! They extinguish!!
Now, Sunday Esther gets out of her jalopy, and I my van, and we congregate around her charred carburetor.
And Sunday Esther turns to me.
“Oh, my Gahd! Well… I giss we’z bess leev dis alone fer now. Tanks you fer yer hep, nayber!”
And Sunday goes to hand me a twenty.
“No, ma’am. I can’t take that. You just work on getting your car sorted out. And God bless.”
And Sunday gushes…
“Oh! Why TANKS you! You kno, we NEEED peepl likes you aht our chuch!”
And Sunday digs into her purse, again But this time to pull out a couple of Jehovah’s Witness pamphlets. And she places them in my hand.
“We’s gaht a meetin’ fer new worshipp’rs ahn Tursday nite! I ‘XPECT tah see YOU dere aht 6 ‘clok dis Tursday, nayber!”
And I give eye service to Sunday’s pamphlets, lie, assuring her that I WILL be there. And noticing a spot that’s just made itself available, I jump back in my van to grab it. After parking, I walk off towards home, yelling one last “God bless!” back to Sunday.
So, after a long digression, here I am early morning on Valencia helping out Sanford, and wondering (with a nervous twitch) if he’s really just out of gas…
CHUG! … CHUG! … CHUG!…
CHUG! … CHUG! … CHUG!…
I jump out of Citizen’s Cab 2976 (a.k.a., the best damn spare in the lot) and pull off the cables and slam the hood. Sanford, visibly elated, runs over to me and tries to force a twenty into my hand.
“No! Really! It’s ok. Keep your money!”
Sanford, “Nah, man. You take this. ‘N maybe I see you around, ‘n git to return the favor.”
And Cabbie sighs, and relents. It might be the only money I see today. (Poor me.)
Seven hours later…
Indeed, good karma has NOT been forthcoming. And this day has played out with me having just cracked nut (expenses) now, at 1pm!
I did note that the Ubers and Lyfts flooding the City were feeling like pain today. But not as much as one Lyft passenger who I witnessed down on Market, during the morning rush hour commute! Dude was surrounded by ambulances and fire trucks, sitting stiff and wincing in the front of some pink-mustachioed Camry while getting a neck brace fitted on him by some EMTs.
(I guess Lyft has moved beyond the fist bump! But just wait ’til he finds out what the James River Insurance Company is all about! (The shady, small-time, newbies to commercial insurance company that Lyft and Uber both share, exclusively.) I’ll be seeing this guy back in cabs in the near future.
Anyway, yeah, it’s 1pm. And I don’t have the fortitude to stay out bleeding. It’s that head, again. I’m rolling Valencia, again, and heading back towards the lot to call it a day. But as usual, I’ll still keep my Cabulous app hail phone green, and my eyes peeled for flags, en route.
At 20th & Valencia, a Mexican guy in a boots, jeans and a cowboy hat pops out from in front of a parked pickup truck and waves me down.
I screech to a stop.
Then, out from behind his embroidered western shirt, Juan reveals a set of jumper cables. And he begins with, “Amigo…”
That’s it, folks! This is my last taxi blog post. I’m quitting to become a tow truck driver.
Jesús te amo, amigos!
Photo by Alex SacK