It’s my first day back in the cab from a couple days off camping down in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It was just me and my younger son, as his older teen brother no longer loves dad. (Something about being a “fucking loser.”) And with all of my documenting of the decline and fall of the San Francisco taxi industry, I had projected that I’d be ripe for a sanity check right around August, my birthday. So I booked the trip back in February. And Big Basin State Redwoods Park is nothing less than heaven on Earth. (Tell NO one!)
As well rested as I’d returned, I did have a hard time sleeping last night, before my impending shift. I tossed anxiously, my mind reeling about what opportunity, or lack thereof, would await my return to the taxi. Well, at least I’d be rolling in my new and beautiful lady, Citizen’s Cab #26, I thought. And it was this notion, along with the nagging hand of God, that dragged your insomniac driver out of bed early, and onto the streets, at the ungodly hour of…
I’m already caffeinated, purged and stocked to the gills with Starbucks napkins. However, as I had feared, the only fish jumping this early is me. The streets are quiet. REAL quiet. Jeez. Why the hell am I out here??
Surely, God made a mistake.
To be fair, I haven’t made it even one round of the city fareless, as of yet. (Just Potrero Hill, the Mission, the Castro and Haight-Ashbury.) It’s more the SMELL of it all.
Anyway, I’m now rolling down the hill into the Lower Haight. And San Francisco’s usual, nowadays unusual, fog (dubbed “Karl” for those on Twitter) sets the scene.
I’ve rolled the main commercial strip of the Lower Haight, to no avail. And ritual now has me going for the left onto Fillmore, and up over towards the Fillmore. When, suddenly…
A flag! A flag!! It’s a live one!!
Some twenty-something white dude at the bus stop across Fillmore from me, on Haight, is flagging… ME! Well, alright. Another ride courtesy of MUNI.
I abandon my plans for the left onto Fillmore and zoom across the light, and pull over in front of dude. But Dude does NOT go for 26’s back door. He approaches the rolled-up shotgun window of my taxi and prostrates himself all nervous, before signaling for me to roll it down.
I have seen this movie before.
Dude, “Hey. This woman needs to go to her rehab, at Grove and Gough. Can you take her?? How much would that be? I’ll pay you…”
I have NOT seen this movie before!
I suddenly take note of a wrinkled old white woman, maybe sixty, maybe seventy-five, in a filthy yellow windbreaker. She’s in a wheelchair that’s packed with plastic bags, including a large one of Depends, and sitting behind Dude shaking all Parkinson’s under the bus shelter.
Driver, “Well, it’s metered. But I’ll just do it for ten bucks.”
He hands me in a soggy ten dollar bill through the window, which Dude already had at the ready, and turns around gushing to address Hepburn.
Dude, “Ma’am, he’s going to take you to where you need to go. Let’s get you inside the cab.”
And Driver jumps out to help load Hepburn into the back, and her wheelchair and bags into the hatch of my beautiful Prius.
And it is a project.
Dude wheels Hepburn close to the back door. And he helps her out of the wheelchair, as Hepburn attempts to steady herself, twitching and grabbing to brace herself between a well-placed municipal trash can and the roof of my taxi.
I grab a couple plastic bags off of the handle bars of Hepburn’s wheelchair, and then the large one of Depends, and throw all of them into the back. And once Hepburn’s butt is out of her chair, I go to grab the seat cushion – a necessary first, before pulling up the cloth seat beneath it to fold up the wheelchair.
But Hepburn rises from her seat, to reveal a HEAVILY SOILED incontinence pad that’s sitting atop the cushion!
A small blessing that Hepburn displays some semblance of shame – and a sign of cognizance, and quickly grabs the soiled pad from the seat. Seemingly, with the hopes that Dude and Driver do not notice.
(Please don’t throw it in the cab… Please don’t throw it in the cab…)
And Hepburn quickly tosses the offending sanitary device into the trash can behind her, upon which she is braced.
As Driver now goes to lift the seat cushion of Hepburn’s wheelchair, he finds it soggy – as having been vastly under protected by the now disposed of incontinence pad. And after having sought out, carefully pinched, and lifted the seat cushion – by its solitary dry corner, Driver finds beneath it an array of soggy file folders and medical papers, which all also must first be moved, and stored in the cab, before collapsing Hepburn’s chair…
And Driver now folds the wheelchair and proceeds to stow it into the open hatch of the taxi, as Hepburn grips the ridge alongside it and moves herself towards the open back door, and as Dude suddenly comes out of nowhere and SCREAMS,
“DRIVER! HER FINGERS!! WATCH HER FINGERS!!!”
I SEE her damn fingers, DUDE!! Jeez. You nearly made me shit MY SELF!!
And Driver watches, horrified, as Hepburn slides ever so easily into the once pristine back seat of his new taxi! (Yes, SIGH!!)
My beautiful girl! My beautiful 26!!
And Driver shuts the hatch and runs back to his post, as Dude shuts the door behind Hepburn, pats the roof of the cab, and leans once more into the shotgun.
Dude, “Thanks, man. I owe you one!”
Well, at least ten bucks. And thusly, the ice has been broken, as Hepburn and I roll…
Driver, with clipboard, waybill and pen at the ready… AND ALL OF THE WINDOWS DOWN FULL!!!
“So, ma’am. Your, um, friend said that your rehab is at the corner of Grove and Gough?”
Hepburn, shaking, “Ohhhh, I THHHIIIIINNNKK ssooo… Mmaaybeee… Iiitt’ss onnnn Grooove… I tthhiiiink, mayybeee… Onnnn tthheee otheeerrr sssiiiide offf Vaaann Neesss. I kknnoooww iiittt’ss nneeexxxttt toooo aaa fffiirrrre sttaaaattiiiion.”
Driver, with clipboard still perched on the steering wheel, and now headed up Fillmore,
“Uhhh, the intersection of Grove and Gough is on THIS side of Van Ness, ma’am. Hmm… And actually, there are only three blocks left of Grove on the OTHER side of Van Ness. And they are all municipal buildings, and a park: City Hall, the Main Library, the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. Oh!! There’s the Health and Human Services building! But, hmm… That’s not a live-in rehab. And uh, actually, there’s no fire station there. Maybe I can look it up on my phone. What is the NAME of your rehab, ma’am?”
Hepburn, “Saaiinnt Frraanciiis Exteeennnnded Caarrree.”
Driver, “Siri, look up ‘St. Francis Extended Care.'”
Siri, “I found a St. Francis Extended Care on 718 Bartlett Avenue in Hayward. Is this the one you mean?”
Driver, “Hayward!? NO!!”
But, as I see the East Bay facility listed prominently on my phone, I notice hidden, a few hits down, a listing for a ‘Grove Street Extended Care’ at 1477 Grove. Hey! That’s just across the Panhandle from Haight-Ashbury! That MUST be Hepburn’s place!
Driver, “Ma’am. Did you mean Grove Street Extended Care?”
Hepburn, “Nooooo. I’mm ssuurree iiiittt’ss caaallleeedd Ssaaiiintt Fffrraaannccciiiss. I essccappeed lllaasssstt nnniiighhhtt. I leeeeeftttt wwiiiitthhooutt ttheemm knnooowwwiiinnnngg. Tooo hhaaavvee aaa ccciiiigaaarrrretteee. Annddd I thhiinnnk I mmiiigghhhhtt bbeee iiiinnnn trrrrooouubbllle. Buut myyy bboooyyffrriiieennd ssaaaawww mmeeee lleeaaavvvvee.”
Driver, “Well, ma’am. I see a St. Francis in Hayward, in the East Bay. But I don’t think that’s your place… You don’t mean St. Francis Hospital, at Bush and Hyde? Do you?”
Hepburn, “Nnnooooo. Ohhhh, ddeeeaaarrrr.”
Driver, “Well, ma’am. Let’s drive up to this Grove Street Extended Care, and see if it looks familiar to you. Okay? Actually, hey! There IS a fire station on Grove up there!”
Hepburn, “Ookkaaayyyy, Ooohhhh ddeeeaarrrr.”
It’s a short left off of Fillmore and a pretty quick jaunt up Grove, that, in light of Hepburn’s incontinence (and even with all of the windows down FULL) seems, well, NOT SO QUICK!
And in not so short order, seemingly, we pull up on 1477 Grove – The Grove Street Extended Care and Living Center, RIGHT next to San Francisco Fire Department Station 21!
And it’s dark.
This is DEFINITELY the place! But it looks like there’s no one at reception to let Hepburn in! I see a bullet-proof glass window and office in the foyer. But it’s all dark!
I jump out to get Hepburn’s wheelchair, bags, file folders, soggy seat cushion, and corp… er, body out of my taxi.
Jeez. What are you doing, Alex? You CAN’T just LEAVE Hepburn out in front of a closed rehab building on a desolated street at four in the morning! But you CAN’T drive around making NO MONEY with a confused incontinent old woman in your back seat, EITHER!!
Well, what would YOU do???
I roll Hepburn up to the doorbell. And I wish her luck.
“Ooohhhh, ddeeeaaaarrr. Ooookkkaaayyy.”
And Hepburn begins reaching up from her chair and pushing the doorbell, which I hear making no sound, as Driver jumps back into Citizen’s Cab #26… and ZOOMS IT THE HELL OUT OF THERE!!!
I turn the corner onto Broderick, out of sight, and promptly pull over to assess the damage to 26’s back seat, with a wad of Starbucks napkins in hand that I have drenched with my water bottle.
Hmm. Just a large shiny area. No fecal matter, visible at least… But it sure DON’T SMELL RIGHT!!!
And neither does my conscience.
I REALLY can’t just LEAVE Hepburn back there ringing the doorbell, to no avail, for HOURS, until someone comes into work SOMETIME AFTER DAYBREAK!!
Ok, I got it! I’ll cross over the Panhandle and into the Upper Haight, again, and find a cop! They’ll surely be over there rousting the homeless from their slumber in the various store fronts, enforcing the Sit/Lie (a.k.a. outlaw the homeless) ordinance! That’s it!! Yeah, THAT oughta ease my conscience!
Two minutes later….
Sure enough, outside of El Faro (good burritos, btw) there’s a black & white SFPD SUV pulled over with its lights on, in a contest with a homeless dude in a sleeping bag.
I pull up behind the SUV and jump out of 26, and wait… It seems these cops really have their hands full.
In a gruff, gravelly, pirate growl, “FUCK YOU, PIGS!! I GONNA KICK YER ASSESS!! DON’T FUCKING TOUCH ME, PIGS!!! HOW FUCKING DARE YOU WAKE MY ASS UP!!! YOU KNOW WHAT TIME IT IS!! TIME TO ROAST SOME FUCKING PIGS!! FER BREAKFAST!!! THAT’S WHAT TIME!! YOU MOTHERFUCKERS!!! COME ‘N TRY TO GET ME UP!! JUS’ COME ‘N TRY IT!! PIGS!!!”
I have to say, these pi… er, cops are taking this with AMAZING calm, and grace. Probably just the run of the mill morning routine for them. And I thought us cabbies had it bad! Well, in our defense, they probably don’t have an unregulated, private police force en mass on the streets driving their wages into the ground. (Though, I’m sure there’s an app in the works for that!)
Eventually, one of the cops notices me standing behind them, and turns to address.
Cop, “Is everything alright?”
Cabbie, “Uh, actually… no. I see you have your hands full. But I just dropped off a very confused old woman in a wheelchair outside of her closed live-in rehab. She said something about escaping from it last night. She’s incontinent and ringing the bell over there at 1477 Grove I was hoping you guys could check on her. Maybe help her get inside?”
Cop, “Do you have a cell phone?”
Cabbie, “Uh, yeah.”
Cop, “You’re right. As you can see, we DO have our hands full Call dispatch and let them know. The number is 553-8090.”
Cabbie, “Uh, ok. Thanks.”
And I hop back into 26, pop in my Bluetooth headset and start dialing SFPD dispatch, as the cops close in on the waking giant. And as I pull off multitasking, looking for flags in the Haight and reporting Hepburn to police dispatch, I hear the continued gruff threats of “I GONNA KICK YER ASSESS!! PIGS!!!” trailing off behind me, echoing in the distance…
All in all, I can’t shake the feeling that, despite the shambles that my finances are in. God WANTS me to be right where I am… That this is some test, of my faith.
And right as this epiphany strikes, right on cue, I pass a pink mustachioed Lyft “rideshare” at Haight and Cole, loading luggage into his trunk.
I mean, no Uber’s picking up Hepburn.
No self-driving car…
Photo by Alex SacK