Friends and readers, I am happy to report to you this week that it is a bea-U-tiful, if not foggy, time in ‘ol SaN fRanCiscO! Come! And tour The Golden City with me, your driver! Come take a ride in Citizen’s Cab 26! A clean, comfortable and safe ride is to be had by all! After all, hospitality is number one (for tax revenue, anyway) in The City by the Bay…
I’m on my way into the office to see Tony about a horse. Nearing the bullet-proof glass check out window, I pass a homeless night driver nestled all sung and snoring LOUD in his sleeping bag next to the Coke machine, competing with its hum. He actually looks pretty happy over there on the couch, up on the rustic porch which serves as the Citizen’s Cab driver’s lounge.
“ZZZzzzZZZzZZzzzzzzZZzzZ!!!!!! OOooNNggkkkKKK!!!! ZZZzzzzZZzZZZzzzzzzZZZ!!!”
It is dark, but for the warm yellow glow and thrown shadows produced by a few towering flood lights. Lights which only half illuminate this lot full of idle taxis, stray cats, rats, and strewn about cab parts, all ensconced in a triple-tired barbed wire fence.
Without fanfare, I head over to the peg board of keys and medallions and grab the goods to my girl, 26. Aside from a five for tip, a simple nod is all that is exchanged between Tony and me, as he’s pretty tied up over at dispatch, coaching some lost newbie driver over the radio.
“Whaddya meen, where’z Nort Beeech!? Are ya ah cahb drivah, ah whaat!!”
And with this, I make my way back out towards the lot, and the awaiting day…
It’s quiet out, but I like it. Gives the caffeine a chance to kick in casual, and the impending introspections their requisite room to percolate. It’s a moment to take stock of one’s life and direction, with the apt backdrop of Chopin’s Nocturne #12 wafting over the radio, framing this majestic view of the Bay that is the crest of Broadway and Fillmore.
Yes, passengers, I am headed down into the belly of the beast; Cow Hollow and the Marina. That domain of young professionals, frat boys-turned-financial workers, each and every one flush with disposable income and a hangover that has long ceded its cure to the “rideshares.”
Their creed: If you can’t BE Steve Jobs, then you can PRETEND you are!
No, passengers, I will not secure a fare down here. I will just meander fareless, as bearing witness to a horde of gypsy cabs loading luggage into their sub-prime leased Toyotas, with pink mustaches and “U” signs all glowing ominous in each of their windshields.
As they say, the cream has been skimmed. And a cabbie’s fare these days is restricted to the old, the indigent, the homeless – or soon to be, the drug addict and the old school. And on the job, us hacks are thirty-three times more likely than you to have a drunk gouge our eyes, or tase and rob us of our lives and livelihoods.
ENTER, THE TOURIST
Yup, it’s tourist season in ‘ol SF. And it is an international event. I’m cruising east down Market and have just passed Westfield Mall, adjacent to the shopping and hotels of Union Square.
Outside of the Four Seasons, the doorman steps out into the street in his waist coat and cap, and blows his whistle. And from across a red light, your driver dutifully flashes his lights in reply. The back seat shall soon be warm.
The light turns, and I zoom my trusty Prius across the intersection and dip into the turnout, lest that Yellow bastard cruising west up Market mack my ride, via an illegal U.
The doorman leans into my shotgun, with a curt,
“The Japanese Tea Garden, driver.”
And an older, well-to-do, retired couple climbs in back. And Wife has taken note that I’m tuned in to NPR. (They’re doing a Forum on the recent hard alcohol ban at Stanford, on account of that rich white kid who got only a six month sentence for raping an unconscious student after claiming it was the alcohol’s fault.)
Wife, “Ah! How refreshing to have a cab driver listening to public radio! I’d gamble that you even speak English!”
Driver, “Yes, ma’am. They taught us in cab school.”
Wife, “Ha! Very good, driver! We’re from Monterey. I, at one time, worked the phone banks for the fund drive at our local NPR. I must tell you, driver, it was very taxing!”
Driver, “Well, God bless you for your work. How do you mean, taxing?”
Wife, “Well, driver. I was doomed to fielding calls from only the crazies. And they made every attempt to keep me on the line for upwards of half of an hour! And this was frowned upon, you see. This put me in the unenviable position of having to find a way to dispose of them, one after the other! Ha!”
Driver, “Sounds rough. How would they keep you on the phone?”
Wife, “In one instance, an older gentleman simply could NOT decide upon which gift he wanted in exchange for his donation. This gentleman had no idea what a travel mug was! I came to wonder if he was simply lonely, and called in solely for the chance of having someone to speak with. Once the question of the travel mug had been settled, the man asked if he would receive a better gift if he would donate a higher amount. Well, of course! In that instance, he would receive the Peter, Paul and Mary box set! Ha!”
Driver, “Taxing, indeed!”
Wife, “And that was not all, driver! My callers had all the volunteers besides me listening in to my calls! Ha! One woman simply called in to complain that she had never received a thank you letter for her last donation. I informed her that we do mail a receipt and thank you, for tax purposes, and suggested that maybe she discarded the letter as junk mail. Additionally, I informed her that we place phone calls to thank donations of her size. And that she may have missed the call. In any event, I settled that by personally thanking her at that moment. Ha!”
Driver, “Crazy, indeed!”
We navigate Golden Gate Park, pass the de Young Museum, and drop at the Japanese Tea Garden, with the fog now lifted and your driver $20 richer.
It’s off to Market, again. This time cruising west. And again, at Westfield Mall, score!
Adjacent the Powell Street cable car turnaround, a tourist family flags me. Actually, the husband, wife, and teenage son just stand there looking lost. It’s the blonde daughter that half raises her hand, makes eye contact with driver, and secures the ride.
I pull to the curb. And all pile in with their cameras, as dad sits up front. And in badly broken English, with a strong French accent, Dad reveals their destination.
“Ehhh, please, ehhh, driver. How you say, ehhh, Al-a-mo Squ-are?”
Driver, “Ah! The Painted Ladies it is!”
For any aspiring San Francisco tourist, this grouping of immaculate Victorians is a must see – as much as Alcatraz or the Lombard Street squiggle. But, doh! In their infinite wisdom, to be perfectly timed with the thick of summer, the city has gutted the park across from the Painted Ladies and restricted access for a several months’ long complete renovation! They threw up a fence around the entirety of the park’s perimeter!
Well, as this greatly interfered with a given European’s ability to get that perfect shot (and save themselves the dollar on a postcard) the hordes had all immediately taken it upon themselves to rip a large hole in the fencing to gain access the perfect vantage point.
Note: To be fair, the city did get wise and in response to the tourist vigilantism, pulled back the fence line in that part of the park to give the paparazzi a nice dirt patch from which to snap away to their heart’s content.
Well, there seems to be a language barrier here with my French companions. Not sure if I can successfully warn them of what to expect. Eh, I’ll make it up to them by cutting through the Tenderloin, give them a REAL photo op!
I zoom off Market, and up Turk, into the thick of drugs, crime, trash and graffiti, vomiting homeless, and large black transsexual prostitutes…
I take note in the rear view, as all eyes go wide. And cameras raise, hesitantly, then lower, impotent. Suddenly, at a red light at Hyde, a brightly-painted Asian in a black leather skirt traverses the crosswalk in front of the cab.
And Driver dutifully pokes Dad in the shoulder and points, relaying,
“That’s a man.”
And Dad gasps, gawks and alerts his family, in fluid French, to bear witness. He then turns his head to the side, to again address Driver, but without ever breaking his gaze from the subject.
“Ehhh, re-ally? Is, ehhh, a ma-an??”
Driver, “No! Just kidding! HA! But, maybe!”
And all laugh.
Still worried about a potential disappointment with Alamo Square, however, I feel the need to try and make a suggestion that the family make their way over to Haight/Ashbury, when done taking snaps. And it seems I have perked Mom’s ears. Breaking out a map, she looks down and runs her finger along it and utters,
“Ehhh, Bu-en-ah, ehhh, Vis-ta, park??”
Driver, “Well, yes, sort of. Buena Vista Park is a couple blocks short of the main strip there in the Haight. It’ really just a steep hill, and not that interesting. But when you see Buena Vista, you’ll know you’re close.”
I check the rear view.
Ma just looks blank, stares down again at her map, and reiterates, ” Bu-en-ah, Vis-ta, park.”
And Dad, confused, inquires, “Ehhh, what is… Haaaate?”
Driver, succinct, “Uh, the 60’s. Hippies?”
Dad, “Ahhh! The 60’s! Hippie!”
We roll up on Alamo Square soon enough, and I catch my Frenchies gushing at all of the Edwardian and Victorian architecture so characteristic of the areas outside of downtown. I’ve had many a (English speaking) tourist note that throughout their travels in America, San Francisco makes them feel the most at home, due to its architecture and liberal culture.
Dad asks how much for the ride. And Driver points to the meter, which reads $11.20.
Dad, “Ehhh, fif, eh, teeen.” He looks me in the eyes, adding, “Ehh, no, ehhh, ch-ange.”
Gushing, Driver reiterates his suggestion that the family cut over to the Haight, when done taking pix in the dirt.
Driver, gesturing, “Haight Street is just four blocks that way, for after… Have a great day, guys!”
And Driver drives off, leaving Dad looking confused in the rear view, and starting off to mix in with the gaggle of gawkers gathered at this iconic San Franciscan attraction.
Two hours later…
I’m cruising the Haight for flags. I’ve been pretty lucky catching tourists here around this time, of late, in want of a ride back to their hotels, a twenty dollar jaunt over to Fisherman’s Wharf. That is, when done window shopping for bongs and hip shoes, and contemplating the ubiquitous street kids all selling pot in their colorfully patched bell bottoms with leashed cats sitting atop their shoulders.
And right at this famous intersection, synonymous with the 60’s, the corner of Haight and Ashbury, a lesbian couple runs out from a throng of selfie sticks, all snapping pix of peace sign-throwing tie-dyed vacationers.
And in the spirit of love, taxi throws on the hazards to pick up the bounty. (No room to pull to a curb, or anywhere else, amidst the patchouli-infused melee.)
Etheridge, “Thanks for stopping! We’re off to the Sheraton, in Fisherman’s Wharf.”
We roll east out of the Haight. And as my passengers start with the gab, I take note of a French family, that looks awfully familiar, lounging on the quiet hillside of Buena Vista Park, several blocks short of the action. Hmm.
Etheridge, “How long have you been driving?”
Driver, giving his usual rote response, “Well, six of your civilian years. But due to the nature of the job, I like to count it in dog years. So, forty-two.”
Etheridge and Ani both laugh on cue, before Etheridge adds,
“Looks like we got the right driver, Ani!”
And Etheridge offers, unprompted, “We’re visiting from Tucson, Arizona. I’m a yoga teacher.”
Driver, playing along, “Oh? I hear Tucson is pretty cool, and liberal. Do you get into the spiritual aspects of yoga? Or just stick to the physical workout?”
Etheridge, “Well, Tucson is open minded and liberal. But still, I don’t feel comfortable talking about the spiritual stuff there. But, uhhh…”
Etheridge suddenly gets all weird and hesitant.
But Ani then takes over the conversation in disclosing, “We’re in trouble, driver. We have a friend back at the hotel who’s mad at us. You see, we did Alcatraz yesterday and ate mushrooms without her, all of them. They were no good, anyway. So, we came over here to try and buy some more and make it up to her. She was pissed! Anyway, some homeless guy said we could find some on Haight Street.”
Driver, “Well, did it work out?”
Ani, “Yeah, we totally hooked up! And we’re on our way back to make peace with our friend now. We’ll see how it goes tonight, though, with the quality. Hopefully, this gets us out of hot water! We’re planning to go trip at the Wax Museum!”
Driver, “Well, good luck with that. And thanks for tripping Citizen’s Cab. It’s you guys that grease the wheels of this great city.”
And grease, they do!
At drop, Etheridge and Ani throw me $25 on the $18.70 meter for “being cool.” Before holding the door for a Midwestern family, all draped in plaid shorts and wearing matching “I ESCAPED ALCATRAZ” prison striped T-shirts.
Dad sits up front, as ma and the kids pile in back.
And Mr. Griswold queries,
“Driver, do you know where the Full House house is?”
Why, yes. Yes, I do…
Photo by Alex SacK