I’m rolling west up Market, empty, in Citizen’s Cab #26, when, “DING!”
My iPhone chimes with an IM… Hey! It’s Christian!
Note: Best friend, Spermula band mate, and fellow (albeit, night) cabbie.
“Golden?” it reads, simply.
This is code for lunch (well, late breakfast) at this cheap, Asian run hole-in-the-wall diner up at Sutter & Lev – straddling the red light Tenderloin district.
“K,” I chime back, simply.
Fifteen Minutes Later…
Over eggs and French toast atop rickety bar stools at the counter of Golden Coffee, our once weekly therapy session begins, as usual, with the latest in San Francisco taxi gossip.
Christian, “Did you hear about Dmitry?”
Alex, “You mean that new Russian dispatcher at Citizen’s? No. What?”
Christian, “He flipped out on a night driver a couple nights ago. Dmitry was chasing him around the lot, and then smashed his cab!”
Alex, “Wow! Really? Why!?”
Christian, “It was one of the homeless drivers. They got into some kind of fight over the radio. And then, at the end of dude’s shift, he was back in the office hanging out cooking shit in the microwave behind Dmitry – while he was at dispatch, and being annoying. So, Dmitry sucker punched him and then chased him out into the lot. Dude tried to hide in a cab. But, Dmitry went all crazy and smashed the windows to get at him!”
Alex, “Wow! Is Dmitry fired? What did Management do about it? What did Ivan say!?”
Christian, “I don’t know. That’s all I heard.”
I’m back in the office at ‘ol Citizen’s Cab and grabbing 26’s key and medallion from the pegboard. Tony Sr. is working the office and dispatch. I go to throw him a five for tip, forgoing the extra five airport bribe – as it never pans out, and then pry him for more info on this Dmitry thing.
Sack, “Yo, Tony! What do you know about this Dmitry thing? With some homeless driver??”
Tony Sr., “Oh, you herd ’bout dat? Uhh, iss all settled. Ain’t nuthin’.”
Sack, “What do you mean? I heard Dmitry sucker punched a driver and then chased him out into the lot and then smashed a cab! He’s not fired??”
Tony Sr., “Nah. Ivan and Dmitry worked it out.”
Sack, incredulous, “Hmm. Really?? Well, what do you know?”
Tony Sr., “Ahhh, it wuz ah homeless driver, said sum shit ’bout Dmitry’s mom. Ya don do dat wit Rusians. Dey don like dat shit. Dah cab dint get hurt dat baaaad. Iss all guud now.”
I see I am not going to get much more out of Tony Sr., and resign myself to just forgetting about the whole affair, as I head out to prep my beautiful wif… er, Prius.
Three minutes later…
I’m out in 26 prepping and sanitizing, when there’s a knock on the window.
Hey! It’s Augustus!
Note: Fellow (albiet, night) cabbie, with whom I commonly cross paths at shift change, and have taken to regularly driving home to his SRO hotel at 16th & Valencia, in the Mission.
Note extended: Actually, several drivers live there. And if there’s a vacancy, I may be one of them one day soon. (Well, depending on how the current ballot measure on San Francisco’s tent encampments pans out. It’s good to keep one’s options open.)
Augustus, “Sack, ride me home?”
Sack, “Sure. Get in. I’m just finishing prep.”
Augustus pops in back and immediately hands me up a ten. No need for the meter here. (Cabbie courtesy.)
And we roll.
And as we do, I decide to give it one more shot, to see if there is anything more I can glean about this Dmitry thing. (Night drivers usually have the best scoop on lot gossip.)
Sack, “Hey! What do you know about Dmitry sucker punching some homeless driver? And then chasing him around the lot and smashing his cab??”
Augustus, “Oh, that. Yeah, I heard about it at the Recitation of the Waybill. Late Night Larry was talking about it. You know what the Recitation of the Waybill is, right?”
Sack, “Yeah, I know about it. It’s when whoever’s around at 3 in the morning is hanging out around the BBQ eating and exhanging war stories. I’ve never been to one. I’m a day driver, and value my sleep too much. Or, lack thereof! Ha!”
Augustus, “Well, what I heard is that this homeless driver who sleeps in a spare – 2402, his cab, actually, was talking shit about Dmitry’s mom over the radio, ’cause he thought Dmitry sold an airport out from under him when he was bingo on the order. Well, Dmitry’s Russian. And you DO NOT talk shit about a Russian’s mom. They don’t play that way.
Anyway, at the end of the guy’s shift, he was hanging out in the office and pissing off Dmitry more, until Dmitry finally punched the guy in the face. Then, Dmitry chased him out into and around the lot, until the guy finally ended up locking himself inside his spare. But Dmitry kept flipping out and was banging all over the cab with the handle of a mop, and yelling, ‘I LET YOU SLEEP IN THIS CAB! RENT FREE!! AND THIS IS HOW YOU TALK ABOUT MY MOTHER!!!’
Dmitry didn’t do that much damage. It was just a mop handle. And it was a piece of shit spare, anyway. But, it’s all settled now. Ivan and Dmitry worked it out. Ivan made them shake hands.”
I’m rolling the Fillmore district, sipping my Starbucks, and waking up with Classical KDFC 90.3FM. (Hmm. Maybe they should start paying me for these plugs.)
And right as Liszt’s ‘La Campanella‘ kicks in, a big ‘ol raccoon comes waddling out from in front of the police station, at Turk. Post-haste, Rocky runs across Fillmore behind my taxi, before ducking for cover within the mini park across the street, adjacent McDonald’s. And I take another sip, as breakfast is served.
In the dark of morn, cloaked in the San Francisco fog, and before NPR… all is right in the world.
I’m dropping a nondescript fare at the Kasier medical building on Geary… 2238 Geary, to be specific.
This is a destination to which I will ride at least once a day. And at least once a day, my passenger will invariably get confused about exactly which building they are headed to within this sprawling complex of UCSF and Kaiser hospitals and medical offices. With furled brows betrayed via the rear view and the anxious shuffling of papers, I always assure them that they are headed to 2238 Geary. (For THIS is a taxi man’s job. To give the passenger one less thing to worry about – as if this lot didn’t have enough to, already.)
Post-remittance, as Septuagenarian Joe begins grunting and caning his way out of the back, an older black woman, thin and tastefully dressed – in a navy pants suit and purple paisley shawl, meanders up to my slightly cracked shotgun window with the help of her rhinestone studded cane. And with shifting eyes, seemingly careful to avoid contact, she mumbles all incoherent under her breath, between coughing fits.
And I roll down the window full, to hear Ophelia.
“Umm, uhhh, (Cough!) maybe the bus… Uhhh, should I… Maybe I could, uhhh… (Cough!) But, Paratransit could… Hmm… (Cough!)”
Driver, “Ma’am, do you need a ride?”
And with a steadfast averting of the eyes, Ophelia speaks louder, as she leans into my now open shotgun.
“Uhhh, I usually do Cabulous. (Cough!) Do you take Paratransit? Maybe, (Cough!) uhhh…”
Driver, “Well, I do both. You could hail me from your phone, through Cabulous. Or, I do take Paratransit, if you prefer. Whatever works for you. But if you’re asking me, I’d rather do Paratransit. Cabulous takes a 13.2% bite out of us cabbies.”
Continuing to mumble incoherently, coughing, and looking around confused, Ophelia seems now sold, as she opens the rear door of Citizen’s Cab #26, and settles in (Cough!) back.
A hack LOVES these back to back rides. They really keep the day moving, and the rent paid.
Driver eagerly props his clipboard/waybill up on the steering wheel, and with pen at the ready to mark the ride, he broaches, “Where to, ma’am?”
Ophelia, “Oh, umm… (Cough!) I guess, 6th & Clement.”
Driver, marking his waybill and repeating back, “6th & Clement, it is!”
And we roll.
And Ophelia explains.
“You must (Cough!) forgive me, driver. You see, they have been doing (Cough!) work around my house. And the digging has kicked up the dust, everywhere! (Cough!) The doctor says I have this Aspergillus. (Cough!) They say, it is due to the mold in the dust. And the spores are (Cough!) in my lungs. If it isn’t the darndest thing. (Cough!)”
Man! I feel for Ophelia. But, it always puts a cab driver a bit more at ease to know their patien, er… coughing passenger is bacterial, NOT viral!
And Ophelia and I move on to more pleasant converse. We turn to talk of the many feral cats living in her back yard.
Ophelia, “Driver, I may want to stop at the butcher’s, first. (Cough!) Mr. Chen often gives me bones with scraps, to feed the cats in my backyard. They come from all around the neighborhood. (Cough!) They must number about thirty, now.”
Driver, “Wow! THIRTY cats!? That’s WONDERFUL that you look out for them! No doubt, you are doing God’s work.”
Ophelia, “Oh, yes! God’s children! (Cough!) All of them! I LOVE my cats! SOMEONE has to look out for them. It is the strangest thing, though. Sometimes, (Cough!) a few of them go missing for one or two days. Then, they return with their ears clipped. I believe it is (Cough!) Animal Control who comes to take them away (Cough!) to spay and neuter them, and also give them their shots. Then, they return them to me. I understand that they clip the ears to identify them (Cough!) as having been treated. And, I am very grateful for this.”
Driver, “Oh! I have two cats. Char, a little black brindle who my kids and I named after rescuing her from our neighbor’s abandoned, burned out flat. And Tiger, a grey-stripe who we also rescued from them. We knew that the neighbors had named Tiger prior to the fire. But, Char was a kitten at the time. And we don’t think she had a name. None that we knew of, at least.
Anyway, it’s nice that Animal Control looks out for your cats. But, clipping their ears seems kind of barbaric! Don’t you think, ma’am?”
Ophelia, “Well, (Cough!) they only clip the one ear, at the top. I am sure that they are asleep when the procedure is done. (Cough!)”
Driver, “Well, I hope they don’t declaw them!”
Ophelia, “Oh, no! (Cough!) They do NOT do THAT. That would not be right. Especially, for strays. (Cough!)”
Ophelia, continuing, “There is this one little black cat, that comes inside (Cough!) and rubs around my legs. He had an eye infection, I believe. And also, fleas and worms. Many of my cats do. Anyhow, I would take a cloth to the puss coming from his eyes. (Cough!)
He did recently go missing, however. Then, two days later, he reappeared in the yard with his eyes healed. And NO fleas or worms. And wouldn’t you know it? He had his one ear clipped. (Cough!) It always seems such a mystery to me. But, Animal Control really does do the Lord’s bidding.”
Driver, “That’s great! But, I’m curious. Have you named all thirty cats?”
Ophelia, “Oh, no! Just the little black one. (Cough!) I named him after a very nice cab driver, who once took me home. (Cough!) Sharif.”
And as we roll up on Ophelia’s Chinese butcher, also on 6th, just down the street from her home on this Inner Richmond block lined with single family Victorians, Ophelia suddenly gets all starry eyed. And, as she hands me up her Paratransit card to swipe (for the $7.80 government subsidized fare, plus fixed 10% tip) Ophelia expounds.
“I think (Cough!) it is those RACCOONS that give them the fleas, and eat the scraps meant for my strays. (Cough!) I am forever chasing them off! And the POSSUMS, too! Out from the yard! (Cough!) I do wonder if anything can be done… (Cough!)”
And on this note, I hand Ophelia back her Paratransit receipt, as she opens her door, poised for Mr. Chen, and his bones and meat scraps. But before fully exiting 26, with one leg on the ground, and her rhinestone studded cane planted firmly in the drive, Ophelia stops.
And for the first time, she looks me dead in the eyes…
And Ophelia blesses me.
“God bless you, my son. Continue on with the Lord’s work, with YOUR cats. Have a blessed and beautiful day. (Cough!) Have a blessed and beautiful LIFE! (Cough!)”
And you as well, Ophelia.
You, as well.
Photo by Alex SacK