The slowest day of the year…
A San Francisco cabbie has to make the decision whether to get up butt ass early to gamble on some prodigal son heading to the airport trying to make it home to L.A. in time for the festivities, or sleep in.
I’m rolling through the lot at Citizen’s Cab. I’ve never seen it so full of latent cabs. While heading back towards the office for 26’s key and medallion, I pass a print out posted on the bullet-proof glass check out window, which reads:
Thanksgiving Day Gates: $25 off!
Per tradition, management has taken mercy on those pilgrims dumb enough, or desperate enough, to work today.
If a driver misses the early window of out of town travelers, they can expect only crickets (and way too much introspection) to be all that keeps them warm over the next several hours, until sometime well after noon. This is when the potluckers will be taking short jaunts across town via taxi to their events, with Saran Wrapped baked goods and crock pots in tow.
And this cabbie has his own gathering to attend, later. I will be quitting at 1:30 today. Just when business will be picking up. And before any chance of cashing in on the rush.
What the hell am I doing out of bed!?
Back in the office, I throw Tony a five for tip, forgoing what would surely be another wasted five for a bribe on an airport. This is a no brainer today. But, there is hope! Augustus, night driver, played his shift late last night. (Likely, there was no day driver waiting for his cab.) And he is just now checking out. When we cross paths, Augustus always asks me to drive him home to his SRO hotel, at 16th & Valencia in the Mission. It’s an easy ten bucks, by way of cabbie courtesy. (No meter need be involved here.)
Augustus, “Sack, ride me home?”
Sack, “Sure. I’ll be out prepping 26. Come out when you’re ready.”
It’s not an airport. But the ice will be broken. And the tactic of days like these is that of the Redskins, circa Joe Gibbs. You just push that ball, inch by inch, towards the end zone.
En route towards Augustus’ single room occupancy, a pink behemoth that several drivers at Citizen’s Cab call home, we talk about audio recording and video editing. Augustus had a past life actually working in recording studios, and doing video editing for no less than Lucas Arts! For some reason, though, he took a hiatus. And you can’t do that. The technology flies by you, and you have to go back to square one to get back into it. Hence, his current incarnation as a cab driver.
After both gushing about ‘Soundbreaking‘ – the current (and totally awesome) PBS series on the history of recorded music, I drop Augustus out in front of his hotel. (Dangerously, right across the street from Puerto Alegre, the best margaritas and Mexican comfort food in the city.)
7:00am – Post-Starbucks:
I’m caffeinated, and doing the rounds: 16th to Valencia. 18th to Castro. Upper Haight, U turn, Lower Haight. Fillmore.
Tony comes over the radio.
Sack, “26. Golden Gate/Fillmore.”
Tony, “26. I got you. Anybody else checking in? McAllister/Laguna?”
Tony, “Ok, Sack. Go get 1280 Laguna.”
I FLOOR it!!
I’m not far, and this is unlikely an airport. And I’m probably the only cab on the road. But still, you HAVE to grab everything you can today. And Tony, a.k.a ‘The No-Go King’ ain’t named that ’cause he’s cute. No. Tony has a WAY. He’s magic. Like King Midas. But in reverse.
One minute later…
I ZOOM around the corner from McAllister and am positioned right across from 1280 Laguna… to find a Yellow cab waiting out in front.
But! After Yellow sees me, he pulls off! With top light still alight and his back seat cold!
Hmmm. Citizen’s Cab #26 decides to wait…
And in short order, a semi-pretty, if not gaudy, mulatto woman in high heels, a short leopard print skirt with matching halter top, a disheveled blonde wig and rinsing her mouth out with a peach Snapple comes hobbling from around the corner… and pops in back.
Driver, “Happy Thanksgiving. Where to, ma’am?”
Madam, “75 Stillman, in SOMA.”
Driver, “25 Stillman,” repeating back. “Do you mind if I take the highway?”
Madam, “Whatevah da fasstest.”
And we roll…
Shortly into our ride, Amber’s phone rings.
“Hello? Nah. I already in a cab.”
Sorry, Yellow! Turkey been served!
Amber hangs up. And her phone rings once more.
“Hello? 26? How I supposed tah kno? I in a cab already!”
And Amber now addresses her driver.
“Why you guys callin’ me so much?”
Driver, “Well, when I pulled up, there was a Yellow cab waiting. Your trick must have called two cabs. Only one of those calls was from Citizen’s. I didn’t tell my dispatcher that I got you, and we’re good people. He was just looking out for you, making sure you got picked up.”
Okay, okay… I didn’t quite reference Amber’s “trick.”
We roll the rest of the way downtown in silence, with Amber looking starry-eyed out her window. And I drop $15 richer, cash money.
The next few hours play out with all that they were promised to be. As does the head. As mentioned previously, I have my own potluck to attend, at 3pm, up near Grace Cathedral at my now good friend Michael’s home. I have mentioned Mike before. He’s the big fish San Francisco writer’s agent who I was courting, who hosts a wonderful annual writer’s conference at the Mark Hopkins Hotel, which I attended last winter. It was there that I learned that Mike is a now a big fish RETIRED writer’s agent. (And that I have been sorely remiss in tweeting less than seven times a day.)
Anyway, my contribution to the pot luck is a “local bottle of Pinot noir,” per Michael’s request. This is good, as I do not think the rag tag vagrants Mike has invited into his home for Thanksgiving dinner will appreciate my culinary specialty, burnt toast.
In his retirement, Mike and I have become good friends. Coincidentally, he has also been long time friends with a couple of my peers at Citizen’s Cab. (Including the great Jesus!) And in his younger days, Mike even spent some time as a hack, himself! Our friendship evolved in weekend meets with another, politically active, cabbie named Wade. The meets started out with tossing around ideas on what could be done about San Francisco’s homeless epidemic. Then, they moved into national politics, and ultimately, plans for saving the world. But now, post election, Mike has requested that we never bring up politics again. And I do not blame him.
On a recent phone call, where Mike was setting the new “no politics” rules of our friendship, the question of suicide, and the post-election suicide rate, was brought up more than once. It kind of felt like he was fishing. While I did attend Mike’s Christmas party last year (where I found out he was ALSO a formidable jazz drummer, while sitting in with a trio of friends he’d hired to play jazz standards – before throwing me and my rusty brush work onto the traps to cover), I can’t help but wonder is this Turkey Day invite is on account of Mike being worried about me possibly being suicidal. Hmm. Or, maybe he thinks I’m suicidal on account of all my nervous laughter when discussing the grim future of my chosen vocation as a cab driver. And my lamentations that I am addicted to the life, and see no way out. And that maybe I’ll ride it into homelessness, as many other drivers have done before me, with the caveat that I can transfer my art into writing about homeless life. Hmm.
Or maybe, he just figures that if he were me, a penniless writer, cab driver in the age of Uber, he’d be running to the nearest Walmart to buy a gun and blow his own brains out. Yeah, maybe it’s just projection on Mike’s part. Hmm.
Anyway, as I could not ever do that to my kids, and being the non-practicing Buddhist that I am, I simply do not see suicide as an option. Even with as depressing as the holidays get, driving around in a taxi with it so dead out. (Er, so to speak.)
Still, if Mike being worried about me taking my own life is the price of my ticket to hot turkey, stuffing and gravy, then… WOE IS ME!
I’m cruising north up Mission, fresh from a blessed hail driving some Mexican dude (just off kitchen duty) out to his girlfriend’s house in the Outer Mission, on the edge of Daly City. This is akin to an airport. (Well, if I hadn’t gotten lost looking for his drop and overcompensated in my offer to reduce the meter, with the thought that he’d look out for me in the tip, which was not forthcoming. Don’t know what happened here. Mexicans ALWAYS tip!) Still, $30. Cash.
But, like I said, I’m cruising north up Mission. And I’m scanning the bus stops on the residential outskirts here, as I head back towards civilization. You never know.
Sure enough, at Mission and Silver, waiting for the bus, a cane rises into the air to hail, backed by the familiar squinting eyes of… Dios Mio! It’s Miguel!
And Citizen’s Cab #26 pulls hard to the curb. And Miguel canes his way into the back seat.
Miguel, “17th & Capp, driver. How are you today?”
Driver, “Great! Happy Thanksgiving! How is your dad? I drove you to see him a couple weeks ago, to St. Francis. You were bringing him bananas in the hospital.”
Miguel, “Ah, yes.” He squints, looks out of his window and begins speaking out of the corner of his mouth, as if in a trance, again. “My dad died. They treated him like shit in the hospital. They tortured him. None of ’em could speak English, neither. They did not treat him well. They killed him. And they could not communicate with me! And I do not think they cared to. Just like the MUNI drivers, and the people working for the City. Do you ever see Americans working? No. All foreigners. This is why Trump got elected.”
Driver, “Uh, huh. Sorry to hear that. Maybe-”
And as weeks before, Miguel cuts me off mid-sentence, and expounds.
“What did Obama do for the people? For the people? The poor whites that elected him? Nothing. He sold them out to the foreigners; the Asians, Filipinos, the blacks. No, the Democrats fucked up. And now the Republicans get their chance. The people voted for change. To give Trump a shot at change. And we need it.”
And the cab goes silent, as Miguel scrunches his brow, dripping with concern, and looks off into the distance.
We ultimately arrive at Miguel’s city government subsidized apartment building on Capp. And my Hispanic friend hands me up a Paratransit card to pay his $9.55 government subsidized taxi ride, adding, “You make sure you put the tip on there, driver.” The government subsidized fixed 10% tip. “And you have a happy Thanksgiving. Good luck, eh?”
And good luck to you, as well, Miguel. Eh?
I’m in the Mission, again, $15 into the green. And I have maybe time for one more ride before calling it, before home to shower and heading out to my potluck.
I’m rolling south on Valencia, just about to pass the Mission police station. I take note of, and make eye contact with, a twenty-something Mexican guy in a baseball cap, shorts and a sports jersey who is standing out in front of the police station, looking like he just got out. I get a questionable vibe. Sure enough, dude hails me.
And I watch myself, almost as if from outside of my body, as I pull over to the curb. I NEVER get bad vibes. So, I should probably be listening now. It comes to me how Rose always said, back in cab school, to “LISTEN to your instincts!” It was one of her Cab School Commandments. (Sorry, Rose.) But like I said, I’m about to call it, only fifteen bucks into the green.
Pablo gets in back. And in a soft-spoken, polite voice, “17th & Folsom, please.”
Hmm. “Please”? Maybe I was wrong. Good. But, what gives? Pablo could walk to 17th & Folsom from the police station in like five minutes. Whatever.
Anyway, despite the “please,” I get nervous with the classical playing over the radio, Camille Saint-Saens: The Swan. I feel like a mark, with classical wafting through the cab. A pussy. And I do NOT want to be grabbed. So, I switch it to 91.1FM – KCSM. Jazz. Though, I’m not so sure that Stan Getz earns me any more street cred.
Only blocks away from Pablo’s pickup, and only one more from his drop, we come to a red at 17th & South Van Ness. The meter reads $4.60.
All at once, the peace and calm in the cab is broken by the sudden jerk of the back door handle, and Pablo throwing open his door and DARTING from 26, as he BOLTS OFF into the parking lot of the Whiz Burgers drive-in joint, here at the corner.
Stunned, the light turns green, as I gawk back at the rear passenger door he left open. And Pablo slows to a walk, as he crosses the lot of Whiz Burgers and looks back at me smiling.
A wave of anger overcomes me, not so much at Pablo’s ditching the fare, but more so at him leaving the door open behind in the process. So, I GUN my taxi around the corner, shutting the door with the force of the acceleration. And with renewed verve, Pablo again TAKES OFF running, now DEEPER into the lot, BEHIND Whiz.
And Driver GIVES CHASE!!! Hitting the “POWER” button on his trusty Prius (yes, there’s a “POWER” button on a Prius), before CAREENING into the lot in HOT PURSUIT of this taxi disrespecting SCOFFLAW!!
Once having rounded the drive-in on TWO TIRES, Driver CATCHES Pablo in mid SCUFFLE, SCRATCHING to scale the 8-foot high wooden fence behind Whiz, to make his ESCAPE!
But Pablo knows NOT with WHOM HE IS DEALING!!
Driver SLAMS into Pablo’s LEGS!!! Pinning the CROOK against the fence! And PABLO SCREAMS IN PAIN!! As Driver retrieves his .45 from the glove box , JUMPS from his seat, and DARTS in front of his taxi for, um, WORDS with his trapped “passenger.”
Driver COCKS his pistol and PRESSES it HARD into the temple of his SWEATING fare, now PLEADING in broken English for his LIFE!!
Pablo, “PLLLLEASSSEE!! PLLLEASSSEEEE!!! SIR!! I GAHT NOOO MONEEE!!!”
Driver, GUN BUTTING his passenger in the BACK of the SKULL, protests, “MY METER SAYS FOUR DOLLARS! AND SIXTY CENTS!!! Will that be CASH!? Or, CREDIT!!!
Driver puts TWO caps into the BACK of Pablo’s knees!!! And then JUMPS back into Citizen’s Cab #26 and THROWS it into reverse, HARD! Before SCREECHING to a HALT!! And Driver JUMPS out ONCE MORE and RUNS BACK to his passenger, who is now WRITHING on the PAVEMENT, SCREAMING BLOODY MURDER!!
And Driver repeats, “CASH!? Or, CREDIT!!!”
But Pablo is too out of it to answer. So, Driver riffles through Pablo’s pants in search of his wallet.
But, alas, Pablo was right! No cash! Ah! But, what is THIS!!
A prepaid Visa debit card!
Driver SQUATS down and SHAKES the debit card in Pablo’s face, as Driver lifts his head up to see by YANKING on Pablo’s dark, shoulder length locks. And Driver pulls his Square credit card reader-enabled iPhone from his pocket and readies to swipe Pablo’s card, before ONCE MORE COCKING the HAMMER of his .45 and PRESSING it HARD… but now into Pablo’s GROIN!!!
Driver, “AND WOULD YOU LIKE ME TO ADD A TIP TO THAT, SIR!!!”
Um, that’s not QUITE how it played out… Really, after Pablo ditched, and Driver GUNNED 26 around the corner, Driver then SLOWED to just ADDRESS Pablo, only YELLING out of his open shotgun window,
“YOU COULD HAVE AT LEAST SHUT THE DOOR, YOU FUCKING LOSER!!!”
I guess it’s time to call it a day. You think? Yeah, It’s time to go grab some turkey.
Gobble, gobble, folks!
Photo by Alex SacK