Twas the Monday before Christmas, not just any given morn, with Citizen’s Cab 26 cruising a San Francisco left forlorn.
For nary arose one visage of a fare, not one in want, nor one in need, not a suitcase standing idle at one Yuletide passenger’s traveling feet.
No, in this dark, dark predawn holiday, empty were the streets.
Still, Alex your driver hacked and hacked, hacked all through this early fog. His trusty Prius acting his sleigh, as taking notes for this prologue.
Alas, no taxi meter had yet ticked up, post one lap of the city’s streets, as Alex now flies west up Market, to where Valencia and Market meet.
Twas here within this eerie quiet, outside the Travelodge motel, that a lone black hand arose through the fog, yelling, “TAXI!” and broke the spell…
Well, no bags. But SOMETHING.
And this “something” is a middle aged black gentleman; coke bottle glasses, blue jeans and a black hoodie. And standing close beside him, his badly bleached yellow blonde haggard-looking companion; sporting blue blood-shot eyes, WAY too much eyeliner and WAY too few teeth, and with deep, deep lines cutting into her pale white face.
Without haste, Kanye and Taylor crawl into the back of Citizen’s Cab #26, as Kanye directs,
“We’s goin’ ta Ellis ‘n Leavenwort, drivah. Buh, firs we’s nee ta stahp n’ drahp ‘er dowwn aht tha CVS ahn Mark’t, aht sevint. Den, aftah Ellis n’ Lev, we’s comin’ bahck ta git ‘er, ‘n den hedin’ bahck heyah ta da Travelodg.”
Drivah jumps to turn down 91.1FM – KCSM Jazz, which is currently playing, somewhat loudly, Vince Guaraldi’s ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas.’ Then, Drivah props his clipboard/waybill up on the steering wheel to document the ride, and repeats back,
“CVS at 7th, Ellis and Lev, back to the CVS, then back to the Travelodge.”
But suddenly, in a deep and gravelly rasp, out of nowhere, Taylor barks to object.
“Nah! Tern et uhp, Drivah! My daddee uuse ta bee ah Deejay ahn KCSM, yeeers ahgo! Gahd ress izz sol!”
And Drivah dutifully turns Charlie Brown back up, LOUD, even a couple decibels higher than before, with,
“That’s SO cool! I LOVE KCSM! We’re so lucky to have such a great jazz station in San Francisco! Er, I’m sorry for your loss.”
I immediately come to realize the deep bond that exists between Kanye and Taylor, as in unison, both quickly retort, and fluidly trade lines,
Both, “Nah. Iss okay.”
Kanye, “He die ah looong tim ahgo.”
Taylor, “Driiink imseff tah deth.”
Then, a curious driver queries about his passengers’ living arrangements, as he’s never known (or, at least realized) the Travelodge to be crackhead SRO lodging.
“Hey. Do you mind if I ask? What’s a night at the Travelodge cost? You guys are living there, right?”
Taylor jumps first, “Iss nintee buhcks ah nite… Moss ahf tha tim. Et changez, dependin.”
With Kanye quickly following, “We’s juss stayin’ dere ah littl whilz, whilz we’s gittin ahn ahur feeet.”
In short order, we pull over at the CVS, Market & 7th. Taylor jumps out, and then leans back into Kanye’s half open window, to assure both me and Kanye,
“Izz bee heer aht da cornah waitin whin y’all git dun. Dey oughttah gaht mii methadon scrip redee.”
Then me and Kanye roll, ever deeper into the belly of the Tenderloin, just three blocks north of Taylor’s CVS.
And as we near Ellis and Lev, Kanye anxiously perks up in his seat. He has me slow, as scanning, presumably for a familiar face, amongst the many hoodie and ski jacketed loitering here along the sidewalk.
“Stahp! HEYAH, Drivah!”
Then Kanye rolls down his window, full, and barks out some unintelligible nickname, to some dude who’s rolling dice along the wall of a corner store with his homies.
Dude turns, and at the sight of Kanye, flashes his grills with a knowing smile, before he promptly starts shuffling over to Kanye’s open window.
Kanye and Dude mumble some more unintelligibles at Kanye’s window, before shaking hands. Then Dude turns, and he shuffles back over to his homies and his game.
Kanye, now turning to address Drivah, “Ah-rite. Bahck ta da CVS.”
Wow! That was it!? It would have taken me ten times as long to buy a bottle of aspirin!!
As we roll the few blocks back towards the CVS, Kanye begins excitedly fumbling in back with the little paper fold-up that was undoubtedly just exchanged during his hand shake with Dude.
And oddly, a pang of guilt seems to overcome Kanye, as he seems to feel some kind of need… to EXPLAIN to Drivah.
“We’s tryin’ ta git kleen. Thinkin ah maybee movin’ ta Vegas, ta git away frum dis shit. We’s bin marriet fer-teen yeers! ‘N izz haaahrd, maan. We’s dun wit dis shiit. We’s bin tinkin’ Izz kin git ah jahb, en sum kitchin owt en Vegas. ‘N git away frum dis crahp, maaan. Izz werk’d en kitchins beefur. ‘N Izz kin, agin.”
“Wow! FOURTEEN YEARS?? That’s AMAZING! Props to you guys. Most marriages don’t last a quarter if that! Especially, when, uh, there’s a monkey on your backs…
Anyway, yeah. I left New York years ago. I had my own demons back there. I thought I could start new out here in San Francisco. But big cities always have something going on. Didn’t quite work out, originally. Changing towns doesn’t really solve much. Especially, when you’re talkin’ about Las Vegas! It’s all inside of YOU, man. THAT’s what you need to conquer. Your SELF! Otherwise, shit’s gonna follow you wherever you go.
That said, there are those jobs out in Vegas. And I bet it’s a better option for making a living than THIS place! Good luck to you, man. At least you got your woman. And I can see that you’re good people. It looks like you really got each other’s backs. That’s rare these days. At least, around San Francisco.”
Lickety-split, we pull up back in front of the CVS. And Taylor is nowhere to be seen. I guess the pharmacy didn’t have her methadone ready.
Kanye and Drivah both anxiously scan the intersection for Taylor, when,
KNOCK!! KNOCK!! KNOCK!!
And a unison, “AAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!!” as both Kanye and Drivah jump in our seats!
We both spin around to look, to find Taylor knocking on the back window of my taxi!
JEEZ! Where the HELL did she come FROM!!
Taylor runs around and pops in back, again, pushing Kanye across the back seat.
Taylor, “Sorree ’bout dat! Jezzus! Dey took SO loooong en dat DAMM CVS! Don kno whut wuz rong wit dem bastrds!” And Taylor quiets down, to add, “Uhhh, youz, uhhh… git dat ting, babee??”
Kanye, “Yee-ah, we’s coo, babee.”
And Kanye turns to address Drivah, “Drivah, we’s nee ta doo wun mor stahp, nohw. Dowwn sixx streee, frum Mark’t. Middah ah da blahhk.”
And Kanye turns again to Taylor, “We’s nee ah pipe, babee. Youz staa en da caahb.”
Drivah obliges, as he cruises down Market just one block more, takes the right down 6th, and then pulls to the curb in the middle of the block… to let Kanye out at San Francisco’s ground zero for stolen phones, its compatriot pawn shops, and its ubiquitous hard drug head shops.
And as Taylor and Drivah wait for Kanye, WAY longer than expected, while he’s out on the street tasked with buying a glass crack pipe – LEGAL paraphernalia, I get an earful of the same spiel from Taylor about how they’re both going to get clean once they’re out in Vegas. And basically, about how she’s gonna to get to tend the rabbits.
Taylor, “We’s fite sumtiim. Buht Kanye, he ah guud man! We’s gaht luuv. ‘N we’s luuk owt fer eech utha. Fuurteen yeers wee bin marriet! Owt en Vegas, we’s gun mak uss ah lif, uh-huh. ‘N Izz gunna kep dat howse we’s gunna git. Iss ahll gunna bee AWWW-RITE! Uh-huh!”
With this, Taylor turns to look dreamily out of her window… before growing increasingly agitated, minute by minute.
“Ware da HELL iss dat MANN!”
And Drivah is wondering the exact same thing! When suddenly, the back door of the cab swings open! SURPRISING its occupants, AGAIN! And a huffing Kanye jumps excitedly in back, as pushing Taylor over to the other side of the back seat, with,
“Sorree, babee. Dat din’t werk owt. Don know whut da hell’s rong owt he-yah! Kan’t git NO DAMM pipe! We’s juss ghatta usse dat foyle bahck aht da ruum! Sorree, babee.”
Drivah interjects, noting that the meter has just now hit $17.80, “Back to the Travelodge now?”
In response, Kanye just nods in the rear view, and mumbles in the affirmative under his breath.
And Kanye, once again, returns to opening the paper satchel that he scored back on Ellis. And all at once, he starts nervously shifting around in his seat, scanning around, and then feeling around the floor of the cab.
Kanye, “Babee, Izz tink Izz gaht sum baaaadd newz… Buht, don git mahd, babee. Izz tink I loss minne.”
Taylor, “Whatch yoo sayin!? DAMM, Babee!!”
Kanye, “Now babee, Izz still gaht wun ah dem. ‘N dat wunz urs. Izz juss gunna goh wit owt tah-nite. Dass all. Yous coo, babee. Izz gahtch yous.”
Taylor, “Babee, dass ah FIFY DOLLA ROCK, babee! Wass yoo gunna doo?!”
Kanye, “Now, you juss don worree. Yous coo. I juss goh witowt. Dass all.”
Right on cue, we pull into the lot of the Travelodge. And Drivah jumps to turn on the dome light of the cab, as Kanye scans all around, and rubs his fingers through the cracks of the back seat… to no avail.
Drivah, “You want me to break out the flashlight on my phone? Help you look?”
However, Kanye, oddly calm, and somewhat suspect with the ease with which he has given up the hunt for an ostensibly $50 rock of crack, simply resigns. And he turns his focus to pull out a small wad of cash, with,
“Nah. Iss gahtta bee WAAA dowwn dere en dah seet. Hahw muc fer da riiide, drivah?”
Drivah, checking the meter, “Uh, it looks like $21.75. You sure you don’t want me to help you look some more??”
Kanye, “Nah. Iss waa down dere en da seet, sumthin guud. Heer twintee-tree dolla, duude. ‘N if yous fin dat rahk, yous keep et… Merree Chrissmus, drivah.”
And a Merry Christmas to you!
And to every crackhead at the Travelodge, the withs and withsout,
All high on Christmas spirit, withsout no squinch of doubt!
For Christmas had not stopped from coming! It came! Oh, yes. It came!
Somehow or another, it done came just the same!
As Drivah stood there puzzled, wondering, “How could it be so?
That Kanye could so sacrifice, sans even one line of blow?
Yes, it came withsout a glass pipe! It came withsout a rock!
It came withsout an apartment, a tent, or a box!
And as Drivah puzzled and he puzzled, ’til his puzzler done gone sore.
Drivah done gone thunk something he ain’t gone thunk before.
Maybe Christmas, he thunk, don’t come from no crack store.
Maybe Christmas, well, damn… just maybe, means a little bit more.
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Photo by Alex SacK