Salt of the Earth


As presented to you passengers on my last report, it’s a new year for your driver, with a new taxi. (Sorta.) My regular Prius, Citizen’s Cab 26, has been transformed. With paint job and medallion anew, she is now 1015. And this morning, Tony the Dispatcher says that she’s shopped; for grinding brakes.

Back in the office, Tony scratches his chin as checking the pegboard of keys and medallions. He then turns to me, defeated, and drawls,

“Uh, Sack… Sorree. All’s I gahts leff izz ah Fushion spare, tirteen-ffiffee-tree. Ya wahnt dat wun?”

Well, Tony. Um. What choice do I have??

Citizen’s Cab #1353. A Ford Fusion spare, with 315K on her.

Sold!

It should be noted that this shift will see your driver roaming the streets of San Francisco on THE coldest day in collective memory. This MUST be some kind of arctic blast. I mean, it is FRIGID! And the news has been all abuzz the last few days, awaiting “the biggest storm to hit the Bay Area in a quarter century!” Major flooding, blasting winds, pelting rain, fire and brimstone are all but assured. Lock up the kids!

Shivering, I run out into the lot, and go prep my rented mule; 1353.

Forty minutes later…

FUCK!

I’ve just returned from the airport, fresh from an order that I got right out of the lot. “Cha-ching!” It was a Cabulous taxi-app hail, from over in the Castro. $45.

But clearly, that is NOT the “FUCK!” part. You see, I had smelled something amiss, when I first started this spare back at the lot. I’d noted that the night driver had left the thermostat on 90 degrees, its highest setting. So, when rolling to the order, I kept telling myself that the cab’s engine “just needed to warm up.” Alas, no. I CAN SEE MY DAMN BREATH! And my usual fashion plate statement of black cargo shorts, with protruding black long johns, and a long sleeve waffle over a T is just NOT cutting it!!!

To make matters worse, on the return from SFO, a warning light came on in the cab, indicating an OVERHEATING engine! Well. How’s THAT for irony??

Like I said, FUCK!

It should be said, that a while back, there was a memo posted on the cork board back at the lot, saying that any driver who ignores an overheating engine light will be on the hook for however many thousands it takes to replace the seized engine. Hmm.

Screw it. Tony said this was the last cab. And I need the money! So, an overheating engine. And no heat IN the cab! And on the coldest day of the, well… EVER!!

Ugh. I’m just going to ignore it all. And head home for some winter gloves and my Russian Ushanka hat.

On the bright, new years-ey side, at least this proves that there is balance in the world. And that there IS a God!

And, that She hates me.

 

6:50am:
Rush hour is fast approaching. And with this extreme chill will come many passengers, each looking for a warm ride within which to escape it. And I, your driver, am here for you… I just hope that you brought your winter coat!

I’m en route to an order Tony dispatched. It’s a regular named Helen who lives up in Russian Hill. She takes rides daily to her admin job for the Federal government, downtown at Battery and Jackson. And she always pays cash. $12.

As I roll up Jones out of Fisherman’s Wharf, 1353’s engine starts puttering. She’s REAL sluggish going up the hill. And she now sounds like a military helicopter when I push too hard on the gas. Well, maybe if I ease off, and avoid any of the hills around SAN FRANCISCO! Maybe, I’ll make it through this shift. TBD.

Eh, no “maybe” about it. Rent is due. I’m sticking with this until ONE of us SEIZES!

I radio in to Tony for a call-out, “1353. Please call out Helen.”

And Tony comes back, “Tirteen-fiffee-tree. Ahn da waa owt.”

Soon enough, there is a 300-pound Helen in the back of my cab; long black hair, and of Polynesian decent.

Helen, “How are you doing today, driver? Is it cold enough for ya?”

Driver, “Yeah. I apologize. My regular cab is shopped. I seen to have gotten lucky with a spare with no heat. You headed to the usual? Battery and Jackson?”

Helen, “Yup. I would have taken off today, but my fourteen person team is down to six. And they got me working ten hours a day now! SOMEONE’s got to do the ordering for the government!”

Driver, “Hey! What’s that like, anyway. You buying $500 hammers and all that? (Heh, heh.) I’ve got a good friend, an old music mentor, who some years ago auditioned for the Airmen of Note as a jazz guitarist. The funny thing is, he’s a pacifist and a spiritual seeker. Anyway, he made the audition, and then he had to join the Air Force! He had to go through boot camp and everything!

He said that his drill sergeant was particularly hard on him. Apparently, the drill sergeant didn’t like the fact that he’d be outranked by a full-time jazz guitarist, once my friend made it through boot camp. Now though, it sounds like congress may be defunding all of the military bands! I know that my friend uses his own guitar, but there’s some sexy story in the press about the Air Force buying some $30,000 saxophone. Anyway, my friend has a wife and kids and a house, and he’s been pretty worried about it.”

Helen, “Well, I dunno about all that. But I CAN tell you that there ARE inefficiencies. Let me tell you, people are stupid! I was once told to order three Dodge Chargers, with all of the special police lights and sirens and everything. $70K a pop! But some dumb-ass manager sent them to a department that weren’t police. And they weren’t allowed to drive them! Hell. I could’ve have bought them three Ford Fusions they COULD have used for the price of ONE of the decked-out Chargers!

ANOTHER time, I was made to order a 4×4 Jeep with a canine cage for a CITY in New Mexico that had no use for a 4×4. And they DIDN’T HAVE A CANINE UNIT! They called back asking what the hell they were supposed to do with it! They asked if they were allowed to take the cage out!”

Aside: I used to do ordering for an insurance company and one time got audited by corporate for the candy in the dish at reception, which our RVP wanted. Jeez. Who has time to audit candy?

Driver, “Wow! That IS crazy! In a past life, I used to work admin at an insurance company here downtown. The RVP liked to have a candy dish at reception. One time, I got a call from corporate, back in New Jersey, trying to audit me on the candy! I mean, jeez. Doesn’t anyone have anything better to do!? Still, it sounds like you’ve got that beat at your job. Our hard earned tax dollars at work!”

As we roll up on Helen’s office on Battery, she hands me up the usual ten and two ones for the ride. And as she exits 1353, Helen wishes me a “Happy Friday!” on this Thursday.

An afterthought, I call back, “Hey! Maybe you should send that town a dog!”

 

8:35am:
The sun is up, and warming up the cab… a little. The skies are clear. It is the calm before the weekend storm.

I just bid on, and won, another order Tony put out over the radio. It’s another regular, out in the Excelsior district on the edge of town, not far from all the cab lots. 65 Hale. Eileen is really nice, and old school San Francisco. And this trip will be all the way across town, to her own insurance admin job next to the iconic Ferry Building. A good $30 ride, after her usual $6 tip – via AMEX.

Yeah, like I said, Eileen is really sweet. A curious woman in her late 60’s, with a blue collar New York drawl. She traveled to SF from New York back in the Summer of Love. She was a hippie, and still is, with her long blonde hair, her stoner prescription sunglasses – straight out of Easy Rider, and tie-dye T-shirts that she even wears to her insurance job. But, Eileen was raised Catholic. And she always heeded her father’s advice to treat her body with respect. “Yah bodees yah temple, dahd awways sed.” So, although a full-fledged hippie, Woodstock and all, she’s never even smoked pot, let alone tripped acid!

Eileen glows at the sight of me, as she enters my cab, “Awww. Iss you! Iss so GUUD ta see you! How you doin’!”

You, “Oh, I’m ok. A little cold, but I’ll live. It’s good to see you, too! You headed downtown? The usual?”

Eileen, “Yup! You gaht it! Howz da kidz? Da kidz okaa??”

You, “Yeah, they’re doing great. We just got back from seeing Grandma and the family, back in Maryland, over Christmas.”

Eileen, “Aww. Dat’s niiiice. My husb’nd fin’lly passe’d ovah da holidaa. You kno how it waz. He gaht dat dementchya. ‘N den he wenn en ah coma. Now he’z en ah bettah plaace. He nevah reelee gaht ovah owr oldess son, Gareez deth. Frum dah cahr accid’nt. Garee waz my husb’ndz favrit, to. My husbnd’z wit ’em now doh. ‘N deyz bowt wit Gahd. Derez ah tim ‘n ah place fer evereewun, ya kno? Iz ahhrite, doh. I stiill gaht da ress ah my kidz. Dey ahll grown uhp ‘n ahll. Buht, you kno. We’z tigght. We’z spendt Chrissmas tahgetha. Et waz reel niiice.”

You, “I’m sorry. I forget, Eileen. How many kids do you have? And how many are in the Bay Area?”

Eileen, “Aww, dats awwrighht. I gahts aight kidz. Welll, beefor Garee dyed en da accid’nt. Dah ress ah ’em still arownd. Dey ahll marriet Fillipinoz. ‘Neewaa, my ma awwaayz tawt me tah prayy ta da Vergin Maree. Shee waz awways clutchin’ er rosearee, ‘n praayin. ‘N I evin goh ta confess’n wunce ah month, see. I kno Gahds gaht ah plan fer uhs ahll.”

Eileen digresses, and retells stories about her life that she’s told over past rides, “Yeeah, I muuve ta da Haight en da Summr ah Luv, bahck en ’67. Ma wuud see me hangin’ owt wit my hippie frendz bahck en Nu York ‘n she’d git reel worreed. Shee’d saa, ‘Whaatta da naybers tink!? Soh, I muuve ta Saan Fran. Liv’d uhp ahn Bevadeer Street. I waz sortaa ah den mutha fer ahll da loss kidz, ahll ahn drugz. Cuz I waz nevah takin’ ’em. Causa waat dahd tawt mee… Yah kno, wunce I saawz Bahb Dyllahn plaa en Phili. ‘N I hung owt aftah da sho, ‘n I met iz manahgr.”

I check the rear view to notice Eileen suddenly aglow, and with a guilty glint in her eye, “We maade owt ahn doze stepz, ware dat Rockee statew iz now. (Heh, heh.) He wuz reel nice, hee waz. Bahb Dyllahn’z manahgr waz reel niiice. Dat waz a beeutifull nite. We kist ’til da sun come uhp, dere ahn da stepz.”

As we roll up on Eileen’s office at the end of Market, on a dock on the Bay, she suddenly leans forward, perched on the edge of her seat. And she grabs the back of my head rest, with,

“I relee likez you, You gahtz guud energee. You gahhta giv mee yer ma’z adress. Iz gahnna rite ‘er a lettr. Tellz ‘er watt ah grate son she’z gaht.”

Great Son, “Aww. Thanks, Eileen. You’ve got a good energy, too.” Adding, “How much should I run your Amex for?”

As rush hour has come and gone, I forgo moving on with the usual ritual of classical, then jazz, then news. I just cannot bring myself to dive into my usual binge of NPR. And so, I’m sticking with jazz – KCSM 91.1FM.

I’ve been thinking lately, about a special I caught some years ago, with Dr. Andrew Weil hawking his book ‘8 Weeks to Optimum Health‘ on PBS. Dude was one of the acid-head ivy league college instructor “gurus” back in the 60’s, alongside Ram Dass and Timothy Leary. I don’t remember too much from his PBS infomercial, but two of the steps that I DO remember have always rung true with me: Don’t drink coffee. And DON’T read the newspaper.

It’s kind of hard to argue with this. Especially, in light of all the death in the world, currently. And in light of the recent death of our democracy.

Anyway, the year is still young. And, although not necessarily a new year’s resolution, I willfully choose ignorance… for now. And at the moment, that comes in the form of Rosemary Clooney’s ‘Hey There.

 

Noon:
Tony has graced me with yet another winning bid on an order; 615 Ellsworth. Up in blue collar Bernal Heights, nestled between the cab lots and the Mission district. (Well, it USED to be blue collar.)

Betty, flipping back her long scraggly blonde hair and adjusting her glasses, “Thanks fer comin’, drivah. I’m headin’ over ta 2100 Webster – CPMC. My ma’s in tha hospital.”

Driver, with pen and waybill ready to mark the ride, repeats back, “2100 Webster. Sorry to hear that. I hope she’s okay…”

Betty, “Yeah. I hope so, too. She’s gettin’ old. I am, too. I seen a lot in dis town. A lotta changes.”

Driver, “Oh? Are you a native?”

Betty, “Well, I been here a long time. I move from tha east coast, back when I was en high school, en tha 60’s. Don’ remember much from back den, tho. I was too stoned all tha time. I stop smokin’ en 1980. I realize, I don’ need ta be stoned en San Francisco. Dis place is weird enuff, straight!”

Driver, “HA! VERY true!” Adding, “Hey! What was it like when you moved here? Well, the parts you DO remember. I just LOVE the history of this town.”

Betty, “Oh, well… When I was younger, I was what dey call ah ‘B-girl.’ I worked at a bar up in North Beach. It was my job ta hang out wit all tha johns, ta get ta talkin’ wit ’em. ‘N get ’em ta buy ah expensive bottle ah champagne. All tha bars en North Beach, dey were all controlt back den by tha mafia. Buht, it’s all chang’d now.”

As we proceed across town, Betty gets increasingly anxious about all the traffic. I get that she’s worried about her mom, and also start to gather that she doesn’t leave the house much these days. And traffic in San Francisco is NOT old school.

Not far from the hospital, there’s a car in front of us driving kind of slow-ish up Steiner, as we approach California. It’s not doing anything wrong, but Betty starts rocking in her seat, albeit quietly. To please my passenger, I zoom around, just as the offending Kia peels off onto Cal. And Betty seems pleased.

Lickety-split, we arrive at 2100 Webster. And the meter reads $17.75.

Betty starts digging through her large brown leather bag for remittance. And as she does, she expresses, pretty sincerely, that, “It was good talkin’ wit you. I jus LOVE cabs.”

Betty pulls two rolls of quarters out of her bag. $20. And she hands them up to me, with, “I hope ya don mind. All I gaht is quarters.”

Driver, “No! I don’t mind at all… Laundry!” Adding, “Hey, Betty. Good luck with your mom, eh?”

And Betty exits 1353, offering, “Yeah. ‘N you stay safe out dere!”

 

1:15pm:
Another order bid on over the radio, and won, by yours truly. I believe Tony has a special place reserved in Heaven for him.

2238 Geary. Kaiser Medical Building. Frankie.

I pull to the busy curb in front of Kaiser, dodging a few other taxis and several Paratransit bus shuttles. Frankie is waiting out in front, with the help of a walker and a like aged woman possibly in her 80’s, presumably his wife.

The lady approaches the cab, and leans into the open shotgun window.

“Hey, Citizen’s Cab. You here fer Da Mayor ah Folsom?”

Citizen’s Cab, “If his name is Frankie, I am!”

And the lady turns around to address her man, “Frankie, dis is our cab.” And as she opens the FRONT door and begins helping her man in, as I jump out and run around to fold and stow The Mayor’s walker into the hatch.

Once back in the driver’s seat, I grab my pen and clipboard/waybill, as lady introduces herself.

“I’m Gloria. Dis is Frankie. Buht ev’ryone knows him as Da Mayor ah Folsom. Hope ya don mind he sit uhp front. Aneeway, dat’s where we’re headin’. Home ta 2657 Folsom, en tha Mission. We live dere fer eightee yeers now. ‘N we seen it all.”

Citizen’s Cab, “Oh? I love driving old San Francisco around. What WAS the city like eighty years ago?”

Frankie smiles BIG, and takes over.

“Ah! Well! Dere use tah be horses ‘n carriages uhp en Twin Peeks dat wuud roll down Market. ‘N da poppies were ev’rywhere. Et waz beUtiful!”

Citizen’s Cab, “Wow! You really HAVE seen it all! I’m guessing that you were born here??”

Frankie, “Well, me ‘n my twin brutha were born en da house dere ahn Folsom. He live wit his wife, Anna, down en Daly City now. Been marriet fifty-six yeers! Same time as me ‘n Gloria here!”

And we drive, as Frankie glows and dreams on about how SF used to be, how it has changed, and how it sucks to be in his 80’s.

Frankie, “Been goin’ ta tha same church alla my life! St. Mattew’s! Dey gaht ah woman priess now, doh.” Frankie suddenly gets a mischievous glint in his eye, before expounding, “She’s reel purtty. Buht da problem wit growin’ old, ‘n gittin arthritis, is dat ev’ry pahrt ah ya gits stiff BUHT da WUN pahrt ya wahnt to! HA! HA!”

To which Gloria laughs, before admonishing, “Oh! Frankie!”

And as we roll up on the Mayor’s Victorian, Frankie caps, “I ain’t nevah sed I waz ah GOOD Catolic! HA!”

And Citizen’s Cab rolls off, with a smile and a fat tip, $25 richer. Cash.

 

The day nears an end…

3:25pm:
Rolling west up Market, at the edge of the red light Tenderloin district, I figure I’ve got time for one more ride, before any threat to my 4 o’clock medallion’s pumpkin time.

And that woman in the old school diner waitress outfit at the bus stop flagging me looks like it. And Citizen’s Cab 1353 pulls to the curb for one last time today.

“Tanks fer stoppin’! Dat damm MUNI bus ain’t nevah comin’! ‘N Iz gunna bee late fer werk! Mel’s Drive-In owt ahn Geary, drivah!” Adding, “I try naht tah tak cahbs to much. Buht, I gahhta taday!”

With pen and clipboard/waybill at the ready, Drivah marks the ride and repeats back, “Mel’s Drive-In. Geary.” Adding, “Well, I’m sorry the bus let you down and you had to splurge on a cab. But, for what it’s worth, my landlord appreciates you VERY much!”

And we drive, as the sun gets low in the sky… 1353’s engine never seizes, and the chill never lifts very much. But it does yield right of way, for the warmth of old San Francisco, ahead the coming storm…

 

_____

Please SHARE if so inclined, folks!

Photo by Alex SacK

www.AlexSacK.com

Check out Alex’s Book 1 – San Francisco TAXI: A 1st Week in the ZEN Life…
& Book 2 San Francisco TAXI: Life in the Merge Lane…

And Follow on Facebook and Twitter for your non-practicing Buddhist one-offs.

 

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