It’s 4:30 in the am, and Tony is sending me darting out of the office with an order up in Holly Park, a residential hood not far from the Citizen’s Cab lot out here at the edge of San Francisco. No, it’s not an airport. And no, I didn’t grease him an extra five for the ride. It’s just an early morning regular who works down at Salesforce, downtown in the deep Financial.
As I run out to my trusty Prius – 1015, I just catch the tail end of Tony’s signature slur, bemoaning to a Peruvian driver as he hands him the key and medallion to 1353,
“Duhhh, I hope dat et stahrts tahdayyy.”
I have no idea why Holly goes to work so early at this West Coast-based cloud computing firm, if she’s on East Coast time or what, but she does. And the stress aside, of scrambling out of the lot sans first prepping and sanitizing my taxi, it’s a good $26 start to my shift right off the bat. (Courtesy of Amex.)
Holly is an uneventful ride, one of which I’ll spare you the details. Let’s just suffice it to say, I am regularly kept up to date on the newest high school friend or extended family member she’s unfriended on Facebook over politics.
The twenty-six bucks aside, it’s always a welcome change that this ride brings me downtown so early. There is an open Starbucks at California & Battery, not far from Holly’s drop. And the deviation of being left to strategize the still asleep city from there, instead of my usual 17th & Kansas Starbucks, is a definite treat. Even if the variant 1-2-3-4-5 bathroom code throws me off.
It’s been quiet, and I’ve been thinking a lot. Too much. Holly’s the only ride that I’ve got under my belt. And my mind has moved on from the contemplation of human nature and the Universe, to “WHAT THE FUCK AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE!”
Yeah, it’s quiet out. And cold. San Francisco “wet” cold. A kind of cold that gets through your clothes and permeates your bones. Anyway, in the spirit of a morning of mixing it up, I’ve just veered off of Market from Westfield Mall, where the empty streets provide a sublime backdrop to Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.5, with thick clouds of steam rising up from the manhole covers and dissipating into the yellow glow of the street lamps above.
Actually, my hands seemed to act on their own as I veered off and up Turk here, into the Tenderloin. And it continues rolling sublime, as I come upon a school of three-wheeled DPT Interceptors, like pilot fish, with each passing one after the other around a BIG trudging street sweeper doing the LOUD work of brushing up all the broken glass, fast food container trash and feces with its giant circular jaws of steel teeth.
After the Interceptors take the lead, they begin tacking and passing one another and to take advantage of ample opportunities for ticketing those (who out of ignorance, incapacitation or apathy) have been remiss in having not moved their cars for street sweeping day.
But, enough of my navel gazing. Up the road, at the corner of Jones, there’s a flag…
I flash my lights and zoom to a stop at the curb, just ahead of the encroaching Interceptors. And Mary quickly jumps in back, before they get the chance to hassle me.
And Mary anxiously settles in back, and gasps, “Hillcrest Elementary, please. 810 Silver Ave.”
This is a freeway ride, not far from Holly Park, actually. Another twenty dollar plus fare.
Driver hitting the gas, marking his waybill and repeating back, “810 Silver. And how is your morning going?”
Mary, “Oh! I’m a little rushed for work, driver. And it’s been kind of hard, lately. You see, I’m a teacher over at Hillcrest. And the kids have all been pretty upset lately, scared they’re going to be deported.
Hillcrest has the highest percentage of undocumented students within the city, you see. And with all that’s going on with the Trump administration and ICE, some of the kids are deathly scared to come to school now. A lot of the students I now have to talk down from crying uncontrollably, and hyperventilating, on and off throughout the day.”
Driver, “Wow. That sucks. Well, you are a saint. God bless you for the work that you do!”
Mary, ignoring the admiration, goes on, “It’s actually worse than that, driver. You see, we have a lot of undocumented teachers as well, at Hillcrest. And they are also scared. I have always looked out for them. They’re quite good people. We are all practically sisters. I actually get paid on their behalf, with my social security number, and then hand checks of my own out to them on payday.”
Driver, maybe a little too exuberant, “Jeez! Wow! How does that work? I mean how does the school handle that? What with the bureaucracy and all? And what about your taxes??”
Mary, suddenly paranoid, looks up to assess me in the rear view, and then just answers coyly, “Oh, it works out.”
DAMN! I really AM curious about that!
After about a fifteen minute drive under the rising sun, through the nascent rush hour, we roll up at Hillcrest Elementary, out in the Excelsior district. As we navigate around the first of the school buses lining up to drop, Mary simultaneously opens her door and digs through her purse for remittance. And then she hurriedly hands me up a twenty and a five for the $14.60 fare, saying to keep it, as she darts out of Citizen’s Cab 1015 and off to her sisters and kids.
Sweet! Hail Mary, indeed!
Eight minutes later…
I’m on the return from Mary, and rolling up 24th Street, in the Mission. This is an historical Mexican commercial strip, complete with taquerias and panaderias. But with its proximity to 101 south and Silicon Valley, the Mexican staples have been getting increasingly replaced by hipster coffee joints and a the likes of Wise Sons – a quite expensive, hipster Jewish deli. (Yes, you read that right.)
Still, I often score a Mexican mother here with a young son, flagging me in need of a ride just a few blocks up the street to get her kid to school. Strangely, it’s never the SAME Mexican mother and young son. Hmm.
I’m currently waiting at a red at South Van Ness, approaching a planned left onto Mission up ahead in two blocks. And I have not scored a Mexican mother with her young son.
There’s a Mexican man, alone, with a thick, waxed tip mustache and coke-bottle glasses standing caddy corner and flagging me.
I wave to Jorge. And he signals for me to make a U turn in front of him, once the light turns. The light turns, and I zoom ahead and put on my turn signal to steal the U ahead of traffic approaching from ahead and behind… as Jorge crosses the street to the side I am in the midst of turning from.
WTF?! Come on, Jorge! We had a DEAL!!
But, whatever. I just put on my flashers and wait at the corner Jorge had originally flagged me from, as he waits for traffic to clear, before jaywalking back to my cab.
And Jorge gets in back, beaming ignorantly, yet pleasant, “Tank yoo fer stoppeeng driverrr. How arrr yoo dooeeng toodayyy?”
Driverrr, clipbaird and waybill at the ready, “Oh, I’m good. Where to?”
Jorge, “I am wellll. Yoo are wellll, too?”
Uh, yeah. I think we covered this ground already, Jorge.
Driverrr, “Yeah, I’m great. Where to?” I repeat.
Jorge, “Ohh! I goeeng too Turrrd ‘n Ceezar Chavezzz, driverrr. Tank yoo fer stopeeeng.”
As we drive, Jorge and I make conversation about how the rent in San Francisco is too damn high, and how he has an 19-year-old son down in Mexico that he sends money back to. He also clarifies that he’s actually dropping a little past 3rd Street, in the bowels of an industrial area where he has a van parked in which he has been living for the past year.
Jorge, “I weell show yooo, driverrr, wherrre mi vann eeez. I gaht ah stovvve too cook onnn, n’ evreeteeeng. Eet savvvves mi ah LOTTT ahf moneeee. ‘Nn forrr ah showerrr I juss goh too tha paark, twentee seeex ‘n Harrrisonnn. Ees no prahblem, driverrr.”
Of course! That park has a public pool and everything! Hmm. And it’s not far from where I picked Jorge up. I must admit, I do often fantasize about how I’d get my homeless game on.
We surf the greens down Cesar Chavez, weaving through now full bore rush hour traffic, and literally cross the tracks into a sea of warehouses, chain link fences and barbed wire adjacent the Bay. And Jorge directs me onward to his home, a rusty old Dodge Caravan with all flat tires, parked between two box trucks in front of a loading dock to a boarded up warehouse.
And it seems I am now Jorge’s guest.
Jorge, “Woood yoo likkke some hasssh ‘n egggs, driverrr? I makkke yoo breakkfasss!”
Driverrr, “Oh! Thank you, but no. I have to go out and make money.” Adding with nervous laugh, “(Heh, heh.) To pay the rent. I have two teenage boys who need money, too!”
Jorge, persisting, “Reeelyyy, driverrr. I amm ah gooood coooook. I cooook yoo someteeng!”
Driverrr, persisting, “Really. Thanks. But I have to go make money.”
And Jorge relents, albeit while now looking a bit sad, “Ohhh… Okkkayyy…. How muuuch ees tha riiide, driverrr?”
The meter reads $11.20. And Jorge forces a smile as he hands me a ten and a five, with another, “Tank yoo fer stopeeeng. Yoo keeep eet, driverrrr. Havvve ah gooood dayyy!”
And Jorge’s smile returns to full beam, as Citizen’s Cab 1015 rolls off back towards the Mission.
I’m cruising the Haight for flags. And up ahead at Cole, there’s a fag, er… a flag! A skinny dude in a impeccable Levi’s jean jacket and impeccable matching jeans, with the cuffs rolled up all 50’s style. He’s got dark trendy sunglasses and a thick mustache, waxed at the tips – guess that’s the trend today, thick beard stubble, olive skin and shiny tan leather Italian shoes. (Eh, I’m just guessing they’re Italian.)
I ZOOM up to the curb, lest some Yellow bitch steal my lunch, and George jumps in back, flustered.
George, “Oh, please! Hurry driver! I’m late for work, again! The Cheese Shop, Polk and Pacific!”
Driver, “Polk & Pacific! No problem. FAST!”
I hit the gas.
Driver, pressing, “So, why are you late all the time? Is your manager cool?”
George, “Oh! Last night I went out drinking. And I got in another fight! Some big lumberjack looking dude on Polk Street walking down the sidewalk called me ‘faggot’ out of nowhere! I’m SO tired of that shit. It’s been happening A LOT, lately! In SAN FRANCISCO!
So anyway, I went up and got in that lumberjack’s face and started SCREAMING bloody murder. My friends tried to hold me back. As they were pulling me off, he was SO big that I had to jump UP to punch him in the mouth! That’s when he tackled me and started punching my face!”
George starts feeling his cheek and cranes up to try and see himself in the rear view, before asking me all self-conscious,
“How bad does it look, driver? My boss doesn’t like me coming to work selling premium cheese with bruises and scabs all over my face. Ohhhh.”
Driver checks the rear view, and assures, “Oh! I didn’t even notice before. Yeah. I guess the sunglasses help a bit. But now that you mention it, that’s quite a shiner! (Heh, heh.)”
Driver, diverting from nervous laughter, “I mean, does your boss understand? I think it’s great you didn’t take shit from that guy! Some people have been feeling a little too emboldened to be assholes these days. It was better when those people stayed in the closet! Er, so to speak.”
George, “Oh, my boss is from Texas. But, he’s not homophobic or anything. It’s just that I ran out of the shop just last week to scream at a customer who called me a faggot there! In a PREMIUM CHEESE SHOP! It didn’t USED to be like this!”
Suddenly, while flying down Oak towards Franklin, with all three lanes moving and timing the lights nicely, George perks up. And then he rolls down his window to yell out at some red Scion full of people on our right, as we pass.
George yells out of the taxi, while giving the finger, “Hey, you bitches! You were headed the same way! You COULD have driven me to work! LOOK!! I had to take a TAXI!!!”
And we roll on, passing George’s friends as they all start laughing, and George slumps back into his seat and frowns.
Then, George leans forward, with, “That was my sister and her friends. I live with her. I’ve actually only lived in the city for a year. I followed my sister out here, from Colorado. She went to USF.
Colorado Springs was pretty homophobic, because of the Army and Air Force bases. But even weirder was all of the pot tourism, now that Colorado is legal for recreational. Those guys would come into the bar where I worked super stoned out of their gourds! And they just didn’t know what to make of the gay scene there! It wasn’t homophobic, but it was… uncomfortable. I was like, ‘Hey people. Don’t come to my town to smoke pot if you can’t handle your shit!'”
And we roll up to George’s cheese shop, as he once again cranes to examine his bruises in the rear view and openly worry about his boss not caring for the look.
Driver assures, as George breaks out a MasterCard, “Your boss should be proud of you for sticking up for yourself. Really, though. Now that I see your face again, the bruises aren’t THAT bad!” Adding, “Oh, how much should I run your card for?”
George looks up to see the meter reading $13.40, and sighs, “(Sigh.) Thanks, driver. Round it up to $15 straight.”
“Cha-ching! – 22 Battery. Chuckie. iPhone.”
My Cabulous taxi hailing-app lights up with an order. I just passed Battery, rolling east on Market here in the Financial. It wouldn’t have mattered, as Battery is one way, the wrong way. But while I’m only yards from this order, I’m going to have to finagle several trafficky one way blocks to make it out on front of 22 Battery, where it meets Market.
Ah, fuck it. I’ll make an illegal U on Market, and then another, and then pull over at the intersection. Seeing where this order is situated, I suspect this won’t be Chuckie’s first dance.
I scan for cops, and execute.
I hit ‘Arrived’ on the Cabulous phone, and wait. And wait…
Five minutes later…
Chuckie, a street looking black dude with corn rows and carrying a brown Specialty’s Sandwiches bag, waves his phone at me and pops in back.
Chuckie, “We nee ta make ah few stops. I werk fer dah law firm bahck dere n’ I nee ta go ta Fols’m n’ Beale, firs. Den we goin ta 6th ‘n Miss’n. I jus stahp n’ git owt ta git ur clientz ta sign sum papr’s so, I kin give ’em der checkz.”
Driver, marking his waybill, “Folsom, at Beale. That Section 8 building there, I assume? Then, on to 6th & Mission. Check!”
Chuckie, “Hey. Dey give me dis sandwich here. Buht, I alr’dy ate. You wan’ dis, drivah?”
Chuckie holds up the Specialty’s bag. This is a downtown chain that’s a popular option for catered office meeting and the like. I’ve had it before. And Roast beef & cheddar? yeah, I accept.”
Drivah, reaching back for the bag, “Thanks, man. My favorite!” Adding, ‘So, you work for a law firm and just get to go around the city handing out checks to poor people?”
Chuckie, “Yeah, dey got ah lawyer ta git dem goverm’nt benfit’s n’ sue sometimez, da bad landlordz. I make sure dey kno what dey doin’ with tha monee, n’ hand owt da checkz. ‘N I check uhp ahn ’em, too.
Ya know how dere’s da DOPE dealah?? Well… I da HOPE DEALAH!!”
Awww. Drivah likes.
I’m done driving Chuckie to the section 8 building downtown by the Greyhound station, where he got out for about ten minutes to go inside with a clipboard and pen in hand.
And I’m done with the quick jaunt after to mid-block on 6th, between Market and Mission. Ground zero for losing your cell phone. On 6th, everyone seemed to know Chuckie. And he seemed to know everyone. The two people he was there to hand out checks to and have sign his clipboard were already out on the sidewalk when we arrived, just hanging out.
Chuckie surprises me with a request for one last leg of the trip, across Market and few blocks up Lev to drop in the Loin. And we part with Chuckie verifying that our business is concluded, “We good?”
Drivah, “Yup. We good. Thanks, man. And keep up the love!”
Chuckie nods, and with a swagger turns to walk off with his clipboard, and a,
“Babee, heer come da HOPE dealah!”
All in all, it was a quite painless $22.20 fare. And quite tasty. (I spent the downtime munching on the roast beef and cheddar.)
Now, over to Hyde and down to Market, and back downtown. Maybe it’s late enough that I can score a suit headed out of town, by way of SFO.
Two minutes later…
I’m behind a truck on Hyde, stopped for the red at Market… when ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE!!!
RRRRROOOOO!!!! RRRROOOOO!!!! RRRROOOOO!!!
WHOOSH!!! WHOOSH!!! WHOOSH!!!
RRRRROOOOO!!!! RRRROOOOO!!!! RRRROOOOO!!!
“GET THE FUCK OUT OF THE CAR! OUT OF THE CAR! NOW!!!”
Cops cars ZOOM in from all sides and surround a black BMW SUV in the middle lane on Hyde stopped for the red, RIGHT NEXT to the truck in front of me! And plain clothes cops with badges on their hips and out of their unmarked Crown Vics and yelling at the Bemmer WITH GUNS DRAWN!!!
And post-haste, two black men exit the SUV with their hands on their heads, as the cops put them on the ground on their bellies, and keep their guns affixed to their targets.
How long am I gonna be stuck here, boxed in at this front row seat to some CRAZY ASS police scene!? And only a box truck and a gaggle of police cruisers and Harley’s from the freedom of Market Street!!
The answer: Twenty minutes.
UGH! THIS is a message from God. Time to get off the streets. I’m gassing it up and bringing it back to the lot.
I’ve cashed out with Dmitry at the bullet-proof glass check out window at Citizen’s Cab. And it looks like I’m walking with $226. Not bad for a short-ish, winter’s day.
As I head out towards my van, parked in the alley just outside the lot’s triple-tiered barbed wire fence, I take note of the Peruvian driver I saw this morning in the office. He’s standing behind a rusty old Ford Aerostar minivan that’s parked in the alley right next to my Dodge Grand Caravan. Emilio is brushing his teeth over a plastic fluorescent orange Lowe’s Hardware bucket that’s full of water.
While opening the door of my Dodge Grand Caravan, Emilio spits to finish brushing his teeth. And then he smiles and comes over to pat the back of my van, admiringly.
Emilio, all friendly and glowing, “Good BIG van!” (Pat, pat.) “This would make a nice home!”
He turns around to point at his smaller, rusty old Aerostar, with, “Mine? It’s too small!”
I laugh, and offer, “HA! Maybe sometime down the road. But, not today. I just made $226!!”
And as I throw my backpack in the van and start to get in, Emilio smiles again. And he lays out the welcome mat.
“Well, anytime you are ready, friend! You’d fit in nicely with the rest of us drivers out here! The rent is too damn high in this town, brother!”
Too damn high, indeed. But not today, friend.
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Photo by Alex SacK