The Runner

It’s getting dangerous to take a ride in San Francisco these days, to be a passenger in Citizen’s Cab 1015…

9:30am:
I’m rolling east up Market away from downtown, empty out of the Financial. No worries, though. I had a VERY good early morning with TWO airports. Count ’em: TWO!!

Still, as life goes, it’s gotten real slow since.  REAL S L  O   W    W    W     W    .    .    .

I’ve just finished completing my SECOND circle fareless through the city. Count ’em: TWO!! The Mission, the Castro, the Haight (upper AND lower), the Fillmore, Pac Heights, the Marina, Nob and Russian Hills, North Beach, and now the Financial.

Nothing.

So now it’s east up Market, having just brushed past the Loin – in all of its seedy glory. And at present, I’m stuck at a red adjacent the Civic Center BART station, before Hyde.

And I watch as police suddenly begin ZOOMING in from all angles!

Man, I hope I don’t get trapped here, again. Like I did during the last police action I witnessed at this VERY intersection only weeks ago. (With undercover jumping out, guns all drawn, to bust some dudes in a new black BMW SUV.) As it is, I’m wedged-in between the BART escalator at the sidewalk, and the MUNI bus island on my left which divides the two east-bound lanes.

As I watch, jaw agape and worried, catching me unawares is some olive-skinned young dude with a wiry black ‘stache and a skateboard, as he stumbles up from behind my taxi, jiggles the unlocked door, and throws himself in back, huffing. And my spider sense IMMEDIATELY begins tingling.

Shit.

However, the light turns. And lest I want another front row seat to an hour-long police action, one Citizen’s Cab #1015 FLOORS it the HELL OUT OF HERE!!!

And a buggy, edgy, antsy Cheech twitches in the back seat, with meth oozing out of his pores, before speaking.

“I’m hurt, driver. SF General. FAST!! Hey! Do you mind if I smoke?? Turn on 102.1. I’m on the radio! NOW!! And LOUD!!!”

Shit.

This smells bad. I am NOT getting paid for this ride!

And Driver speaks, “Uh… I guess you can smoke. But roll down the window, please. It’s illegal. I don’t want a ticket. Besides, it’s not my cab. If the medallion holder smells it, I’ll catch hell. 102.1 did you say?”

Driver marks his waybill with the time and SF General as the destination, and adjusts the dial on the radio. But, not a second into whatever rap music, Cheech leans forward in his seat, yelling,

“LOUDER!”

And Driver obliges.

Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Chicka! Waaaaaaah-www!

Cheech, “LOUDER!!”

BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! CHICKA! WAAAAAAAH-WWW!

Cheech, “LOUDER!!!!!”

BOOM!!! BOOM!!! BOOM!!! BOOM!!! CHICKA!!! WAAAAAAAH-WWW!!!!!!

BOOM!!! BOOM!!! BOOM!!! BOOM!!! CHICKA!!! WAAAAAAAH-WWW!!!!!!

And as we roll a couple more blocks east on Market, Cheech has settled in nicely, by hanging out of his open window, smoking his cigarette – advertising to any and all police who might care, and flailing his arms up and down wildly in what I can only assume is the newest dance the kids are doing. (While fucked out of their mind on meth, at least.)

And now, he’s fully half out of his window and pumping his body, though not having abandoned the flailing arms statement, while now yelling at people on the sidewalks as we pass. No, wait… I think he’s “singing” along to the music. Hmm. He did say he was on the radio. But, strange. The voices don’t seem to match.

Go figure.

The song ends and a commercial comes blaring out of the radio, as Driver makes an illegal U on Market and cuts off a line of cars (mostly Ubers) waiting for their right down 10th Street. This is my best chance at ending this ride post haste! With 10th Street’s timed lights leading a pretty good measure on towards the last leg of Potrero and our ultimate destination, SF General.

A box truck takes exception at my maneuver.

HHHHHOOOONNNKKK!!!!

Sorry, buddy. Priorities.

Then, an Uber I also cut off in the process veers right on 10th and across all lanes, attempting to cut me off and drop his passenger.

Not.

SWERVE!!!

SCREEEECH!!!

And Driver successfully thwarts the scab’s maneuver, with a HHHHHOOOOONNNNKKK!!!!! for good measure.

As the pissed off box truck has now rounded the turn, witnessed, and taken exception to my cutting off of and honking at Uber. Ah! The blatant hypocrisy of it all!

I GUN it down 10th, as Box Truck again pleads his case in my rear view.

HHHHHOOOONNNKKK!!!!

Oblivious, Cheech expresses disappointment with the commercial on the radio and is now SCREAMING, “98.1!!!! 98.1!!!!!”

Driver adjusts the dial. And the Bee-gees come wafting LOUDLY through Citizen’s Cab #1015 with a sultry falsetto ballad. Apparently, this will NOT satisfy the speed at which my fare is running.

Cheech, “92.7!!! 92.7!!!”

Driver adjusts the dial…

Commercial.

Cheech, “93.3!!!!!”

Driver obliges. And some VERY up tempo Mexican dance music comes on…

Silence from the back.

WHEW!

I check the rear view… Cheech looks perplexed, at first. Then, he takes a puff from his cigarette and starts bopping up and down in his seat, higher and HIGHER, as boiling into a violent lather.

And it can’t help but be noted that keeping Cheech’s smoking outside of the cab has long gone, well, out the window. But, I figure now that it’s probably for the best.

We FLY down 10th, blaring fast-paced Mexican techno, as Cheech pogos along in back.

Okay. We’re two-thirds of the way to General now, and shit. We’ve hit a merge for construction at Potrero, as the rapido song abruptly ends with some choice kicks, and another begins… largo.

Damn.

Cheech, “99.7!!! 99.7!!!! 99.7!!!!!!”

Man! I HAVE to say! Cheech REALLY knows his rap/hip-hop/soul stations!

But even though we’re almost there, Driver has to put his foot down.

Driver, yelling above the cacophony, “OKAY!! BUT THIS IS THE LAST TIME!!!”

I check the rear view. Cheech seems humbled, checked.

Cheech, yelling over the ballad, “OKAY! I PROMISE!!!”

And he takes another drag.

Driver adjusts the dial to some fast paced techno on 99.7FM, which no doubt pleases my passenger, as my nose begins to twitch.

Damn. Even with the windows all ALL THE WAY down, the pungent pinch of meth has become lodged in my nose, as it permeates out from Cheech’s pores. And if the past is prologue, there it will stay embedded for the rest of the day. I sneeze.

FINALLY, we pull into the roundabout leading to the ER of San Francisco general, and Cheech perks up in back and, obviously well versed, confidently directs me right up to the newly redone entrance to Emergency.

I take note of an empty black and white SFPD cruiser stationed at the roundabout, readying my game for when Cheech makes a run for it.

I hit the meter, which has landed at $11.20.

And, I turn to address my passenger, “It looks like $11.20.”

Cheech turns away from any attempted eye contact as he abruptly goes to exit my taxi, albeit casually assuring Driver as he jumps out, “I’ll go in and get you a voucher. I’ll be right back.”

Voucher? VOUCHER?? Sure, Citizen’s has a couple accounts with voucher’s. Kink.com. And that law firm downtown. But, I’ve never gotten, or even HEARD OF, getting a voucher from General!

Bullshit.

Driver JUMPS out of the cab! And he stands aside it SCREAMING BLOODY MURDER for ALL TO HEAR, as Cheech DARTS for the sliding doors of the ER!!

“POLICE!! POLICE!!! HE ROBBED ME!!!! POLICE!!!! POLICE!!!!”

Now, I had already noticed that the black & white police cruiser was empty, despite an almost ASSURED police presence SOMEWHERE here at the ER. But, I figure I can at least SWEAT Cheech a little, if he thinks he can play me without ANY backlash! All the gaggle of nurses, doctors, patients, and cabs surrounding me stunned and gawking, be damned. (Eh, what do I care?)

However, much to MY surprise! Out of NOWHERE, a HUGE black undercover cop RUNS up to me, barking, “What does he look like??? Where did he go!?”

Driver, “Young 20’s olive-skinned Mexican-American with a skateboard. Just NOW went inside the ER!”

And 5-0 SPRINTS inside the ER, as some uniformed officer, likewise, appears out of nowhere and RUNS over to me asking for more details.

Callahan pants, as he breaks out a pad and queries, “He robbed you? What did he take? What’s your name? What’s your phone number?”

Driver shrugs, as breaking out a Citizen’s Cab business card, before answering, “Eh. He just jumped on the fare. $11.20. To be honest, I saw it coming from a mile away. I’m pretty sure the dude’s on meth. I just didn’t want to let him off easy. He said he was going in for a voucher. But General doesn’t have vouchers for Citizen’s Cab.”

Suddenly, Callahan’s radio crackles to life… It’s 5-0!

5-0, “I got him detained inside. Ask the cab driver if he wants to make a citizen’s arrest.”

Callahan, “Would you like to make a citizen’s arrest, sir?”

Cab Driver, “Eh. No. It’s not worth it. The down time will cost me more than the fare.” Adding hesitant second thoughts,  “Uh, you don’t think you can extract the fare from him, do you?”

Callahan, “Well, probably not. But, I’ll see if I can get a voucher for you. I’ve got your phone number. But give me a couple of hours to get back to you. When you called out, I was in pursuit of a thief who made off with a TV set from the hospital.”

Cab Driver, “Uh… Okay… Yeah, see what you can do. Thanks.”

Then, right on cue, a thirty-something Asian-American techie type woman approaches my cab, meekly interjecting, “Are you available?”

Callahan smiles, “Looks like things worked out. I’ll call you later!” he shouts, as simultaneously he stows his pad and darts off in the renewed pursuit of his felon, into some grassy crevasse between the brand new ER and the yet to be remodeled, old brown brick medical building adjacent to it.

And Asian-American Techie Type pops in back, as Driver returns to the wheel, with clipboard/waybill propped and at the ready, “Where to, ma’am?”

Asian-American Techie Type, “Caltrain, please. And how’s your day going, driver?”

Driver, “Oh, fine. How’s yours?”

 

One hour later…

I’ve been working Mission Street and Market, following the BART line. It’s down. And where I almost got trapped back at the Civic Center Station has since been flooded with cops. And the escalators at all corners of Hyde & Market have since been sectioned off with yellow crime scene tape.

I’ve been ferrying frustrated passengers along the line, with each one lamenting what we all assume: a jumper. What with all of the police and fire activity, someone MUST have jumped on the tracks. Or, have been pushed. Hmm.

Independently, my last three fares each complained the exact same, as if on script, “Someone just HAD to throw themselves on the tracks! And ruin everyone ELSE’s day!”

Oh, the humanity.

I’m still trying to work the lucrative payout, rolling west down Market. But, I’ve just passed Civic Center for the fourth time in the last hour, and it looks like the police are packing up shop. Oh, well.

I’m stopped at a red in the taxi/bus lane before 5th Street, at Westfield Mall. I can’t help but take note, or heed, of some skinny black guy running from the sidewalk, between cars, and onto the bus island next to me, with his hands waving in the air, flailing, not so unlike Cheech’s statement. I guess this IS the newest dance craze! Or, maybe just “craze.”

Dude dives into the back seat of my unlocked taxi. Damn. I GOTTA start locking my doors!

Sorry, Rose. (A Cab School Commandment I just CAN’T seem to master!)

Well, might as well break out the clipboard/waybill. Yup, with pen at the ready…

Driver, “Uh, where to, sir?”

Dude, all buggy, squirming and looking around nervous, “The BART station!”

Driver, laying down his clipboard/waybill, “Sir, that’s a BART station right there. Powell. Did you want a DIFFERENT BART station?”

Dude looks around, confused, as I watch him in the rear view. Hey, this guy looks kind of familiar. Hey! It’s Pryor! Of Tin Foil Hats fame!!! It’s been YEARS!

Recall: Pryor is the paranoid schizophrenic who jumped in my cab a few years back, not far from here, up at 7th & Market. Pryor was SUPER agitated at the time, BEGGING me to “DRIVE!!!” to get away from “THEM” all the while insisting that he had “NO IDEA” why “THEY” were “OUT TO GET” him, before freaking out that we had stopped for a red light, and then ultimately jumping out and darting off through speeding traffic to run for his imaginary life.

Anyway, back to the present. (Cause life’s a gift, and all…)

In the rear view I note that Pryor’s teeth are a bit more chipped than last time, and if at all possible, his eyes a little more bugged out of his head.

Driver, repeating the question, “Did you want me to take you to a DIFFERENT BART station?”

And Pryor begins squirming in his seat, now even MORE agitated, before jolting to slide over into the seat behind me, before opening the door and DARTING off WILDLY, once more, across speeding traffic on the now green light, and zig-zagging and flailing away out of sight, off towards Union Square.

 

Epilogue

12:30pm:
My iPhone rings to life, “Bada-Ding-Ding-Boop-Ding-Ding! Bada-Ding-Ding-Boop-Ding-Ding!

I answer.

“Mr. Sack. It’s Officer Callahan. I’m sorry, I couldn’t get you a voucher. But, I called to verify some of your contact information. And to let you know that your perp is going to jail.”

Mr. Sack, “Huh? For jumping on the fare?”

Officer Callahan, “No, sir. He had an warrant out for his arrest for a failure to appear.”

Mr. Sack, “Oh! Well, I’m not surprised. Can you tell me what that case was that he failed to show in court for? Was it drugs?”

Officer Callahan, “I don’t know, sir. It doesn’t say. But, probably.”

Well…

JEEZ! I kinda feel bad for Cheech now. I just wanted to sweat him a little. For running on me. I didn’t want him to get him in REAL trouble!

Eh, I guess the law would have caught up with him on that warrant at some point, or other. He WAS pretty fucked up. And antisocial.

I mean, Cheech’s just made some bad decisions. But, who among us hasn’t? Cast the first stone, n’ all… I mean, it’s hard to be mad at Cheech. On account of he’s so fucked up. Dude just needs help.

Really, I didn’t mean for him to go to JAIL! Really, it could have just as easily been Cheech that was the beneficiary of my usual homeless ritual. It could have been HIM that I stopped to give away half of my peanut butter sandwich to today!

Except today, I ate it all.

_____

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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…

 

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