Didn’t drive Monday. I tried, hard. Real hard. But I didn’t sleep at all Sunday night. I kept tossing and turning in bed while envisioning potential road rage incidents and the possibility of plowing into some jaywalker challenging my taxi on the streets of San Francisco. Still, I tried. When 3am rolled around, I even got out of bed and turned on the light. But then, I called in to Tony at Citizen’s Cab dispatch, hit the cough syrup, and dove back under the covers. With the night I’d had, I would have ended up killing someone for sure. And that is a taxi driver’s worst nightmare.
4:35am – Citizen’s Cab 1015
Tony sent me running out of the lot to go get Sheba. Sheba’s a regular early morning ride, headed from her house out on the residential outskirts of San Francisco, in historically black Oceanview, downtown to her subcontracting job as a LinkedIn chef cooking for their employees. Sheba’s salty, sometimes complaining about her white devil boss, sometimes about conspiracy theories, and sometimes about how she spends so much money with Citizen’s Cab that she should get a discount. Thing is, though, us drivers are also subcontracted. And the fact that her fare is a daily twenty-six bucks means nothing to the random driver who may pick her up. Still, Sheba takes her discount anyway, by withholding a tip on half of her rides.
To be fair, she used to have a regular driver, Pepi. But Pepi has since left Citizen’s Cab, after a dispute with Ivan the manager about how much he was getting paid to have his medallion associated with the company. I heard it got reduced down to a lowly $1200 a month. And Pepi was apparently not having it.
Sheba boasts that one day Pepi’s cab was shopped, and there was no spare available to take out. So, he went and picked her up in his personal car and took her to work, and would not accept money. What the fuck was Pepi thinking? I know taking money that way would be illegal. But, a driver does NOT need this kind of precedent set, OR an emboldened Sheba!
Aside: Sorry, passengers. It looks like this will be yet another downer report. I’ll get back to the fairy dust and unicorns in some later offerings. I promise.
So, like I said, it’s 4:35am, and Tony was late in getting Sheba picked up. And Sheba does NOT like being late for work, considering the hell that she’d be paying with her “white devil boss.” So, your driver is rolling like a bat out of hell, and just now cutting over from 101, into leftmost of the two right lanes that veer off to join 280 south.
But as this morning would have it, some metallic blue customized Honda, low riding, with chrome wheels and a spoiler (why the fuck does a Honda need a spoiler?) is weaving up through the right lanes and, at present, is trying to cut me off from my entering into the lanes for 280, which would n effect force me to keep down 101.
Instead, Lil Wayne revs, jerks, and rides up behind me, CLOSE, tailgating and flashing his xenon hi beams.
And once securely merged onto 280 south where it breaks out from two to four lanes of highway, Lil Wayne ZOOMS around to the side of my cab, and begins to pace me on my left.
I don’t look. But, I Do hold up a bold middle finger.
As Lil Wayne continues to pace.
Hmm. Maybe that wasn’t such a good idea. I don’t like that dude’s STILL pacing me. Is Lil Wayne packing? Am I about to get shot??
It’s too dark to see. I floor it.
And Lil Wayne follows suit.
Duh. I do NOT think that my trusty Prius is going to do the job here. Even WITH her previously much ballyhooed “power” button!
No. I think better of trying to outrun Lil Wayne. I hit my brakes, and begin rolling BEHIND Lil Wayne’s souped-up Honda, and its loud, barking muffler.
And likewise, Lil Wayne lays back…
Until we are both COMPLETELY STOPPED in the TWO MIDDLE LANES lanes of 280 south, with my cab just a few feet behind and flanking to the right of Lil Wayne, as we BOTH SIT WAITING to get rear-ended in the early morning dark by one of the half asleep commuters imminent to roll up from behind and get taken by surprise!
One… two… three… four… five… six… seven… eight… nine… ten… eleven… twelve…
Neither of us budges. And only by the grace of God has not a single vehicle, YET, come up from behind and SLAMMED into either, or the both of us!
Thirteen… fourteen… fifteen…
Then, PUTT! PUTT! PUTT!
Lil Wayne SLOWLY starts to roll.
And Citizen’s Cab 1015 SLOWLY follows suit, sure to keep behind and to the right of Lil Wayne’s Honda, and an easy line of fire.
We keep a SLOW pace down 280 in this fashion, until I see my chance. The Monterey exit off of 280. Lil Wayne has just barely passed it, as I pretend to go for the exit. Lil Wayne ZOOMS off ahead, and I just pull into the dead zone between the off-ramp and the highway. And I watch as Lil Wayne’s tail lights disappear into the horizon.
I count to ten. And I merge back onto 280, south to Sheba.
I radio in to Tony, “1015. Please call out 465 Sadowa.”
Tony, “Coppee, 1015. Sheba’s ahn ‘er waay owt.”
Five minutes later…
Sheba pops in back with, “You guys took a long time gettin’ me picked up this mornin’. I’m gonna be late now, ‘n have to deal with that white devil boss ‘a mine.”
Well, then WHY the HELL did it take you FIVE MINUTES to come out, my queen???
Driver, “Sorry. Tony sent me running out of the lot to get you. I haven’t even had coffee, yet. But I’m pretty awake now. I almost got shot coming to get you.” Driver adds, jesting, “And you don’t want me dying on the highway and ending up one of those ghosts that haunts it!”
Though jesting, Sheba latches onto the comment.
“Oh?? Have you seen that one that hangs around the Ocean Avenue exit?? I was ridin’ with Pepi one time, ‘n I saw some shadowy figure on tha damn highway. And I SCREAMED for Pepi to veer around it! I thought it was a guy, at first! But then I got a better look. ‘N it was a GHOST!
I said, ‘Pepi what the HELL was that?!?? DId you see that!???’
‘N Pepi just kept drivin’ all calm ‘n said, ‘Yeah. I see that ghost all the time at Ocean Avenue. That’s his spot. He must have died on that stretch of 280 and haunts it now.’
Now I’m tellin’ you, that’s some weird shit right there!”
Driver, playing along, “Oh, yeah. I’ve seen that one. Ocean Avenue. Right.
There’s another ghost up on 101, at hospital curve. A motorcyclist who must have died there. He’s still got his riding leather on, and his helmet. But the helmet’s all cracked up from what must have been a big rig that took him down.”
Sheba, jaw agape, “No shit!? That shit gives me tha creeps!”
We roll the highway, en route to her kitchen ob at LinkedIn, with Sheba cutting me off in converse, as she unknowingly tells me the exact same stories she has over our past rides, about how much money she spends on Citizen’s, how she should get a discount, how much she likes Pepi. And how he drove her once, for free, in his personal car.
And after ten minutes of nodding along in the rear view, we pull up to the LinkedIn headquarters, at 2nd & Howard. The meter reads $26.60. And Sheba hands me up her Amex, with the coin flip landing on, “Oh, and please don’t add a tip today.”
Still, twenty-six bucks is twenty-six bucks. And there’s an open Starbucks nearby, at California & Battery.
My day has officially begun.
Tony comes crackling over the radio with an order to bid on. It’s the slow time of day, and the order is in the Mission, where many drivers are proximate. It’s chum in the water.
Tony, “23rd & Dolores. 23rd & Dolores.”
417, “417. 16th & Mission!”
865, “865. 16th & Guerrero!!”
1015, “1015. 24th & Church!!!”
Tony, “1015. Sack. Looks like dis one’s yurs. Comin’ yer waay.”
“Cha-ching! – 3646 23rd St. Doug.”
And I ‘Accept’ the order.
I’m only a couple blocks away. I crest the Dolores hill, cross over, and come down 23rd to find Doug, and older grey haired guy in a brown leather jacket and blue jeans, waiting on the far side of the street out in front of his manicured single family Victorian. I mime through the window, signaling straight or back, should I pull a U?
And a confused Doug walks across traffic, albeit light traffic, to get in my cab. And with clipboard/waybill propped on the steering wheel and pen at the ready, I broach,
Doug, in a Brooklyn accent, “Took you guys long enough ta get here. I tried usin’ dat Ubah ting. But dose guys fucked me. Never use it before. Tha damn phone kept tellin’ me five minutes away, den ten, den five. ‘N tha guy never came. Now I’m late fer a docter’s apointment. 2333 Buchanan. CPMC. ‘N fass.”
Driver, scribing and repeating back, “2333 Buchanan. CPMC.”
Now, hmm. Doug should really have stayed in front of his house, so we could hit Dolores over. But we’re already facing Guerrero, however questionable the timing off the lights. I guess it is more direct. Don’t want Doug thinking I’m padding the meter. He already seems in a pretty bad mood. Guerrero, it is…
Doug, “How you goin’ drivah? Dis is tha slow way. You shoulda taken Dolores. (GASP!) Dis is NOT da good way ta go! ‘N I’m gonna be even latah!”
Then you should have stayed in front of your fucking house and let me make the U!
Driver, “Well, we’re already committed to Guerrero. And it’s more direct. I didn’t want you thinking I was padding them meter. It’s a good time of day. I should be able to work the lights.”
Doug, “Dis is NOT how I woulda gone. ‘N Ubah already gaht me all strees’d owt. “Neewaay, how you gonna go next? You gonna take Clay ovah?”
Driver, “Uhhh. Clay is the cross street where you’re going, perpendicular to us across town.”
Doug, “Oh. I’m all screwed up wit dat Ubah crap. Uhh, I gaht my streets all mixed. Maybee, wats dat one? Scott! You shood take Scott!”
Driver, “Uhhh. I do like Scott, generally, for getting across town. But, we’d have to go several blocks in the opposite direction, and take those same blocks to get back over to Buchanan. I’ll go any way you want, but I think Guerrero to Laguna is the fastest from here, and most direct.”
Doug, “Ahhh, Do whatevah you tink. Buht dis is NOT how I woulda gone! (GASP!)”
I stay the course, and go to calm the beast. I change the subject and get Doug talking about how long he’s been in San Francisco.
Doug, “I came owt heyah fer da Summah a Love, in ’67. But I was in da oil bidness down in Louisiana fer some yeers Own’d a oil company down dere. Buht I’m retir’d now, and been back livin’ in SF fer ovah twnetee yeers now.”
Then, Doug gasps again, and changes the subject back to our route, with, “(GASP!) Jeez! Dis gonna take us pass da Zen Centah! I go ta da Zen Centah! Ta meditate. (GASP!) Dis ain’t da way I woulda gone!”
Wow. The San Francisco Zen Center???
I do not think it’s working for you, Doug.
I’ve just received a Cabulous “Cha-ching!” mobile-to-mobile from an iPhone, from “Morgan.” I’m south of the Financial, downtown, and the order is about six blocks away from me at 401 Harrison, a newer glass and steel high rise of rich condos.
This will be the worst ride in my seven years as a cab driver…
After a five minute trek through thick traffic, navigating around and cutting off two of every three cars, all Ubers and Lyfts, I pull up on 401 Harrison and hit the ‘Arrived’ button on my Cabulous smartphone.
I ready my clipboard/waybill. And in short order, out of the tall, thick, tinted glass front doors of this gaudy show of wealth, hobbles brusquely, a thirty-ish blonde, Morgan.
I say “hobbles” as I take note of the stylish black boot cast on her right foot, and a left hand wrapped in Ace bandage. But it is obvious, Morgan is no shrinking violet. By the energy and seeming command with which she’s approaching my cab, I simply plan the ice breaker.
Hmm. How about, “I’m guessing you’ve been in an Uber recently.”
However, before I can utter my genius line, Morgan has violently ripped open the back door, thrown her body in back, and begun viciously berating her driver.
Morgan, “Thanks for the fucking help! You couldn’t see I’m in a cast??? You couldn’t get the fuck out to open the door for me!? I’m just going three blocks over, to 301 Main. And don’t hurt yourself getting there! Thanks a fucking lot!”
Morgan huffs, and slams her door shut. And stunned driver drives.
Wow. I’ve NEVER been dehumanized this way in my cab. Actually, I don’t believe I have EVER seen one human talk to another stranger in this way!
And, HA! Morgan has NO idea who she’s talking to! So, hmm. What do I do? Lay into her? Kick her out?? Not move, and turn around to stare coldly into her eyes until she gets the fuck out???
Nah. I’m too intrigued. Despite that I actually drove twice as far to pick Morgan up, than the ride will. I mean, how much dick does this bitch a taxi driver is going to suck for a six dollar fare?? No. This is FAR too curious. I’m just going to stay quiet, and drive Morgan to her destination. And think over the three blocks about how to cap this ride.
As I remain silent, Morgan continues to fume in back, huffing, and going on about my lack of human decency, and professionalism. (Unbeknownst that she is talking to the 2012 Paratransit Driver of the Year!)
Three blocks and a minute later, I have settled on and now pursue my master plan for capping this ride…
We pull in front of 301 Main (yet ANOTHER glass and steel high rise of rich gaudy condos) and I vehemently unlatch my seat belt, and throw open my door, and anxiously grovel,
“Wait! Let me come get the door for you!”
But, before I can exit the taxi, Morgan has once again, violently thrown open her door, and already begun to extract herself from the vehicle, shouting,
“No! It’s WAY too late for THAT! WAAAAAYYYY TOO LATE!!!”
And Morgan huffs off, brusquely once again, towards the almost identical tall, thick, tinted glass doors of 301 Main, as I plug the $6.25 fare into my Cabulous smartphone.
The sound chimes acknowledging Morgan’s card has been charged, and my remittance has been secured.
I drill down into the app…
Hey. A 20% tip!
I’m rolling east down Market, scanning for flags. I’m just passing Civic Center, and the Loin. I don’t mind scoring a ride here. It’s not unusual to get some junkie headed to the methadone clinic at SF General. Eleven bucks is eleven bucks. It’s also a chance to hand out my peanut butter sandwich to some homeless dreg on the street. (Well, half of it today, anyway. I ate half for breakfast.)
Approaching 6th, I see some light skinned black dude up ahead in basketball digs, with a shaved head and stylish sunglasses. He’s holding a plastic bag full of what looks like bottled water and flagging with a cane.
But, damn. There’s a Yellow Cab just up ahead of me, on my right. And judging from his lit top light, he’s empty.
But, Yellow snubs the dude! And he drives past!
One man gathers what another man spills…
I zoom up to the corner, and pull to a stop in front of my bounty. And with a very sweet, high pitched voice, a light skinned Michael climbs into the back of Citizen’s Cab 1015 with his cane – and what is now confirmed to be a bag full of bottled water.
Michael, “Oh, thank you for stopping, driver. Can you please take a right here, down 6th. I’m going to Brisbane. If you could take 101 to the Sierra Point exit, please.”
This is half way to the airport! Probably a $25 or $30 ride! Take THAT, Yellow bitch!
As we ride, I find Michael quite endearing, very respectful, with a calming vibe emanating. And he’s chatty.
Michael, “I just came into the city to get my check, a haircut, and some water.”
Hmm. By haircut, I guess he means his head shaved!
Michael, continuing, “And now, it’s back to my tent under 101 there in Brisbane.”
Driver, “Wait. If you don’t mind I ask, you’re homeless? And you live in a tent under 101, in Brisbane???”
Michael, “Oh, yes. It’s much nicer there. Because there is nothing there, except for some hotels nearby, and an office park. The police are VERY nice, too. They look in on me almost every night, to make sure that I’m ok.”
Driver, “Crazy! The cops are cool with you? Well, I guess you probably are the only homeless person in Brisbane! There really is nothing there. So, WHY Brisbane? I mean, wouldn’t you rather join a tent encampment in the city? Doesn’t it get lonely at night?”
Michael, “Well, I used to be in the city. But, there’s too much drama with all of the drug dealers. And the other homeless stealing your things. I prefer it out where I am now. It does get a little lonely sometimes. But I just read my Bible, and pray. I’m happy there.”
Michael changes the topic, to me now, “How about you? How are you doing? There’s a lot of competition out there on the streets today.”
I guess he means Uber.
Embarrassed, I relent, “Yeah money’s tight. And I have two teenage boys. But, I get by.”
Can’t really bitch to a homeless guy about money problems, can I?
We ride the rest of the fifteen minute ride making pleasant small talk, and noting the drastic changes in SF, where Michael grew up, before getting displaced for his apartment turning condo.
He eventually directs me off to Bayshore, at the Sierra Point exit from 101. And tells me about how little there is around the area, no grocery stores and one Chinese restaurant.
We wind down parallel to the highway, adjacent the Bay, majestically glistening in the afternoon sun. And sure enough, as Bayshore winds under 101, a hundred yards shy of the sterile Doubletree Hilton, Michael has me pull over to the shoulder, surrounded by thick underbrush, short trees, and a thicket of bushes. And I take note of a beaten path, weaving through the brush, leading up a hill to just under the highway.
The meter reads $25.50. And I almost feel bad taking money from this man. Almost. Eh, I figure I won’t sweat a tip.
Michael pulls out a wad of bills, and hands me up a twenty and a ten. And I hand him back a five, saying to not worry about a tip.
But Michael insists, with, “Oh, no. You have kids. I have to look out for you!”
He hands me up another twenty, asking me to break it… and then hands me back a ten and a five, with, “You take this. And thank you for the ride, driver! You stay blessed!”
Wow! Forty bucks! From a homeless guy, living in a tent under 101! Man!
YOU go blessed, as well, Michael. Though, I get the sense that you already are…
Please SHARE if so inclined, folks!
Photo by Alex SacK