Reina de la Misión


Non Sequitur Intro of the Week:  It’s 4:56am, Monday morning and I’m rolling Mission Street south in my aging yellow Prius – Citizen’s Cab 1015; to be emphasized, with green checkers. Aging, yes. However, it’s not so much the years; it is the miles.

I’m cruising the strip outbound into the heart this endearingly ratty, traditionally Mexican district, having lost its status decades ago as traditionally Irish, and now fast transforming to traditionally Techie. (It’s all about proximity to 101 south, baby. The buses and Silicon Valley.)

There’s a BART station up ahead at 24th. Often a good bet for a flag this early. An undocumented coming in from Oakland to his construction job. Or a cab driver, down Cesar Chavez to hack.

Damn.

Looks like there’s police action up at 23rd. There are red and blue bubble gum lights flashing all around. Enough to drown out all the neon and cheap strobing ma and pa storefront signs down here hawking phone cards and Quinceañera dresses.

Ah. The horde of black and white San Francisco Police cruisers are now coming into focus, as well, the copious rolls of yellow police tape they have stretched across my path. Damn.

Hmm. The cops seem to be congregating in front of La Corneta Taqueria. (Good tostadas.)

Well, this is where I make my illegal U-turn. (It’s early. Different rules.) Anyway, the cops are busy. Somebody’s dead.

I know cause it feels oddly quiet out here, even with all of this sensory overload. It’s that kind of ominous quiet you just know is more than it looks like. Yeah. My caffeine has yet to kick in, and somebody’s dead.

That’s all.

 

3:25pm:
It’s end of day, I turn into a pumpkin at 4. Been doing the later afternoon rounds of the Mission, the Haight and downtown via Market. And the Lord has smiled upon me today. Praise be.

I’m rolling out of downtown and bearing down Valencia, and once again in The Mission. (By the way, Valencia means “brave.”) It’s time for my game, where near medallion time I start heading toward the lot to turn it in with the idea that if I don’t score a flag, dispatch or Cabulous ding between here and Cesar Chavez, it is the Universe that’s calling it a day, not me.

To be fair, as it is, if I take a ride here in The Mission it’s unlikely that my passenger would be heading anywhere but some distance away from the lots, as we are close. And whenever I score later afternoon rides in summer in the Haight or Castro, it’s invariably a European tourist family going all the way across town to their hotel out in Fisherman’s Wharf. (Which is a good fare, mind you. Even with the standard 0% Italian tip.) It’s that this always leaves me stressed out trying to make it all the way back across town, gassed up and at the Citizen’s Cab lot before risking a $15 late charge – payable to the night driver.

Note: However, Ernesto (1015’s medallion holder) is the scheduled night driver on her after all of my shifts. And Ernesto is really sweet. An older Nicaraguan guy all short and cute, and who as far as I can discern speaks almost no English. Anyway, point is, he would never charge me.

“TAXXEEEE!!! TAXXEEEE!!! TAXXEEEEEE!!!”

Okay. A flag. And a vehement one at that. Just a few blocks in from Market. It’s a semi-heavy set Hispanic woman with green eyes doing her best Macarena. (Was that racist?)

Well, the game is the game. And money is money.

I pull over to the curb by Reina, in front of Brosnan alley. And she approaches my open shotgun window, looking a little anxious.

Reina, “Please… Ride. Uh… Yes??”

Well, that’s kinda why I stopped.

Driver, waybill at the ready, “Sure. Get in.”

I point to the back seat. Nothing is assumed here.

To that point, Reina starts waving at me and running fast, away from the cab and up the sidewalk on Brosnan. I think I’m to follow.

And I follow Reina slowly up this narrow street in its single lane, flanked on one side by a line of cars parked alongside the block’s assortment of larger old apartment buildings, and smaller two story Victorians, frugally redone several times over.

And Reina runs… and runs, pushing ahead huffing.

Mid-block, I begin to hear a loud unintelligible series of boisterous commands. Reina stops. And she turns to look over at me waving with that pleading look again, before pointing up inside the metal gate atop the brick steps at one of the larger turn-of-the-century buildings on Brosnan.

And there, holding the gate open with a footrest on her wheelchair is the source of the fiery bellowing. And the source is a significantly more than semi-heavy set Hispanic woman, filling an extra wide wheelchair regally atop a colorful Mexican blanket, with several plastic bags and two backpacks, one with a cane sticking out of it, hanging off the back of her wheelchair.

Well, I’m blocking the alley. But no cars coming, yet. I jump out to help.

And right on cue, a mail truck comes flying up the alley. Damn.

But dude is a professional. Without flinching, OJ pulls up half onto the sidewalk and around my taxi, and stops to park that way. Hmm. He’s doing a delivery.

And I continue up the steps, right as a black Camry comes zooming up the alley… honking.

Evita, with her short cropped hair and penetrating brown eyes, jostles in her chair pushing up off her armrests, and bears a mouth to make Patton fall in line.

“You WAIT!! There’ a DISABLED WOMAN here!!! WAIT!! GOD DAMN IT!!!”

Shit. This is going to take a while.

I look at Evita. I look at Reina – who’s expression hasn’t once deviated from pained. And I look out at the Camry.

Oh. It’s an Uber. No wonder he didn’t just follow the mailman’s lead. Amateur.

Fuck ’em.

I continue to my passenger.

Reina and I circle Evita’s wheelchair grabbing and pulling at various parts of  Evita and her wheelchair in an attempt to get her to her feet. Getting her to her feet is the only part of her commands from which I can glean a solid request. Reina is visibly worried, and doesn’t seem to have her caretaker game down. Though, it could just be the level of compliance of the patient. Evita is talking nonstop, and yelling to direct with seemingly random and contradictory commands. Albeit, with confidence and determination.

I’m wondering if Evita will fall down these jagged brick steps if she DOES get to her feet! (Which seems like a big “if” given all her barks and grunting.)

Anyway, we are getting nowhere.

OJ the Mailman comes through the open gate with a couple packages, right on time.

Evita, “Ah! We have help now! He is a big, strong MAN!” Evita focuses her attention on OJ, telling him where to put his packages down, as he squeezes around between her wheelchair and the gate, as he is seemingly careful to avoid eye contact, and oddly silent.

And without breaking from his pace, OJ has quickly dropped his packages and squeezed past Evita’s wheelchair in the gate, and is now darting back off to his truck.

OJ is now driving away, fast.

Evita, “Where is he going???”

Reina sighs, and shakes her head.

It’s time to get this show on the road. I break out the guns.

Driver, “Let me help you here. I have a mother with a wheelchair. And I have done this before.”

Evita lights up, “OH! You have a MOTHER! That’s WONDERFUL!! That is SO good!! This makes me VERY happy! OKAY!!”

Driver, “Now, you CAN walk if I get you up. Right?”

Evita, “YES!! Of COURSE I can! Just GET to my FEET!”

I hand Evita her cane, assume the posture behind her chair, and then wedge my arms under her pits and clasp my hands together over her large, squishy, bra-less tits. And a human gantry is born.

Somewhat awkwardly, Evita turns to look directly at me face to face, offering,

“I haven’t left the house in THREE months.”

And, HHHEAAAAVEEE!!!

Evita has RISEN!

She grabs her cane, and immediately sinks to sit on the steps as reaching up to hold for dear life onto the iron handrail. And Evita insists she will scoot down the steps on her ass.

Neither I nor Reina argue, as we both divert for Reina to grab the bags and backpacks and me to fold and stow the wheelchair. I run past Evita, now actually making progress down the steps, and settle the wheelchair in the hatch of 1015 after turning to mentally communicate with the STILL WAITING Uber!

“Yeah. Honk at the DISABLED WOMAN, bitch!”

Back to Evita! Who is now at the last step, with Reina attempting to get her to her feet. The Human Gantry to the rescue!

HHHEAAAAVEEE!!!

And Evita is on her feet again! And…

She CAN walk! She’s DOING it!! Praise Jesus she can WALK!

And walk she does, with the help of her cane and a couple parked cars she squeezes between, and then the hood of 1015, before coming around to sit up in front.

I guess that was to be expected.

I adjust the shotgun seat all the way back as Evita, having found satisfaction, now smiles, gushing that she is going to get her hair done. (Hmm. It’s already pretty short already.)

“Carisma Beauty Salon, driver. 24th & Capp!”

As we are FINALLY moving, Evita starts barking directions. Jeez. It’s just a quarter mile from one side of The Mission to the other.

Evita, “You passed Valencia! Don’t take Mission! WAY too much traffic!”

Driver, playing, “Ah! But you forget I am a taxi! We have that new red carpet bus/taxi lane on Mission now!” We turn the corner to find the view of a long clear path heading south in my lane.

Driver, taking a victory lap, “See! Jesus has laid out the red carpet for YOU!”

Evita begins laughing heartily and is pleased. VERY pleased!

Evita gushes, “WONDERFUL! HA!! I LOVE YOU!!” Adding, “How old are you?? I was born in 1958. I have seen MUCH! And you MUST be WARNED. The drugs they have me on make me TALK… A LOT!!”

Wow. Evita is WAY too young to be seeming as old as she does. Too bad.

And Evita’s sudden vibrant mood again changes suddenly, to melancholy, as she now somberly repeats, ” I haven’t left the house in three months! ” Her deep raspy voice cracks now, emotional, adding with a sniffle, “You don’t know. I cry so much! (Sniffle.)”

Then, she turns like a switch back to the Evita of zest, and fervor for life! As I get the sense we have just bonded over her short diversion to tears, and that I am now in.

Evita, “You will give me your phone number! And I will call only YOU when I need a ride! Yellow didn’t come. And you should know that I tip VERY well! Write me down your number.”

Whoa! Always be her driver? Is this a threat??

Anyway, it’s clear I have no say in the matter. Still, this isn’t my first rodeo.

Driver, deflecting, “Oh! I don’t really have a personal number to give out. Besides, you never know what part of town I might be in when you need a ride. (Or, if it’s (Ahem!) my day off.) But, here’s a card for Citizen’s Cab. We’re good people. We won’t leave you hanging like Yellow.”

However, Evita is NOT to be underestimated!

Evita for the kill, “Write your name on the card. I will request ONLY you!”

GULP!

I write simply “Alex” on the card, knowing there is a worker in the back office named Alex, and that everybody pretty much knows me as “Sack.” Maybe this will cause some confusion, and deflect SOME future pain? At least, that’s what I am telling myself.

I hand the card to Evita, who smiles warmly, and has now has decided I am going to El Salvador with her.

Evita, “I like you. You will come to my country of birth. El Salvador! To visit. I have a house there. And relatives to introduce you to. We will enjoy my beautiful country.” Then, turning to address a concern I had no chance to interject, nor have even gotten as far to think about.

“No! Don’t you worry about the gangs! I will protect you! From the cartels!” Evita scrunches her face and gives a dismissive wave of her hand. “You just forget about the violence. You are with Evita!”

(Crickets.)

Um, I believe our relationship has just surpassed professional.

But before things can get too awkward, Evita’s drugs do their thing. She jumps to gush about Reina, who has just been silent in the back seat the whole time, occasionally sighing and shaking her head.

Evita grows a Cheshire Cat grin, and turns to look deep into my eyes, with,

“Reina means ‘Queen’ in Spanish! Did you know this?” Evita turns her head slightly to give a glowing nod towards the back seat. “And SHE is my WIFE!”

Oh, damn! No WONDER Evita’s short cropped hair! I’m driving a lesbian El Salvadorian couple! Somehow, this has caught me totally by surprise! (Am I racist AND homophobic?)

A proud spouse expounds, turning to me, intense, “We could NOT get married in the church!” Evita dips her chin and looks deep into my eyes, punctuating with an incredulous raise of her eyebrows. “But! I am an American citizen. My Reina is not… YET! She WILL be SOON! We were married at City Hall!”

Reina stays the course silent and gasping in back. But I DO believe I may have caught a slight smile, momentarily there, at Evita’s gushing of love for Reina. Awww.

Anyway, the apt timing of her gasps has given me the me the impression that, despite our initial strained communications when she hailed me, Reina actually does understand English.

We roll up to 24th & Capp, outside of Carisma Beauty Salon. And I angle my taxi with the shotgun seat directly over the wheelchair ramp at the corner, so as to best facilitate Evita’s extraction.

As I start to jump out of 1015, to head back for the wheelchair, Evita begins commanding that I pull the cab forward, asserting, “Waiting by that fire hydrant there would be a good spot for you. While you wait for me to get my hair done. Then, I will be going back home.”

Huh?

As if waiting for Evita to get her hair done and then returning her home had been previously discussed, and understood.

I look over at Reina. She is silent. But shaking her head, and sighing.

Thank God. I have a witness!

Driver, flushed, “Wait! I have to get the cab back to the lot! I can’t! Sorry. You have the number for Citizen’s, though! We’re good people. I assure you. You’ll get a human on the phone!”

And I jump for the hatch, and Evita’s wheelchair.

I unfold it, now in a mad rush, and position the wheelchair on the ramp besides Evita’s now open door, with Reina beginning to tug. But, Evita STILL doesn’t get it.

“Why are you taking the wheelchair out?”

I am now at her open door and joined in the battle with Reina, mid-heave.

HHHEAAAAVEEE!!!

And she is now IN the CHAIR!

Evita stuffs a twenty into my hand for the $14.50 fare, and gives me a deep, affirmative nod. (Hey. She is a good tipper.)  And she then holds up the Citizen’s Cab business card with my name on it, saying, “I like you. I will call you when I’m ready. It may be around thirty minutes.”

Uh, okay.

I check the time… 3:45pm! Gas it up, and BACK to Citizen’s!

 

_____

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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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