I’m trying something new out this Monday 5am, a tactic I’ve NEVER before opted to pull from my taxi bag of tricks. I’m parked right now in that single occupancy cab stand, at the corner of Haight & Masonic. And I’m just, waiting…
Without fail, my seven years as a hack have only ever seen THIS Citizen’s Cab slicing through the streets of San Francisco, relentless, like a shark; keen, wily, determined, black eyes fixed in existential battle, incessant in the hunt for prey.
And dead in the water, should this fish ever stop in his said existential, incessant hunt for prey. (Say, in a taxi stand.)
Nope, I’ve always HAD to keep moving. But if you think about it, it’s really just that whole ‘Do you really end up drier if you run (vs. walk) out of the rain?‘ question. Am I really losing out on a fare somewhere else? On some other dark and desolate, early morning strip? Down in the Mission? The Castro? Over in Union Square? The Loin?
Or if I just stay put here, in this cab stand, is it imminent that my Cabulous taxi hailing-app will sooner come alive CHA-CHING!-ing to life! (I’m pretty well positioned in this taxi stand, near center in Haight-Ashbury’s grid of refurbished Victorians, each furnished with one middle-aged professional couple, flush with cash, and cab-friendly.)
Well, let’s just hang here a bit, and see what the Universe does…
In this indefinite downtime, I might as well try putting some work into my recently renewed mindfulness practice. (Actually, I’m going for ego abandonment. Why shoot low?) Lately, whether in the cab or at home, I’ve been randomly turning ‘my’ focus more and more towards the heeding of space, and stillness. (Well, the signs DO say KEEP CLEAR.) First, I practice clearing my mind of all thought. Then I watch my breath, listening to it, feeling my lungs rise, stop, and fall. And then, it’s on to my heart beat. Listening, then feeling. Add a curious focus on this weird throbbing that comes pulsating from behind my third eye, when I’m deep. (Dunno.) And/or, a focus on becoming ONE with the multiple frequencies that are forever ringing LOUDLY in my ears! (Years of playing heavy drums in my old band, Dicksister.)
This all, of course, to only unconsciously lose it every ten or twenty seconds. And then snapping to, to find that you’ve ended up back down some rabbit hole mired in pointless thought – a.k.a., monkey mind, and inventing various dramas and fantasies. Or, worse… MAKING PLANS!!
Breathe, Alex. Just steeeeer back to the silence. Let every thought simply just… flicker… awayyyyy. Focus, FEEL that perch on the razor’s edge. No thing. No mind. Just…
Eyes half open now, Buddha, calm, still, yet alert. I catch in my periphery a figure, as it emerges out from the shadows, up from Masonic. The figure is now entering the crosswalk to cross Haight, towards me. Illumined now by the street lamps, there is an awareness. And with it, a bond. The figure is now peering, seemingly cautious in my direction. Is this being attempting to tap my consciousness!> An energy vampire, hell bent on stealing the fruits of the last twenty-five minutes of my infinity? From whence comes this spirit! For WHAT, its want of me? Is this a servant of God?? Or a spawn of the Devil!
Constantine continues his peering, hands in pockets, bent, almost prostrate in the crosswalk, as tacking in the direction of my cab, ever closer.
Now… Constantine is HERE. He’s hunched at my shotgun window. Revealing himself! (No, not in THAT way.) But, as a middle-aged white dude, brown corduroy sport coat, stressed jeans and a plaid wool scarf – subbing as his halo, as it frames round his stylish wavy, white and gray hair.
Constantine, “Hey. Are you available?”
Buddha, “Sure. Get in.”
Constantine, “SFO, please. Virgin.”
Hmm. No luggage. Well. I didn’t see THAT coming!
Hmm. Virgin? SFO?
DEFINITELY, A.) Servant of God!!
Yea, Thou hast answered my prayers!
I throw on some KDFC Classical 90.3FM, lest Constantine and I ride in, uh, awkward silence. Ah, yes. Schubert‘s Impromptu Op. 90 No. 4 ought to do nicely.
En route, I sense that Constantine is a nice, easy going guy, But, he is ALSO emitting some kind of nervous vibe.
Buddha, “So, no luggage? You day tripping down to LA for business, or something?”
Constantine, “No. Colorado. I’m burying my grandfather.”
Empathetic Buddha, “Aw, I’m sorry to hear that. How are you doing with his passing?”
Constantine, “Oh, I don’t know. It hasn’t really sunk in, yet. But he was in his 90’s. He went fast, in the ICU. He had a good life. Anyway, I grew up in Colorado. I moved to San Francisco eighteen years ago. All my family is back there now, so it’ll be nice to be with everyone.”
Buddha, “Well, they say that funerals are about the living. Your grandpa’s off the hook now. (HA!)” Second guessing, “Uh, (HA?)” Diverting quickly, “What about your grandma? She around? How’s she doing?”
Constantine, “Yeah, it IS all about the living. Grandma’s doing okay. She’s a strong woman.”
Buddha, “Yeah, spouses are the ones I feel most for in these deals. It sounds like grandma has a good support group.”
Constantine sits up in his seat, pointing suddenly at the placard that’s hawking my book, and covering the disabled rear credit card/ad screen, “Hey, is this you? Failed rock star? Non-practicing Buddhist?”
Buddha, blushing with pride and ego, “Guilty as charged!”
Constantine, glowing, “I used to have a Tascam 244 4-track cassette studio. Man, that was fun. I’d lay the bass, and guitar, and vocal tracks all one at a time. I played around a lot, recording a TON of songs. I don’t play music, anymore. But, I have a nineteen-year-old son in college studying Music Production.” Nervously adding, “Uh, and African Drumming… He’s still figuring out what he wants to do in life.”
Buddha, “Oh, cool! I have a seventeen-year-old boy AND a fifteen-year-old boy. I was just going through college options with the older one this weekend. He’s pretty fixed on joining the Air Force after college, and having them help pay for school beforehand. I guess that’s a thing. He’s into math and computer science. Has a pretty good idea of what he wants.
But, my younger boy is TOTALLY different. Amazing, how two kids from the same parents can come out so different. The younger one does have a few interests, and talents. Cooking is a big one. But, I don’t think he’s at all close to deciding on a life course.
Our boys have time, still, to figure it out. Nineteen is pretty young.”
Constantine, “Yeah, but I am worried about my kid’s prospects in music.”
Buddha, “Take it from a failed rock star, you SHOULD be! To be fair, I was my own worst enemy back when I was pursuing it. I walked away from New York right when I was gaining some traction with a legit producer, and with some studios. I had moved to New York, up from D.C., with the idea of becoming a studio drummer, originally. While I was there, though, I got the singer/songwriter bug. I started writing on guitar and fronting my own band, in addition to drumming for others. Later, I lived in LA for a couple years. I got a few songs on a Disney Channel show that I still get royalties for.
Anyway, these days it’s crazy! Record labels are all hard up. And all the music streaming services have tanked any kind of royalty income a musician might make on recordings, handing out checks for pennies, on hundreds of thousands of song plays! It’s a real dark time for musicians hoping to ‘make it.’. You have to tour, relentlessly. And sell tons of merchandise just to get by. Even then, there are more hands working their way into your cut of ticket sales and merch, too!”
Constantine, “Yeah! I have a buddy in the know. He said everything you just did! Hopefully, my kid will figure it out. He does sound pretty good getting all these crazy sounds out of Ableton Live.”
Buddha, “Hey, you should have him look into sound design. There are totally jobs out there doing movie sound effects, or for video games. If your boy’s good at the Ableton thing.”
Constantine, “Hey, that’s not a bad idea. I’ll mention it to him. I do NOT want him to end up miserable, doing what I do.”
Buddha, as we pull into terminal 2, Virgin America. “Oh? What do you do?”
Constantine, handing me up an Amex, “Ah, I work from home, coding Java. I hate it. But it pays the bills. Thing is, working from home makes it just too easy to screw off. I start drinking beer at ten in the morning.
Anyway, hey, thanks for the talk! It really helped make me feel a little better. You have a good energy. Put the $43 on the Amex. And here, keep this twenty for a tip. I really appreciate the talk.”
Constantine exits Citizen’s Cab #1015 off to walk with the Lord, and bury grandpa.
Fifteen minutes later…
SWEET! It’s barely 6am, and I’m back in the City. And with $63 on the board, towards my $105 nut. Any monies after that are all my kids’ and my landlord’s. (Minus 10% tithing, of course.)
The Mission, the Castro, Upper and Lower Haights… dead. (That’s okay, I’ve got breathing room.) Left up Fillmore, up towards THE Fillmore, and,
“CHA-CHING! – 1255 Hayes. Linn. iPhone.”
And, I ‘Accept’ the order.
I peel off of Fillmore, zoom back up Steiner, and pass the famous Painted Ladies as I clear Alamo Square Park. I pull up in front of 1255 Hayes, and in no time I have ‘Arrived’ – says the button I hit on my Cabulous smartphone, which alerts my passenger.
And in pretty short order, a somewhat husky, stylish late 40’s Linn comes barreling out of her Edwardian in flip flops, black linen pants, loose – with matching top, and a large earth tone shawl with a fall leaves print, that is wrapped around Linn’s extra wide shoulders.
Linn’s chin is up, and she is proud, as swaggering towards my taxi. She flips back her long, blonde highlights, in the process wildly swinging a big shiny black bag, with gold hoop embellishments.
Linn THROWS her body into the back seat of my cab, and tilts her head back with a GASP!
And a throaty Linn directs, “SFO. Virgin, driver.”
Driver, marks his waybill, repeating, “SFO. Virgin.” Before quickly biting his lip to subdue a big giddy chuckle, and up welling, “SWEET!”
Linn exhales long and slow, annoyed, “UGH! I only had TWO hours of sleep, driver. And I’m STILL drunk! But, shit’s GOTTA get done! SOMEONE’s got to pull the plug on grandma!”
Driver, “Yeaahhh… Uh, huh!?”
Linn, “I’m too busy for this shit! But, nooo. My sister and my ma don’t have the BALLS to pull the plug on grandma! So now, I gotta go down and do it FOR everybody. For CHRISSAKE! The old lady was ninety-four! She was a tough old Viking. But, it’s time.”
Damn! Past tense already??
Linn, continuing, “My family’s Norwegian, driver. NO bullshit here when it comes to death. SOMEHOW, though, my sister didn’t get the memo. LITERALLY! Do NOT resuscitate! Do NOT intubate! The old lady had it ALL in writing. And now she’s down there in the ICU with tubes and on life support! And now I’M the one who’s gotta hop on a plane, cause my ma and my sister are TOO DAMN PUSSY, to PULL the PLUG!
SHIT! Let’s just DO this thing. Let’s just get this shit DONE! Give her the morphine. Then, hugs, love, kisses, UNPLUG HER… and LET HER GO!
I mean, there’s ENOUGH SHIT goin’ on in the world right now, as it is! I am WAY over ALL of it! WHATEVER!”
Linn sloshes back her head, seeming to swim a little, and then moves on… sorta.
Linn, lifting her head up again, “Man. I hope it doesn’t rain in LA. I brought no clothes. And all I have for shoes is these flip-flops. Whatever. That’s okay. Ain’t stayin’ for no funeral. This is IT! Just goin’ down there, PULLIN’ THE PLUG, givin’ my ma and my sister a quick shoulder to cry on. And then, BAM! RIGHT back to SF!”
What could be so pressing up here in San Francisco, you ask?
Linn, “I’m in the middle of an earthquake retrofit for my second store, before its grand opening in two weeks! And I do NOT have TIME for this shit!” Linn remembering herself, “Oh! I own two spas, driver. We do nails, waxing, and tarot card readings. If you’re into that kinda thing.
And let me tell you, I LOVE what I do. But, damn if the money ain’t moving out of this town! Everyone’s moving up to Portland. And Seattle! Because everything’s gotten too DAMNED expensive here now! And I can’t be playing around down in LA now. I’ve got people who rely on me, responsibilities, PAYROLL! There’s employees relying on me for their CHECKS!
Nope. Just PULLIN’ IT. ‘N then turnin’ it RIGHT back around. Let’s GO!”
As we pull into terminal 2, Virgin, Driver senses his first chance at a rapport. And Driver goes for it.
“Hey, I don’t mean to take away from your grieving. But can I ask you? The passenger I drove before you was also headed to the airport. He was off to Colorado, to bury his grandfather. And here YOU are now, off to go pull the plug on your grandma! Do you think the Universe is trying to tell me something?
Hmm. Do you think that maybe I should give up cab driving? And switch over to driving a hearse?”
What do you think?
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Photo by Christian Lewis
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