It’s been a ho-hum morning rush hour, full of the same old beautiful and perfect California sun. I’m rollin’ easy, and business is like-wise temperate and smooth. The financial frost of winter is finally shaking loose.
It’s 10:35am, and I just dropped a fare down at Moscone Center for the Game Developers Conference. (Oops, wrong link.) I’m cruising away east up Market, as I head off towards my usual rounds fishing for flags out through the Mission, Castro, and Upper & Lower Haights.
I catch a player in my rear view in an older grey beat up Acura. Dude’s weaving up from behind, fast. (Enough time spent working the road, and you can smell these jokers in your peripheral.) Yeah, I feel the tug of competition. But I plan to take the high road, let Andretti play line leader. Why not? I got no worries at present.
And in short order, Andretti does indeed pass me on my left in herky-jerky gamer fashion… only to come to an immediate stop at the next red, at Post. This will no doubt go on for the next mile up Market. These lights are NOT timed for flow.
Approaching the next upcoming red, at Kearny, Andretti zooms again all skittish back into the left lane, only to get stuck behind an old street car stopping to load passengers. And I just putt along casually in my right lane, and catch the now green.
Jeez. I wasn’t even trying, yet.
Another block up Market, Andretti comes zooming up, yet again.
What the hell. I’ll bite…
AND IT’S ANDRETTI ON THE LEFT! HE DODGES. HE WEAVES. BUT 137 TAKES THE LEAD! IT’S 137 ON THE INSIDE. 137… 137… ANDRETTI GOES LEFT. HE GOES RIGHT. BUT 137 IS ALL OVER THE TRACK! AND…
Andretti comes up on the left, again, to find himself threatened yet again, with another immediate stop for a MUNI bus just ahead of him lowering its wheelchair ramp. I gas it a little more and pace alongside, giving Andretti no room to cut into my lane before the imminent MUNI island will box him in.
However, Andretti does not intend to make the same mistake twice!
He jerks right last second, missing sideswiping me by just inches, as he cuts me off HARD! And he makes the green!
Fucker. You think it was on before?!
I FLOOR my trusty Prius! (Okay, that’s an oxymoron.)
Sack WILL prevail!
But then, as we race neck and neck towards the next red up at McAllister, I take note of a dude sitting on the sidewalk with his legs stretched out into the street, half in my lane!
Well, we are at the edge of the Loin now.
To be more precise, dude has one leg sticking out into the street, and one prosthetic leg poking out from the associated rolled-up pant leg of dude’s black jeans; which J.J. complements nicely today with a black wool cap, black T-shirt and worn black leather jacket.
As J.J. is finishing licking closed a cigarette (or joint), he suddenly springs his arm high in the air from said seated position, and flags me!
I give Andretti the cup as I curtly veer to a stop at the corner, dropping out of the race.
Money is money. And J.J. can warm my back seat.
Well, no. I do not really expect to get paid for this ride. But, you know, dude looks like he could use some help.
J.J. canes it to his feet, and bends to grab a milk crate full of miscellaneous belongings as he goes for the back door. His process seems to involve haphazardly slamming his body against the cab for leverage for to throw his cane and crate inside. And J.J. eventually settles in back, reeking of a balanced mix of B.O., cigarettes, meth and alcohol.
J.J., “We makin’ two stops. Go up here on McAllister and take a leff on Hyde… “N pull ova at Eddy. Den, we goin’ ta da courthouse. 850 Bryant.”
Confused Cabbie, “Um. Eddy is the other way up Hyde, by a couple blocks. And Hyde is one-way. We have to go up Lev to Eddy to Hyde, if you’re trying to get to Eddy & Hyde…”
J.J., “Uh, ok. Go up Lev den. Too blocks. Den leff ta Hyde, on Eddy. Hey. How much u think dis coss?”
Well, the fact that he asked is encouraging. I just might get paid after all!
Ecstatic Cabbie, “Oh! Like ten bucks. You want to just throw me ten and I’ll turn off the meter?”
J.J., “Yeah. Here ten.”
(There is nothing surreptitious about turning off the meter, by the way. It’s legit. At the end of the day, I owe Citizen’s Cab what I owe Citizen’s Cab.)
J.J. produces up two crumpled up fives, via a leathery black hand dotted in large stark white scars that greatly contrast his deep black skin. (Spots due from some kind of severe burns, it would seem. Hmm. Prosthetic leg. Burn marks…)
And I hit the meter back to “for hire”.
I get us to the intersection of Eddy and Hyde just ahead of the imminent flood of vehicles zooming down Hyde, and I pull over. But J.J. suddenly snips, and directs me to veer across the three-lane thoroughfare to pull over on the opposite side of the street!
“Deres my man. Pull closer to the corner!” J.J. barks, as 137 comes resting at an angle with my butt sticking out into fast moving traffic.
He rolls down his window and secrets some sketchy-looking pock marked Mexican dude some cash; who, in turn, nervously looks around for cops as he extracts a little balloon baggie from between his cheek and gum and hands it to J.J..
But J.J. is not impressed. As I sweat the traffic behind, J.J. doth protest!
“Man! Dat ain’t no good dime! Gimme a bigger one! Give u nine bucks!”
And Mexican dude continues looking sketched, as cars anxiously navigate honking around me! He relents, throwing J.J. another balloon. And we roll! Off to the courthouse…
As we move our way down Hyde and cross Market onto 8th, J.J. and I get to talking. We hit it off. For J.J., like me, is a true philosopher.
“Ya know. Da Vetran’s cabs in Bostun give vets half off da fare. Da rich gotta look out for everbody! Dey all under God. We ALL people. In dis thing tagther! Da earth, it’s heatin’ up! Sun’s onlee 96 thousand miles frum da earth! We ALL heatin’ up! I don worship da devil. But I RESPEC ‘em!! I believ in Gahd annnn da devil… Yessir. Da sun is cryin’ and we is all dyin’…”
We pull up on some construction at 8th & Folsom and I get focused on merging lanes, when suddenly I am startled by a loud THUNK! coming from my right. I turn to look, and where I usually rest my arm (when not merging lanes) now sits a huge black gleaming-edged machete!
“Yessir. I ain’t no field nigger!! I a ENTRE-PRE-NUER!! Das all da cops need ta kno! Dey took my knife! (J.J. mimes a six-inch blade.) But dis here’s my bizness!! I a ENTRE-PRE-NUER! I cut sugar!”
Curious Cabbie, “Uhh. Where exactly in San Francisco do you work?”
But J.J. dodges the query of the exact whereabouts of his sugar fields, and digresses.
“I wunce had me ah beautiful black rock. Don no more.”
J.J. suddenly turns sad. (Aww.)
So, I reach into my bag and retrieve, with,
“Hey! Check out this rock. My old band mate’s mother is a witch! For real! She gave me this rock and said it was a music rock! She said it would bless my creativity.”
I hand it back. And J.J. carefully inspects my rock. He perks up.
Wise Cabbie adds, “Ya know. I respect the devil, too! When I was a kid, I used to imagine hugging the devil.”
And J.J. lights up!
“Man! Das beautiful! I git it! Sen ‘em love! Iz ALL ‘bout LOVE!!”
“Hey! There’s something here I want you to have…” I reach into my bag once again. “It’s a piece of sandalwood they gave me at the Love of Ganesha up in the Haight. I buy incense there. Anyway, the woman who works there is really high and she gave me this. I’ve been keeping this little piece of sandalwood in my bag and it smells great! Really puts you at peace. I want you to have it….”
J.J. graciously accepts the little chunk of sandalwood. And he sincerely thanks me, as he looks all intensely into my eyes via the rear view and adds,
“Maan. Thank you. You gaht LOVE. I’m ‘a keep dis.”
And J.J. stops to take a deep sniff of the sandalwood, as he takes his machete back from the center arm rest and works it up into the sleeve of his jacket just as we roll up in front of 850 Bryant – San Francisco’s main courthouse, and jail.
I nestle in-between a line of double-parked police cars. And J.J. begins maneuvering his prosthetic leg out of the cab and then lays on his back to reach for his milk crate. While on his back, he stops for one last intense gaze into my eyes. And J.J. offers up a leathery scarred hand shake, and parting words,
“Man. Keep wit da LOVE ‘n da good enrgy! Dat sun, iss burnin’ us… frum 96 thousand miles!”
“And you, my friend, have a blessed day.”
(Remind me to check the news later, to see if J.J. made it through the metal detectors with his machete and drugs.)
I roll on, half a block up Bryant, and immediately score a 20-something sporto-looking Asian dude. Johnny Socko is flagging me from outside of one of the ubiquitous bail bondsman offices here by the courthouse.
I pull over, and Socko gets in my cab.
“Man. Thanks for stopping! I was in jail all night. I got a DUI!”
“Well, that sucks. Where to, buddy?”
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Photo by Christian Lewis
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