It’s officially New Year’s Day, and there’s no slacking off for your driver this morning. Nope. Alex is ready to dive in to 2018. (Good riddance 2017!) It’s not yet 4am – Citizen’s Cab 1015’s medallion time, but I’m already back in the office seein’ my man Jesse the dispatcher about a horse. I came in a little early with the hopes of scoring a few residual drunk fares in the early part of my shift, stragglers still out meandering the San Francisco streets from last night’s revelry.
Hmm. Think I’ll go hit SOMA first. See if some dance club or after-hours warehouse party is beginning to wind down. I bet The End Up is happening.
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM-CHICKA!
This is my once-a-year chance to live as a night driver, however deep my aversion to vomit. Experience from past New Year’s days has taught me to expect that I’ll be busy until around 6am, at which point all life will come to an abrupt end, before trickling back anew around ten with the resurrection of the Burning Man clan. Donned in furry Flintstone-esque vests, pearlescent capes, glitter-clad platform boots and neon feather, well, whatever you can stick a neon feather in, the Burners will emerge from every corner of the city, bound for the industrial Dogpatch district and a second wave of drinking and drugging inside the fenced off perimeter of the annual, day long Breakfast of Champions DJ block party.
Yeah, vomit sucks. And it always takes a little extra time at EOD to clean out all the glitter and feathers which will have invariably exploded throughout the cab over this shift. (A requisite cleaning before it’s couth to hand her over to the night driver.) And yeah, forget it. Before it runs its course over the next few days, ain’t NOTHIN’ gonna take out that all-encompassing, sickly-sweet tsunami of Drakkar Noir with which 1015 will find herself bathed. But, money is money. And baby needs a new pair of shoes.
Jesse, “Uh, Sack… Sorree. Uh… 1015’s shopp’d. Brok down ahn tha highway lass nite ‘n had tah be tow’d bahck. I ghat ah spare fer ya, doh. 1279. Ah Preeus. I kno how ya like dem Preeuses.”
Yup. Startin’ off 2018 right, at ‘ol Citizen’s Cab!
Sack, “So, you’re saying my horse needs to be shot?”
Sack, “Never mind. 1279’s fine. And happy new year, Jesse!”
I head out with key and medallion to sanitize and prep Citizen’s Cab #1279, a spare, my beaten mule for the day. And, I immediately note that her “check engine” light is on. (Sigh.)
Oh, who am I kidding? I’d be worried if it weren’t.
Two hours later…
Wow! I hit the ground running right out of the lot! First, Jesse sent me an order to pick up a driver headed to Citizen’s for work, from his home out in Hunter’s Point. Then, some gay Filipino dude flagged me at 2nd & Market, in front of the McDonald’s where he’d worked the New Year’s Eve shift. Marcos said it had been a crazy night, what with all the partiers nearby downtown there, around the Ferry Building and The Embarcadero to watch the fireworks over The Bay. He said he was way too tired after work to wait for his usual train, having forgotten that BART was running on holiday hours this morning, and not opening until 8am. Marcos was very kind.
“Can you please take me home to Daly City?”
Why, yes. I believe I can accommodate you.
SWEET! It was a $40 meter. And Marcos tipped me $10 on top! CASH!! (What is McDonald’s paying its employees these days?? Maybe it’s time to freshen up my resume’.)
And right after rolling back into the Mission from the highway, after dropping Marcos,
“Cha-ching! – 63 Fair Oaks. SFO.”
Hell yeah, I ‘Accept’!
Well, so much for my “experience” from past New Year’s days. I’ve not driven one drunk, or reveler, yet. Nor have I found an open Starbucks, until now.
Starbucks – Battery & California, 6am:
Coffee is in hand, and a large wad of napkins has been secreted into my cargo shorts pockets, with the old grey-haired barista guy, Frank, none the wiser. I’m a relatively new regular at this Starbucks, as its early hours are a recent discovery of mine. But I’ve been coming here long enough to know that Frank don’t play. He’s regularly chasing off the homeless and junkies from the bathroom. First, with a quite violent BANG! BANG!! BANG!!! pounding of his fist on the door, which is then followed by a huge GASP! and a heavy SIGH! once they’ve scurried off and Frank sees the mess they’ve left behind for him to clean.
It’s a cat and mouse game with the bathroom code, as it’s just a matter of time before whatever street dweller du jour invariably figures out the new code. For the new year, I am let in on that Frank has only changed it one digit from what it was a week ago. It’s now 20251.
Anyway, for the last ten minutes now, I’ve now been standing outside the bathroom staring at a red “OCCUPIED” flag above the door handle. I’ve heard not a peep from inside. And no one has answered my polite knock… I’m thinking a new code is in order.
I sheepishly go back to the counter, to address Frank mid-frothing a latte.
Starbucks Patron, “Um, sorry to bother you. But I’m thinking someone might be passed out in your bathroom.”
Frank, “GASP!!! Well, I just don’t have time to deal with this shit right now!!!”
Starbucks Patron, “Uh, um, okay. No problem. I’ll just go back over and wait a little longer. Sorry.”
I walk back over to the bathroom door, and press my ear close to listen… Nope.
Alas, in the short time that we’ve been acquainted, I’ve surmised Frank to be an anal man, and one not keen to leave loose ends hanging. I sense that Frank was probably once in the military. And within less than a minute of denying me, I watch from across the room as Frank breaks. He furls his brow and shakes his head, mumbling animated to himself, as briskly, Frank charges out from behind the counter and storms over, coming to stand face to face with the bathroom door.
And with a quite violent BANG! BANG!! BANG!!! pounding of his fist on the door, a huge GASP! and a heavy SIGH!, Frank yells LOUD,
“WHAT THE HELL’S GOING ON IN THERE!!! GET OUT!! NOWWWWW!!!!”
And post-haste, the bathroom door FLIES open and a middle-aged dude, a REGULAR Starbucks CUSTOMER whom I’ve run into here often, who is often waiting for ME to finish up MY business in the bathroom, comes DARTING out while pulling up his pants, FEVERISHLY ZIPPING and BUTTONING, with an agape jaw and HORROR in his eyes.
“WHAT! WHAT!? WHAT’S GOING ON?!? I was ONLY in there a FEW MINUTES!”
Frank, shocked, embarrassed and taken by surprise at the site of this regular, paying customer.
“UH… UH… It was HIM!” Suddenly pointing at me, “HE said you were in there for fifteen minutes! I didn’t KNOW!”
Anyway, bathroom’s free now.
It’s been a good day. The vibe on the street is mellow. But I’ve been pretty steady with rides, with many of them decent fares. And more in the face of prior NYD experience, it’s been light on the feathers, glitter and Drakkar Noir. I do see a lot of them in the backs of Ubers and Lyfts, though. (Snicker, snicker.)
I’m rolling Haight/Ashbury, at present. There are signs of life. A lot of them. However, it’s looks like locals just strolling over to their neighborhood cafes. Not so much in need of a taxi.
Suddenly, at Ashbury, a middle-aged white dude shuffles a white cardboard box of leftovers he’s holding, to put his hand in the air. I wave at him, flash my lights and ZOOM to the curb. Though, something feels a little off here. Dunno. It’s just, my spider-sense is tingling. Hmm.
Ron’s sporting a green backpack, he’s wearing clean Levi’s blue jeans, a worn flannel long sleeve shirt, a dirty nondescript baseball cap, and he has thick coke bottle glasses and a thick brown mustache. And as he opens the door to settle in back, I note very dirty hands and the REALLY BAD stench of B.O!
Eh, the weather’s actually pretty temperate. (Sorry, rest of America!) I’ve got the windows down. And I’ve never really been one to be too choosy with my passengers, have I? Like I said, money’s money. But, uh, is Ron money?
Ron, calm, soft spoken, aloof, “Thank you for stopping. Uh, Greyhound.”
Driver, notating his waybill and repeating back, “Greyhound. Main & Folsom.”
Not bad. This is pushing a twenty dollar ride. Assuming I get paid. Dude definitely seems kind of, not really… here. Oh, and dirty. And REALLY stinky. (Though, I guess I already mentioned that, eh?)
We pull off of Haight and head for the run down Oak, as Ron begins to share.
Ron, “I’ve got to get out of this town. No one is friendly here. I got beat up on the street last night, driver. I was having seizures on the sidewalk, and no one would stop to help. The police wouldn’t stop. And ambulances even passed me by. No one. I’m homeless, you see.”
Driver, “Wow. That’s messed up! I’m sorry that happened to you. I’m pretty surprised, though. I see ambulance and the police tending to the homeless all the time in the Haight. I wonder why they dropped the ball on you. Weird.”
Ron, “No. They never stop. They don’t even blink. Ambulances, police. They don’t care at all for the homeless. It’s that way in San Diego and L.A., too. It’s hard to be homeless out west.”
Ron’s wrong about the services in San Francisco. I see it all day long. But, who am I to argue about it?
Ron, continuing, “And then there’s the invisible police. No one else sees them, but I do. They’ve been trying to take my credit cards. I’m not sure why, but I don’t think the invisible police want me to be able to buy anything. They took my wallet, but I got it back.”
Driver, “As if you didn’t have enough to deal with!”
Ron, “Yeah, people aren’t friendly in San Francisco. I tried asking a real policeman the other day where the nearest medicinal marijuana dispensary was. I have my card. But the officer wouldn’t stop to even talk to me. He just ran away from me without even saying a word. I even flipped him the bird, as he ran off. And he didn’t even stop to say anything about that! Now, that’s bad. When you give a cop the finger and he doesn’t even care.”
Driver, “It is funny. I moved here from New York, back in ’98. And I noticed immediately that the two cities were exactly the opposite of their reputations. San Francisco is known for being all peace and love. And New York is supposed to be all rude and angry. Truth is, though, I had real and genuine relationships back east. People had your back. If you dropped your wallet in Manhattan, someone would pick it up and run after you. Here, people don’t want to know you. They’d just as soon step over your wallet, if not take it. No, I think people mistake the bluntness of New York for being rude.
So, if San Francisco, L.A. and San Diego are no good for being homeless, where is a good town for that?”
Ron, “Denver. Colorado. The people are real nice in Colorado. But, the weather can be challenging.”
Driver, “So where are you from originally? And what brought you to SF?”
Ron, trailing off and looking out his window, “I was in the rainbow town. And this guy asked me to come up to his apartment and move some plants for him. I said, sure. Why not? When I got up in his apartment and started moving the plants, he said he wanted to see me. I thought about it, and then decided, well, sure. I’m from the south. But, that’s what brought me to San Francisco. I was looking for a bisexual relationship. But it didn’t work out.
Once I showed myself to him, he gave me his tablet so I could watch some porn. And right when I was in the middle of watching porn, I got a weird feeling. And I turned around and saw that the front window in his apartment was wide open! And someone was FILMING me! FILMING ME! They were all laughing at me, too! And making FUN of me! It was humiliating! HUMILIATING!
I really think they were with the invisible police. But, they didn’t get my credit cards!”
Driver, “Well, it’s good that they didn’t get your credit cards, at least. And stop you from buying stuff.” (Like a cab ride.)
Ron, settling back a little, “Yeah, I gotta get out of this town. I’m considering going back to the Bible Belt, so I can get off of meth.”
Ahhhh! METH!! The surreal mellow vibe, the B.O., the dirty hands. Oh, and the insanity. (A little slow on the uptake today. Eh, Alex?)
Driver, “Uh, they got meth in the Bible Belt, too, though. Don’t they?”
Ron, “Yeah, but there’s a church there that can help me. I dunno. I’ve only had four hours of sleep in four days now. But I only smoked a little meth. I’m thinking it’s really all the technology that’s keeping me up, that the government has out now. The military has fiber optic pins implanted in your body, where they can inject different drugs into you from a distance. I got bumps all over me from them.
That’s how they got Saddam Hussein, you know. The government is using polyurethane, on the military, too. It makes the soldiers think they’re in another world, and it confuses them. Yeah, that’s how they got Saddam. The government injected him with polyurethane through the fiber optic pins, and freaked him out in the desert.”
We near the Greyhound station, in the Deep Financial.
Ron, weighing his options, “Maybe I’ll go back to Gainesville, Georgia. I used to drive a truck down there, for an HVAC company. Me and my friend got fired, though. After we both tested positive for crack. Still, they may give me my old job back.
Or, maybe I’ll go up to Sacramento. I was doing good there, gold mining. I have a YouTube channel you should check out, all about gold mining. I need my social security, though. I can’t let the invisible police take my credit cards OR my social security. I need that money for mining supplies. You should really try to find my YouTube channel. You could learn a lot.”
And with that, we pull into the horseshoe drive of the Greyhound station, 2nd & Folsom.
Driver, “Thanks. Sounds like a good tip. I’ll do that.”
I hit the meter off at $16.70. And, sans any prompting, Ron pulls out a thick brown leather wallet, with cash and credit cards bulging out of the sides. He peels out a twenty and hands it up to me.
Driver, now prompting, “Do you need some change?”
Ron, “Uh… No. That’s fine.”
Driver, “Well, I hope things work out for you in the new year. Good luck to you.”
Ron, “Oh, things will work out. I made it this far.”
And Ron floats off into the Greyhound bus terminal, leaving Driver behind to contemplate. (Albeit, maybe on account of some contact high.)
It’s been an interesting day, thus far. The money gods have smiled down upon me, on what was more likely to have been a bad first day of the year. (Given, um, past experience.) I mean, yeah, today is by no means a normal day. But I HAVE noted that what vehicles are out on the road today have all been pretty chill with one another. There’s a humanity. It’s palpable in the air. These San Francisco streets have not been so cutthroat today, as they were for just about all of 2017. Maybe, like Ron, I should keep a more open mind.
Yeah, I feel like this first day may bode well for the new year. Fingers crossed. Maybe 2018 will actually turn out to be okay. Maybe 2018 will see your driver dispatched down a more enlightened, easier road.
Please SHARE if so inclined, folks!
Photo by Alex SacK