Duck & Cover!
The air is chilly on this early, quiet San Francisco morn. The seasonal cold wet blast which creeps annually down from the north has officially arrived. And once again, the smell of fir has begun to sporadically permeate these city streets. It’s almost Christmas.
Sisyphus mans his rock, as rolling Citizen’s Cab #26 empty up Fillmore, traversing well-to-do Pacific Heights here. The Peet’s is all that’s open. And as usual, reflective-vested contractors are filing out in their paint splashed Dickies and steel-toed work boots, as fueling up for the long day ahead working some endless remodel of whatever given mansion on nearby Billionaire’s Row.
Trusty KDFC — 90.3FM sets the mood, regaling my taxi with Chopin’s Nocturne #15, in f.
But, enough of my navel gazing. There’s a flag up ahead, all emphatic, at Jackson. It’s time to break the ice…
I flash my hi-beams to seal the contract, before zooming up the block and violently veering to the curb, anxious that some Yellow bastard might swoop in from out of nowhere and steal my breakfast.
But my fears are unfounded, as my passenger — a lanky white dude in a jeans jacket and emanating some strange vibe that I can’t quite put my finger on — opens the back door.
But before entering, Levi bends and leans in, all hesitant, to first ask my permission.
Levi, “Gosh! Thanks for stopping! Are you available? I am trying to get to Larkin & O’Farrell…”
Driver, “Sure, I’m available. Larkin & O’Farrell. No problem. Get in.”
I notate my waybill with our destination in the bounds of the red light Tenderloin district, as a somewhat soft-spoken, even geeky Levi mindfully settles in back… and begins to expound.
Levi, “Whew! Thanks, again! My girlfriend is drunk again. And I’ve got to go pick her up.”
Driver, “Oh? Sounds like a handful. How come you weren’t out with her?”
Levi, “Oh! Ha! We’ve been together seventeen years! But, I don’t drink. I’m a Mormon.” Before adding, “I smoke a lot of pot, though!”
Driver, “Really? Uh, how does that work? I mean, in the Mormon church? Do they treat pot as different from alcohol?”
A buoyant Levi bubbles back, “Oh! Well, alcohol is a definite no-no! And pot is supposed to be, but my counselor doesn’t mind… We just don’t talk about it. You see, I do what they call ‘patriarchal readings.’ In this world, you might call them psychic readings. I help the flock, sort of like a shaman. So, my counselor kind of leaves me alone about the pot.”
Driver, “Oh, so he sees that as helping with your work?”
Levi, “Yes! Helping people with getting to know themselves! I’ve done peyote, too! Have you ever done peyote, driver?”
Driver, “Uh, no. Never really came across it.”
Levi, “I once did peyote in the desert with some other seekers. We ran through the desert ALL night! Barefoot! We ran through rattlesnakes! And thorns! A LOT of thorns! Barefoot! And when the sun came up, our feet were perfect! Completely unscathed! Yes, the Lord had shone a miracle down upon us!”
Driver, “Well, rock on!”
Levi, “Ha! Yes! Rock… on!”
Our pilgrimage pulls to the corner of Larkin & O’Farrell, as Levi grows excited at the spotting of a trio of large, black, transsexual prostitutes smoking crack at the corner, who Levi seems to recognize.
Levi, “Here, driver! Right here! Stop!”
And the meter reads $6.80.
Fixated on the scene outside the cab, Levi hands me up a twenty. And Driver promptly hands Levi back thirteen dollars. And my fare simultaneously reaches for his door, as counting his change while openly affirming, “Yes. You have given me the correct change, driver.”
And without looking back, Levi jumps from the taxi and shuts the door, with one last offering.
“May you have a blessed day, driver!”
Uh, you COULD have BLESSED me with another buck, dude! Hmm. What? Do Mormons not believe in tipping?
NPR — “We’ve got an early morning mess on the lower deck of the Bay Bridge, folks. It’s a jackknifed big rig that’s blocking three of the four lanes… and leaking fuel. HAZMAT teams are on the way. But CHP says the lanes are not likely to be reopened until 10am. It looks to be a nightmare for the rush hour today. If you have the option to telecommute, I would take it under serious advisement. We’ll keep you posted.”
Well, this just made the day interesting.
I’m out in front of my friend Mike’s Victorian, a block down Jones from Grace Cathedral. He had booked me a day ago to drive him to South City, for a book seller’s convention near SFO.
Recall: Mike is the “big fish” writer’s agent I had been trying to court, before finding out about his current status as a RETIRED “big fish” writer’s agent. Mike is coincidentally friends with a couple of other Citizen’s Cab associates. AND in a past life, Mike used to drive a cab himself! He and I have become friends. And I even spent a warm Thanksgiving with Mike at his home, along with a few other select eccentric invitees, and his (also now retired) writer’s agent wife Elizabeth.
I call my friend to let him know I’m out front. And in short order, he pops out with a couple of boxes and a briefcase, before diving in with,
“How are you my friend! Let’s see… Why don’t we do Jones down to 6th, to 280, to 101! Sound like a plan?”
Being a former cab driver, and long time San Franciscan (by way of New York), Mike likes to micromanage our now somewhat frequent rides. But I love the man. And it IS his dime. Still…
“Uh, no. Not TODAY, friend! There’s a big rig that jackknifed on the bridge around five in the morning. It has been leaking fuel and they shut down ALL lanes of the bridge. They’ve been redirecting traffic off of 80 at 7th onto city streets, and back on at Bryant! SOMA is SCREWED! We’re gonna have to make a wide berth around, if you hope to make it to the convention center this year!”
Mike, “Ah! Well! Ok, then. You just do your magic, sir!”
And thusly, I do, as we roll a charmed thirty minutes later to drop, with your driver $60 richer, via AMEX. And having now cracked the day’s nut.
Now, how the HELL am I going to make it BACK to the city! On our way south, we could see that 101 heading NORTH was a complete parking lot! Backed up for MILES, on account of the big rig!!
It’s looks like it’ll be side streets, the whole way.
Twenty minutes later…
I’ve deftly maneuvered, Zen like, playing it block by block around the mountains, projects, and industry that mark the southern boundaries of San Francisco. I figure from here, I’ll roll the blue collar commercial strip of San Bruno Avenue, in the Excelsior district. Who knows? I’m still kind of out there, but there’s maybe a chance to… HEY! A FLAG! A FLAG!!
I scored me a Mexican! At a bus stop! No doubt, we’re talkin’ cash AND a long ride into town to whatever kitchen job! YES!!!
I pull quickly to the bus stop. And in broken English, mixed with good Spanish, Pedro directs,
“Chess-nut ‘n Stey-ner, por favor.”
The Marina! That’s ALL the way across town! It’s like I just scored an airport returning! And with carmageddon all around! HELL, YEAH!!!
I weave through the sea of single family homes on the outskirts here, as I explain to Pedro about the cluster on 101 and the big rig, lest he think I’m taking him for a ride with this unusual route.
And Pedro nods in the rear view, feigning that he has understood me. Whatever.
Zooming along nicely, four-way stop by four-way stop, at Goettingen & Burrows I gun it into the intersection… JUST as a pink mustachioed Honda tries to jump his stop by riding the tail of a pickup truck who proceeded just before him.
HELL, if I’m gonna let some Lyft scab play ME!!
(Sure, it’s petty. But yeah, I accept.)
I violently WEDGE my cab between the back of the pickup truck and the front of the Honda, who SCREEECHES to a STOP only INCHES from colliding, as I continue on VEERING HARD around and in front of Lyft Boy, before then SLOWING to give him a BOLD MIDDLE FINGER as I cross the bitch’s path!!!
Uh, huh. Sure. Feel free to express yourself, Lyft Boy!
(How I continue to have a clean license, or a license AT ALL, Buddha only knows.)
And as I proceed from the disturbance, I catch myself, and nervously check the rear view… to witness Pedro cracking a smile. WHEW!! He musta seen Lyft Boy’s deal!
And having now made eye contact, Pedro speaks.
“Fuuuck dose guyees!”
An hombre after my own heart.
It’s a nice, quiet ride with only majestic views and no more drama, as we traverse the hills and valleys of San Francisco, via side streets all the way across town to Pedro’s drop by the Bay.
We ultimately part, with a simple “Gracias.” And a crumpled up fist full of ones and fives, putting your driver $39 into the green. At only 9am!
Aside: I generally try to crack nut by 10am. This is the measure by which I know if I am on track to make “sustainable” money on a given shift.
“QUACK! QUACK! QUACK!… QUACK! QUACK! QUACK!… QUACK! QUACK! QUACK!…”
My iPhone is ringing… Hey! That’s the default ringtone for my younger kid! He just started high school this year, and he’s SUPPOSED to be in class! What gives??
“Dad! We’re all outside on the football field. The school was evacuated for a bomb threat! Do I have to stay? Can you pick me up??”
Dad, “Uh, what? A bomb threat?? Well, I dunno. Usually, these things are a hoax. Are they letting everyone out of school?”
Son, “I don’t know. Right now they just have us all away from the school out on the field.”
Dad, “Jeez! Well, call me back if they decide to send people home. Otherwise, you should probably stay. When I worked admin at that insurance company I told you about, around when you were born, I was the emergency manager for the office. And I had to get training for that. We learned that, at the time, there were an average of eight bomb threats a day in San Francisco! Obviously, they were ALL bogus. Anyway, if shit blows up, call me back and I’ll come get what’s left of you. Okay?”
Son, “Uh. Okay, dad.”
I’m cruising the Haight for flags, when, “Cha-ching! 941 Cole. Bob. iPhone.”
The Cabulous smartphone Velcroed to my dash rings to life with an app hail. 941 Cole? Ah, Cafe’ Zazie! Never eaten there, as I’m not fond of waiting three hours in line for eggs Benedict. But, I did coincidentally camp three hours south in the Santa Cruz Mountains this past summer, at a site adjacent to a waitress who works at Zazie. We hung out for a bit by my fire, and she was telling me how Adele had just eaten there, while passing through the Bay Area on tour. I guess that’s all you need to know about the place.
I roll up on Zazie lickety-split, and promptly hit ‘Arrived’ on the Cabulous phone. And in short order, a middle aged dad in a Motorhead T-shirt and his little blonde pig-tailed tween daughter pop out of the cafe’. And they gleefully slide in back.
Dad, all sing-song, “Thanks for coming, driver! If it’s okay, we’re going to drop the young lady off at Bush & Scott, and then continue on to 5th & Harrison, in SOMA!”
Driver, “Uh, actually… That’s NOT okay.”
But before I can explain, Dad just casually accepts that I have seemingly snubbed him, and just amends his ride, STILL all sing-song, to, “Oh! Okay! Just Bush & Scott, then. Thanks!”
Driver, nervously, “Wait! Don’t get me wrong! I would normally be happy to-”
But Dad cuts me off, with, “It’s okay. I understand if you don’t want to do two rides. I love cabs! I LOVE to support you guys!”
Driver, objecting, “No! It’s NOT that! I’d LOVE to do two rides! It’s just that SOMA is a TOTAL cluster right now. There was an accident on the Bay Bridge. And they have been redirecting all traffic through city streets. SOMA is a TOTAL nightmare right now!”
Dad, “Oh! Wow! I didn’t know. Well, in THAT case, just Bush & Scott, please. I guess I’ll be working from home. Thanks for the head’s up!”
Driver, “No problem! Yeah, we’d just get stuck in traffic before we even got close to 5th & Harrison. I’ll tell you, it’s REALLY been one of those days! I just got a call from my kid. They evacuated his school out in the Richmond, for a bomb threat! I don’t know if you noticed, but you can hear the helicopters hovering over his school from all the way over here in the Haight!”
Dad, “Wow! I DID hear the helicopters! I didn’t know what it was about, though. That’s crazy! I hope everyone’s all right!”
Driver, “Yeah, they have the whole school out on the football field. I’m sure it’s a hoax.”
Tween, all cute and interjecting, and self-assured, “Oh! We have those drills at my school, too! That’s the one we do for ’emergency evacuation.’ We have other drills, too!”
Driver, “Oh? What OTHER drills do you have?”
Tween, all sprightly, “Well, THAT one is for ’emergency evacuation.’ And THEN, we have the ‘earthquake’ drills, where we hide under our desks… Oh! And THEN, there’s the ‘bad man’ drill!”
Driver, “Oh? ‘Bad man’ drill? What do you do for THAT one?”
Tween, all smiling and cute, and bouncing in her seat, “Oh! That’s if someone has a gun! We turn off the lights… And we keep REEEEL quiet… And we go and hide in the closet… until someone comes to tell us we’re SAFE!”
Driver, “Well! You are certainly a VERY smart young lady! Your are learning SO much more than I did when I was your age!”
After one more ride in the Mission — thanks to Cabulous, I suddenly get queasy. This, after my fare’s tale of having been stuck just an hour earlier on 8th Street, in a cab, on her way to jury duty, before getting out and ditching her cab in what had become a parking lot…. before walking the rest of the way, only to find that court had been cancelled on account of carmageddon.
Carmageddon? Bomb threats?? Mormons??? THIS is one of those days where the Universe is telling me to get the HELL OFF THE STREETS! To go home, and BOLT THE DOOR!!
Yeah, I’m gonna call it.
“Cha-ching! — 650 Castro. John. SFO.”
Well, I guess I can ‘Accept’ ONE more ride…
P.S. — The bomb threat at my boy’s high school ultimately turned out to be a prank. Compliments of a group of students at a rival school. Ah, these kids today.
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Photo by Alex SacK