Irene & NOT Me
Citizen’s Cab 1015 is driving me aimless across a ghostly quiet San Francisco predawn. There’s a nowadays rare fog (thanks, global warming) blanketing the Marina district down here. And KCSM 91.1FM — The Bay Area’s Jazz station — and Artie Shaw’s St. James Infirmary sets the mood for one hack’s imminent introspections. Navel gazing, as ma calls it.
As I pass an overturned municipal trash receptacle at the corner of Fillmore & Lombard, my mind runs. I consider how this is no small feat. I mean, these things are pretty heavy and sturdy, all concrete and steel. A casualty of last night’s bar patrons, no doubt. It’s that ex-frat boy crowd local to these parts. Post graduation, they’ve all scored professional day jobs in the financial sector. And now, they’re all in that grey period between pretending they’re drinking back at the frat, making babies, and their first divorce. Hence, this awkward late night show of alcohol-fueled testosterone.
These are the kind of guys who call me “buddy.” Trying to score cred with the blue collar cabbie. “Hey, buddy. Howz yer day goin’? Eh?”
This reminds me of a fly-on-the-wall ride I once took, with two mid-20’s slicked-back hair suits headed from the Marina down to the Financial on a rush hour shuttle. These guys didn’t call me “buddy,” though. They just ignored me. And I just drove, while silently listening in as one of the bros was telling the other of his exploits from the night before in one of these very bars. Dude was gloating on about his angle. About how he wears a wedding ring when he’s on the prowl, although he’s not married. Apparently, it “turns the chicks on.”
Of course, this ride was in the days before Uber. These guys now ALL take Uber.
Navel gazing continued…
I guess my larger point is (yes, there is a larger point, ma.) that I’ve come to note how passengers all project onto their taxi driver. They project that which they want to see. Or expect. One bro might be calling you “buddy” one minute, and the next guy you pick up in the Loin in a drab military jacket might be ranting on about “niggers” and “Asian drivers” — presumably, along with you.
Well, folks. This aside has gone on a bit long… It’s brought us all the way to 9am. And Junior is back at the Citizen’s Cab dispatch, visibly sweating on the radio as he calls out “Union & Kearny.” You can hear it in his voice. He sounds defeated right out of the gate. This is cause he knows that NO ONE is going to accept “Union & Kearny.” It’s Irene.
Irene’s angle? She thinks that I’m a good Catholic. (Or, she’ll make the most of the one minute ride down the hill from her North Beach apartment to her bank on Columbus to make sure I BECOME one!) I guess it’s understandable how she’s able to project this. It’s because I’m agreeable. And I usually just shut up and listen. Well, I guess I DO add a good Catholic story of my own, or two. Hmm.
Anyway, don’t get me wrong. Irene’s REAL nice. She’s always asking about the kids, and their souls. And I REALLY feel for her. Irene’s got issues. She wears those dark prescription glasses for glaucoma. And she needs a cane for her club foot. And then there’s the car sickness. But she doesn’t complain, or anything. And she keeps stylish, with a purple beret and a silver rosary.
Still, Irene calls for a cab everyday day for this ride. And it’s invariably a ride where she will take ten minutes to make it down the stairs of her building, with her club foot and cane, even though she KNOWS when to expect her taxi. And then, while taking your arm to the cab, she’ll IN ADVANCE micromanage how she wants you to adjust the taxi JUST RIGHT adjacent the curb. And THEN, she’ll ask you to move the shotgun seat ALL THE WAY back — after you’ve removed your office from it, on account of her car sickness. And all of this, for the all of sixty second drive down the hill. After which she’ll pay by paratransit, as apologizing for telling you to not add the 10% fixed paratransit tip.
No, it’s not so much all of that, why she doesn’t get picked up. It’s the constant proselytizing of Jesus, and the Virgin Mary, and your soul.
Oh, who am I kidding? It’s ALL OF IT!!!
Junior, “(Sigh.) Union & Kearny. Union & Kearny.”
417, “417. Broadway & Montgomery.”
Junior, “417. Okay! Go get Irene, 417! 395 Union!”
417, “Copy. 395 Union.”
Oh, my GOD! Who is in 417??
Oh! It’s that new guy. Some Asian dude. Poor bastard. Doesn’t know what he’s in for!!
In other news, I’ve just rolled empty, west up Market, from a Financial shuttle. I’m in the left turn lane for Valencia, doing the usual rounds with the Mission up next. But, wait! What is this?
Some short, unshaven, meek looking, middle aged white dude, looks down on his luck. Well, this is fitting. If he’s staying at that Travelodge behind him, it’s infested with bed bugs. And crackheads.
I flip a U to pick Dave up. And he slogs into the back seat of Citizen’s Cab 1015.
Dave, “I’m jus’ goin’ ha short distance, drivah. Ta ’round 18th ‘n Mission. I tink it’s 18th. I’ll kno it whin I see it.” He looks out his window, before adding nervously, “Dere’s ah pawn shop dere.”
Drivah, “Ah! I think I know the one. Eagle Pawn? If it’s the one I’m thinking of, I used to pawn a guitar there, back when I had a desk job, and delivered food was my drug. They’d only give me around $200 for a really nice Tele worth around $2K. But, that was for the best. That way I was sure I could pay it back. Yeah, Eagle is on Mission, at 18th. If that’s the one.”
Dave, looking dejected and obviously justifying, “Yeah, I’m stayin’ at tha Travelodge. I don’ tink I should be keepin’ my Macbook dere. Might git stolen.”
Drivah, “Oh? Yeah, uh… probably the best thing to do. So, how is it in that Travelodge? I hear it’s cheap, but not really an SRO. I’ve driven some people there before with drama, though. Other people there probably get in your business, eh?”
Dave, curt and sad, “Well, no. I don’ got no bidness fer dem ta get into.”
Halfway the several blocks to 18th & Mission, Dave comes out with it.
Dave, “Uh, kin you wait fer me while I run in? Den take me back ta tha Travelodge? I’ll only be ah minute inside.”
Great. Dude has no money for the cab. He’s banking on pawning his Macbook for the cash. From my experience, in a past life, it might only take a minute. But it might take fifteen. Depends on if there’s a line. And if Dave is already on file there for having pawned his laptop in the past. They’ll already have checked if it’s stolen, how much he gets for it, and have his contact info.
Anyway, it looks like the answer to Dave’s question about me waiting better be “yes.” Or I’m not likely getting paid for this ride.
Drivah, “Oh, sure. I’ll wait, and take you back. Have you pawned that laptop there before?”
Dave, curt and sighing, “Yeah.”
We roll up Mission, passing 18th Street and Eagle Pawn, and are now moving slowly up in the bus/taxi lane, as we pass 19th. (Well, pawn shops ARE pretty ubiquitous in the Mission.)
Suddenly, Dave sits up in his seat and barks, “DERE!” when he sees it, mid block between 19th & 20th.
I pull to a stop right out in front of Mission Jewelry & Loan, put on my hazards and park in the bus/taxi lane.
Dave, “You kin pull up ‘n park in dat spot ah few cars up, if ya want. I’ll only be ah minute.”
Drivah, “Uh, that’s ok. It’s quiet out. And I’m a taxi. I’m allowed to be in this lane. I’ll just wait for you here.”
So I can keep an eye on the door.
Yet AGAIN, I am breaking cab school teacher Rose’s Commandment #3: NEVER let them out of the cab without paying first! OR, with an “I’ll be right back!”
Anyway, I window shop as I wait. These pawn shops always have the most off beat music gear hanging in their windows. Old, off brand, quirky stuff you’d never see at Guitar Center. This one has ALL of that AND an usual supply of machetes on display, to boot.
Dave runs inside, as the radio crackles to life.
“417. Over. 417. Where the hell is my passenger?? I’ve been waiting outside of 395 Union for TEN MINUTES!!”
Junior comes back at dispatch, “Hold on, 417. Irene will be right down.”
One minute later…
A now lighter Dave pops out of Mission Jewelry & Loan, with a folded up pink pawn ticket, some cash in hand, and a spring in his step. He jumps back in the cab, renewed.
Dave, “Here. Here’s ah twinty. Kin we run by 9th ‘n Mission, ‘fore headin’ back ta tha Travelodge? I gotta see ah friend over dere. He’s always out on tha corner. Dis twinty should do it, yeah?”
Well. The meter currently reads $10.10. And I kind like Dave. Eh, sure. Why not?
I turn off the meter, and we ease into our trek, with Dave bringing up the state of the cab industry and showing a decent knowledge of the evolution of taxi medallions in the city; going from a cabbie’s retirement, to selling for ~$200K, to becoming worthless in the age of unregulated numbers of artificially cheap “rideshares.”
Once rolling up 9th, not terribly far from Dave’s pawn shop and pretty close to the Travelodge, he drops the shop talk, and again perks up in his seat to scan the streets. Dave tells me to slow down after Howard, as he scours the sidewalk…
Then, Dave barks, “Dat’s him! Dat’s my friend! Go ’round tha block, dough. Would ya? Dis is ah bad place ta stop.”
We circle the block, working the one-way streets here by navigating down Washburn and Dore alleys, until we are again rolling slowly up 9th. And again, Dave perks up in his seat.
Dave, flustered and agitated, “Where could he ah gone? Where tha hell did he go?? He was JUS’ here!” Adding, “Kin we circle again, drivah? Here. Here’s anotha couple bucks fer yer trouble. I do ‘ppreciate it.”
Dave throws me up two more dollars, as he anxiously cranes around talking to himself, lamenting about how he’s lost sight of his man.
On the third circle, Dave straightens up, and again barks, “DERE! DERE he is! Pull ovah here, drivah!”
Drivah pulls over at 9th & Howard, as Dave rolls down his window and starts yelling, “Pedro! Pedro!! OVER HERE! PEDRO!!”
But, Pedro does not hear. So driver taps his horn. HONK! Pedro now turns to investigate. Then, Pedro walks back towards us and over to Dave’s window, who is now half leaning out of his window and all excited to see his friend.
Dave, “Give me tree. Here.”
I watch in the side view, as Dave hands Pedro some bills and Pedro takes something out of his mouth and places it in Dave’s outstretched palm. And without another word, their business is complete.
Dave, a mix now of relieved and anxious, “Okay, drivah. Tanks. Back ta tha Travelodge now.”
Curious, Driver perks up and peeks in the rear view. He breaks the now uncomfortable silence, and cabbie etiquette, with a verboten query.
Driver, “Uh, I’m kind of curious. Do you mind if I ask? Is that heroin?”
Dave, leery of the question, “Uh, naw. I don’ do heroin no more.”
Then, Dave expounds, “Heroin screwt me up good. It kilt my kidneys. I got dialysis fer tha resta my life now. I was shootin it up, ‘n it got ta tha point where I was muslin’ it. I got all sortsa infections from dat. Dey actually tink it was tha anti-botics, dough, fer tha abscesses, dat’s what kilt my kidneys. I start’d pissin’ clear. ‘N tha doc says dat ain’t ah good ting.”
Driver, lost, “Wait. What’s ‘muscling’?”
Dave, “Dats when yer veins are shot, so ya start shootin’ tha dope right in yer muscles. Ting is, yer liver can’ process it dat way, ‘n it screws up yer kidneys. Wish I’d bin smartah in dose days. Gotta deal wit dis fer tha resta my life now.”
And with this, we pull into the parking lot of the Travelodge. And Dave thanks me, as he rushes out of my taxi and off into his motel room on the ground floor, with its shades drawn, out of what has become a quite sunny and beautiful California day.
I’m doing the rounds, and am just about to breach the upper Haight. At the four-way stop at Haight & Central, I just start to go ahead of a UPS truck to my left, when some middle aged guy who’s just crossed through the crosswalk suddenly turns around and flags me, and immediately goes for the back door of my cab.
I grab my clipboard/waybill. But, before I can ask “Where to?” Bob has already directed, confidently, with one word, “Airport.”
I surmise my potential bounty. Hmm. No luggage. Short cropped grey hair. And Bob’s wearing a faded green sweat shirt and blue jeans. He doesn’t look homeless or anything. But he doesn’t look like he’s been planning to travel, either. He seems kind of otherworldly, somehow. And his jumping into my taxi, well, it seemed like kind of an afterthought.
SOMETHING is not right.
Bob calmly, quietly looks out of his window, as Driver with the clipboard presses further, “And what airline will you be flying?”
Bob turns to look up at me, pauses briefly, and then responds simply, again with one word, “United.” Then, he again turns to look out of his window.
That kind of felt like he just blurted out the first airline that came to mind. And so, I mark my waybill. And I drive.
Flying down Oak towards the highway, I check the rear view now and then, careful to not make eye contact, but also trying to figure out if Bob is for real, or not. The cab remains silent. Damn, Alex. Are you about to take this guy all the way to the airport just to have him run on you? And then ride back empty. Shit! What have I gotten myself into?
In my peripheral, I catch Bob handling something in his lap. A cell phone? Maybe he’s checking in with his flight! But still, no luggage??
As we approach the Octavia on-ramp to 101, traffic gets heavy over the last blocks before the highway. Suddenly, while stopped in traffic, adjacent a row of Victorians, and newer housing with retail on the ground levels, out of nowhere Bob throws open his door and brusquely exits the cab with only a matter of fact, “Excuse me.”
And I watch, stuck in traffic, as Bob walks off down the block and ducks into a cafe’ without ever having looked back, or even having seemed to wonder if he was being chased. Odd.
I clear the meter of the $8.45 fare. And once traffic lets up, I head back up towards the Haight.
I just got a call from my best friend, band mate, and night driver Christian. He wants a ride down to 850 Bryant, the courthouse. He says he was asked to testify regarding some footage of a robbery that was caught on his taxi cam while cruising through the Loin on a night shift some weeks ago.
Christian says he’s at 5th & Mission. And he asked where I am. Well, 5th & Market! Westfield Mall, empty and headed east looking for flags. Eh, why not pick him up? He says he’ll throw me five bucks. This’ll take me away from Market Street, a potentially lucrative area. But, “a bird in the hand,” I guess.
I take the right down 5th, and swerve around some chicks who have just exited their Uber — on the wrong side of the street from the mall, of course, and who thought waving their iPhones at me while they jaywalk across oncoming traffic was how this all works.
No, ladies. THAT’s how this works!
And I immediately come to a stop, for Christian. He jumps in back.
Christian, “Were those chicks trying to flag you?”
Me, “No. They just got out of an Uber and got dropped on the wrong side of the street, as usual. They thought that because they were showing me their iPhones and just got out of an Uber, it gave them permission to walk into traffic.”
I go on to tell Christian about my runner, and how odd the whole thing was, and how I couldn’t really decide how to handle it. And how glad I was that he ditched before I got on the highway south. Even closed the door, bless him.
And Christian relays his own story:
“That happened to me, once. I didn’t know what to do, either. Some drunk black dude at a MUNI bus island jumped in my cab without luggage. it seemed like an afterthought, too. Said “airport.” And I drove him! I was being rude to him the whole time, though. Dude was drunk and I was SURE I wasn’t getting paid.
But when we got to SFO, Delta, the guy pulls out a wad of bills and a bunch of hundreds fall ALL OVER his LAP! The guy must have had thousands of dollars! I felt really bad for being rude to him the whole ride. At the airport, he looked at me with a look of “So you thought I was gonna run on you, huh?” And dude gave me a twenty dollar tip!
I should have apologized to the guy. It was weird, though. Totally drunk and no luggage. And you could tell he wasn’t planning on taking a cab. You just never know.”
I drop Christian amidst a gaggle of police hanging outside of 850 Bryant. And I zoom back to Market, to score a fat pig.
Three minutes later…
I’ve just passed Westfield Mall, when a hand rises from the curb. It’s some older looking dark-haired, possibly Middle Eastern woman, with serious prescription glasses, flagging me.
I zoom to the curb, and Zelda settles quietly in back, with “Tiburon Boulevard.”
With clipboard/waybill at the ready, a confused driver comes back, “Tiburon Boulevard? Is that in San Francisco? Sorry, I don’t know it.”
Zelda, “It’s in Tiburon. Over the Golden Gate bridge. Past Sausalito.”
Driver, “Oh! THAT Tiburon. ROBIN WILLIAMS Tiburon! Ok, no problem!”
I put down my clipboard, plug Zelda’s address into my iPhone’s GPS, and head off towards the Golden Gate.
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Photo by Alex SacK