Urine the Taxi Biz?
It’s Wednesday, my day off.
But, I still have some taxi business to take care of. You see, a couple weeks ago I made a doctor’s appointment with California Pacific Medical Center; 45 Castro. Actually, it’s more of a “medical” appointment. Yup, it’s that time of the year to renew my A-card (taxi permit). But in a first, this year the Man wants my piss…
It’s odd. I have driven fares to 45 Castro a hundred times, but I have never stepped foot inside. I DO have health insurance, mind you. (Thanks, Obama!) But being your typical older male, I have never utilized it. I figure that if I don’t know anything’s wrong, nothing is. (Try and punch a hole in THAT logic, bitches!)
Anyway, the State of California has for many years had it on the books that taxi drivers are to be drug tested. But the municipally run San Francisco Mass Transit Authority, which oversees SF’s taxi fleet, had never previously put any protocols in place to execute the law. When word hit the street that there was an open MTA meeting where a drug testing policy was to finally be worked out, a slew of politically active hacks overran the meeting and demanded that there, at least, be an exemption for medical marijuana.
And the hacks won!
I have to admit that the cynic in me found this victory almost impossible to believe. After all, many a conspiratorial cabbie had believed that the MTA was just now working out a drug testing policy as a means of doing Uber and Lyft’s bidding, in an overt attempt to tap the final nail into the coffin of the taxi industry. I mean, who knows how many San Francisco cabbies go home and smoke a joint after work! (A third??)
And, surprise, it should be noted that Uber and Lyft are bound by no such regulation; among the many that the cab industry, alone, must adhere to… like FBI background checks! I guess the policy makers figure if you are just “sharing” your ride, for money, on city streets, sixty hours a week, and it is parked out in front in your complex’s lot, then it’s a given that you are not inside your apartment snorting an eight ball of blow before hitting the streets. (And your passengers!)
Anyway, this getting piss tested thing is a first for me. And while I understand the need, er… Actually, I have never in my six years of driving heard of an incident where it was suspected that the culprit was a taxi driver high on drugs. (Well… I guess there was that one meth incident, on 101 south, that resulted in a fatality. Hmm.) But, while I understand the need, in my forty five years of life, no one ever asked me to piss in a cup to keep my job! Somehow, I find this… degrading.
Oh, the humanity!
My appointment is for 11:20, and I was told by the blonde on the phone (trust me) to come with my driver’s license, my MTA paperwork, and a full bladder. Blondie said that if I can’t piss on command, I will be in there for another three hours awaiting my next chance!
Note: When I had originally made the appointment over the phone Blondie asked my name, to which I responded “Sack.” Blondie sounded visibly confused at this. And later, when confirming my information, Blondie repeated back “Zack” as my name. When I corrected her, Blondie explained that that is why she had sounded unsure of my name. She thought I was giving her my first name, rather than surname. And in response, I relayed to Blondie that I had just thought that she was impressed, that they call me “Sack.”
So, I’ve just hailed a taxi through the Cabulous app, on my personal iPhone. I’m pretty versed in the other side of this equation and am secure that my cab will arrive within a couple of minutes. Besides, I can see on the real time map on my phone that Yellow #666 has accepted my hail, and is currently en route.
Another Note: If this system seems familiar to those of you who have partaken in a “rideshare,” it’s because Cabulous came up with this whole app concept back in ’09. Uber stole it third hand after that — from now defunct Sidecar, before Uber went on to declare “innovation.” (I do not think this word means what they think it means.)
Lickety-split, my cab arrives. And I pop in back, with, “45 Castro, please. South Tower… Hey! Have you been piss tested, yet??”
My driver, John, checks me skeptically in the rear view. And he replies with a simple, “No.”
Then Passenger expounds, “I’m renewing my A-card and headed for drug testing now. And I have a medical marijuana card for my chronic insomnia. I cannot BELIEVE that the drivers who attended that meeting at the MTA were able to get an exemption for “medical” through! It would have probably taken down the whole industry, if they didn’t! Hey! How many drivers do you think smoke pot, anyway?”
Driver John looks at me, again skeptically, via the rear view. He is slow to respond, but then does, with a simple, “A third.”
We roll the all of five minute ride with me doing most of the talking. I usually don’t advertise that I am a cab driver the rare times that I take a cab personally. (I value my privacy.) But this is a special case.
A professional, Driver John navigates the CPMC campus well, and gets me right out in front of the South Tower. I thank him for the ride, and thanks to all of the water I have been religiously downing over the course of the morning, I waddle inside busting at the seams. It’s 11:15 now, I have an appointment, and surely they’ll extract what they need before it comes to pissing myself.
It’s a right down the hall, and just a quick left into the “Occupational Medicine” waiting room. And it is there at the desk that I introduce myself to Blondie. (Yup.)
Blondie, “Take this clipboard and fill out all of the highlighted sections. Return it to me when you are done. Oh, and I’ll need your MTA paperwork and your driver’s license.”
Sack, blurting out, “I came with a full bladder, just like you said!”
Blondie is decidedly NOT impressed, now.
I walk over to take a seat in the waiting room, tail betwixt legs, and go to sign my name, sign initials, and date about eight different parts highlighted on the three pages on my clipboard. I forgot to bring my reading glasses and couldn’t tell you for the life of me what I was signing. (Releases, I guess.) And I return the fill-out papers to Blondie.
Sans eye contact, Blondie takes the clipboard from my hands and dryly instructs, “Take a seat. We’ll call you when it’s your turn.”
My turn? There’s no one else in the waiting room. But before sitting, I hit the water cooler that they have smartly situated over in the corner. Well, why not? Yeah, I am already more than ready to go, but Blondie’s previous “three hour” threat looms large. I might as well top it off.
Next to the water cooler is evidence that the hospital’s interior decorator is not without a sense of humor. The waiting room is centered around a HUGE photographic print of a GIANT wave just about to break! While I sip, my groin twitches at the sight. (Maybe topping it off was not such a good idea, after all!)
I head back towards my seat, just as another “patient” enters the waiting room. I sit first. And dude chooses a seat just one over from me, as we both pretend, awkwardly, to be watching some daytime talk show that’s blaring on the waiting room’s TV, hosted by some saucy African American woman. It’s called ‘The Real.’ (Basically, a black version of Oprah.)
A few minutes later, an Hispanic gay dude in scrubs (trust me) pops out from behind a door that’s marked “Authorized Personnel Only.” Ernesssto looks down at his clipboard, and then calls out, “Johnson!”
And Johnson, the only other body in the waiting room, sitting next to me, stands and heads back into the bowels of “Occupational Medicine” with Ernesssto, presumably for his extraction.
Sack was here first! I had an appointment for 11:20. And it’s now 11:35… What about “Sack?!”
I wait. Albeit, now shaking at the knees. Then, an older woman with a jean jacket and long grey hair comes into the waiting room. She sits one seat over, and pretends to watch ‘The Real.’
Ernesssto and Johnson FINALLY come out of the bowels. And they wish each other a good day, before Johnson exits the office. And Ernesssto, again, looks down at his clipboard. But this time, with, “Sssmith!”
And Sssmith, sitting next to me, gets up and heads back beyond the great “Authorized Personnel Only” door, to presumably do her deed. (UGH!!)
Jeez! It’s ten minutes to noon! Are these guys going to ditch me for lunch at some point?? And then tell me I now have to wait three hours to pee!?
Ernesssto and Johnson come out of the bowels of, well… you know.
“YES! I AM SACK!!!”
Ernesssto, “Pleassse fahllow meee,” he blinks, before adding with a dipped chin, a voluptuous smile and a twinkle in his eye, “Hahve choo eeeverr takenn ah druug tessst beeefore??”
Sack, “Nope. This is a first. I was told to come with a full bladder. So, I’ve been drinking water all morning. I hope it’s not too diluted. Is that a thing?”
Ernesssto, “Welll, we’lll jussss ssseeee…”
We enter a small closet of an office with a shelf for a desk, upon which sits a small lock box safe with a big yellow engraved plaque affixed to its key chain and key that’s sticking out of the lock, which reads, simply, “Patient.”
Ernesssto, continuing, “Pleassse taaake everyttthing oout ahf yourrr pocketsss an plaaace theem ennn thisss loock boxxx. Theeen, taaake tha keeeey. Eye willl nah beee aable too accessss tha boxxx wheeen choo ahre doinggg chorrr busssinesss… Eye alssso neeed choo too filll oout thiss paaaperwooork, beeefore choo peeee. Okaaay?”
I sit at the little desk/shelf next to Ernesssto, who is now putting on some fresh blue latex gloves and readying some empty plastic vials and a cup, before diving into some paperwork of his own.
I blindly sign and date a few more highlighted sections on yet another clipboard, and then slide it over to Ernesssto.
He finishes at the same time, and then tells me to stand.
Ernesssto, “Pleeease liiiift chorrr paaansss legsss forrr meeee. Eye neeed too seee thaaat choo aree naht briiining anythiiing en withhh choooo…”
I lift each of my pant legs one at a time, showing off my sexy thighs to Ernesssto and wondering if this is really per protocol, or just for his personal benefit. Hmm.
Ernesssto, “Okaaay, choo aree guuuud.”
Whew!! Ernesssto didn’t catch the fake penis I have strapped to my right thigh, that’s full of my son’s clean urine!
Ernesssto then opens a door behind us; to the bathroom. And he instructs me to wash my hands, specifically with cold water, before giggling and putting his hand to his mouth.
“(Hee, hee, heee!) Choo cannn’t uussse tha haaht waater, aneeehoww. Esss turnnnned ahf!”
I peek inside the small, dark bathroom. There is a sink and a toilet, with a LOT of blue dye in it. And nothing else. No paper towels. No trash can. No nothing.
I go for the sink…
Hmm. The cold water won’t turn on.
I try the hot water.
Both faucet handles just spin around, to no avail. I open the door and tell Ernesssto.
“Ohhhh! Ssssillly meeee! Eye jusss neeed tooo turrrn ahn tha ssswiiiitch! (Hee, hee , hee!)”
Ernesssto flips a kill switch on the wall just outside of the bathroom. And the cold water flows, as I wash my hands under Ernesssto’s watchful eye.
He then hands me the empty plastic cup, before sternly instructing that I need to fill it AT LEAST half way, and adding that I am NOT allowed to flush the toilet.
“Choo wonn beee aaable too, aneewaaayyy. Eye hav tha toiiiilett turnnn ahf, sepaaaraaate! (Hee, hee, hee!)”
Ernesssto now gives me the green light to close the door. And, I am alone…
Out of curiosity, I try the handle for the hot water… Nope. It strikes me that I was to be rinsing off, with the cold water, any “clean urine” chemicals I may have soaked my hands in before arriving to my appointment. But why no HOT water??
I very easily fill the cup, half way. Hmm… It looks REAL diluted. Damn. I do NOT want to go through this again next week! I go for broke and continue filling the cup, all the way to the brim! Well, maybe the lab can do something with this, given the amount of sample. (Wee’lll jussss ssseeee!)
Suddenly, there is a knock on the door! And an anxious sounding Ernesssto calls out, “Hoooww areee choo dooooing en theeeere? Aree choo dooooone??”
Jeez. Where’s the trust! Ernesssto thinks I’m taking too long. He’s suspicious!
But, I open the door right on command. And I thrust the full, uncapped, cup right up in Ernesssto’s face!
“Do you think this is too diluted? I really did drink a lot of water this morning. I was worried that I’d have to wait around for three hours more, if I couldn’t pee.”
Ernesssto takes the cup and holds up my piss up EVEN CLOSER to his face, to examine.
“Yesssss, esss diluuuted. Buhhht, eye tink eet willl beee okaaayyy. Hooweverrr, weee jusss taaake tha peee heeeere. Tha laaahb es baaahck ennn Newww Jersssseyy. (Hee, hee!)”
Immediately, Ernesssto grabs a thermometer and takes the temperature of my piss. (Ah! THAT’s why no hot water!)
And now, Ernesssto hands me a pen and tells me to initial two adhesive stickers, complete with UPC codes, that are to be affixed to the two different vials that he’s currently filling from the cup brimming with my sample.
I take the pen. And it hits me… just WHO has handled this pen before me!! AND, there were no paper towels to dry my hands with in the bathroom! Or to use to protect myself from the door handle on the way out! But ERNESSSTO has gloves!!
Once the vials are sealed — with a sigh as big as if fresh nitroglycerin has just been secured, Ernesssto says I can unlock the safe and take back my belongings.
And Ernesssto gives one last giggle, as he bids me adieu.
“(Hee, hee, hee!) Choo don neeed too ssssign oout orrr nuthiiin’! Choo havee ah niiice daaay! okaaay??”
And you, as well, Ernesssto.
With the prisoner now free to go, I exit back through the waiting room, as I pass yet another cabbie filling out forms awaiting his turn. There is no question. You can SMELL them!
And as I break out my phone to hail a Cabulous home, I reflect on my feelings, on what I’ve just been through…
Somehow, I feel… inhuman.
Somehow, I feel… violated.
Photo by Alex SacK