Judgment Day

My iPhone alarm goes off. It’s 3:45am.

“X#@&%!!… X#@&%!!… X#@&%!!…”

However, today, my alarm was redundant. You see, there’s BIG lightning and thunder outside… IN SAN FRANCISCO!! And there is NEVER lightning and thunder in San Francisco! I wipe my eyes, as it hits me: It’s Inauguration Day.

(Sniff, sniff.) Is that SULFUR I smell?!

Nah. Must be my imagination. I’m still dreaming. (Probably.) To be fair, life in general has taken on a surreal quality of late. And my dreams now seem to have bled into my waking “reality.”

Twenty-five minutes later…

I’m traversing the streets, en route to the Citizen’s Cab lot to pick up my taxi, out on the industrial edge of town. And there is torrential rain, downed trees and flooding… BAD!

It should be said that I’ve been good in the new year about commuting to work sans stress, without competing. Rolling down the Gough Street gauntlet, I just let the Audis pass, as they needlessly cut in front of me with each fresh turned green. (Ski racks, or no.) I do NOT take the bait. Instead, I’ve taken to breathing. And letting go. OOoOOoOoMMmMMMmmm.

However, today, none of that is necessary. Today, Mother Nature has put all of us commuters, however few, soundly in check. She’s given each and every one running the gauntlet on THIS morning a sense of humility, a larger perspective. And on the long mile Octavia on-ramp to 101, each vehicle around me seems KEENLY aware of the dips ahead, where water is known to pool, and hydroplaning is the norm. Even in LIGHT rain. But this deluge is NOT normal. And each sets their speed accordingly.

Sure enough, the most treacherous “usual” spot on the on-ramp for hydroplaning is TOTALLY flooded. But surprisingly STILL, the water is all the way up PAST my minivan’s doors!! Two to three feet!! And there are two Prius washed out in the thick of it, with their hazards on. Each is disabled, flanking the outside lanes, leaving only the middle lane open to pass. “Rideshares” no doubt.

But rideshares, or no. Today, we are ALL drivers. We are all in this thing together. Just trying to make it to our destination, alive. Yes, today… we are ALL Americans.

4:30am:
 I’m back in the office, grabbing the key and medallion for my girl, Citizen’s Cab #1015. I throw Tony my five for tip, as the peanut gallery listens in to Tony on the speaker phone over at dispatch, bantering with Crooks.

Recall: Crooks is the disgraced ex-cab driver who, after having to buy his own insurance for too many bad accidents, ultimately lost his A-card (taxi permit) for committing Paratransit fraud. (After holding on to a few cards of the mentally infirm and charging rides that never took place.) With the help of money from his famous actor brother, for a good lawyer, Crooks narrowly escaped Federal prison time. So naturally, he’s been driving for Uber ever since. But, a long time cab driver prior to all of that, Crooks’ heart is still deeply embedded within the taxi community. And he is commonly seen cleaning his Uber out in the lot at the Citizen’s Cab hose and vacuum station. And he is commonly found back in the office hanging out shooting the shit with all of us still legit drivers.

Tony, “Wass goin’ ahn owt dere, Crooks? Wass uhp?”

Crooks, “Man! It’s CRaZY out here! 101 is knee high in water, completely flooded out at Silver, MAN! Tell NOBODY to come down this way!”

Tony, “Reelee? Woww! Dat sownds nuhts! (Heh, heh.)”

Crooks, “And Bayshore, MAN! It’s a RIVER! You need a fuckin’ BOAT!”

Tony, “Wass ah a mattah, Crooks? Kan’t blahck peeple SWIM!!”

The office erupts in laughter.

Tony broadcasts out a warning over the radio, “Bee carefuhl owt dere! 101 aht Silvah derez ah fludd! ‘N Bayshorz nohw ah rivah. Ahl drivahz, carful owt dere!”

Then, the speaker again comes crackling to life.

852, “852. Over.”

Tony, “852. Wass ur ovah?”

852, “Uh… 852. I need a tow out here. I got washed out on the Octavia on-ramp, heading south.”

Tony, “Copee, 852. Ile cahl yah ah tow. Hol ahn tite dere. Mabee fortee-fiv minites, ta ah howr.”

4:55am:
I’m rolling up 16th, fresh from Starbucks. There was a break in the rain as I went in. But I got pelted as I was coming back out, and had to make a run for 1015. It’s been an odd storm over the last few days, coming and going every few minutes and every few hours, in fits and starts.

Waiting at a red, at 16th & Potrero, through the dark and rain I suddenly catch a hand rising into the air across the intersection, flagging. Dude’s illuminated by a street lamp at the corner, in front of Potrero Shopping Center, just past one of the homeless tent encampments found so ubiquitous in these parts. But I can make out that he looks clean, and is sporting some kind of corporate ID laminate on his belt. Anyway, sweet. My first ride. Fresh out of Starbucks.

The light turns, and I throw on my hazards and zoom across the intersection to the corner. No need to zoom, though. It’s still pretty sparse out here.

Ben gets in back, and immediately comes across as cordial, articulate and personable. I immediately like him. Good.

Ben, “Thanks for stopping. This rain is something, eh? I’m headed up to Bush & Powell, in Union Square. How’s your morning going?”

Driver, finishing a sip from his coffee, “Oh. I just started. Bush and Powell, it is.”

Ben continues, “I’m headed to work. But I just finished visiting a friend who lives in a tent here. He’s homeless now. But we used to work together. The weird thing is, he chose to be homeless. He was miserable when we worked together. My friend even owned a home and everything. But he started getting into meth. And he let it all go. Funny thing is, he seems so much happier now. He’s got his friends and his drugs. And that’s all he seems to need, or want. He feels he’s living a more authentic life now.”

Well. Nice weather we’re having.

Driver, “Wow. Yeah. It’s been interesting driving a cab for the last six years. I’ve really seen it all play out from the streets, seen the homeless population explode here in the city, along with the tent encampments. And the homeless are NOT a monolith, either! Yeah, some are schizophrenic, or drug addicts. But some of the newer ones have college degrees, and jobs! They just didn’t have a safety net, when they got priced out of their apartments.

Anyway, that’s cool, if your friend is happy and all now. I mean, who are we to say who’s crazy? We’ve got nuclear weapons. And we’re ignoring climate change, which will be the end of us all. And of all days, today, who are we to say who’s crazy! We’re about to swear in an incurious, lawless, insecure, hateful reality TV star to the presidency!”

Nervous laughs permeate the cab, as we digress back to the rain.

Ben, “Well, I guess with all of this rain, the drought ought to be taken care of.”

Driver, “Actually, I listen to too much NPR. Apparently, the north and south, the big cities are getting all of the rain. And the Central Valley is bone dry. Over the thick of the drought, the farmers were all bribing the well drillers to put them at the head of the line. NASA had pictures from space of the aquifers all drying up. They say the Central Valley dried up like a sponge, and you could see the ground sink however many inches. They say it’ll take years to replenish all the aquifers. And the bread basket there is not getting any of this rain!”

Ben, “Actually, I heard about that. I’ve been thinking of doing a research project. I have a theory that the rain is tracking along in parallel with the income inequality gap.”

Again, the cab erupts in laughter.

Driver, “Oh, my god! You’re right!! HA!” Before continuing, “Hey! I’m curious. How is your friend dealing with all of this rain right now? It’s been pretty much a monsoon out there, for the last week or so!”

Ben, “Well, he’s had to get his game on. They’ve been grabbing pallets, and layering them with cardboard, and then a tarp. The sidewalks are a river. And there are slopes everywhere. The pallets are the key. But even when it’s not raining, you need several thick layers of cardboard. The sidewalk is really cold.”

Hmm. Good info. But, how is my passenger so personally privy to all of this?

Ben, continuing, “Anyway, it’s pretty nuts how people treat my friend. People offer food. But he’s always skeptical to take it. One time, some people he thought were nice gave him a burrito. It wasn’t leftovers, either. It was in a bag and wrapped in the foil. But, inside the tortilla it was a pile of shit! Who the hell DOES that to a homeless person! Man. There are some sick people out there. I mean, it obviously took them some time and care to put that whole thing together.”

Driver, “Damn. That IS fucked up!! Us cab drivers actually have a rule about not taking food from passengers. I guess that’s why! I’ve never heard of a driver having a problem But then, that’s probably because we don’t accept the food.

Actually, I bring a sandwich every day to work Peanut butter, or ham and cheese. I usually give half, if not all of it, away to a random homeless guy on the street during my shift. Sometimes they don’t want it. And that’s cool. I don’t take offense. Over the course of the day, there’s always someone who’s happy to take it. But, JEEZ! I guess I know why some don’t want it now!

Anyway, there but for the grace of God.”

We pull up on Bush and Stockton. And the meter reads $11.75. Ben smiles, and hands me up a ten and a five. He gets out of the cab, and parts with, “Keep the change. And stay dry out there!”

You bet. And you as well, friend.

The rain kicks in hard again, as I head down to Market and work my way west, back towards the Mission district for my usual rounds. I’m cruising to KCSM Jazz 91.1FM. And on this auspicious day, they are breaking from their usual jazz and playing old negro spirituals and scratchy folk protest songs. The mood is foreboding and somber, as Leadbelly’s ‘Ain’t Gonna Study War No More‘ wafts over the radio, framing the dark and rain here on the dimly illuminated Civic Center as I pass. This, the spot where the coming day’s large Resist protests are set to terminate, timed for the swearing in, after their planned route up Market.

Five minutes later…

I’ve made it through the Mission, fareless, and I’m heading up Castro Street passing the old, ornate Castro Theater — which boasts an organ player who rises out of the ground to prelude each movie, or event, taking place there. I like to check the marquee of the Castro. They always have interesting movies on tap, some Disney ones, even — with sing-a-longs, and political events and authors speaking and such. Today, true to form, I see they’ve got their game on. The marquee is promoting some Charlie Chaplin movie I’ve never heard of called ‘The Great Dictator.’

Rush hour has come and gone…

But it’s been a quite busy, if not otherworldly morning. What with the rain, and Market Street now officially closed, and flush with police, first responders and protesters. Not that I’ve SEEN Market Street since my early morning run, though. I’ve not had even ONE Financial shuttle. I guess everyone was smart and stayed home, and/or telecommuted. Still, the rain and an overwhelmed MUNI system has seen me pretty steadily busy with rides everywhere else around town. Rent will be paid.

11:20am:
I’m just dropping an old Russian woman, a Paratransit ride, off at Kaiser on Geary for her medical appointment. It’s Olga, a Citizen’s Cab regular. A ride I scored through dispatch, after winning the bid over the radio. Olga’s English is very broken. But she’s a total sweetheart. And always real happy to see me, whenever I drive her. She’s even once offered me a loaf of bread — which I politely declined — from what, through our strained converse, I gathered is the best bakery in town.

Today, Olga was gushing, “Ahhh, Prez-i-dent. Uhhh, gud, day! No?”

I mimed back, shaking my head, “No! Very bad! Dictator!”

To which Olga replied, “Ah! NO! Trump… Gud! Uhhh… U, dem-o crat?”

To which I replied, “A liberal. Yes. Bernie! Socialism! Well, European socialism!”

To which Olga replied, “Ah! NO!! Social-ism BAD! I frum… Muscow!”

To which I replied, “Um… Where do you get your news?”

Olga, “AH! Uh… FUX… Nuwz! VERY gud!” Before following up with, “Yoo! Uhhh, what… nuwz?”

Me, “NPR. New York Times.”

Olga shakes her head, and frowns, “AH! NO!! Nu York… Uh, Timez… Pro-pa… Er, pro-pa-gahnda!”

Once at her drop, I process Olga’s $11.75 ride with her government-subsidized SF Paratransit card. And then I jump out and around to help her out of the cab, with her cane. We exchange smiles, and assuring pats on the arm and back, that we are still friends. As Olga heads off inside of Kaiser for her Medicare covered doctor’s appointment.

And true to the day, before I can make it back inside of 1015, my Cabulous taxi-hailing app starts chiming, “Cha-ching! Cha-ching! Cha-ching!”

I FLY around my Prius and DIVE inside to hit the ‘Accept’ button, before I even settle in my seat, or can shut the door!

And…

“1137 Hayes Street. Roger. iPhone.” lights up the Cabulous screen, just ONE “Cha-ching!” shy of losing the order. WHEW!

Two minutes later…

I’m out in front of 1137 Hayes, adjacent Alamo Square and the famous Victorian Painted Ladies. And I hit the ‘Arrived’ button.

In short order, Roger comes out in a navy suit, and sporting a brief case… Uh, oh. Unquestionably, my first Financial Shuttle.

Roger settles in back, with, “Good morning. 1st & Howard, please, driver.”

Yup.

With clipboard and waybill in hand, Driver marks the ride and repeats back, and abbreviated, “Blackrock.”

Now, for most of the morning, I haven’t been able to bring myself to tune into the inauguration. I’ve been pretty much rocking classical and jazz. (Well, not jazz. Spirituals and folk protests.) But, at the moment, morbid curiosity has gotten the better of me. So, it’s NPR.

As Roger and me roll to his financial sector job, it’s closing in on 11:30 and the. Reverend Dr. Samuel Rodriguez is doing his benediction. If I didn’t already know of his anti-Muslim, anti-gay, anti-immigrant advocacy, I would think he’s sticking it to our VERY soon-to-be President, with his selection from the Sermon on the Mount.

“God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.

God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied.

God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

He blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God.

God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.

God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

And God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers.”

Oh, irony of ironies.

On point, Roger chimes in with exasperation, “Oh, man. What do you think of all of this?”

Driver, “Well, I’m scared for the country. And the world.”

Roger, “I don’t really give a shit about all of it. Before the election, all these people I know were all upset about Trump. And I was telling them, ‘What the hell does it matter?? WHY are you even bothering to pay attention to all of this shit? We’ll find out who’s going to be President soon enough!”

Hmm.

Driver, “Well, just to play devil’s advocate…”

Roger, “Please do!”

Driver, “Well, I think it mattered to a lot of people who were worried that they might lose their health care. Or, women who feared the government would have final say over their bodies. Or, those worried about an adversarial foreign power hijacking our democracy, and possibly controlling our policy going forward. Maybe worried the nuclear codes and the strongest military in the world would be in the hands of a disinterested, impulsive, narcissistic, racist President.”

Roger, “Oh! Come on! Trump’s not a racist! You know, you can’t tell from looking at me, but I’m half Iranian. And I lived in San Jose. I KNOW racism. I’ve SEEN racism! It’s the left that are full of hate. It’s Obama, and Eric Holder who are the racists! And Black Lives Matter!”

Driver, “Hmm. I’m curious, if I can ask?”

Roger, “Please do.”

Driver, “What about Obama or Holder have you seen that was racist?”

Roger, “Oh, the speeches they have given. Always focusing on blacks, and what whites have done to them. What’s the point? It’s never gonna change. There will always BE racism. Why bother talking about it!”

We navigate the rain, and the increasing traffic, as we weave into the belly of the Beast, heading down Mission Street, one block over and parallel to Market, as ever closing in on ground zero, a.k.a. downtown.

Driver, “I don’t know. I think Obama and Holder in those speeches weren’t really pointing the finger. They were just giving their experiences as blacks in America. Highlighting the institutional racism they themselves have encountered. I mean, it certainly will never change if it’s not brought into the light, or out there for discussion.

Eric Holder was talking about running through Georgetown when late for a meeting once, before he was Attorney General, and getting stopped by the police. And Obama talked about passing people in cars while on the sidewalk, and hearing the doors lock. I have friends who are followed in stores. Even by black security guards, actually. Same with the police, even black officers racially profile other blacks. I think the police are blue before they’re black.”

Roger chuckles at the thought.

Roger, “Ha! I like that! I guess you have a point. But liberals, they’re fucking hypocrites! THEY’RE the ones who are intolerant!”

Driver, “I actually agree with you there. I mean, who am I to judge how you feel, So long as you’re not oppressing me. I heard the singer of Metallica was on the radio in Colorado saying how he’s moving from the Bay Area because he can’t bring a deer home on his grill without all of Marin County sneering at him aghast. I agree. What gives them the right?

And to be honest, I LOVE Mexicans and don’t want to see anyone deported. I think we are a better country for them. And they, by far, commit less crime than Americans. And they pay taxes they’ll never see back. They can’t take advantage of social services. They’re a net plus. But I have no problem referring to them as illegal, if they are here illegally. I mean, no vitriol about it, but that’s what they are, if they knowing crossed the border, or were brought here illegally. Not that it’s the fault of those kids.”

Roger, “Hey I like you. I think we’re more alike, than not. I just wish other liberals could show the respect and honesty that you do.”

Driver, “Hey. I’m curious. What do you think about the Civil Rights Act? Do you think businesses should be allowed to not serve someone because of their skin color?”

Roger, “Well, I AM a Libertarian.”

Driver, interjecting, “Yeah, I was getting that!”

Laughs.

Driver, continuing, “I think Senator Rand Paul is a good guy, and has a good heart. But I think he’s an ideologue. And that kind of thinking doesn’t always match up with reality. He has problems with that part of the Civil Rights Act, as a Libertarian. Freedom and all.”

Roger, “Well, I think a business owner would be stupid and losing business to not serve a minority But it should be his right, I guess.”

Driver, “That’s Rand Paul’s argument! The counter to that is, what if a black couple were driving through the desert and their car broke down, and they needed a tow, and there was only one tow company around and they wouldn’t serve them.”

Roger, “Hmm. I guess, well, I guess you’re right. Anyway, I’m sick of people calling Trump a racist. He’s not.”

Driver, “What about him questioning Obama’s birth certificate and citizenship for the last five years, with no reason or evidence to think it wasn’t legit? I mean, why do you think the KKK endorsed him? Hell, at the pronouncement that he was running for President, he said all Mexicans were rapists and murderers! Okay, okay. Then added, ‘And some are good people.’”

Roger, “Oh, he never said that!”

Driver, “He did! It’s on tape! Look it up! Those were his exact words. I think some people just don’t realize they’re racist. I don’t think they know the definition.”

Roger, “That’s a good point. I’m going to look it up right now. It could just be bigotry, and not racism. I’m going to look it up.”

And with helicopters hovering above, and the rain pouring down, we pull up on Roger’s drop. 1st & Howard. I plug the $20 fare into the Cabulous phone on the dash, charging Roger’s credit card for the metered fare — plus whatever default tip percentage he has plugged, unbeknownst to me.

And Roger hesitates before getting out. Visibly energized, he stops and reaches over the seat to shake my hand, gushing, “This was a GREAT conversation! You gave me a lot think about. I really hope I get you again.”

I drive on, out of the cluster of downtown, as I recall a phrase I recently heard that I can’t immediately place, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”

Hmm. Oh, right! Lincoln!! Yeah, ironic.

11:57am:
I’m rolling out of the Financial on Howard, fresh from Roger. And I veer off of Howard and up to Mission via 11th. I figure with all the chaos and MUNI public transit diversions, there’ll probably be a need at one, if not all of the outbound bus stops on Mission.

At Mission & Van Ness, sure enough, a pretty, young Mexican woman in blue hospital scrubs jumps out from a MUNI shelter to flag me, vehemently. Well, the lady needs a ride. And baby needs a new pair of shoes.

Driver pulls over.

And Rosalita jumps in back, gasping, “Oh my God! Something’s going on with MUNI! All the buses are F trains. What’s going on on Market? What happened to the trains?? The few Mission buses that have come have all been full! I need to get to St. Luke’s Hospital, please, driver. Valencia & Cesar Chavez. I’m late for work!”

As Rosalita is querying Driver, NPR rises in the background, with the voice of Chief Justice John Roberts, Jr., “Do you, Donald John Trump, solemnly swear…”

Driver, “Uh, it’s a big protest… For the inauguration.”

Rosalita, “Oh my God! Today is the 20th!”

Driver, “Well, please don’t take this wrong. But, God bless you for being ignorant. It must be nice to not be aware, or worried about this.”

Rosalita, “Oh! I am! I’ve just been TRYING to not pay attention. It’s REALLY upsetting. It’s TOO painful. I’m SO scared.”

Then, in a first for Driver, Rosalita offers, “I’m undocumented.” Followed by a worried, “Ooooohhhh!”

And, “I crossed the border to have a better life for my mother, and me. I learned to speak English in school. And I entered the program to become an EVS technician. I am SO worried I’m going to get deported now! This is bad! Oh! What a day! Oh, God. He’s going to take back DACA. Ohhhhh!”

Driver, “Well, I have to say. You speak English REALLY good. But, I wouldn’t worry so much about getting deported. At least, not in San Francisco. This is a sanctuary city. You’re in the right place.” Before adding, with nervous laughter, “But, I DO think you should be worried about a lot of other things with our new President!”

Driver, digressing, “Hey! Have you ever heard of that movie, the one that pretended what it would be like if one day all the undocumented vanished from California? What was it called? ‘A Day Without a Mexican‘? That movie totally highlighted what it would do to our economy!

Anyway, the short of it is, it’d be bad. REAL bad! You guys are part of the fabric of this country. Actually, case in point. God bless you for being here. You’re helping to pay my rent RIGHT now!”

Rosalita smiles, laughs, and lightens up a little bit, as she directs me to the Valencia side of St. Luke’s Hospital.

And Driver drives it home.

Driver, “So, yeah,” as he hits the meter off, and pulls over to the curb, “DON’T worry about your immigration status, or DACA, or getting deported,” now further attempting to settle his passenger. “Worry about getting vaporized in a nuclear holocaust!”

And for the… oh, I’ve forgotten how many times today, nervous laughter fills the cab.

Rosalita throws me up thirteen American dollars on her $11.75 ride, and starts to dash out of the cab, with a prayer.

“God bless you! And PRAY for me!”

And as Rosalita darts off to service, Driver yells back, “I’ll pray for us ALL!”

Then, Driver weaves off through the hard driving rain, back into the deluge. Back into this all consuming flood of, well… biblical proportions. And I think back to this morning, wondering if I, if WE, will all make it out of this alive… I think back to the Ubers of Octavia, to Crooks, to Tony, back to the cab lot and office, as today, THIS day, we are all riders sharing a Citizen’s Cab.

Indeed, today, we are ALL Americans…

_____

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Photo by Alex SacK

www.AlexSacK.com

Check out Alex’s Book 1 — San Francisco TAXI: A 1st Week in the ZEN Life…
 & Book 2
San Francisco TAXI: Life in the Merge Lane…

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