Wednesday, August 26, 2009


I first met Roberto in Minnesota when he came to visit along with my three male cousins from Mexico City. They were wealthy, powerful and superbly educated aristocrats. My uncle once thought of running for President until he was told the unfortunate truth that the Mexican people would never vote for a leader with a gringo wife. My cousins all spoke three languages and had read Proust and Joyce by the time they were fifteen.

My cousins were all around twenty when they stopped by. They brought Roberto with them because he was a big, lovable guy who liked to party. On top of that, he was already married and had a mistress set up in an apartment. For Mexicans of their class at that time, this meant that he was already a man.

My cousins were engrossed in advanced studies of one kind or another that would eventually lead to great careers in their chosen fields but Roberto was a former violin prodigy who had stopped practicing and dropped out of college.

At dinner, he told us that we all (by which he meant Western Civilization) had been corrupted by the Protestant Work Ethic "especially Catholics" and had lost our ability to savor life. Roberto told us that he intended to personally correct this imbalance by living always in the moment. He still played the violin but only to express himself, "not to win some stupid competition or other."

My father, a construction contractor who had taken an immediate liking to Roberto, was very upset by his philosophy.

"But what are you going to do?" he asked. "How are you going to live?"

"I'll inherit," Roberto said with a smile.

"But what if you run through your inheritance?"

"Then, I'll inherit again," Roberto said, laughing this time. "I'm worth millions."

He said this in such a good natured and friendly way that all my father could do was throw back his hands in a gesture of exasperation and laugh along with him.

A few years later, I witnessed almost the same conversation during a meal in Mexico City. This time a woman who'd grown up with Roberto tried lecturing him in a sisterly manner.

"Roberto," she said, "you have to do something with your life - you have to have a career."

"Why?" he asked laughing.

"If nothing else," she told him, "you have to learn how to invest your money."

"Enrique (his brother) will take care of that for me," Roberto said saluting her with his martini, "he's into boredom."

When you drive cab in San Francisco you soon cease to be surprised by coincidence. I once picked up a woman at the airport who'd grown up across the street from me on Goodrich Ave in St. Paul. Another time, the daughter of one my Mexican cousins flagged me down. I'd never met her before but she recognized me from a photo.

So I wasn't completely blown away when I found Roberto standing in front of me at the dispatcher's window at City Cab. It made instant sense. I've never given my father much credit but he was right about Roberto and I guess (since he'd asked me the same questions and I standing in the same cab line) me.

It turned out that Enrique had indeed taken care of Roberto's money and invested it very wisely after stealing it. To Roberto's credit, he didn't look too upset when he told me the story.

"I wouldn't trade places with my brother for all his money and mine," he said. "He also took my wife. That bitch is my revenge."

Then, he broke out laughing with his good natured, booming voice.

Roberto had very little Spanish blood in him and he had the big head, huge shoulders and hands of his Yaqui indian ancestors. He looked more natural driving a cab than he ever had riding in the back of a limo. He'd developed a nice beer-belly to go along with his new profession. He still lived in the moment.

We went back to his apartment in the Mission, a block away from the projects. It was a small in-law with a seven foot ceiling that he shared with two Argentinian drivers. Apparently none of the them knew what to do without a maid because it was the filthiest place I've seen. We sat smoking joints among the litter and refuse, listening to his collection of rare violin performances by masters like Heifetz and Kreisler - the only remaining vestige of his inheritance.

We'd listened to similar recordings twenty years earlier in the book-lined study of his mansion high on a hill overlooking Mexico City. He'd been sipping cognac with his marijuana then. Now he had a whisky shot with a beer chaser. The enraptured expression on his face as he lost himself in the music was still the same.

We didn't get together after that. I don't really do drugs and I vowed never to re-enter his hovel. But, I did seen him from time to time. He was always quitting drugs or taking up the violin again. Once he was trying out for a local chamber orchestra.

The last time I saw Roberto, he'd just been fired because of a DUI.

"I needed that. It woke me up," he said. "No mas. No mas boracho. No mas la marijuana."

Then, he went home and spend the next six days drinking himself to death.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Glen disappeared in crowds: at parties, in restaurants, even at small get togethers. He was thin and average looking but the main thing was that he had no personality. He seemed only partly there, moving as if he was wondering in a daze. People said that he'd never recovered from Vietnam.

But at a chess board, he was a whole different being. I'm tempted to say that he was a master except that he beat most chess masters who went up against him. He wouldn't complete in tournaments (he got too nervous) but his reputation was such that the best chess players from all over the country stopped by the Meat Market to drink great coffee and play Glen.

Everyone (including me) was stunned when I beat him in our first match. I'd been playing for less than three months and the only reason I took the game up at all was because I was living in a hippie house filled with chess fanatics. The only chess book I'd read was Beginning Chess by Bobby Fischer. Fischer being Fischer started where everyone else ended. The whole book was on how to see checkmates.

I saw one from seven moves out against Glen. Being the great player he was, he managed to stop the mate but I fatally crippled him.

Everyone said I was lucky, especially after seeing me lose to a series of second-rate players, but there really isn't much luck in Chess. You either see the moves or you don't. I never beat him again but I always played Glen well and my greatest chess moment (better even than the victory because he paying more attention) was fighting him to a draw.

This baffled everyone. But they misunderstood. It wasn't me playing over my head. It was Glen raising me up to his level. I have a gift for analytical reasoning and Glen's logic was crystaline and pure. I'd look at the moves of lesser players and see nothing but confusion. With Glen every move was part of a grand design and seeing that design told me what move I should make. I'd have no choice.

Glen's mind was a thing of beauty and it was a joy to watch it unfold. Maybe the real tragedy of his war was that it left him capable of using his intellectual artistry only for the benefit of eccentrics like me at coffee houses.

At that time, the press was making a hero out of a crack-junkie who was robbing taxi drivers. One article even called him a "criminal genius." Why? Because he wore a suit and came out of upscale hotels and restaurants to flag down the cabs. Once inside, he'd put the driver in a head lock and steal the money. He was very strong man and seriously injured a few of the drivers. He committed 21 robberies in 19 days. If he'd been half-way smart, he would have quit while he was ahead.

Instead he got into Glen's cab and tried to put a headlock on him. What most people didn't know was that Glen had been in Special Forces. He broke the headlock and tied up the man in his own belt. For me, the awesome thing was he that didn't seriously hurt the guy.

"I've done enough of that," Glen told me, "I just couldn't let him rob anybody else."

Sunday, August 23, 2009


I was on a negative roll: small tips, radio calls with no one there, other cabs stealing my loads. I'd had about twelve jerks in a row. I'm not being euphemistic. These were jerks, not assholes. Being an asshole takes intent and purpose. The jerks I was dealing with didn't have enough character to be evil. They were simply rude and obnoxious, creeps without a cause.

I try to shake off such petty things but I confess that I was not in a good mood.

A weird little man got in my cab and barked out a destination without looking at me.

"Would it hurt to say 'please?'" I asked him.

"I don't like your attitude," he snapped.

I snapped.

"Your 86'd - get outta here!" I snarled.

"I don't have to be nice to you," he said defiantly, "I'm not leaving!"

I lost it. Completely. I started screaming at him to get out. I was so mad I can't remember what I said.

"I'm not leaving," he kept repeating. "I've got my rights!"

I decided to toss him. I jumped out of the taxi and, slamming my door behind me, came around to his side and pulled on his door. I didn't have a plan in mind. I'm not usually violent but, if I'd needed to stretch a few of his ligaments to get the job done, I could have lived with it.

The door didn't budge. He'd locked it. I reached for my keys. They weren't in my pocket. I looked up and saw that they were still in the ignition. I tried the front door. He'd locked that too. In fact, the little jerk was sitting in the driver's seat.

I had thought that I was raging out of control. But, the instant I understood the situation, I calmed down. Smiling like an insurance salesman I said,

"I guess we got off on the wrong foot." Holding out my hand I added, "Hi. I'm Ed."

He didn't say anything so I gave him my widest smile and said,

"Now, why don't you open the door and get back in your seat. I'll take you anywhere you want to go - free of charge."

"No - No," he said, "you're going to hurt me."

"I'm not going to hurt you," I said soothingly, "I've never hurt anybody. Heck - I'm a follower of Mahatma Ghandi ... sort of."

"You're a liar and a hypocrite," he replied. "You're going to hurt me."

Then, he drove off in my cab. He didn't even have to start it. I'd left it running.

I wasn't eager to inform my company about the incident. There was nothing my manager enjoyed more than firing cab drivers. He'd hold bizarre ceremonies where he'd berate and publicly humiliate them. I couldn't imagine what he'd do to somebody like me who actually deserved to be fired.

Yes. I confess. I was wrong. My temper got the best of me. Having the little man call me  a "hypocrite" cut deep. I had failed the Mahatma. My behavior had done little to promote world peace.

It didn't make sense for the guy to steal the taxi. The address he'd given me was about a mile away. I hoped that he'd simply drive the cab close to his home and leave it.

This turned out to be the case. He'd even been nice enough to take the keys out of the ignition and hide them under the mat. He also put my briefcase, filled with maps and dollar bills, into the trunk. As I walked around the car to check the tires, I heard him call out from a distant window high above me,

"I'm sorry!"

Saturday, August 22, 2009


Her husband was in international finance. They lived the high life in London and Paris but he was gone most of the time. She had to raise the kids alone. After ten years, she accidentally found out that he was really with the CIA. In college, he'd said that he wanted to experience everything, to "murder and create." At the time, Eliot's phrase sounded like a metaphor but she guessed that he'd found a way to do exactly that in the real world. When he transferred to Southeast Asia, as she put it, to "start another war," she stayed in Paris.

She took the name "Aoede" after the Greek muse for song and opened an interior design firm dedicated to designing, "art to live in." The business did very well and she raised her kids in comfort, sending them on to whatever college or university they wanted. Her only commands were that they should live life to the fullest, do no harm and be as creative as they could. When the last girl graduated, Aoede closed shop and headed to San Francisco to paint and drive a cab.

She often told her customers that taxi driving was so much fun she couldn't imagine why she'd ever done anything else. She didn't have to worry about meeting a payroll or pleasing a picky client. She now had time to travel and "paint for myself."

"Everybody's so interesting," she says about the people she meets in her job. "They all live such interesting lives. They've all got a great song. All you have to do is listen."

Friday, August 21, 2009

Handsome Jack

Jack was a rarity: both a ladies man and a man's man. There was an easy, relaxed, unpretentious air about him that everybody liked. At the same time, he was clearly special. You could tell that he was going places. He was much too intelligent, too good-looking and too talented to spend his life driving a taxi.

After graduating from Julliard, he spent a few years in L.A. doing bit parts in films and television. But his wife hated the place and he found himself being type-cast as a psycho-killer so they moved to San Francisco. He did a lot of theatre and had a semi-recurring role as a street cop on Nash Bridges. They were thinking of expanding his part but the series folded before anything happened.

His wife left him for sleeping around too much. This stuck him as odd because he thought that they had an open relationship. But he could hardly argue against the facts. A few weeks later, Jack heard that she'd moved back to L.A. with one of the show's producers.

His loss gave him pause for thought. Although he looked ten years younger, he was 38. As his father might have phrased it, "it was time to shit or get off the pot."

One good thing about his new solitude was that it finally gave him the chance to re-work a play he'd written in college; a satirical comedy about a detective. Jack thought it might do well as dinner theatre with audience participation. He sold the idea to a producer and they re-furnished a small supper club. Jack directed and played the lead.

It caught on and became a local hit. It quickly garnered a reputation that went beyond the city. Sienfeld stopped by with an entourage and said that he thought the show would make good TV. He gave Jack a few names.

Things were happening fast now. Jack found himself working 12 hours a day and driving taxi 3 days a week on top of it. He was exhausted but exuberant. It was close to how life should be. Drop the cab Driving and it would be how his life should be.

A production team agreed to do three pilot shows. Don Johnson said he might guest star in one of them but had a conflict and pulled out. But the shoot went great anyway. The wrap party was a celebration. Everyone liked the episodes and they liked Jack. Word was that Letterman "just loved" the series and and there was talk about Jack appearing on his show. Some network or other was certain to pick the project up.

Jack waited and waited and and waited. Then, nothing happened. The dinner show ran it's course and closed. With all his expenses, Jack barely broke even.

It took awhile for reality to sink in.

One night Jack picked up a gorgeous woman outside of one night club and took her to another. The chatted and she made some comment about a movie star. Jack, as he had so often before, took the opportunity to lightly hit on her,

"But you're better looking than she is."

The woman looked at him like he'd touched her with filthy hands and snapped,

"Let me out here, cabbie!"

So that's how it would be. Jack getting older, the women getting younger. He envisioned an endless series of snobs and drunks, fraternity boys and girls, middle-managers and power-tripping clerks, corporate lawyers and creeps lining up with arms stretched out for as far as he could see.

He'd never thought of himself as "a cab driver." He'd done it for 15 years but it was only part-time. Temporary. Now he knew that he'd became the word that he most detested, a "Cabbie."

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Little Short

Early twenties, dark hair and nice looking, she stepped into my taxi. Avoiding the contamination of eye contact, she quietly commanded me to take her to an address. Then, she snapped,

"I'm in a hurry. I have a date. I only have $8.00."

An interesting sequence. It was at least a $10.00 ride.

Now there occasionally are people who will say, "I've only got $8.00 - just drop me whenever the money runs out." Or, sometimes they'll even say, "Drop me off at $6.00. I want to give you a tip." In either case, I'll usually take them all the way to where they want to go.

A young investment banker once told me that he only had $7.00 for a $10.00 ride and that I should drop him off when the fare hit 6.70. As usual, I asked him for the money up front. He gave it to me and we headed for his destination. Just as the meter clicked on 7.15, a woman flagged me down. It was a nice day so I told the banker,

"I'm going to take you up on your offer."

I pulled the cab to a stop. With a stunned expression on his face, he started to reach into his coat pocket for his wallet. Then, remembering what he'd told me, he reluctantly got out of the cab.

The banker'd been running a little scam. Including the tip, he saved himself $10.00 a day going to and from work. It says something about the legendary "greed" of cab drivers that I was apparently the first one ever to cut short his ride.

But the woman in a hurry had a different scenario. She was telling me, rudely, that she was two or three dollars short and that I going to take her anyway. Furthermore, she expected extra service. I was supposed to get her there fast.

"It's a $10 or $11 ride," I told her.

"I'm a waitress," she replied me in a tone of voice that clued me into the fact that she belonged to a higher level of humanity than I did. She cemented her elevated status by adding, "I'm studying design."

In short, I was supposed to sacrifice a few dollars because she thought herself socially superior to me. Hardly a unique concept, but I'd never before heard it stated quite that boldly.

"I'm in a hurry!" she repeated.

"Are you new in town?" I asked her.

"Why?" she asked, indignant at my temerity for asking her a question.

"Don't you have a bank?"

"Of course I have a bank," she snapped angrily.

"Good. We can stop by your bank and get some money."

"There's nothing in it right now."

"Maybe you should buy a book on money management."

"I beg your pardon!" she said, appaulled by my bad manners.

"It sounds like you could use some advice."

"When I want advice I'll ask for it!" she said with finality - clearly terminating the conversation.

"What about your date?"

"What about my date?!"

"I'm sure he could lend you a few dollars."

"I couldn't ask him for money," she said, incredulous, "it's our first date."

For some reason I took her all the way home. The meter read 11.65. She handed me a ten dollar bill and commanded, "Give me back $2.00! I need to catch the bus tomorrow morning."

"The exercise will do you good," I told her, "you still owe me $1.65."

She called the police the next day to complain that I was "rude." I talked it over with Sergeant Donleavey.

"Nothing to worry about," he told me.

"Are you going to get me back my $1.65?"

He laughed.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Argentinian or Virtue Rewarded

I took an aging black woman to the emergency entrance of UC Hospital. I pulled as close as I could to the doorway, just as I had done a dozen times before, and walked around to help her out of the back seat.

A large black cop came over and told me that I couldn't park there. I'd have to move it to the other side of the parking lot – 50 yards away.

"But she can hardly walk," I told him, "she came here because her legs are bothering her."

"Can't you read the sign?" he said pointing to a "No Parking" sign.

"Yes of course," I said, "but I'm just dropping her off. I'll take 2 minutes."

"Do you always ignore signs?" he asked sarcastically.

"Everybody ignores that sign – these are sick people. They need to get into the hospital." I heard my voice rising. I took a breathe and quieted down. "Listen – if you'd have let me do my job, I'd already have her inside."

"Don't get smart with me," he snapped. "Move it right now or I'll give you a ticket!"

"I never heard of nuthin' like this," he woman said sitting halfway out of the back door. "They always let me in here before."

The cop looked at her for the first time and mellowed a little.

"I'm sorry, mom, but the rule are the rules."

"Ain't no rules like this before," she said.

I drove the car and parked across the lot.

"I can't walk that," she said.

"Don't worry," I told her, "I'll get you a wheel chair."

There weren't any wheel chairs available so I went over and got in the cop's face. I mean I was a couple of inches away from his face but I was calm and polite. I just kept on saying over and over again,

"The lady is old and sick. She can't walk. There are no wheel chairs. I have to get her into the hospital. I need to park near the door."

He kept on telling me that the rules were the rules. But I wasn't leaving until I had her inside the hospital. I kept on saying the same thing over and over again. And he kept telling me about the rules.

I noticed an expensively dressed Hispanic man watching us. As I continued arguing with the cop, the man's expression became one of increasing wonder and disbelief.

A subtle change took place in the cop. He gradually came down from his power trip and began to soften. I could see that he wanted to help the woman but he was stuck with his rules. I had an inspiration.

"What'da say we carry her?"

He thought about it for a minute, then with sudden enthusiasm said,

"Yeah. Yeah. Let's do it."

We were about the same size and she weighed only about 120 pounds. The cop and I crossed arms and locked hands. The woman rode on our forearms into the hospital.

"Just like Angel's wings," she said.

The cop and I traded high-fives and parted like old friends.

The Hispanic man wanted the taxi but he couldn't speak English. We communicated in my butchered Spanish. In an Agentinian accent, he told me he wanted to go downtown. Perfect. An ideal ride.

The meter said $18 when he arrived. He handed me a fifty dollar bill. Clearly a mistake.

"Demasiado much," I told him, holding the fifty in my left hand while I brought out a twenty with my right, "vente es bueno."

He pushed the fifty back into my fist and folded his hands over mine. He gave me a warm smile and a look of gratitude.

"Es perfecto," he said, "muy muchas gracias."

I guess they don't argue much with cops down in Argentina.

The End

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Size Matters?

"My girlfriend just told me she's dumping me because my dick's too small for her."

" ... "

"I mean what kind of bullshit is that?"

" ... "

Well, yeah, it's a little small but I compensate for it. I do martial arts. Deep breathing. I'm in control. I know how to move it really well."

" ... "

"Nobody's ever complained before ..."

" ... "

"Well, yeah, there was this model lives in my building. One afternoon she asked me up for drinks. One thing led to another and next thing we were doing the nature thing ... I guess I had too much to drink ... it just flopped there on her stomach. She wouldn't talk to me after that. It was humiliating. "

" ... "

"But it wasn't size per se ... but my girl friend's got nuthin to complain about. I mean, I've had her moaning and calling out for god, crying "don't stop! don't stop!" over and over again and I didn't stop."

" ... "

"Yeah, she's playing some kind of game. Whatdaya think?"

" ... "

Monday, August 17, 2009


"I'm a whore," he told me, "or a boy toy - depends on the action. Woman or men. I do 'em both. Tonight I'll be a harlot and a gigolo."

If this sounds like a strange way for a stranger to start a conversation, it's because you've never driven cab. I didn't know what to say so I drove on in silence.

"I'm famous. I'm in all the porno magazines. Last night, I did a well-known female politician from Washington. I get customers from Europe. You have to book me three months in advance."

I looked him over in the mirror: average height, average built, average face.

"Nothing personal," I told him, "but you're not going to make anyone forget Leonardo DiCaprio."

"I'm hung," he said laconically.

"How'd you get into the business?"

"I started doing Polk Street perverts when I was 15 and went up from there. Tonight I'm doing a husband and wife professor team. They say they want to use me for research."


"Oh, I don't know ... he'll probably fuck me in the ass while I fuck her or visa versa. Once they see my cock they usually want to suck it. Maybe we'll do a wheel."


"A circle 69."

"Sounds exciting."

"It's not," he said as he paid the bill.

He stepped half out of the cab then turned back to me, saying in an exhausted voice,

"You can't believe how boring it all is."

Class Warfare

Two women try to hail a cab: one in her early twenties, the other in her sixties; one open and friendly, the other closed and sour; both wearing haunt couture; both with the same nose, chin and eyes: granddaughter and grandmother.

It's rush hour and there's a major convention in town. They're standing in front of Vidal Sassoon but the cabs racing by are all full. The women are becoming desperate.

I'm not working but I decide to help. I feel that improving our image is my personal duty, besides the older woman's nearing hysteria. I walk over to them, give them a friendly smile and say, "relax -I'll get one for you."

I walk down a block. An empty taxi is rolling toward the curb. Two New Yorker guys are stepping in front of a couple from Iowa to steal it. As it stops, I step in front of them and grab it.

"Hey!" one of them says.

"Thanks for holding it," I say with a smile.

"Your mudder!" he responds, flipping me off.

I tell the driver the situation and he's cool with it so we go down to hand over the taxi.

I get out and open the door for the women with a magnanimous gesture.

The granddaughter smiles with gratitude. Grandmother looks me over with a cold eye. I'm wearing the designer sweater, shirt and slacks that a friend chose for me at Goodwill. But the old woman isn't fooled. Maybe it's the Reboks.

She holds a dollar bill out toward me.

I give her a friendly wave and a gesture of refusal.

She thrusts the bill out again, this time with an expression of hostility and distain.

Who am I to think I can be friends with her?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Yuppie Panhandler

"You must help me. I have AIDS!" she exclaimed, incredulous and amazed, not believing that anyone could refuse to help her ... HER. It must have been her first day and it was amazing.

She was 28, a fresh faced beauty like Jean Seberg or Tea Leoni. Her blond hair had been freshly cut just below her ears. She wore a beige blazer over a navy blue business dress, nylons and polished blue shoes with three inch heels.

She'd clearly done everything right: she had the degree, probably an MBA, she'd worked hard and had risen to middle management. She was neither an addict nor a drunk. And yet ...

Can you imagine the people she must have gone through before arriving on the street? How many rejections she must have had from family, lovers, friends, relatives, colleagues, associates, acquaintances, welfare agencies and charities? And she still didn't get it. She still believed that she was the center of the world.

Nevertheless, she was smart. She'd figured out the business right away. She came over to me at Pine and Van Ness - maybe the best corner for panhandling in the entire city. Cars get stuck at the light, three across and at least three deep, for several hours every day.

I saw her every evening for a couple of weeks and then periodically after that as in time-lapse photography.

The next time, there were holes in her nylons and she no longer told people she had AIDS.

Then her hair turned brown, she had no socks and her clothes were dirty. She'd broken the heel on one shoe and hobbled over to collect her money.

I hadn't seen her for about a month, when she showed up wearing an army jacket over her business dress and Converse All Stars. Her shoulder length hair was tied back back in a bun.

I didn't have a dollar and was looking through my brief case for one that I'd misplaced when a couple climbed in the back of cab.

"Do you have change for a $5?" I asked them as I dug through my things.

They responded with a deep, silent pause so I glanced up. I saw two aging people dressed in black that had the clean-cut, Americana look of a Norman Rockwell painting - only they'd been warped and embittered by too little affection, unpleasant sex and too much money.

The woman stared at me, offended. I finally found a dollar and gave to Seberg-Leoni.

"You shouldn't do that," the woman snapped. "It just encourages them."

"To what? Keep eating?"

"If you feed them, they won't work," the man stated.

"I don't know if she can work - she has AIDS."

"Whose fault is that?" the woman asked archly.

"Actually," I told her, turning around with a smile, "it's mine."

The pair spent the rest of the trip pinned back on their seats, looking as if they were riding with a boa constrictor.

I saw Leoni-Seberg one last time, about a year later.

She looked ageless - as if she'd she'd been born on the streets. She wore jeans, beat-up tennis shoes, a sweat shirt and an army jacket. She'd roughly cut her hair back to her ears. She was still lovely but you had to search for the beauty beneath her raw and reddened weather-beaten skin.

She hadn't lost her sense of self - no small feat living the homeless life. She still stood confidently and asked for money as if it was owed to her. She stared at the people who passed her by with contempt.

She took my dollar without recognizing me and, giving me a businesslike "thanks," waved to a homeless man across the street. He dressed like she did and, like her, looked as if he'd never been anything except a beggar.

He came over and the two of them walked off, striding together, gently bumping shoulders and elbows, talking intimately, counting and pooling their money, planning their future.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Half a Story

A lot of guys try to impress women by demeaning cab drivers but this was the worst case I've seen.

He actually wasn't bad looking. I figured him for 15 years away from being his high school's star quarterback. Except for a pot belly, he was still in decent shape.

Of course he didn't say hello or greet me in any civil manner. Instead he barked out a command in a tone of voice that told me that I'd already displeased him and had better watch my step. Then, he immediately started talking to his date. Or, rather at his date. She didn't say a word. He interrupted his monologue every block to give me new directions. I'm not lying - every block. And we went straight most of the way.

I decided to have fun. I accentuated his absurdity by parroting an order every time he gave me one.

"Go straight!"

"Going straight!"

"Go right!"

"Going right!"

He keep glaring at me but I think to actually comment on my commentary would've been uncool. It would've meant acknowledging his lack of absolute control.

"Stop here!"

"Stopping here!" I said, hitting the brakes and bouncing him off the back of my seat.

"No!" he snapped angrily, "in front of the store."

"Stopping in front of the store," I said, slowing down gradually this time.

He got out, gave me a fierce stare and went inside.

"What piece is this?" the woman asked about the music playing over my radio.

I turned half around. She had moved from behind me and was leaning on the middle of my front seat with her chin on her forearms. She was long and slim, open and lovely.

"Brahms isn't it?

"Yes, but I can't place the symphony."

"I think it's the third."

"Of course," she said, slightly snapping her fingers. "Hi, I'm a cello."

"Hi, I'm a base."

"I thought so."

If I was doing satire I'd write something like "small world isn't it" or "it must be fate" but the truth is that there was a click, an instant connection. I can't tell you how rare it is to meet a customer who can tell the difference between Brahms' symphonies.

"I'm not with that asshole," she said. "He's a partner at my sister's law firm. I gotta make nice."

"Too bad ... Maybe you can help me? I'm looking for a good recording of that little solo mediation by Hindemith - do you know it?"

Why such an obscure piece? I was looking for a good recording of it but the sad truth is that I'm a music snob. I wanted a woman who could go beyond Brahms.

"You mean the Op 25 #3?"

"Yeah - that's the one."

"I've played it."

It was fate.

"I'd love to hear you play it."

"Is he bothering you?" The all star had returned with a stern, school master's expression.

He'd been gone less than two minutes and I'd forgotten he'd existed.

"Not at all," she said, sliding back behind me.

He gave instruction for the next six blocks but I no longer felt a need to comment. When we stopped, he gave her a command,

"I don't like his attitude - don't tip him!"

She gave me $7 for a $6.70 ride. They climbed out. I heard her say, "Oh, I forgot something." She came back and slipped me a twenty folded around a business card. On the back she'd written:


Wednesday, August 12, 2009


If I'd realized how drunk he was I never would have let him in my taxi. I wasn't paying attetnion when he came out of the bar. He'd already flopped into my front seat before I had a chance to do anything about it.

He was tall and wearing an expensive three-piece suit, 50 years old and 50 pounds overweight. He was so loaded he could hardly speak. I needed to have him repeat his address several times before I could understand his slurr.

"San Carlos ... San Carlos."

That was a relief. We were already in the Mission. It was little alley six or seven blocks away. I wanted to dump him as soon as possible.

As we approached his street, he recovered some of his gift of speech.

"Don't take the long way, buddy," he slurred, "I was born in this town."

"I'm not taking you anywhere but home, buddy - what's the address."

"San Carlos. I told ya San Carlos buddy."

"Were on San Carlos, buddy."

"No - San Carlos buddy - top of the hill."

"You mean the city of San Carlos?"

"Right buddy - top of the hill."

"That's meter and a half. It'll be $70 or $80.

"Yeah yeah, meter and a ass. Top of the hill buddy."

Just when I was beginning to like him, he ignored my "No Smoking" sign and lit a cigarette.

"There's no smoking in here," I told him pointing to the sign.

"Whataya gonna do about it?" he asked as he leaned forward and, keeping the cigarette in his tightened lips, blew smoke in my face.

I pulled the cigarette out of his mouth and threw it out the window.

"Hey buddy!" He wheezed, sizing me up for a punch.

I put my right forefinger between his eyes, an inch from his face, and said,

"You can chase it if you want."

"So that's how it is," he said, backing off.

"That's how it is."

I turned on the classical station. The music tends to pacify drunks. We drove for 30 or 40 minutes without talking. By the time we reached San Carlos, he'd sobered up enough to give me clear directions to his home.

"Here we are buddy," he said, pointing at a large bungalow, "second house from the top."

I pulled up and he got out, staggering only slightly. The meter read 64.75. Ordinarily I would've have lowered it to 55 because we did go a little out of the way but not for this jerk.

"Let's just say 64 plus 50% equals $96."

"Well ... you can forget the 50%, buddy. I'm not payin it."

"But I told you up front."

"I don't care what ya told me. I'm gonna to give you some money and you're gonna take it."

I thought about this. I hated to give in to the prick but this wouldn't be exactly a high priority item for the cops. It was friday night. By the time they came, if they came, I would have lost the $32 and more in time.

"Okay just give me the $64."

I made a mistake by folding so quickly. He became drunk with power in addition to the alcohol.

"I don't have cash," he said, smiling in a way that let me know that he was lying, "can you take a credit card?"

"We're not set up for it."

"Lucky for you," he said laughing, "it isn't any good anyway."

"Listen buddy - I took you home. You've heard great music. We've played your game. It's been fun but I've gotta work. Just pay me ... please."

"You're gonna have to take a check, buddy."

"Can I use your telephone? My cell isn't working."

He graciously invited into his kitchen and handed me a phone. I called 411 and loudly asked for the number of the San Carlos police. Buddy thought that this was really funny. When I told them the street number, they didn't recognize it. He took the phone, gave them the street again and started complaining that I wouldn't take his check. He gave the phone back to me and the cops told me that the address was actually in the city of Belmont - a half block away from San Calos. I had the wrong police department.

"Let me make the call," Buddy said smiling in triumph and taking the phone.

He started boring the Belmont cops with a monologue about his check and the current climate of mistrust. I went looking for a bathroom. As I walked down a hallway, I head a tv playing in the distance. I followed the sound and found a wiry woman with with brown, greying hair watching the tube.

"Don't freak out," I calmly said as she began freaking out. I quickly told her the tale ending with, "he's making me call the police."

She shot out of the chair and walked to the kitchen so rapidly that I could hardly keep up with her. She grabbed the phone out of Buddy's hand, apologized to the police, hung up and, without saying a word to her husband, opened a drawer and counted out $110 for me. Then she opened a small purse and gave me an additional 40 cents. Despite her shock, her anger, her anxiety and, probably, her despair, she tipped me exactly 15%.

As I walked toward the door, Buddy started after me.

"Nobody messes with my family, buddy," he said threateningly.

"Stop it!" his wife snapped in tone of voice that let us both know that whatever shards of a sex life had remained between them were now history.

I'd had smoke blown in my face: I'd been insulted and threatened, taunted and demeaned: I'd let myself be humiliated: I'd lost at least $30 in time.

But hey - this is cab driving.

There's a grand view of the Bay from on top of the hill, one hundred ten dollars and forty cents isn't bad for two and a half hours' work and I may well have delivered the coup de gras to a truly horrible marriage. Not a bad night so far.

I head for the airport. Friday night. It should be moving.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


My first day they gave me a cab that wouldn't go up the steep side of Nob Hill.

"This must be some sort of initiation," I told my refined lady customer as I drove around to a more gradual slope, "pay what you like."

That didn't turn out to be much but she did give me invaluable advice. "Don't wait in hotel lines or spend too much time at the airport. Not if you want to make money."

Yellow Cab had hired me because I had a perfect driving record. What they didn't know was that I'd been traveling and hadn't driven a car in six years. I'd pretty much forgotten how to do it. I was afraid to make lane changes. I'd get on the freeway and just stay in one lane. Some customers of course bitched but I learned another invaluable lesson. What your driving teacher told you was true: it doesn't do any good to speed in traffic.

I'd get on the freeway during rush hour, find my lane and stick with it. Another taxi would get on right behind, blow past me and go into a frenetic lane changing mode. We'd arrive at the airport at about the same time. Once in awhile, I'd even get there first.

The company gave me the worst day shift. There were about ten cabs for every customer. The radio dispatchers didn't "hear" me or, if they did, it was was for grocery pick ups. They never gave me trips out of the city. Half the time when I showed up my rides weren't even there. Other drivers cut me off and stole my fares.

I'd played sports in school but I never subscribed to a "winning is the only thing" philosophy. Like everyone else, I'd gone through a Buddhism phase in the 70s and had come to look upon competitiveness as destructive behavior. I wasn't about to race wildly down streets cutting people off like many of fellow cab drives just to make a little money. On the other hand, a little money was exactly what I was making - very little.

One slow Sunday afternoon (there are no fast ones), I took a radio call on 24th St in Noe Valley. Being given a call, however, was no guarantee of actually getting it. You still had to arrive at the address first. I got to the intersection, a few buildings away from the order, a clear 15 seconds before my competition. It was a busy two-lane street. If I pulled forward I would have had to double park and block off the other cab. I waved him on so that he could pass by freely.

To my surprise, he stopped in front of the address and, blocking me off, got out of his cab to ring the doorbell. He was thin, dressed all in black with a tattoo and an earring - a punk.

"What are you doing?" I asked incredulously as I stepped out of my cab. "I was just letting you by to -"

"I don't talk to drivers," he snarled, "you wanna steal my ride you can talk to Nate."

I snapped. I mean I went a little crazy. Being treated and talked to like that after I'd graciously done him a favor - threatening to get me fired when he'd stolen my ride - incensed me. I vowed revenge.

We worked the same shifts. I studied him for awhile. When he saw me watching him, he arrogantly stared through me as if I wasn't there. I started following him with my taxi whenever I came across his cab on the street, actually stalking him on slow days.

The first time I got even, he was stuck at a red light waving to a customer across the intersection. I swooped down the other lane and, timing it perfectly, cut him off just as the light turned green.

It felt good but it wasn't nearly enough. The Romans ruled their provinces by executing ten people for every one of their soldiers that was killed. It sounded like a good principle to me.

I lost track of how many times I stole one of his fares by either cutting him off or racing insanely to beat him to a radio call. I stopped counting at eight.

One time, I was hiding behind a small truck which was behind him at an intersection. I could see him in his side mirror but he couldn't see me. He frantically scanned back and forth. I had him paranoid. Seeing nothing, he finally relaxed. I made a double lane change, went out into a left-turn lane and swung back to cut him off and steal his fare again just as the light changed.

A few days later, I got a ride to the airport and decided to eat lunch while I was there. My favorite punk was sitting at a picnic table. He gave me a shy, nervous smile and started talking to me in a friendly way. I sat down. He showed me pictures of his wife and his little baby girl.

"They're the loves of my life," he told me. "It's okay if I don't make $100 every night but, if I come up short too many days, I can't cover the rent."

I ended the vendetta. I no longer cut people off or raced them for orders. But then, I didn't have to. Other drivers didn't steal rides from me anymore. The dispatchers were 'hearing" me. I drove better cabs and had been promoted to a night shift.

The Romans knew what they were doing. I had the reputation of being a driver that you just didn't want to fuck with. For better or worse, I was no longer a rookie.

Monday, August 10, 2009

You Can't Cheat an Honest Man

A late Monday night in winter. It was so cold that I drove up Taylor through the Loin without even seeing a derelict or an addict.

A young black man came jogging down the street carrying a shrink-wrapped Sony digital video camera and looking repeatedly over his shoulder. He ran in front of me to cross the street then, glancing back, turned around and came over to the cab.

"Hey man," he said rapidly, showing me the box, "I think they're after me."

If the camera was actually in the box, it was the Sony digital video that sold for $2,000. I was in film school and this was the same digital camera I'd been lusting over for two years. Real movies had been made using it, not just documentaries ... if the camera was in the box.

"Come on man," he said almost in whisper as he continually scanned back and forth looking for cops, "just give me a hundred. Take it off my hands."

"Let me see it," I said.

"Hey man," he said, protecting the box. "You're not gonna try and rip me off are you?"

"Don't be ridiculous," I said, "I'm a cab driver."

He thought about this for a few seconds then handed me the box.

It felt right. I shook it and could feel the camera inside the packing. I quickly turned the box over and over. It had the original cellophane tightly stretched around it.

"Come on man," I gotta motor, "take it or not."

"I don't have hundred - it's been a slow night."

"Whataya got?"

"I can give you forty."

He took it. I grabbed the camera, hid it behind the seat and drove off. I stopped a few miles away after checking to see that I hadn't been followed.

It turned out that the box didn't have the original cellophane on it after all. The wrapping had just been cleverly pushed into the corners. I opened the box. It was tightly packed with newspapers. I dug through them and found a smaller box about the same size as a video camera. I opened it. It was also packed with newspapers. In middle of the papers was a rock.

Smuc! Idiot! Liar! Thief! Sucker! Loser! Me.

Who ever said that writing the truth was easy?


Eddy and Leavenworth, the lower depths of the Tenderloin. Addicts are milling about, talking, looking for a connection.

A ten year old boy spots a pizza carton on top of a trash can. He opens it. There is a piece and a half inside. Pepperoni and sausage, I believe.

He turns to his crack-whore mother to offer her part of it.

She grabs the box with her left hand and wildly slaps the shit out of him with her right, knocking him to the ground.

She puts the box back on the trash can and takes out the pieces that are melded together. She eats. Her eyes glaze over as she chews, showing neither pleasure nor desire nor guilt.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A Cruel Hoax

A cab drivers nightmare.

A dumpy, blond woman of around 30 stood in front of the hospital arranging a dozen 40 gal bags. I could see it all in an instant. It would take me 15 minutes to both load and unload the cab. She'd go three blocks and would have a voucher. I'd neither be paid for my time nor get tipped.

A nurse came over to help her and they both turned toward me as I walked over from the taxi.

"What's this?" I asked, " a cruel hoax?"

"You don't have to help if don't want to," said the woman heatedly.

"Oh, lighten up Mary," the nurse said with exasperation. "He's just making a joke."

"Come on," I said as I grabbed one of the bags, "show me how you want it packed."

The nurse kept smiling at the stupid jokes I kept making while I loaded the car. Mary quietly chatted to herself as she re-arranged every sack I put in.

When we finished she told me, "They stole my husband from me."

The nurse folded her arms and looked at Mary with deep and helpless sympathy.

On the way over to her new half-way house, I got to listen to Mary's chatter. They used to call it "word salad" - words tossed about without subtext, context or meaning. But it wasn't that simple. Most of it did sound like disconnected gibberish but it obviously meant something to her.

Besides, some of the things she said made perfect sense. She was moving across town to Bernal Heights, one of the most complicated neighborhoods in the city. She gave me precise and exact directions on how to get to her place. The bizarre thing was that her instructions were wrapped inside of rambling clauses and seemed to have nothing to do with whatever else she was saying.

Other things that she said make perfect sense and were insane at the same time.

"I'm really Mary Queen of Scots," she told me. "It was Elizabeth that took my husband because I'm beloved of the people and she isn't."

She continued the chatter while she helped me take her bags up a few dozen steps to her porch. I wished her luck and was about to leave when she said, with deep and pathetic despair,

"I only want them to give my husband back to me."

I kissed her on her forehead - the seat of her manic, twisted, disconnected world. I couldn't have done her any harm. Nothing else had helped.


He was 20 or so, tall, white and athletic. The moment we stopped, he bolted from the back seat of the cab and flung himself over an eight foot fence.

Runners are actually rare and, for those interested in racial profiling, I've never had anyone of Asian or Hispanic descent try to run on me. I think I can remember every person who did. It's usually more a matter of sport than economic necessity.

I picked up three black male teenagers on a slow Tuesday night. They wanted to go down the Peninsula to Millbrae. I told them that I needed to see the money up front. They showed me $40.

We arrived at their apartment complex and I was just saying, "I didn't know they had housing projects in Millbrae," when they bolted from the Taxi and dashed off into the night. Clearly more athletes.

One of them was also a decent student. He left behind an essay on The Great Gatsby with a B- circled on it. I think his teacher was unduly harsh. The kid's spelling was even worse than my own but the paper was well thought out. I think it deserved at least a B+. He left his name and address at the top. I returned the essay and wrote to his mother asking for the fare but I never heard anything from her.

My next racer was a Marina woman of about 35 for whom the word "bitch" was merely a description, not an insult. She was drunk and belligerent. When I told her to put out the cigarette that she had lit despite my "No Smoking" sign, she tried to hide it in the crease of the back seat - in the hope, I guess, of starting a delayed fire.

When we stopped, I was making a note on my waybill (an argument against) when she slowly bolted (if that's possible) out of the cab. I almost caught her. She drunkly stumbled and giggled her way to the door, slamming it just in time to nearly squash my face.

In her eagerness to cheat me out of my money, however, she had dropped a small purse on the sidewalk with $80 in it. The meter read 6.70. I decided to pay myself a "pain and suffering" fee. I took a 20 and pushed the purse through a newspaper slot in the door. It was too thick for her mailbox.

Yes, it occurred to me that someone other than her might find the purse but, as they say in Mexico, "no es mi problema es su problema."

My all-time, all-star runners were three black women in their late twenties carrying huge Macy's shopping bags. They were casually yet elegantly dressed in stylish jackets and slacks. One of them wore spike heels.

It was another slow Tuesday night. I picked them up at a bus stop on Valencia. They had a heated argument with an angry fourth woman who refused to get in the cab with them. It was only later of course that I understood what the fight was about.

I took them out to the projects at Sunnydale and Santos. We had a generally pleasant conversation but, as we neared their destination, two of them started bitching about how "cabbies" never picked them up.

I stopped on the outside of their building. They wanted me to drive into the parking lot but it was a cul-de-sac so I refused.

They bolted from the cab - and I mean bolted. They were carrying two shopping bags apiece but, Olympics aside, I have never seen women move that fast. And the lead sprinter was the one with the spike heels. As if a white male cab driver would chase them into the projects.

I got out and yelled for them to come back. I didn't care about the $15 fare. I had my video camera with me. I would've paid them another $20 to repeat the action so I could film it.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Playing Dead

The taxi drove away while she looked through her purse for her keys.

A tall man grabbed her from behind, wrapped a huge hand over her mouth to muffle her screams and dragged her into the nearby bushes. She fought and kicked like hell but he easily overpowered her. He threw her down on her back, pinned her arms and used his knee to spread her legs. He pushed her scarf deep into her mouth. She kept kicking, trying to scream, trying to breath, trying to break loose.

But something was wrong. She didn't know what. It was only later that she realized that it was because he'd been taking too long. He should already have been inside her.

She opened her eyes. He was looking down at her with a sadistic smile. She understood. Her kicking and screaming, her powerlessness, her fear, her pain was turning him on.

She went limp and played dead, leaving only her eyes open to watch him like a zombie.

It infuriated him. He started slapping her and hollered, "You bitch!"

Lights went on and windows opened in the nearby apartments. He slapped her once more hard and ran off.

The last slap did him in. He cut his hand on her teeth and left his DNA on her clothing. It was his third offense. He hadn't even gotten off but they still gave him life.

She realized how lucky she'd been. She took self-defense courses and always carried one of those knives with a concealed blade that pops straight out of the handle.

"Next asshole who tries to rape me," she said, "gets it cut off."

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Perfect Short

"You're about eight minutes out," my customer said glancing at his watch, "that's not bad for a Friday night. You're about two minutes behind but the traffic usually eases up when you hit Highway 92. Then you can start making back the time."

I took a close look at him in the mirror. He was around 50, wearing a brown suit and looking very fit.

"You seem to know a lot about my business."

"I'm Captain John Harrigan, US Air Force retired - I live right on top of 92 just before it hits 280. A lot of drivers tell me it's the perfect short."

He was right. It's a $35 or $40 ride. If traffic's good you can get there in 15 minutes. If you get back to airport within 30 minutes you go to the front of the waiting line. You get a fare downtown and you've had an $80 hour.

But, before he brought the subject up, I wasn't even thinking about a short. The traffic looked too heavy and I was hung over, hardly in the mood for racing. But Harrigan called it right. The left lane opened up as soon as we turned on 92. I switched into it and brought my speed up to 70.

"You could probably go a little faster," the Captain said. He was really into it. I pushed it to 75.

"If you do 80, you'll make up a minute by the time you drop me off."

"I don't speed with customers in the cab," I told him. "Call it a quirk."

He looked at me, a little confused. As we were rolling to a stop in front of his apartment, he handed me two twenties. He jumped out while the wheels were still slightly moving.

"All you have to pick up is 75 seconds," he shouted as I whipped a U. He pumped his fist - go.

His enthusiasm infected me. Why not? If the freeway cleared, I decided to go for it.

The road opened like the eye of a storm. A Friday night miracle. I blew down the left lane at a safe 9o, frantically checking my mirrors for cops. I took the curves at a smooth 80 and by the time I caught up with the traffic I was already back on Highway 101 - 22 minutes out and cruising at 65. I'd made up the 75 second plus another 90. All I had to do was coast back to the lot.

A brown Toyota pick-up pulled up on my left. A blond man is his early twenties honked his horn, shook his fist at me and shouted what appeared to be, "You're going too fast!"

I recognized the truck. I'd passed it about 5 minutes earlier. He must have driven 105 mph to catch up to me. I shrugged my shoulders. I was in lane 2. I saw an opening on my right so I made a lane change and speeded up to 80. The left lane was blocked so I hoped to loose the jerk.

Two minutes later, the Toyota cut in front of me, blind-siding me from the right. The driver flipped me off through the back window. I made two quick lane changes and sped down the left lane. The Toyota must have been on steroids because the lunatic cut me off again. I quickly cut back to right but he stayed with me. He slowed down, putting his rear fender almost on my bumper so I couldn't move around him.

I waited, looking for a break in the traffic. I was 27 minutes out and trapped in lane 2. I started flipping my blinkers like crazy: right-left, right-left, right-left, right-left, right-left. Of course I wanted to confuse him but, more importantly, I hoped that the cars behind me would think I was crazy and back off.

It worked. Suddenly, I faked right, then made a juke move left and went back right again. The wheel-base on the Toyota was too narrow for it to stay with the me: it rocked back and forth causing the driver to momentarily loose control. This gave me a thick inch to go by his bumper on the right. I floored it and cut straight across two lanes barely making the off-ramp into the airport. The Toyota tried to follow but the angle was too sharp and he was cut off by a semi.

I was 28.5 minutes out. Now I had to worry about Officer Rinaldi. He liked to hide his motorcycle just behind the struts of the overpass and nail cab drivers as they raced in to punch their tickets. I passed him at 44 mph. He looked bored. There would be more prey later.

I slowed down to the required 25 and flowed toward the ticket machine. I was 30 minutes out. The machine clicked just after I'd punched my card. I'd made it.

I drove into an empty waiting lot to get my time checked by one of the creatures that the airport hires for starvation wages to do nothing but check the time on the tickets. He was like 100 pounds overweight and looked like he hadn't bathed in three or four days.

"I make it!" I yelled, forgetting I was Mr. Cool, jumping up and down in my seat. "I made it! I made it!"

He slowly lumbered out of his chair and, staring at me with dead eyes, came over to check the ticket.

"I made it!" I yelled again.

He looked at the ticket and stared at me again. He handed it back to me then, in a fake southern accent, his voice dripping with sarcasm, said,

"That just makes ma whole week."

"Mine too," I told him.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Seven Veils or How I Became a Gigolo

I picked her up at the opera house. She was in her early 40s and elegantly dressed but a little plain for my tastes. She was, however, personable and chatty. She had just seen the version of Strauss's Salome where Maria Ewing did a complete striptease during the dance of the seven veils.

The performance was part of the schizophrenia of the period. At the same time as the SFPD was cracking down on strip clubs, pornography was moving into higher culture. Samuel Ramey had recently played the tittle role in a production of Mefistofele where the entire cast of around 150 tore off their clothes for the finale. Of course looking at those humongous naked bodies writhing and flopping about on the stage, it was easy to imagine that you were seeing Hell.

The lady and I agreed that Ewing's dance, while erotic, was tasteful and obviously aesthetically justified by the plot.

When we arrived at her small mansion in Pacific Heights, she went through her purse several times before turning to me with embarrassment and saying, "I'm sorry. I must have taken the wrong purse. I don't seem to have any money."

"Well," I told her, "I guess that leaves me with no choice but to call the police."

"A man with a sense of humor," she said as she opened the door and started to step outside. She looked back over her shoulder adding, "come inside if you're afraid I'm going to run on you. You can use the bathroom if you like."

Her bathroom was not only bigger than my studio apartment, it was cleaner. When I stepped out into her huge kitchen, the lights were dimmed. She was standing in the middle of the room wrapped in several, thin, ankle-length shawls and nothing else. I didn't count them but she looked like a woman with a fetish for detail so I assume that there were seven.

She turned on the Dance of the Seven Veils and proceeded with her own take on the piece. While not as professionally accomplished as Ewing's, her dance was more erotic - obviously justified by the aesthetics of the moment.

When she got down to three veils, I rhetorically asked , "You don't intend to pay for the ride do you?"

"That depends," she said slowly spinning and adroitly flipping a shawl around my thighs, "upon how good it is."

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Take the Next Exit

Two guys in their early thirties: one white and skinny, one black and chubby. The thin man sat in front, the fat guy sat behind him.

Cowboy didn't like them. They were arrogant and rude. They spoke so loudly to hear each other above the freeway traffic that they were almost yelling. It was a ridiculous conversation about whether or not they both knew the same Marge. Why didn't they just sit next to each other in the back seat if they wanted to talk?

Suddenly the black man snapped out a command, "Take the next exit!"

"I thought you wanted the airport?" Cowboy said.

"I need to pick something up on the way."

"But there's nothing there but a dump."

"Sure there is - it's a shortcut to Brisbane."

Cowboy didn't like it but he remembered the shortcut ... or was that at the next exit?

"You're gonna miss the turn!" Skinny shouted.

Cowboy reflexively turned down the off-ramp.

"Take a right!" Fatty snapped.

Cowboy turned right and saw that the road dead ended in 100 feet.

"Give me the gun," the black man said as he reached back over the seat. He brought back a .38 and aimed it at Cowboy's head.

"When I tell you to do something you do it and do it now! I don't need no fucking arguments."

"Just shoot him! He's an asshole!"

The Fatty turned to look at his partner and then back at Cowboy. "Yeah, you're -"

Cowboy zapped him with a tazer. He dropped the gun on the seat and shook like he was having fit. Cowboy spun around toward the other man when the tip of a blade cut into his ribs though the back seat. Cowbody jerked away but the blade paralyzed him with agony as he tore his body away from the knife and wrapped himself over the wheel.

"Get the gun," Fatty said, unable to move.

As Skinny reached for it, Cowboy zapped him too. Feeling searing pain with every move, he grabbed the gun, rolled out of the car and scrambled into some nearby brush where he passed out from the pain.

When he woke up, the taxi was gone and he couldn't find the gun. He slowly crawled out to the edge of highway where he passed out again.

He was almost dead when the Highway Patrol found him. He spend 26 days in the hospital.

When he finally recovered, Cowboy drove cab for another 16 years. Wasn't much else he could do.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Not Another Bitch

'Not another bitch,' I thought as she climbed in.

She scowled as she struggled to bring five cloth bags into the taxi.

She snapped out a destination a few block away and then added, "they're too heavy to carry up the hill."

"No reason you should have to," I said, warming up to her implied apology. "How you doin today?"

"I'm doin' horribly," she blurted out, suddenly crying. "I broke up with my boyfriend - he'd never tell he loved me. Then he told me when he dumped me."

I drove along for a few minutes listening to her tying unsuccessfully to hold back her sobs. Then I said, "you're a very pretty woman and there are a lot of men in the world."

It was true. She looked like Natalie Portman.

She climbed out smiling at me with gratitude through her tears.

This marked one of the few times that I've ever told a woman exactly what she wanted and needed to hear.

Policing Einstein

I was sitting on one of the stools at the bar finishing a greasy hamburger at the Pinecrest. Two couples chatted and laughed loudly in a nearby booth. They were in their early 30s and casually well-dressed. The men wore tan sport jackets: the woman, sweaters and skirts.

One of the men emphatically proclaimed, "Einstein didn't change one principle of Newton's!"

"You don't know shit about Einstein!" a stentorian voice boomed out. It belonged to an aging man halfway down the bar from me. He had wild white hair and a striking face that looked like Michelangelo's depiction of God.

"What?" the young speaker snapped as he turned toward the voice.

"You don't know shit about Newton either," the man added. His wore a dark suit that looked like it had been slept in and scuffed shoes with worn out heels.

The two young men bolted up. One of the them pulled out a badge and said, "we're cops!"

"So what?"

"You can't talk that way in here!"

"And you can't talk shit about Einstein!"

"Shut it down!" one cop threatened.

"Take it back, you moron, and I'll shut it down."

The two cops proceeded to grab the man, wrestle him to the floor and drag him out of the restaurant. The two woman looked on with mild perplexity.

I finished my burger and walked outside. The cops had God handcuffed around a pole. One of them milled about looking for a squad car while the other one knelt down checking the fit of the cuffs.

As I walked passed them, I quietly said, "You know, you really don't know much about Einstein."

The kneeling cop thrust a set of cuffs out toward me saying, "You want some too!"

Just Ask for Steve

A big, black man wearing a blond, full-length fur coat and a fedora hat came out the motel room followed by his white wife and three little children, ages maybe four to six. He was a very friendly, personable man - a born salesman. He sat in the front talking me up while his wife took care of the kids in back.

I drove them out to the Sunnydale housing projects. He asked me go into the middle of a courtyard between several buildings, which I did.

The moment I stopped the car, guys came pouring out of the buildings and swarmed the cab like mosquitos on a fresh cut. If asked by the police to describe them, I would say that they were African Americans between 16 and 30 standing from 5'6" to 6'8." Most wore white tee-shirts and the most amazing thing about them was that they were all in shape. It was like being engulfed by a basketball team; or, rather by a whole conference. I didn't do a count but there had to be at least 30 or 40 dudes out there.

Yes, my perception had been right. My customer was a born salesman. And, what he was selling, in his personal and friendly way, was crack-cocaine from out of the windows of my taxi.

Did I think of calling the police? Did I ask my customer, "Do you realize that you are involving me as accessory in a felony?" No I did not.

What I did was sit and think that, when I was growing up in my middle-class neighborhood with it's quiet winding streets in the middle-class city of St. Paul, I imaged doing many things in my life but I'd never imaged living through a moment quite like this one.

When he finished his business, I drove him back downtown to his motel. The fare was something like $28. He gave me $30. Then, he paused, said "hell - you were great" and gave me an extra dollar.

"No man," he continued, "you were really cool - I wanna get you again."

"Fine with me," I told him, "just ask for Steve."

Sunday, August 2, 2009


He was a 6'6" 280 pound black man with useless legs. His wife was a large women herself but it took all the strength the two of us could muster, along with all the strength in his muscular arms, just to get him into the front seat.

"Mind takin' me down to Haight and Webster - I need a little H."

"Is that health food?"

He laughed. "Yeah - it's health food all right," he said, adding, "just being upfront."

"I appreciate that," I said, "the only thing I like better than a drug run is an honest addict."

He laughed again. "We got a comedian here, honey," he said, looking over his shoulder at his wife.

"I thought you was just gonna get some crack, baby" she said, "you know it's not good to mix H and booze."

"You worry about your mixes and I'll worry about mine," he snapped, then turning to me asked, "you gotta a problem with this?"

"The only problem I can think of is getting you back up the stairs."

"You got that right," he said, laughing again.

What could I really do? I don't approve of drugs but, the moment he sat down in my taxi, I was stuck with him. Besides, I did appreciate his honesty and the fact that he was going to a relatively safe place. It wasn't a war zone like Sunnydale and Santos.

He was supposed to meet somebody but, when we arrived, the dude wasn't there so we drove around the block searching for him. We kept circling Haight and Webster to Page and Fillmore and back. We stopped several times to talk with young black men in hip-hop attire. Nobody knew where his connection was. His wife finally got out to find "the man" while we kept circling.

It's an interesting stretch from Haight and Webster to Haight and Fillmore. The projects end at Webster and the trendy bars and restaurants start at Fillmore. In between lie a few nightclubs - places hipsters go to "live on the edge." I wonder how many of them knew how close to the edge they really were down there. Many of those young men wondering back and forth near the clubs carry advanced weaponary. Every once in awhile somebody gets caught in a crossfire.

We stopped to talk with one of the guys. He didn't know where "the man" was either. As we drove off my customer said, "his brother's the one who took my legs."

I couldn't think of anything to say so I just kept slowly driving.

"You nervous?" he asked.

"Not as long as the bullets stay on your side of the car," I said. I can talk the talk.

He thought that that was so funny that he couldn't stop laughing for a long time. Finally he said, "that's the trouble with those little muther-fuckers - they just got minds of their owns. You just never know where they gonna end up."

His wife scored and flagged us down. It took about 15 minutes to get him back up his stairs but he did give me a $5 tip. Considering the time charges involved and the distance, it turned out to be a pretty good ride for a slow Tuesday night.

"You know, you were cool," he said, "I wanna use you again."

"No problem," I said, "just ask for Jack."