Monday, November 29, 2010

It's the Knuckles that Go First

I always liked Henry. He was a tall, powerful, African American who dressed stylishly in suits and always wore a fedora hat. He was very personable, professional in his driving and a strong advocate for worker's rights - a gutsy position in a business where unions are illegal.

In fact, like many of us, he could wax obsessively about the owners, calling them "pigs," "moral retards" and "scum."

But he was a realist and, when he finally understood that the unions weren't coming back, he put his name on a list to own a taxi himself.

"If you can't lick 'em, join 'em," he told friends. "Doesn't mean I have to act like 'em."

After twenty years, he finally rose to the top of a list. He had a small problem with the industry regulators and I helped him iron out the details so he finally became an owner.

I didn't hear from him after that but I soon began hearing about him. There is a saying that you never know what a person's like until you give him or her a taste of power. Or, as Eric, the dispatcher, put it to me when I first got my cab,

"It usually takes about three months for a new owner to turn into an asshole. With you, I'm figuring on three weeks."

Whatever. With Henry it was faster than that. Some say it was drugs.

The unwritten rule is that if you're a driver, you're a driver. It doesn't matter if you're an owner or not. When you're working, you follow the same rules as everybody else.

Henry made his own rules. Instead of waiting in line to get his taxi every night, he just walked to the front. He stole other drivers fares. He had his own drivers wash and clean his cab without paying them for it. Rumor had it that he was also overcharging them on the lease.

Of course, he could've gotten away with being a "moral retard" himself but he made the mistake of fucking with his company.

He started shorting his payments to them and, when someone else was driving his taxi, he took out cabs without a medallion - which could have resulted in huge fines for the company. As soon as they found out they canceled his contract.

Henry nearly broke the door slamming it when he come into the office looking for Bill, the manager.

Bill, an old-school Italian of about 73, was sitting behind his desk listening to opera online. Russ, an Irish-German of 69, was sitting at the desk talking on the phone

"You muther-fucker," Henry screamed at Bill as he rushed toward him, lining him up for a punch. Henry stood about 6'5" 220 pounds and was an ex-boxer.

Russ, who was almost as big as Henry, stood up to calm him down. He put his hands out in conciliatory gesture and said,

"Take it easy ... relax... take it -"

Henry unloaded on Russ with about 8 quick hammering blows: left-right body, left-right head, left-right body, left-right head.

Guys always said Russ was somebody you just didn't want to mess with. He was still standing, staring at Henry, after the barrage.

Henry paused for second, staring back at Russ.

Then, he threw two more punches. Russ blocked them both, counter-punched and knocked Henry out. Then he and Bill mopped the blood off the floor with Henry's body as they dragged him out of the office and dumped him in the parking lot.

I came by a shot time later to see Russ.

He told me the story and said, "I think I broke my little finger."

"Did you take Henry to a hospital?" I asked.

"Naw - he's okay. He' walked out of here."

Russ shook his bad hand and said.

"Damn it! I can still fight but the knuckles just can't take it anymore."

He walked toward his desk nursing the finger then he turned back to me with a smile and said,

"But - damn that felt good!"

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Criminal Mastermind

That's what the press called him, "A Criminal Mastermind." As if you needed to be a genius to hold up a taxi driver. If he'd been smart he would have stopped after a few robberies or at least spaced out his crimes. Instead, he ripped off one or more drivers every day for about three weeks.

I guess this is why media thought he was brilliant.  What they didn't know was that serial cab robbers are actually common. And, they all have one thing in common; the perps are always junkies. That why they never quit until they're caught.

But I have to hand it Einstein - he was clever. A 6'5" African American built like a wrestler, he still managed to con over twenty drivers into letting him climb into the backseat of  their taxis. He dressed differently for every crime. Sometimes he wore a suit; sometimes a wig; sometimes horn-rimmed glasses. Once he walked out of a hotel and had a doorman put him in the cab. And he was charming. His talk relaxed the drivers enabling him to slip behind them and put them in a chock hold.

But there was nothing charming about his grip. He seriously injured a few of the drivers.

While he was somehow able find cab drivers gullible enough to feed his habit, few other man of color were able to even slow a taxi down. It wasn't only African Americans. Hispanics, Indians, Arabs, Persians - none of them were getting cabs.

Except, I guess, from me. I'd had a little experience with people sticking guns in my face and, rightly or wrongly, thought I could tell whether or not somebody was dangerous. I do know for a fact that I twice passed up thugs who robbed other cab drivers. I looked for the body language and the eyes - windows to the mind and the soul.

I probably never had so many young brown-skinned males in my cab as I did during those three weeks. And, they were grateful. They were throwing money at me. I was getting twenties for six and eight dollar rides.

The "genius's" mistake was getting into Henry's cab. The mugger put on his usual act with the talk and the charm while he slid behind Henry. Then he directed him into a deserted spot and put on the headlock.

What he hadn't realized was that Henry was deceptively thin and only looked like a pushover. He had long, hard muscles and big hands like Dennis Rodman or Woody Strode and was a powerful man. He wrapped those huge hands around the forearms of his assailant and snapped open the head-lock like it was pair of cheap chopsticks. Then Henry put the creep in the hospital.

I was almost sorry to see the "Mastermind" apprehended. My income dropped about thirty percent the following week.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Don Miguel's

Mary's disease was already well advanced the first time I picked her up. I believe she suffered from MS although she never mentioned it. She had difficulty walking from the bank to the cab. I came around to help but she refused me saying cheerfully,

"It's good for me to exercise."

When she got in, I asked her how she was.

"Every day we're alive is a blessing," she told me.

I picked her up about every other week after that - either at her home or at the bank where she was a high ranking administrator. I only realized how high when a thirty-something, middle-managing, Standford MBA type came sheepishly forward as I about to drive away so he could get her to sign some papers and kiss her butt.

Mary simply didn't act like a person with power. She showed no arrogance, no sense of superiority, no need to control, no need to demean. She was one of a handful of true egalitarians that I've ever met.

She didn't just make "conversation with the cabbie" like most people in her position would. She actually enjoyed talking to me and was truly interested what I did and my ideas. I soon began thinking of her as a friend and looked forward to seeing her.

Her condition rapidly deteriorated and within a few months she not only accepted my help in walking her to my cab but depended upon it. A few weeks afterward, she handed in her resignation and retired. She said that she looking forward to relaxing and re-reading the great Russian novels - a passion we both shared.

I hadn't seen her for a couple of months when I took a call at Mary's home. She'd gone down hill fast. She was now using a walker and being helped by a tall, blond woman in her thirties that I learned was her niece, Grace.

Grace had come from Fresno to help nurse Mary who was clearly excited to see me. She talked and gossiped about various drivers who had become part of her social circle. Every now and then Grace would politely ask who somebody was and then silently listen to us converse.

The next time I picked them up, a few weeks later, I gave Grace a warm hello. She ignored me. In fact, she cut off my greeting before I got the second syllable out.

"Don Miguel's!" She snapped, "and we're in a hurry. We're already late thanks to you!"

"I took the call two minutes ago," I said.

She waved my words off with a hostile expression.

"I really don't  have time for chitchat - we're late for an appointment."

All this time Mary was slowly working her walker down a set of stairs. I started up to help her and had just about reached her when Grace snapped.

"Leave her alone! Exercise is good for her."

"I thought you were in a hurry," I said.

She looked at me and started to say one thing but just shrugged and said,

"Suit yourself. Just make it snappy!"

Mary looked at me with huge eyes and a helpless expression but didn't say a thing as I helped her into the car.

"You know where Don Miguel's is don't you?" Grace continued in the same demeaning tone of voice.

"I've never heard of it," I told her truly looking at Mary who continued to silently stare at me. What did she want to say?

"It's a very popular place," Grace insisted.

"It can't be that popular or I would've heard of it."

"Don't be insolent!" she snarled. "I thought you were supposed to know where everything is?"

"There are over 10,000 bars and restaurants in this town. Nobody knows them all."

"If I was a cabbie, I'd know," she told me condescendingly. "It's part of doing a job properly."

'Just like the way you nurse,' I thought to myself without saying it. Mary obviously would pay for any sarcasm on my part.

"Let me call my dispatcher."

He didn't know where Don Miguel's was either.

"We'll," Grace snapped, "We'll just get another cab."

I helped Mary get out of the cab and as I drove away, she followed me with those huge eyes. They were no longer a puzzle to me. What they showed was terror and despair.

Several years later I stumbled across Don Miguel's in a back alley and thought of Mary. I wondered if she was still living in hell or if her disease had feed her.

Walkabout or How Real is it?

A rare hot San Francisco day. Dusk falling into night.

I took five young Aussies, three men and two women - all tanned, all attractive - across the Bay Bridge to the train depot in Oakland. I asked them where they were going.

"We're on a walkabout," a tall man replied.

"You mean, you're making it up as you go along?"

"You got, it mate."

"You know, you sound just like a young Mel Gibson," I told him.

They laughed.

"Too bad he don't look like it," one of the girls cracked.

"Too good lookin' for the likes of you."

They started putting each other down and laughing.

"Take it easy on him," I told the girl, "he could look like me."

"Na' that would be an improvement," she said leaning forward from the back seat, putting her arm around my neck, nestling her cheek on my shoulder and peering up at me

I stared into her blue eyes and at her sexy, teasing smile and lost my concentration.

Not a smart thing to do in West Oakland. I took a wrong turn and, then, another wrong turn, went under the freeway and found myself driving through what looked like a bombed-out lunar landscape.

Instead of street lamps, huge Halo projectors rose from the top of twenty-five foot poles casting light down on endless rolls of military-type bungalows. The place looked like a film version of a WWII prison camp.

An ancient Toyota hatchback came careening around a corner chased by three black & whites. A dude knocked out the hatch window and started firing with what-I-took-to-be a 9 mm automatic. Its magazine holds 18 bullets if I remember my TV correctly. Dude fired off about 17 of them without hitting a damn thing. Then, just as the car whipped around a corner, he nailed the leading cop's front tire with a single shot from a 100 yards away.

The cop car spun a half U before the driver took control and brought it to rest. The other patrol cars screeched around the corners with two cops firing pistols out the windows of both vehicles.

I put in reverse, whipped the steering wheel and floored it, spinning a U. I was almost hit broadside by three more cops cars who raced around me with the drivers screaming obscenities loud enough for me to hear.

"Fuckin' A," I said.

"Fuckin' A," the Aussies said in unison, laughing.

"Just like a Oliver Stone flick," one of them reported.

"If you say so," I replied as I sped down the street wondering where the hell I was going. The place looked the same in every direction. The Toyota had taken a left so I decided on a right.  Wrong choice. The Toyota raced toward me from a quarter block away with a five cops cars following close behind. I didn't have time to turn.

"You'd better duck," I said, "dudes sometime confuse us with cops -"

"Dudes," they imitated, laughing as they put their heads down.

Indeed one of the dudes pointed his gun at me and fired just as I ducked. I never found a bullet. It must have gone in one open window and out the other.

"I think it's the badges," I said finishing my thought as I looked up.

That was pretty much it. I kept driving straight until I finally got out of the neighborhood.

"God! I'm sorry," I told my customers who had been quiet since we'd been fired upon. "I don't know the neighborhood - I just took a wrong turn."

"Naw - this was great!" One of them said.

"It's the highlight of the trip," added another.

"At last," the blue-eyed girl said, "we get to see the real America."

Friday, November 26, 2010

That Little Miracle

The sky opened up. It was raining more heavily than it had in four or five years with huge drops of water hitting the street so hard that they bounced back up over the hood of the cab like hail.

I drove a woman through the deluge to a house on the edge of the ocean. We joked about the rain along the way. She said it was like Florida. I contended that Minnesota was worse. Hurricanes and tornadoes vs tornadoes and blizzards. We decided it was a toss.

When I dropped her off, I got notice of a radio call in the area. I didn't know if I should take it or not. It was toward downtown but it was still three miles away. It would take me at least ten minutes to get there. People in these outlying areas often call three or four cab companies. If you don't pick up in five minutes, the order is usually gone. On the other hand, the house was half-way up a small mountain so the customers probably couldn't flag a taxi down ... and it was raining. The odds were 50/50 that the fare would still be there. I decided to take the call.

The rain eased off a little but it was still pouring. The traffic was horrible. Everybody but St. Paulites ("Minnesota Nice" can be annoying but it works for driving) think they have worst drivers in the world. In San Francisco we KNOW we have the worst. There is no debate.

As usual most of the cars were going 15 mph, tailgating each other, and weaving like their drivers were on cell phones or drunk. About one car in ten decided to charge through the mess at 75 mph. It was later reported that there had been 67 accidents in a three hour period.

I saw one rear-ender and cut over to the next block where two cars had creamed each other with a classic I-dare-you-to-take-that-left-in-front-of-me-while-I'm-running-the-red-light accident. I doubled back only to get caught in the overflow from the two collisions. I back tracked, doubled back and went way around until I found a street I could make progress on.

It was already 15 minutes since I'd taken the order and I was still 5 minutes out. The odds of the customer still being there was less than one in twenty. If I chased the ride and it was gone, it could cost ten or twenty bucks and put me a real bad mood. I decided to blow it off and head for a nearby hospital where I'd have a good change of picking up a flag.

Then I thought of the new director of taxis. Taxi directors were always woman and they were always good looking. I suppose the powers that be figured that 5,000 males would be too busy drooling to notice that they were being shafted. This turned out to be true. The only thing I remember about one previous director was that she had beautiful breasts and wore low-cut blouses. If you looked at her a certain way, her nipples would pop out.

These woman all started idealistic, thinking that they would "reform" the taxi business. But, after running up against the relentless corruption of the owners, and the endless stupidity and corrupion of city government, not to mention the petty greed and arrogance of some drivers, the woman all left bitter. As one former director put it,

"Everybody in the industry is either an ex-convict or soon will be."

The new director still lived in the Utopian stage. She truly thought that she could make a difference. Noting that many people had trouble getting taxis in outer neighborhoods, she encouraged the drivers to go out of their way to help these customers get their cabs.

"Go pick up those people in the neighborhoods!" She said like a coach giving an inspirational half-time speech. "Make an effort, once per shift, to go and get someone who has no reason to hope that a taxi will actually appear --give them that little miracle."

Her uplifting tone and her optimism was - well - so endearingly naivete that I actually drove up the damn mountain through the downpour to chase my order. Of course I was cursing her all the way knowing that what I was doing was a waste of my time and money.

Then I rounded a corner and saw them, Louise and Mary, two lovely octogenarians, dressed to the teeth, standing patiently under an umbrella in the wind and the cold. Sometimes the best words are cliques. They were overjoyed to see me.

"You got here just in time," Louise told me, "I thought we were going miss Placido Domingo."

"Yes," Mary added, "we've been looking forward to seeing him all year."


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Just Drive

Maybe it was just a racial incident.

I was dropping off a woman near the Western Addition projects when two African American men in their early 20s appeared in my driver's side mirror. They were dressed ghetto. I didn't know where they came from. It freaked me out.

"Are you the one I called?" the taller one asked.

It was a line. He hadn't called. Or had he?

I reflexively went into a racist mode.

All the stories about cab robberies zipped through my mind: the guy from the projects who beat and robbed a cab driver and then went back to the same address where the driver had picked him up, two guys who'd shot a driver and left him on top of a hill, the guy who'd shot and killed a driver two blocks away from where I currently was talking to the dude. All black guys.

"I got an appointment," I said lying.

"Come on man - I just need a ride," the tall one whined.

"I got a radio call," I said, lying again.

"Ah - come on," he said, "don't be like that ... you're not taking me cause I'm black."

He was right. I was being a racist and it didn't feel right.

"Okay," I said, "I'll cancel the radio call."

I pretended to talk to my company while the tall man stepped into the backseat on the passenger side. I started driving and asked,

"Where ya wanna go?"

"Just drive," he snapped, "I'll let you know."

I looked at him in the rear-view mirror. He glared back at me. I felt myself fill with fear.

At the next corner I said,

"I need to know where to go."

"Just drive!" He snapped more loudly.

The neighborhood was quiet but not completely deserted. There was a car driving toward me and another at the intersection. A couple walked slowly in the distance.

"I'm not supposed to take anybody without a location," I told him.

"Just drive!" He snarled.

I looked in the mirror. Now his eyes were filled with hatred.

I headed toward downtown. I started looking for cop cars. I asked him to give me a destination two or three more times - always getting the same answer. If he was going to attack me, he'd have to do it before the streets became more congested. Both his tone of voice and his look became more and more intense.

He began to piss me off. I mean, all right - I was a racist but I had picked him up. He was riding to nowhere in my cab wasn't he? What right did he have to hate me. Just 'cause I was white!? I was probably the only taxi driver in the city stupid enough to give him a ride and here he was hating me for it. Where was the logic?

I looked in the mirror and glared back at him.

"I need a location," I snapped.

"Just drive," he snapped back.

We glared at each other in the mirror.

I figured that if he'd had a gun I would've already seen it so I decided that, if he tried to rob me, I was going to put up a fight.

Slowly, glancing back and forth from the street to his eyes in the mirror, very slowly because I didn't want to panic him with a sudden move, making sure that he was watching me, I reached my arm out, opened the glove compartment, took our a heavy flashlight and slowly brought it back to my lap.

The son-of-a-bitch might take me out but he'd have a sore face for a long time afterwards.

"Where da ya wanna go," I asked evenly.

"North Beach," he said quickly, caving in.

I looked in the mirror. He stared nervously back at me. I floored it, whipped a right, took a quick left down an alley, then stopped the car. I turned around and faced him.

"This what you lookin for?" I asked evenly.

"Yeah, Man," he said tensely. "Just where I want to go." He started opening the door as he spoke.

"That's $9.85."

The creep pulled a twenty out of his pocket and handed it to me.

"Make it ten."

"What?" I asked. "No tip?"

"No - no ... make it ah twelve - no thirteen," he said as he climbed out the door. "Tell you what - keep the change."

He turned and ran down the alley. I guess he thought I'd pulled a gun out of the glove.

Stupidest thing I've ever done in my life. If he'd been packing, he'd a blown me away and thought it was self-defense.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Blank Receipt

The juxtaposition was stunning.

Nancy, a woman of around thirty smiled obsequiously at Doctor Greyson (as she continually addressed him during the ride) hanging on his every word. Then she turned to me from the shotgun seat and, with a look combing hostility, arrogance and, perhaps, sadism - snarled,

"Cabbie - you will give me a blank receipt!"

Doctor Willis, Doctor Chopta and Doctor Murphy were riding with Doctor Greyson in back. I know this because they all addressed each other with their formal names. They were delicate and polite as they asked each others opinions and ventured ideas of their own. They were slightly less polite to Nancy, if for no other reason than that they called her by her first name and showed no interest in her opinions.

Nancy broke off her smiling admiration of the physicians twice more en route to loudly command,

"You will give a blank receipt!"

None of the doctors appeared to notice her ejaculations.

When we arrived, they all got out and Nancy came around to my window to pay me $9 for an $8.05 ride and to once again announce,

"You will give me a blank receipt!"

I took a receipt and slowly and carefully began to fill it out, beginning with the date.

"You will give a blank Receipt!" she repeated more emphatically.

I slowly wrote out $9 in both numbers and prose, signed the receipt and held it out to her with a smile.

"Why? Did you take a blank ride?" I asked.

She looked at me with an expression combing frustration and humiliation with hatred. Finally, she snatched the receipt.

As I drove off I heard her call after me,

"Next time we're taking a limo!"

You know, thinking back on it, that was the first time I'd filled out a receipt in four or five years. Usually, its just too much trouble.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Tragic Stupidity

I pulled up at four-way stop. The street changed from a two-way to a one-way heading in my direction on the other side of the crossing. It also turned into a steep hill leading up to a freeway entrance.

Two Asian kids around ten years old were skateboarding down the hill. One of them fell just as I stopped but the other one was careening out of control, flying toward the bottom.

A thirty something, badly-shaven, white guy with black hair drove an old Buick slowly toward the stop on my right. He glanced at me and floored it so he could beat me to the right-of-way. He probably didn't think he needed to look up the hill because of the one-way sign.

I wildly honked my horn, sticking my arm out my window and pointing at the boy, who sped into the intersection.

The man flipped me off without looking at me. His car didn't swerve or brake so I don't think he saw the boy before he killed him.

The driver stopped quickly after hitting him, looked out his window at the body that had been thrown about thirty feet, then floored it again and raced away.

I got out and ran to the boy's mangled body hoping against hope that I could help him in some way but the only thing I could do was try to comfort his stunned and horrified brother.

The killer either didn't know the neighborhood or panicked because he pulled into a cul-de-sac and a truck driver, who'd seen the crime and followed the man, blocked him off until the police arrived. 

The killer's attorney tried to claim that "the cabby" had caused the "accident by honking his horn." The jury didn't buy it but maybe the judge partially did.

He only gave the guy two to five for involuntary manslaughter.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Charming Couple


The were charming. Mid thirties. Good looking. In shape. Fashionably dressed. They were heading to Gary Danko's for dinner before night clubbing.

The woman did most of the talking. She wanted to know how I was and how the night was going. She was smart enough not to ask me how long I'd been driving a cab.

"I'll bet you do something else," she said, leaning her forearms on the back of the suicide seat and nestling her head on top of them. I could smell her perfume. Delicious.

"Yeah," I told her, "I drink a bit and I sleep."

"No no no," she said laughing and gently pushing my shoulder with her hand, "you know what I mean. You must be a musician, an artist. With that voice, I'll be bet you're a singer."

"Yeah - in fact I do sing a bit."

"I knew it!" She exclaimed rubbing my arm.

"But," I added sheepishly, "what I really do is write."

"I knew it!" she exclaimed again, this time squeezing my arm. Then she turned to her husband. "Doesn't he look like a writer, Bob."

"Yeah," he said. "You know ...  you sound just like William Buckley."

"Nobody's perfect." I sotto voiced.

They burst out laughing.

I sucked it in.

I'd had a horrible night. I'd been on a negative roll and had had one asshole after another after another work me over. I was fairly new at the time and didn't know how let things slide or how to quietly take revenge. I felt anguished, degraded and lonely.

The couple  introduced themselves to me. He was Bob. She was Caroline. We talked about my writing. Caroline had been a lit major before going into law.

"I'll bet you get a lotta material driving a cab?" Bob mused as we pulled up the restaurant.

"You know," Caroline said, leaning closer to me, "Bob and I both forget to ask for receipts sometimes."

"And sometimes," Bob said, "cabbies don't have them."

"Is there any way," Caroline continued, "that we could get a few blank ones."

"Of course," Bob added, "they'd be a good tip involved."

I reached into my briefcase and gabbed a stack of receipts. There were maybe - I didn't count - 75 or a 100. I felt such gratitude toward Bob and Caroline for breaking my isolation that I held out the stack toward them saying,

"What you have to do is catch a cab driver in a good mood."

Their eyes dilated. They held their breath. Caroline's mouth stayed slightly open in a smile. She reached out slowly and carefully, not too fast, as if not to frighten my hand away and gracefully relieved me of the receipts.

The exchanged a quick look. Non-verbal communication. What the look said was "smuc."

The meter read $9.40.

Bob gave me a ten.

"Don't forget the tip," Caroline said.

"Of course I won't forget - whatdaya think I am?"

Bob peeled off two one dollar bills and handed them to me. Then with a twinkle in his eye, he peeled off one more.

"Thanks for the receipts."

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The War Against Cabbies

Jack was an airline pilot in the USSR flying out of Moscow. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 so did the economy and Jack lost his job. But he had saved enough as a pilot to finally realize his dream of moving with his wife and son to America. 

He changed his name to Jack from Yuri in honor of  Jack Nicholson and his favorite movie, One Flew Over the CuckCoo's Nest.

Of course all the jobs for airline pilots in the USA were filled and he worked cleaning up in New York restaurants for awhile before moving to San Francisco to drive an old friend's taxicab. It was tough, thankless work but it paid the bills and gave him a chance to practice English while he looked around for a position with the airlines.

After a few years, he realized that cab driving would be his career from then on. It was a huge disappointment but he came to look at it as if he was flying an airplane only on the ground. He prided himself on his knowledge of the city and his ability to navigate every route in the best possible way.

The girl, the woman, was about 23, stylishly dressed, a little homely and rude. When she stepped into the cab she ignored his greeting, looked through him and snapped out a command,

"Union and Laguna - Kearny to Pine to Franklin to Union to Laguna!"

Jack hesitated for a moment than said,

"I don't think it such a good idea."

"What you think doesn't matter - this isn't a subject for debate! "

"But lot of construction on Pine right now."

"That's California - there's construction on California."

"Yesterday on California - today Pine."

"Am I paying for this or are you? Take Pine!"

"But its total gridlock, it stupid -"

"I'm stupid!? If you're so smart why don't you get yourself a fucking job!"

"But -"

"No 'but' Boris - you have to do what I say!"

"Suit yourself," Jack shrugged

"Who should I suit, Boris? You?" she said taking out her Smartphone playing with it.

Jack shrugged again. He took a right on Kearny, drove three blocks making two lane changes in the process and took a left on Pine. He'd been wrong. The gridlock wasn't total. It didn't start for fifty yards but it went on for a least four blocks up the hill. Jack tried to get over to the right lane so he could escape down an alley but the light changed and traffic cut him off before the could make the maneuver.

The cab moved four or five car lengths during the next three lights while the girl concentrated on texting.

"Can't you driver faster?" she snapped without looking up from phone.

A quick, chuckle escaped Jack's lips.

She looked up and stared wildly about at the traffic.

"You did this deliberately!" she shouted. "You think this is funny?!!!"

"No - ridiculous ... you want Pine. This is Pine."

"Well - Boris, I'm not paying for this!"

"Yes - you chose the route, you must pay - and my name's not 'Boris,'" he said as he pulled out a copy of the taxi regulations.

"Here," he said turning toward her to show her the specific rule, "look at the this."

"No Yuri - you look at this," she said as she spit a big gob into his face.

He reflexively backed-handed her. She fell against the seat and bounced up toward him.

"Faggot!" She screamed and spit at him again.

This time he slapped her hard enough to shut her up.

The City decided to suspend his taxi license for six months to a year because he had never had a complaint before. But this wasn't enough for the girl. She took him to court.

"I'm truly sorry," Jack told the judge. "I don't mean to hurt girl ... I never do violence before ... never hit wife or son growing up ... never hit anyone. It's just ... in my country spit on a person is the greatest insulted ... I caught by surprise ... never hit before ... I never hit again ... I just so insulted ... please ..."

The judge took away his license permanently.

The woman, the girl, an aspiring actress, triumphantly told the press, "It's a victory for all women in the war against cabbies."