My column this week for the S.F. Examiner is a somewhat confusing story about an altercation between a cab driver and a pupuseria worker, involving a possible fake $100 bill…
I don’t hear the details over the two-way radio as it unfolds, but when I come upon the aftermath at 16th and Valencia, I see two SFPD squad cars have National 2977 surrounded. On the sidewalk, cops mingle with the crowd of Saturday night revelers, the mariachis and a few competing hot dog vendors.
I look for the familiar face of the driver, but an arm in the air distracts me.
Later, in the Mighty cabstand, Juneaux tells me all he knows: The driver of 2977 was attacked by his passengers and taken to the emergency room.
While I’m cashing out at the end of my shift, Jesse only has a little more information. The driver, Noguchi, was taken to SF General, and they’re towing the cab back to the yard.
Outside the office, the weekly recitation of the waybill is underway, with Noguchi’s fate the center of attention. Colin, Juneaux, Late Night Larry, Marty and I stand around asking questions: Why doesn’t somebody just go pick up the cab? Cause the driver has the key. Oh. Has anyone gone to the hospital to check on the driver? Did the police file a report? Are we going to pull the chip from the camera?
After a while, the tow truck arrives with 2977 on the hook. Then Noguchi shows up, bedraggled with a hospital bracelet still around his wrist.
We immediately demand answers.
“Hold up,” he says, still visibly shaken. “It’s a long story. Somebody, please, I need a cigarette.”
Colin hands him an American Spirit, and we yield the floor …
“I was dropping off a fare at 16th and Guerrero,” Noguchi begins. “There were three people. One was getting out. But the other two were continuing on to Ocean and Plymouth. The guy who’s getting out wants to settle the bill. The other two will pay separate. He hands me a $100 bill. Now I’ve been playing the airport all evening. I only have $20 in change. That won’t help anybody. I go into a bar to ask for change. Sorry. I go into the liquor store. Sorry. I try the pupuseria. They say, only if you buy something. So I order the beef deshilachada.”
At this point, things get somewhat confusing … Noguchi goes outside to give the guy his change. And since he’s now committed to the food he’s ordered, the other two passengers flag down a different cab, which happens to also be a National.
On his way back inside the pupuseria, the cashier confronts him.
“You gave me a fake $100 bill!”
Realizing that the people associated with the $100 bill are in the National cab, Noguchi tries to prevent them from driving away. The pupuseria worker, however, assumes he’s trying to escape and attacks him.
“He just starts hitting you right away?” somebody asks.
“Yes, and I told him, ‘I don’t want to fight.’ I’m just trying to get the people back to sort this all out. You know what I mean? I’m trying to be honest.” He slaps his chest.
The pupuseria guy won’t listen. He just keeps pummeling Noguchi until he’s on the pavement.
“And then he’s kicking me and kicking me! And I’m rolling on the ground.”
“In the middle of 16th Street?”
“Yes! I keep yelling, ‘I don’t want to fight!’ But still, he’s kicking me.” Noguchi’s accent gets stronger as he revisits the adrenaline-fueled confrontation.
“So what did you do?”
“I got up and I grabbed him by the head and … BLAM!” He pantomimes a slam-dunk.
“You smashed him into the ground?”
“I did not want to fight! I was only trying to be honest!”
We continue grilling Noguchi until he finishes another cigarette. Then he gets into 2977 and drives away.
Left to fill in the gaps, we try to jigsaw what few facts we have into a cohesive story …
At some point, the cops obviously showed up and then an ambulance took him to General. But what about the pupuseria worker? What happened to him? And what about the guy who passed the alleged fake $100 bill?
“What if,” Juneaux proposes, “the guy’s bill wasn’t phony at all, and the cashier was just trying to get rid of one he already had?”
As conspiracy theories lead to other wacky possible scenarios, much to Colin’s delight, the sky brightens. Slowly, we break away, leaving the yard and all the unanswered questions behind.
Originally appeared in the S.F. Examiner on May 27, 2016.
[Top photo by Christian Lewis. Joe Strummer in a NY taxicab via the interwebs.]