This column originally appeared in the S.F. Examiner on Nov. 4, 2016. One of the more provocative headlines from the glory days when the Editor in Chief gave me a very long leash to write about whatever I wanted. A year or so after he quit the paper, we met for coffee. He really had to fight to get this headline in print.
I’m sure when sending in my copy I mentioned something about the headline not being very family-friendly, so it was surprising to see that he used it. I didn’t realize at the time just how controversial that decision was.
The image they used is comical at best. A weed pipe with a rock in it. This is not how you smoke crack. It’s obviously a composite. Despite being inaccurate, I thought it was hilarious.
It’s been a weird night. I’m still waiting to hear back from the lab about my drug test to renew my A-Card, which is about to expire in a few days. In the meantime, my cab has become a mecca for dope deals.
So far tonight, my backseat has hosted transactions of heroin, weed, molly and blow. Hey, it’s San Francisco. Everything’s cool, unless you’re a taxi driver who smokes a little pot during his free time. Then you have to jump through a bunch of regulatory hoops to keep your job…
Bill Graham is breaking. As M83 fans pour out of the auditorium past the metal barricades into the steady rain that hasn’t let up all evening, I wait in the intersection of Grove and Polk for a fare. But there are no takers. I swing around to the Larkin side and strike out there, too.
As I head down Grove, I hear, “Taxi!”
I look around.
On the other side of Hyde Street, I see two guys and a girl pushing a stroller with a clear plastic sheet draped over it. They’re flagging every taxi that goes by, even though none have their toplights on.
When they spot me, the mother and her companions cross the street. I pull over and hit my hazards.
A sense of civic duty kicks in. It’s my job to get this family out of the elements. But as they get closer, I realize this isn’t your typical family out for an evening promenade in the pouring rain. They all have scarred faces, missing teeth, hollow eyes and dingy clothes that suggest they spend most of their days sitting on the filthy sidewalks of San Francisco.
I’m beginning to wonder if there’s really even a baby in that stroller.
I pop the trunk anyway and roll down the passenger side window.
One guy leans in. “Hey, can I charge this ride to meth?”
“I have crank if you’re interested …”
“Uh, no. I’m fine.”
The girl reaches into the stroller and removes an infant.
“We need to get to Hayes and Central,” she tells me once she’s inside the cab. “We only have 10 minutes to get there.”
While the second guy tries to break the stroller down, the first one climbs into the backseat. He shoves something under the girl’s ass and starts groping her. She holds the baby tightly and kisses him, glancing out the back window at the other guy struggling with the stroller.
“Go help him,” she says finally.
Together, they wrestle the stroller for a few minutes. Then he returns.
“Is there a button we’re supposed to push?” he asks, squeezing her right breast.
She kisses him lightly and smiles. “I can’t believe you guys are having such a hard time with this. It’s just a stroller.”
He tries to get another kiss, but she rejects him.
“We only have seven minutes left.”
He goes back to work.
“Sorry about this,” she tells me, rocking the baby in her arms. Throughout the entire ordeal, the kid hasn’t made a peep.
Outside, the two guys are wedging the entire stroller into the trunk as hard as they can.
“Do you have a rope or bungee cord?” the first one asks.
“Can you just drive like this?” the girl pleads.
“It’s not going to fall out?” I ask.
“No, it’s jammed in good.”
“OK.” What other choice do I have?
The first guy says goodbye, and the second one gets in. I take off down Market and turn onto Hayes.
“I don’t understand,” the guy says. “Why couldn’t one of us have held the baby while you broke down the stroller?”
I was actually thinking the same thing at one point.
“It’s been six months,” she snaps.
“But we’ve only had this one for two weeks.”
“Try two months.”
When I pull up to their building, I get out to dislodge the stroller. I expect the guy to help but neither he nor the girl is exiting the cab. I walk around to see what’s up.
They’re searching for something underneath the seat.
The girl tries to make an excuse, but I know it’s either a bindle or a rock.
“Get out,” I say. “I’ll help you.”
I pull out the vinyl seat to reveal what’s collected underneath. Among the dust, the crumbs, a tree air freshener, various pieces of papers, a couple business cards and a rubber band, there’s a small rubber ball.
The guy quickly snatches it up.
The girl hands me two wet fivers.
Just as I think my job is done, she asks if I can do them a favor.
“This is an assisted living facility, and we’re past curfew … So can you tell the manager why we’re late?”
Sure. Why not? I follow them to the door.
“It’s all my fault,” I tell the manager. “The rain. Traffic. Sorry.”
I rush back to my cab and out of the weather. I’m soaked but still ready to serve.