This column originally appeared in the S.F. Examiner on March 10, 2017.
It’s 3 a.m. The streets are gloriously free of traffic. As I’m heading back to Public Works, a man waves me down at 15th and South Van Ness. He isn’t going far, no doubt on his way home from work, when the last few blocks can feel like torture. I pull up to his place on Folsom just as the meter hits $5.15.
“Give me $5,” I tell him.
He hands me a $20. “Make it $10.”
While I’m sifting through my wad of bills, a scantily clad woman approaches my cab and tries to open the back door.
“¡Pinche puta!” the man shouts and slams the door shut.
She looks at me imploringly through the window. I hand the man his change. He exits, spewing more insults in Spanish.
“You don’t have to be rude, Chubby,” the woman says before asking me, “Can we get a ride?”
Beside her is a young Latino carrying a plastic bag in the shape of a 12-pack.
“Sure. Where to?”
“Balboa Park,” the guy slurs. Then he asks me to play music and cracks open a beer.
“What are you doing?” the woman demands. “You can’t drink alcohol in the back of a taxi.”
“Yes, I can,” he says. “I know the law.”
“Maybe this gentleman doesn’t want you drinking in his cab.”
I’m about to take his side, but upon exchanging glances with the woman in the rearview, I keep my mouth shut. It’s obvious she’s a professional.
After catching a few lights down Folsom, I take a right toward Guerrero.
“No, go to Persia and Mission,” he says.
While I’m waiting to turn left onto Mission, he changes his destination again to San Jose and Geneva.
OK. I head back toward Guerrero.
“Don’t you like me?” he asks the woman over the hip-hop blasting at his request. “You don’t say anything.”
“We’ll talk once it’s just the two of us,” she tells him. “Maybe you should stop drinking so much.”
He laughs and cracks open another.
When I get to Geneva, he’s not sure whether to go left or right. I turn the music down.
“Go right,” he says finally. “To Ocean Avenue.”
“OK, sir,” the woman snaps. “That’s the fourth address you’ve given. I’ve had enough of this shit. Driver, take us back to 18th and Capp.”
I glance in the rearview. Her eyes are like razorblades. I make a quick left onto Interstate 280. It’s obvious she’s the professional in this situation.
“How fast can you get us back there?” she asks.
“I only have one speed,” I say.
“Then go faster than that.”
“Wait!” The guy begins to protest vehemently. “Where are you going?”
“Sir, this is not how you deal with a prostitute,” she tells him, as if he’s a small child. “You can’t take me out in the middle of nowhere and try to trick me.”
“Why are you listening to her?” he shouts at me. “I’m the one paying.”
I say nothing and drive.
“If you listen to her, I won’t pay!”
“Oh, you’re going to pay the man.” The woman reads him the riot act. “He probably has a family at home that he needs to take care of, and you’re wasting his time.”
“I’ll call the police then.” He stares intently at his phone.
“Call the cops.” She laughs. “You’re just looking at your damn home screen. You’re too drunk to even make a call.”
“I’m not paying shit,” he mumbles.
At a red light, he tries to bail, but she stops him.
“You better stay in this taxi!” she yells. “Keep your hands off me!”
He punches the back of the passenger seat.
Just as things start to get ugly, I pull over at 23rd and Mission.
“Now, pay the man!” she orders.
The meter reads $24.40.
“25 bucks! Now!”
The guy makes a grandiose gesture of handing me the money while muttering bitterly. As she walks away, he steps out of the cab to yell at her and then gets back in.
“Take me to Capp,” he demands.
“C’mon, man,” I say. “I don’t have time for this shit. It’s late.”
“But I want a girl,” he whines. “Please, help me.” His eyes are full of confused desperation.
Reluctantly, I drive to 20th and Capp, but there are no girls standing around.
“It’s too late,” I point out.
“I’ll find one.” He exits the cab and disappears around the corner.
I’m about to take off when I notice his 12-pack is on the floorboard. At this hour, an ice cold 12-pack of Modelo is like gold. So why leave it in my cab? Does he seriously think I’ll wait for him?
I consider tossing the beer out on the street, but then again … it’s not like he tipped me.
SINCE YOU’RE HERE …
One of the first responses to this column after the Examiner posted it on Twitter was critical of the word “prostitute.” The person suggested it had negative connotations and I should have used “sex worker” instead.
My first instinct was to respond with, “Uh, isn’t this how Trump got elected?” Then I thought, Well, I guess my working title: “The drunk Mexican and the wary hooker” was definitely too insensitive. But prostitute?
Ultimately, this is how I responded:
Perhaps there is still hope for civil discourse on the internet.