It’s late. Wednesday night. I’m making one last round through the Tenderloin before taking the bridge home to Oakland.
While driving past the usual clusterfuck of SUVs, towncars and taxis double-parked in front of the New Century, two women flag me on the corner of Geary.
Despite the weather, they’re scantily clad. And what clothes they are wearing only seem to emphasize their Rubenesque figures. With them is a tall gentleman who looks like he stumbled out of a sales conference. He seems to be shielding his eyes from the glow of the streetlight.
As the women slink into the backseat, the guy gets up front, much to their dismay.
“Come sit back here with us?” they whine.
“I’m all right,” he replies in an English accent.
I try to show him how to adjust the seat, since it’s pushed all the way forward, but he ignores me and remains scrunched up with his knees against the dash.
“Acer Hotel, driver,” says the woman on my right.
“Where?” I ask.
“The Acer. It’s in Union Square.”
“O’Farrell and Mason,” the woman behind me clarifies.
“You don’t know the Acer?” the first lady asks. “How long you been driving taxi?”
“Couple years,” I say.
“Don’t worry, baby, you’ll get the hang of it eventually.”
I turn right on Post and take Hyde down to O’Farrell. Meanwhile, the women fawn over the guy, who doesn’t seem to be interested.
Out of curiosity, while stopped at a red light, I furtively pull out my tattered cross-street index guide and look up the Acer. There’s no listing. But when we get to the place, it’s apparent why. The Acer isn’t a hotel. It’s an SRO.
Whatever. The meter reads $9.55.
As the women exit curbside, the guy takes out his wallet and hands me $20 from a fat stack of bills.
I give him back a creased five and five wrinkled singles. He tips me two bucks and opens his door before I have a chance to tell him it’s clear. Fortunately, there’s very little traffic at this hour.
Before heading toward the freeway, I take a moment to text the wife. Then, I hear, “Taxi!”
It’s the threesome. They’re walking back to my cab.
“What happened?” I ask.
“It’s fine,” the woman says. “We just need to go somewhere else.”
Everyone returns to their original positions.
“Where to now?” I ask.
“Just drive toward the Civic Center Inn,” the woman behind me commands. “You know where that is?”
“Oh sure,” I say confidently and glance over at the guy. He’s slouched forward, absolutely reticent, as if none of this was really happening.
The women, however, are frantic.
“Call Felipe,” one whispers to the other. “He’s got to have a room we can use.”
“I’m calling Serena. She must know something.”
As they furiously text and make phone calls, most of which go straight to voicemail, they try to put the guy at ease.
“How are you doing, sugar? You seem tense. But we’ll take care of that for you. Once we get to the room, we’ll get in the bath. Doesn’t that sound nice and relaxing?”
The guy merely grunts.
At the Civic Center Inn, he hands me another $20 bill. I give him back $12 in change. This time, he tips me a dollar.
“Maybe don’t drive away just yet, sweetie …” the woman behind me says while getting out.
Three minutes later, they’re all back in the cab, and we’re heading toward McAllister and Hyde.
“Call Felipe again,” one of the women seethes. “That motherfucker needs to answer his goddamn phone and get us a goddamn room.”
“This is some bullshit right here. We’ve got to find a room.”
Meanwhile, they continue trying to keep the guy at ease, even though he’s just sitting there, bent forward, awkwardly staring out the window.
Finally, they reach someone with a room.
“Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you,” they gush into the phone.
“Driver, take us back the Civic Center Inn,” commands the woman on the right.
I hit Turk and drive back to Polk and Ellis.
“We can never talk about this,” one woman says to other with a giggle. “Like, ever.”
“Girl, this never happened. You feel me?”
“I don’t even know what you’re talking about.”
They bust out laughing.
Originally published in the S.F. Examiner on Jan 25, 2018.
[photo by Trevor Johnson]