Originally published in the S.F. Examiner on July 5, 2018
I’m rolling through the Bayview on Jerrold, heading back to the Mission after dropping at Third and Newcomb, when the order goes out over the radio.
“11th and Folsom. Drivers, 11th and Folsom.”
Artur repeats the cross streets for several minutes, his voice becoming increasingly irate.
“11th and Folsom, drivers,” Artur pleads. “C’mon! Someone go pick him up!”
I grab the mic. “This is 233. I’m by the yard but can probably get there in 10 minutes.”
“Thank you, 233. Go to 320 11th Street.”
Since rush hour is on the make, I figure Rhode Island over Potrero Hill is my best bet. I down-shift and take the inclines with gusto.
Despite making great time, there’s gridlock on Division. And forget about making a right onto 11th at Bryant. So Harrison it is.
After finally getting through the intersection at 11th, I flip a U-ey in front of Slim’s and pull up to the address.
A few minutes later, a guy emerges from the liquor store. He’s on crutches. His clothes are in tatters. There’s a giant cast on his left foot that looks like a kindergartener’s papier-mâché project gone awry. And he’s holding a gas can.
As he struggles across the sidewalk towards me, I roll down my window.
“You call for a cab?”
“Hell yeah, I called you!” he shouts. “What do you think?”
I jump out, open the passenger door and employ my ADA training. “Do you need any assistance?”
He hands me the gas can, assuring me it’s sealed tight.
While he struggles to get inside the cab, I notice he’s got two black eyes and bandages on the back of his shaved head.
“Man, I hope you know you’re a better driver than the last guy,” he says.
The last guy, he goes on to tell me, was Terek, an Uber driver. It was Terek who left him at the store when they couldn’t find his truck, which ran out of gas next to a BMW dealer.
“I liked Terek,” he says. “Until he ditched me.”
Since the only BMW dealer in San Francisco is around the corner on Howard and he swears his vehicle isn’t in this area, all I can do is pull over and ask him to describe where he left his truck.
“It’s next to a tall parking garage … and there’s a BMW sign, I swear. I was on Vallejo when my truck first ran out of gas. But I got it going again and went a few more blocks. Then it died again.”
“Vallejo? That’s nowhere near here.”
“I know! I kept telling Terek we went too far. There’s no way I walked that long, not on crutches. But Terek swore he knew where he was going … Oh man, I’ve only had the truck for two weeks, after the last one got smashed up. I really hope they don’t tow it …”
I try to get him to focus and describe stores he passed on his way to get gas.
“There was a CVS … a Subway… an art store…”
“Was there a wide street, with lots of construction?”
“And lots of traffic?”
Now that he’s given me enough clues, I can easily visualize where he left his truck: somewhere around Van Ness. The BMW thing, though, doesn’t ring a bell. But with all the car dealerships on Van Ness, maybe he’s just confused. Given the extreme trauma to his head, that’s not much of a stretch …
As I head north on Van Ness, he talks nonstop, worrying about his truck getting towed, losing all the weed inside and the fistfuls of Vicodin he’s been taking since the accident.
“I just don’t get it. I was walking around asking people for gas, but nobody would help me, acting like I was some kind of murderer or something.”
When we pass Washington, he leans forward.
“It’s definitely around here,” he says. “All this looks really familiar.”
Since the streets east of Van Ness are more commercial, I take Pacific to Polk. When I turn onto Jackson, the guy shouts, “There it is! You found it!”
In the right lane, blocking traffic, is a green Tacoma.
No wonder he was worried about getting towed. It’s not even in a parking space.
Across the street, partially blocked by the 12 bus, is a BMW mechanic.
“See, BMW,” he points out. “I was right! Stupid Terek!”
With that mystery solved, I still have one question …
Pocketing the $15 he offers me on the $14.50 fare, I ask, “So, why did you call Veterans Cab Company?”
“Cause, man, I was in ‘Nam. Infantry. I can still see all the carnage and destruction … every time I close my eyes …”