It was early in the morning, still dark outside, and she was standing at the corner of Market and Church, waving. I pulled over, and as she got in the cab, without me having turned around, she said "I think I've had you before!" She had not had me before. She had an accent. I thought it might be Australian.
She told me about the cab driver she had had earlier who didn't speak English and didn't know where the Tenderloin was.
"Do you know where the Tenderloin is?" she asked me.
"Yes, I do."
"There is a liquor store in the Tenderloin that's open early."
"Where is it?"
"In the Tenderloin."
"Yeah, but where exactly?" I asked as we drove on Market towards Franklin.
"Somewhere in the Tenderloin. Do you know where the Tenderloin is?"
"Yes, I do."
"Good. The other driver didn't know it. I couldn't believe it."
"You know, the Safeway sells liquor, and they are open 24 hours." I said as we passed the Safeway on Market Street.
"Yes, but it's too expensive there."
"But now you're paying for a cab when the Safeway is across the street from where I picked you up..." I was starting to get suspicious of her. Her story didn't add up.
"Yes, but they don't sell liquor until 7:30."
"So where is the liquor store in the Tenderloin you're going to?" I asked again as we made a left on Franklin.
"I was just there the other day. They were open early."
"I see. I guess we'll just go to the Tenderloin and see what happens." I wasn't particularly thrilled to see what would happen.
"How is your day going so far?"
"It's going okay."
"I'll give you some of my Irish good luck."
"What's your name?"
"Nice to meet you, Vera. It's so nice to have a female taxi driver. I'm Elaine."
"Nice to meet you too."
"It's my friend's 40th birthday. That's why I need liquor."
"Ah. But why are you celebrating it so early in the morning?"
"Oh no, I just have so many other things to do today. I'm just trying to take care of this first thing in the morning."
"Ah." I felt like everything she was saying to me was a lie. I was wondering if she was going to try to rip me off.
"Afterwards we'll go right back to Duboce and Church. Is that alright?"
"Sure..." That was another red flag. Round trips are notorious for being cabbie rip-off attempts.
When we turned on Larkin off of Golden Gate, I said
"Okay, we're in the Tenderloin now."
"We're in the Tenderloin?" She looked around for the liquor store she had been to just the other day that had been open early.
"There is a liquor store right there, but it's closed." I pointed at the liquor store at Larkin and Eddy.
"There is one in the Tenderloin that's open at this time. I was just there the other day."
"Right." I kept driving north on Larkin.
"I just need some liquor for my friend's 40th birthday."
I saw an open liquor store on Geary and made a left.
"Does this look okay?"
"Yes, I think so. Thanks! I'll be right back, and then we'll go back to to Duboce and Church. Don't worry, leave the meter running, and I'll pay you." I pulled over in front of the liquor store.
She disappeared into the liquor store. I was super suspicious and kept looking back and forth between the meter and the liquor store. I saw her talking to the clerk, pointing at the bottles of liquor behind the counter, laughing. Finally she came out with a 12-roll pack of toilet paper and, I suppose, some liquor for her friend's 40th birthday. She got back in the cab.
"For future reference, that liquor store was at Geary and Larkin." I said to her.
"Geary. And Larkin."
"Yes, Geary and Larkin."
I drove to Duboce and Church. When we got there, the meter was at $14.35. She gave me a twenty and said that the rest was for me. The bill felt oddly stiff in my hand. I wondered if it was counterfeit.
It turns out the bill wasn't counterfeit. It turns out my suspicion had been unjustified. It turns out Elaine had given me a generous tip. It turns out she hadn't tried to rip me off at all. But she and her story sure were odd.