The iPhone abduction
I’ve had my share of ups and downs with the taxi drivers of San Francisco. Mostly downs. These days, I’m more than happy to pay Uber’s (somewhat extreme) premiums — for its remarkable customer service, but also on principle. The taxi industry is in dire need of transformation.
But I recently had a rather remarkable old-school taxi experience. And after telling the story to my dad earlier today, he insisted I write it down. So here goes:
It’s 4pm on a Friday, and I haven’t slept in 34 hours. Voluntarily. I’ve just wrapped up a pizza and Redbull-fueled hackathon with about a third of my coworkers, most of whom spent the night building crazy awesome Box features in a crazy short amount of time (don’t worry, they didn’t let me near the codebase). I’ve Caltrain-ed back to the city to avoid falling asleep at the wheel, and I’m standing (swaying) at the corner of 4th and Townsend, ready to go home and collapse.
There’s some skinny dude in a sweatshirt and baseball cap lurking around, asking people for cigarettes, but I don’t pay him much attention as I sleepily summon a ride from Uber on my iPhone. Suddenly, I’m body slammed sideways, and my phone is wrenched from my hands. I scream – and in retrospect, it was a really strange scream, like a panicked animal. I try again, and this time manage to form words: “That guy just stole my phone!”
Too late: despite the best attempts of a rather beefy dude nearby, the iPhone thief is already half a block away, sprinting out of sight. It’s over. My phone is gone for good.
“Get in!” I turn, and the voice belongs to a cab driver with a passenger in the backseat. “GET IN!” he repeats, and I do. “Do you see him?” he asks, and with me riding shotgun, he begins barreling down Townsend in pursuit of my mugger, who is no longer visible.
But suddenly, he is! And he’s getting into a white sedan a block and several cars ahead of us. “There!” I yell. “He just got into that white car.”
The taxi driver – a weathered, middle-aged man – goes into what can only be described as Hollywood car chase mode. He’s swerving around buses, swinging into oncoming traffic and darting back into our lane, avoiding collisions by fractions of a second. And he of course drives a stick shift, which makes his maneuvering all the more badass (at least from my wimpy Prius-driving perspective).
At the same time, he’s yelling into his radio, giving the play-by play of our chase to the dispatch office — which I only just now realize means that his masterful steering was done one-handed while the other gripped the radio. The poor passenger in the back seat (along for the ride, literally) also comes to my rescue, and she gets on her phone and calls the police. The license plate number of the getaway car is now visible, and so the driver is shouting it into his radio, and the passenger is shouting it into her phone. And I’m just sitting in the passenger seat, my hands folded serenely in my lap (strange that I remember this detail), completely useless because I don’t even have a pen and paper in my bag with which to write the license plate down. Because why would I ever need pen and paper…when I have an iPhone?
The car with my abducted phone veers right, and then right again onto Brannan. My taxi driver doesn’t miss a beat, and now we’re immediately behind the white car.
“Haven’t driven like this in decades,” he chuckles.
We can now see that the car is filled with guys in baseball caps, five of them. They keep turning around to look at us, undoubtedly seeing the radio and cell phone at work. I gesture in what I hope is a threatening way at the radio mouthpiece in my driver’s hand.
And suddenly, they’re stopping. They have nowhere to go. Cars ahead stalled at a red light. Oncoming traffic at a standstill. They’re blocked in.
“I’m getting out. I’m getting my phone back.”
I open the taxi door and march over to the temporarily barricaded getaway car. Five sets of eyes are on me. I don’t recall feeling the slightest trepidation, which I’ll chalk up to severe sleep deprivation rather than inherent bravery (stupidity?). I just wanted my iPhone back, damnnit.
“Police,” I say, mimicking being on the phone with my hand (what am I, five?) and pointing back to my two rescuers, both still narrating the play-by-play. “Give me. My fucking phone.”
The back seat passenger window rolls down slowly, awkwardly, cranked by hand. A skinny arm emerges, holding out my iPhone. I snatch it and walk back.
It’s only once I’m back in the passenger seat of the cab that I start shaking. My sleep deprived body has been shot through with adrenaline, and I begin spouting gibberish, thanking the driver profusely, unable to believe my awful-turned-amazing fate. I’m babbling on about the hackathon, the crazy chase, the flight to Jamaica I’m supposed to be boarding in only a few hours. Now with my phone in tow, thank god.
“Um, excuse me?” It’s the girl in the back. “I’m really, really happy you got your phone back, really I am — but is it cool if I get dropped off now? I’m running a little late.”
The taxi driver insists on dropping me off too, and I insist on paying for both our fares with all the cash I have on me, $40. He argues that it’s too much, I don’t think it’s nearly enough. Once he’s driven off, I worry that I’ve offended him by trying to pay for his spontaneous act of chivalry.
And then I collapse in bed, exhausted but so crazy wired that I’m unable to sleep. But I guess I do fall asleep, because the next thing I know, my sister is waking me up. We’re going to be late for our flight to Jamaica.
So that’s my wild story. The whole ordeal was very surreal and rather out-of-body, probably because it was processed by a sleep-handicapped mind and punctuated by a deep slumber. I did get the cab driver’s number, but I can’t seem to find it. Which I regret, because I’d love to call and thank him, now that I’m back in the country and back in my right mind.
Anyway, hooray for the kindness of strangers, and hooray for absurdly good fortune. And hooray for driving skills that could rival a Bourne Identity car chase (minus the explosions). It was a potentially shitty situation transformed into a pretty remarkable experience, and for that, I am incredibly grateful.