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Good heavens! Cabby stuck with 666

July 25, 2007|John M. Glionna | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — For taxi driver Michael Byrne, this city's mean streets have turned a lot meaner since he was cursed with a medallion number he insists has brought him nothing but bad luck.

His taxi identification number is 666, which some associate with evil and the devil.

Given the number last August after another cabdriver refused it, Byrne took an unusual precaution: He had his cab blessed at a local church.

On Tuesday, the 30-year veteran driver asked the city Taxi Commission to do what God apparently could not -- improve his mojo by issuing a new medallion number.

He told city officials he'd had at least one accident in his taxi since he got the number 666, along with some other undisclosed personal setbacks.

The item was No. 6 on Tuesday night's agenda.

The board voted 4 to 1 to deny the request, with members worrying that approval would open the doors to endless other requests from taxi drivers looking for luckier medallion numbers.

But members encouraged any driver who wanted to switch with Byrne to contact the commission and work out a deal.

"Where does it end?" asked board Vice President Patricia Breslin. "I once lived at a residence with the number 666, and I did not go over to the dark side. I'm still here."

President Paul Gillespie sympathized with Byrne. "There's negative energy associated with this number; people react to it," he said. "I can understand why this man does not want to deal with this every day of his working life."

But several taxi drivers who spoke at the meeting chided the board for even hearing the issue. One wore devil's horns and suggested that "if the driver has a problem, he should see a shrink like a normal person." Another pointed out that one local Catholic church had the number 666 as its address.

Last week, Byrne's employer, De Soto Cab Co., called the commission and "respectfully requested" that the driver be given a different number, said Deputy Director Jordanna Thigpen.

She called Byrne, who related the freakish events he said had befallen him.

"He was distraught," Thigpen said. "He told me, 'I know this sounds kind of nuts, but can you consider giving me another number?' "

Thigpen agreed to take up his case. She wrote a two-page memo to the seven commission members, explaining the historical significance of the number.

"The number 666 has been associated with evil and with Satan for hundreds of years. The number first appears in Verse 18 of the Revelation of St. John the Divine," she wrote. "Revelation describes Armageddon and offers the number 666 as a method of recognizing the followers of 'the beast,' or evil. According to Revelation they will have the 'mark of the beast,' or 666, on their foreheads or right hands."

Neither Byrne nor De Soto would comment.

"We're tired of talking about this," one of the company's dispatchers said Tuesday before angrily hanging up.

But Byrne is apparently not the first cabby to have trouble with the number, according to Thigpen's memo.

"Past medallion holders for Cab No. 666 have also experienced issues. A few years ago, the cab burned to a crisp on Good Friday at California and Franklin, and the only thing remaining after the fire were the numbers 666, visible in the rubble," she wrote.

The commission has been criticized for taking up Byrne's concern, Thigpen said. The United Taxicab Workers Union said the board members shouldn't become involved in superstitions.

One caller who read the commission's agenda online told Thigpen that changing the number would violate the division of church and state.

Others called Byrne's claim nonsense.

"Taxi medallions are hard to get," said Mark Belkee, who works for Yellow Cab. "This guy has one. That doesn't sound like bad luck to me."

In the memo, Thigpen said that cabbies in other cities, including Chicago, have had trouble with the number. She had recommended that the number be changed to 1307.

She said the medallions have drawn too much public attention, adding in the memo that "screenwriter Joe Eszterhas ['Basic Instinct'] rode in the cab in December when he was on his book tour in San Francisco and wrote about it in his blog."

Thigpen said she didn't believe in the mark of the beast, but added: "For others, is it real or not? We don't know enough to say their fears are not legitimate."

One thing is for sure, she said, "This number has resulted in increased resources being spent to address it. It's become a nuisance number."

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