By William Plummer and Dianna Waggoner
Updated September 25, 1989 12:00 PM

It was a warm night in San Francisco as cabdriver Chuck Hollom cruised down Polk Street, chatting amiably with the passenger in the backseat. Looking out the window, Hollom noticed three Japanese tourists walking along the sidewalk. Suddenly a man exploded from the shadows, knocked down one of the tourists, a woman, grabbed her purse and kicked her in the stomach as she lay sprawled on the ground.

That was all Hollom needed to see. He hit the “off’ button on his meter and shouted to his fare, “You ride free tonight.” Then, maneuvering deftly in and out of traffic, he caught up with his man on Hayes Street. It was only when he saw the fellow reach under his shirt that Hollom sped around a second cab that had also given chase and jumped his 2,000-pound Ford over the curb, pinning the fleeing miscreant like a butterfly against a brick wall. When the man foolishly tried to wriggle away, Hollom threw the cab into gear and banged the fugitive again, leaving him hopping on the sidewalk and yelling that his leg was broken. The cops arrived and arrested suspect Ocie James McClure, a convicted burglar, for robbery, and sent him back to prison for violating his parole.

In fact, McClure probably never had a chance. Chuck Hollom is not your average San Francisco cabdriver. He’s a hackie hero—a Yellow Knight, if you will—who not only deserves to be, but has actually been, on the silver screen. When the opportunity occurs, Hollom doubles as a TV stunt driver; he also took the wheel in The Blues Brothers. “The real thing is easier,” he says, “because you don’t have to consider camera angles and those sorts of things.” Stopping the fleeing knockdown artist last May “was real easy,” he says. “See, the guy running was directing. I just followed him.” The San Francisco police were duly impressed. “He’s a concerned citizen who did what many citizens would do but don’t have the talent to,” says Inspector Armand Gordon, who is investigating the McClure case. “He helped the police do our job, even if he did break the law doing it. We’re gonna give him a plaque.”

In 22 years of driving, Chuck, who has himself been attacked twice, figures he has helped prevent “more than 500” muggers and gay-bashers from having their way with the citizenry. Usually, he just has the dispatcher dial 911 and avoids unnecessary exertion. “I got flat feet and I weigh 275 lbs.,” says Hollom, 48. “I could probably run pretty fast for about 15 feet, so I chase them in the cab.”

Behind the wheel, though, he doesn’t hesitate to get physical. A year ago, when he saw a red Mustang run a light and hit a motorcycle, sending the rider flying, Hollom jumped a concrete median divider and chased the car onto the freeway. When the men in the Mustang wouldn’t pull over, Chuck told his dispatcher, “I’m going to ram them.” And he did, banging the car onto the shoulder. While three men took off on foot, a fourth sat cringing in the backseat as Hollom leaped from his cab shouting, “Stop or I’ll shoot.” As always, Hollom was unarmed.

Chuck developed his taste for vehicular derring-do early on—back in Minneapolis, where he and his teenage buddies spent the winters racing their cars on frozen lakes. “It gives you a strange, out-of-balance feel for things,” he says. After a stint in the Army he arrived in San Francisco with the idea of becoming a photo-journalist. That didn’t pan out, and in 1967 Hollom hit the streets. “The taxi company owners said I could drive around all night and people would give me money, and I could fulfill life’s highest ambition,” he says, “to eat my way through San Francisco’s restaurants.”

In 1968 Steve McQueen spotted Hollom riding a motorcycle and sent him to the Ann Brebner talent agency. Hollom says McQueen was more interested in the design of his bike than in making him a screen star. But the actor gave Chuck his first role, a nondriving part in Bullitt, in which he pushed a gurney down a hospital corridor. In time, Hollom found his true métier, driving pell-mell through ABC’s Starsky and Hutch and 22 episodes of The Streets of San Francisco.

Back on the real streets of San Francisco, Chuck tends to drive like the little old lady from Pasadena. A bachelor who lives alone in a small studio apartment near his garage, Hollom has never even had a moving violation. “Hey, I am the slowest, smoothest, most frightened driver in this city,” he says. “My passengers frequently complain that I drive slow to build up the meter.” He pauses, then says with a smile. “See, I don’t get into accidents. I get into incidents.”

—William Plummer, Dianna Waggoner in San Francisco