Sunday, January 10, 2010

Upward Mobility

"Convent Sacred Heart!" The girl snapped without looking at me as she stepped into the back of the taxi. She was 15 and, except for being a few inches taller, looked almost exactly like her mother, Brandi, who followed right behind her.

Brandi did glance at me but showed no sign of recognition. This hardly surprised me. The girl might not know what her mother did for a living. Besides, I hadn't been with Brandi for a few years and, with all the men in her life, I'd be easy enough to forget. But she still had to be selling it. No way she could've afforded to send her daughter to that school as a grocery clerk or a waitress.

Just by looking at her, you'd never guess her profession. Brandi was attractive but plain and dressed plainly - usually in slacks, a blouse, a light jacket and sandals. She seemed a little simple when you talked to her but she had to be the smartest pro on the streets. Her attire was a disguise that no cop could penetrate. In the dozen years I'd known her, she'd never been arrested.

She always worked a little outside of the mainstream. When the whores took over O'Farrell, Brandi cruised Post. When they moved uphill, so did she. When the cops busted the bitches on Sutter, she was already comfortably cruising Bush and Pine. She stayed away from bars, picking up her customers in bus stops, at sandwich shops and breakfast places, at laundromats and bookstores. She was so subtle in the way she went about her business that the owners of the stores where she hung out never realized what she was doing.

And she treated her customers right - giving them what they paid for instead of ripping them off like so many of the other sluts. She had a steady stream of regulars.

Still - for her to pay the bills at a prestigious private school was quite a feat. She was from the street - uneducated and unpolished. She couldn't have worked out of exclusive hotels or for an elite escort service. She couldn't have had too many thousand dollar paydays.

Brandi and her daughter gossiped in the backseat like they were sisters. They talked about an upcoming dance and one of the teachers. But mostly they gossiped about a social world populated with girls named Megan, Danielle, Stephanie, Vanessa and Jade.

When we arrived at the school, a Mansion overlooking the bay, Brandi paid and thanked me but her daughter ignored my thanks with a look of destain.

They walked toward the front door still gossiping when two teenage girls, walking from another direction, waved. It might've been Vanessa and Jade. The daughter gave a big smile, waved back and started walking quickly toward them.

Brandi also picked up her pace to keep in step. The daughter suddenly turned and gave her mother a look - embarrassment covering a hint of that destain. "What are you doing?" It asked.

Brandi stopped while her daughter turned and ran to greet her friends.

Brandi lit a cigarette and watched them disappear through the doorway.

As I drove off, she was wandering slowly back and forth near the top of the hill, smoking and glancing from the Mansion to the bay.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The A-Rab

"And, oh yeah, you'll be happy to hear that all the drivers at this company are white," Franks told me with an insider's smile. Then he winked, "except for the tokens."

Here I stood in San Francisco in the 21st century and I'd accidentally found my way to the Aryan Brotherhood. I thought people like Franks were extinct. Why is it that racists always assume that, if you're white, you agree with them? I mean, I'd met the guy over a conversation about The Snow Leopard for god's sake.

"Yes," I said smiling weakly, wondering how long it would take me to find another job.

The racial element didn't turn up much in day to day life and I stopped planning to leave. The conversations among the drivers were about the same as they were everywhere else except that I didn't get a chance to practice my broken Spanish or my barbaric Chinese.

Like all cab drivers, they lied about how much money they made. Every one of them had a story about his $500 days. Ridiculous! I could never figure it out. The driver talking would be lying and the driver listening would know he was lying and the driver talking would know that the driver listening knew he (the talking driver) was lying and ... they'd talk like this for thirty minutes. Made me long for the porno rap of my construction days.

After I'd been there about two months, Franks started complaining about this "A-Rab" who owed him $150 for underpaying his long-term lease. The "A-Rab" took the cab home with him and owned the car so Franks had no way to get the money. All he could do was bitch, which he did obsessively every time I saw him.

One afternoon when I was waiting for my cab, a mechanic ran over to tell Franks that the "A-Rab" had snuck into the garage to fix his car. Franks and the mechanic ran over to the garage.

A few moments later I heard a crash and, through a window, I could see Franks punching the guy while the mechanic held him. I couldn't believe it! For $150?

I ran over with three or four other guys and pulled Franks off. He spun to throw a punch at me then pulled it back when he realized that he was staring eye-level at my chest. He looked around with a dazed expression on his face. It must have seemed like his Aryan brothers had turned on him. I could read the next thought that crossed his forehead. It said, "lawsuit."

Franks suddenly became apologetic and misunderstood.

"This is isn't what it looks like," he said.

"That's good," I told him, "because it looks like a split lip and a broken nose."