Monday, February 22, 2010

Not PC?

A large African American climbed gingerly into my backseat. He wore a three-piece suit, was in his 60s, overweight, and moved slowly as if in great pain.

He sat for a moment and stared blankly in front of him.

"You want to go somewhere?" I asked him with a mild attempt at wit.

"Not really," he said in tired voice. "My brother just passed."

"I'm sorry," I told him.

"Yeah, I know. Me too ... I guess you better take me home."

He lived in the Ingleside, one those neighborhoods that real estate salespeople describe as "borderline but up and coming." Unfortunately, this one was going down and out. The week before a woman had been shot in a laundromat.

It thus was a neighborhood that cab drivers weren't fond enough of visiting to learn the best way to get there. It was tricky. You had to go around Mt. Davidson and, for someone who didn't know the area, it might look like you were going the "long way." I had just turned off Portola when my customer pulled a Mr. Hyde on me.

"Where you think you're going, Boy?!" he bellowed.

"I think I'm taking you home."

"Do I look like I was born yesterday?"

"No, of course not ..."

"I was born in this town!"

"Listen - I don't know how else you've been going but this is the best route."

"Don't give me that shit, Boy! Here look -"

He pulled a cab receipt out of his wallet and showed it to me. The amount written down was about half of what the fare should have been.

"How do you explain that?!" he demanded.

"Well .. I imagine that you wrote it yourself."

"I warned you not to give me shit! Fuck it - I'm not even goin' to talk to you - give me the manager! Get him on that radio! Now! Boy!"

I turned around and calmly looked him in the eye.

"Who you starin' at? Cat got your tongue? Get me the police! You heard me! Boy! What's the matter? Boy! - you deaf!"

He kept it up, "Mau Mauing" me in the grand style. I understood him. I too came of age in the '60s. The corporations were the enemy, the system, "whitey," "The Man." I could dig it. The lowest form of life was the middle class. It was okay to cheat the government or the companies or the cops, to cheat "The Man," because "The Man" cheated you.

Somehow or another I'd also become "The Man" on my $30,000 a year. The dude was playing a game, trying to intimidate me into giving him a reduced fare. He and his brother had probably been working this scam for thirty years. Then they'd laugh about it when they got home.

I think by pulling this act on me he was keeping his brother alive.

I just kept staring at him until he fell silent and looked quizzically back at me.

"I haven't been a boy in fifty years," I told him quietly, "and I live in this neighborhood."

He held my look for a moment and, then, he must have realized both what he was doing and that his brother was dead. He caved in.

"Oh, my God! I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," he said, fighting back tears, "I'm so sorry."