Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Four Kinds of Karma

He was mid-twenties, good looking, nicely dressed in sweater and slacks, obviously well-educated.
I picked him up at the emergency ward of a hospital.
"My brother's dying," he told me.
"I'm sorry to hear that."
"Bone cancer - nothin' they can do."
"I'm very, very sorry."
"Thanks I appreciate that," he said, "I was wondering if you'd do me a favor?"
"I have to get some things for my brother - can you wait?"
"Sure - no problem."
Ordinarily, I ask for money up front in these situations but what kind of creep would tell a story like that just to beat somebody out of six dollars?
The answer is the guy I had in my cab. I dropped him off at a Pacific Heights apartment and he never came back. It turned out they called him the "Fare Evader." He beat over a hundred cab drivers out of petty cash with similar tales. 
Actually, I later realized that he had come out of the building wearing a hat. He was with a young woman who looked at me with sad, guilty eyes. He must have bragged to her about his brilliance and my stupidity.
I thought that she felt guilty and wanted to tell me but didn't have the courage.


He was early twenties, Hispanic and poor.
He desperately flagged me down in the mission.
He got into the front seat. He could barely speak English. He was crying.
"My mama," he said chocking. "Mama ... die."
"I'm sorry," I told him."
"No dinero," he told me.
"Es bueno," I told him.
It was a six dollar fare. He left crying but grateful, saying, I think, that he would pay me back someday.
He was overweight, middle-aged and belligerent.
I picked him up on Fisherman's Wharf.
"You got a problem?" Was the first phrase out of his mouth.
I can't remember what I'd said. I think it was "hello."
"There's no problem," I told him, "I don't take drunks."
"I'm not drunk."
I looked at him closely. He was right. He was only high. He didn't have an excuse for the hostility.
"Then, I don't take problems."
He stuck a twenty in my hand and said with annoyance
"Just take me to North Beach."
"I don't have change."
"You don't need it - it's yours."
Twenty dollars for a six dollar ride? It was a slow night. What's wrong with a little belligerence?
We drove a couple of blocks and he reached out to hand me another twenty.
"What's this?" I asked.
"It's yours."
"What-da-ya think of that?"
"Of what?"
"My over-tipping."
"There's no such thing as over-tipping. That a concept for the filthy rich."
"Then take this," he said, shoving another twenty in my hand.
I looked closely at him again. There wasn't a trace of generosity or kindness in his face.  All I could read there was arrogance. He was giving me the money to prove his superiority, to put me down.
'Demean me,' I thought, 'demean me.'
He hit me one more time with a twenty and left the cab without a word.
Eighty dollars for a six dollar ride. If that didn't prove his point, what would?
He was in his mid-forties, athletic, wearing a sport coat with no tie, ruggedly handsome.
I picked him up coming out of Michael Mina.
He was polite, friendly and personable.
I was playing a classical station.
"I know this piece - what is it?" He asked.
"I know it, too ... but I can't think of it either."
"No Brahms -"
"Brahms Third!" We said simultaneously. 
"It's unusual to hear Brahms in a taxi," he said.
"It's even more unusual to find a customer who knows who Brahms is."
"Touché," he said with a laugh.
It's easy to describe sexual attraction and poets wax endlessly on love but how do you describe "like." I liked this guy and he liked me - an instant connection.
He was a bass who'd had master classes with Pavarotti and was currently singing with the opera in Seattle. He told me about how Pavarotti could project his voice so that a whisper could be heard across an auditorium.
I told him about my girlfriend who is composing a song cycle inspired by classical Chinese poetry. He gave me his card so I could send him her CD.
We talked music and art and politics and life. We talked about nothing.
The fare read $12.55. I thought that he's handed me a twenty as he stepped out of the cab. I looked at it. He'd accidentally given me a hundred. I called out to him and he turned back toward me.
"You gave me a hundred by mistake."
"It wasn't a mistake," he said, "best cab ride I ever had."

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Soft Core Porn or the Real Reason You Can't Get a Cab in San Francisco

Nice looking woman in her middle thirties: thin, short brown hair, dressed in a conservative business blouse and skirt.

We passed a couple of cruising hookers.

"Are those women prostitutes?" She asked as if waking from a dream.

"You don't get out much do you?"

She laughed.

"No, I don't. I'm from Utah. I got married in High School."

"Yes - they're prostitutes."

We pulled up to her stop. Instead of paying she leaned forward from the right rear seat and asked,

"Do you think they enjoy their work?"

"Strange question."

"Well - you must know."

It was my turn to laugh.

"I know a little," I admitted.

"Well," she asked eagerly, "do they?"

"I don't know ... maybe at first ... having pleasure isn't what they're about."

"You don't think they enjoy it?"

"Maybe sometimes ... but they're into making money. They have to do it whether they're attracted or not?

"I know what that's like," she said. "I feel like that every time my husband touches me."

She leaned back in her seat and started crying. I watched her for a minute. Then I put the car in park and reached out to hold her hand. I pulled her gently toward me and she rose up, put her arms around my shoulders and sobbed for a few more minutes. When she stopped, I asked,

"So you want to go somewhere?"

She looked at me, studying my face, then nodded.

"Why don't you get in front?"

She took her purse and sat next to me.

"There's a motel on Lombard."

She nodded an OK. We didn't talk. I didn't want to break the spell. While I drove we caressed each other's knees and thighs.

When we got to the motel, I told her to get a room while I parked the cab on the street.  She was sitting patiently on a bench near the office when I returned. She showed me the key with the room number. I took her by the hand and led her to the room. She stiffened up as we walked.

The room was a dump. She looked around and said,

"I don't know why I'm here."

"Why don't you take  your blouse off," I said, "that would clarify things."

She flushed red, smiled and started to take off her overcoat.

"Do you have a condom?" I asked trying to act as if the decision had already been made.

She shook her head.

"Neither do I - I should have grabbed some at the corner store. Let me see if they have any here."

I went into the bathroom. There was a machine. I paid for two and returned. She'd only removed her coat.

"High class place," I said. "They have condoms but no soap."

"I have soap in my purse," she said seriously.

"I won't ask why," I said laughing.

"I won't tell," she giggled.

"You're still wearing that blouse."

She turned a delicious shade of pink and threw me a coy smile as she slowly undid the buttons. Then she quickly took it off, snapped open her bra and tossed it onto a chair, boldly exposing a lovely pair of breasts.

I walked over to her and slowly sucked her nipples without touching her body with my hands. Then I caressed her, we wrapped each other up and kissed. She thrust her tongue deep down my throat and led me to the bed.

I saw her for a few months after that - usually at my place and always when we were both supposed to be working. I had the day shift. She was in sales and could take extended lunches.

The last time, she walked to the door then turned and said,

"I won't be coming back."

Then she pivoted again and left.

A bit abrupt but that's why they call it cab driving.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Marina Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve. I should've gone home to celebrate but I made the mistake of taking one last call in the Marina.

They weren't that young, they weren't really in a hurry, they weren't really drunk and they weren't having a good time. The men wore tuxedos and the women black evening dresses. They milled about the taxi staining to make witty repartee.

For me, the significant detail was that there were six of them: three men and three women.

"I'm sorry," I told their leader, "I can only take five. Take two cabs."

He was tall, athletic, handsome and 35. They were all athletic, handsome and 35. Four of them were Caucasian. One man was African American. One women, India Indian. One man and one woman were blonds. Neither the African American and the Indian nor the blonds were couples. They appeared to be mixed and matched by a conscious need to be P.C.

"We've already been waiting an hour," the leader said

"There's no insurance if I take six," I told him, "I'd be fired if there's an accident."

"We'll give you a really big tip," he said.

"We're not going far," the blond woman added, leaning forward so that I could see her tits and giving me a lovely, gracious smile." It's almost midnight. We'll never get another cab."

"Anything for you," I half joked.

"Great," she snapped, shutting off the smile, "22nd and Missouri - The Elysium"

"The what?"

"The Elysium," she repeated with irritation, "the new condos at the bottom of the Potrero Hill."

"Oh yeah - the one's right across from the projects."

"It's a transition neighborhood," she said sharply then immediately began conversing with her friends - although I don't know if you could qualify the way they interacted as a true conversation. They appeared to know each other fairly well but they lamely struggled to connect, often making long pauses between subjects and sentences.

They made jokes that weren't funny and then laughed  too hard. They talked about mutual friends and acquaintances. They name dropped: one knew Gavin Newsom, another knew Warren Hinckle. They all knew Wofgang Puck. They'd attended Dartmouth, Northwestern, Standford or USC. One of them was in on the founding of Napster - although he didn't buy any stock. Another belonged to the same fraternity as Larry Summers. One couple decided not to move to Atherton because the Marina was "more real." Another "just loved" living in the fog on "top of the hill" in Daly City.

From the Marina to the bottom of Pot Hill is actually halfway across town so I had to listen to their dispirited chitchat for a long time.

"It's midnight," the blond said. "Merry Christmas Bob. Merry Christmas Jean. Merry Christmas Emil. Merry Christmas Mary. Merry Christmas Kevin."

Bob turned and said:

"Merry Christmas Christine. Merry Christmas Jean. Merry Christmas Emil. Merry Christmas Mary. Merry Christmas Kevin."

Jean then said:

"Merry Christmas Christine. Merry Christmas Bob. Merry Christmas Emil. Merry Christmas Mary. Merry Christmas Kevin."

Emil then said:

"Merry Christmas Christine. Merry Christmas Jean. Merry Christmas Bob. Merry Christmas Mary. Merry Christmas Kevin."

May then said:

"Merry Christmas Christine. Merry Christmas Jean. Merry Christmas Emil. Merry Christmas Bob. Merry Christmas Kevin."

Kevin then closed by saying:

"Merry Christmas Christine. Merry Christmas Jean. Merry Christmas Emil. Merry Christmas Mary. Merry Christmas Bob."

They smiled wanly at each other and we rode the last few blocks in silence. As we pulled to a stop, I turned to them and cheerfully said,

"Merry Christmas Christine. Merry Christmas Bob. Merry Christmas Jean. Merry Christmas Emil. Merry Christmas Mary. Merry Christmas Kevin."

I never cease to be amazed at how some people strive toward being cliques when they're in a taxi.

Christine, Bob, Jean, Emil, Mary and Kevin looked at each other appalled and aghast - stunned by my temerity in not only addressing them with such familiarity but in making a sardonic comment they didn't understand. The looked back and forth at each other in confusion with mouths half agape then fled the cab as quickly as possible.

"Was that supposed to be funny?" Bob asked Christine, Jean, Emil, Mary and Kevin as he stepped out of the cab.

The meter read 14.80. Kevin thrust two rolled up bills into my hand.

I unrolled them - a ten and a five.

"This is your idea of a really big tip?" I asked laconically.

"That's all we've got," he snarled.