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.
"What-da-ya think of that?"
"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."