Monday, December 31, 2012

A Lovely Drunk

I drove by her on Bush and Franklin with a customer in my cab. She was tall, thin, Chinese and wearing a sleeveless, party dress with high heels. She was leaning against a tree trunk in the cold and wind so drunk that she could barely raise her hand to wave as I passed her.

I only dropped a block away but wild horses couldn’t normally pull me back to pick up a person that hammered. Next to a teenage ghetto gangster, a soused twenty-something woman is the most dangerous person you can let into your cab. Maybe more dangerous in the age of credit cards. These days a stickup artist is lucky to get fifty bucks. A dedicated vomiter that puts your cab out of commission on a Friday night can cost you two or three hundred.

However, she looked at me with such desperation and she was so beautiful that I felt morally compelled to go back and save her. When I returned she had made it twenty feet and was hugging another tree. 

I approached warily. I gave her the test that I usually give to see whether or not a person is too zonked to handle. I pulled up ten feet away and stopped so that she’d have to pass my walking test to get in the cab. She failed in the first two steps. She almost fell over and stumbled back to her tree. 

Common sense told me to leave but she looked so helplessness that I couldn’t resist. I pulled up next to her. She lunged for the right rear door handle, struggled a bit, opened it and half slid and half fell into the cab. As she straightened up she said,

“I don’t usually drink.”

“No shit.”

My joke was a mistake. She started to laugh which quickly turned into a gagging burp. She unsuccessfully tried to lower the window.  I leaned over and pushed open the door. She stuck her head out and threw up. She somehow managed to do it with decorum and style. I gave her some napkins and she delicately cleaned her lips and mouth. 

Then I drove her home. Nothing else happened.

Why do I remember this? 

I think it was the look of gratitude that she gave me. Nobody else would’ve picked her up and she knew it. There is hardly anybody who appreciates what we do. But she did.


Friday, December 21, 2012

The Ex Cab Driver

He flagged down my taxi just before 18th and Castro and wanted to go to Union Square. The traffic bunched up in front of me so I turned right on 18th.

“You should have gone straight,” my customer snapped. “You're taking me the long way.”

I looked him over in the mirror. Short, pudgy, attire by Goodwill, a slob.

“Castro’s gridlocked.”

“Gridlock is an exaggeration. It’s clearing up.”

“I would estimate three red lights. That’s three clicks on the meter. That’s a buck sixty-five.”

“You’re exaggerating. It would be, at most, two clicks.” 

“Then it would be, at least, a buck ten. The long way’s cheaper.”

“Maybe,” He said after a pause. “Which way are you going?”

“Noe to Market to Franklin to Post to Powell,” I said pedantically.

“I guess that’s okay,” he said.

“Thanks,” I retorted with mild sarcasm.

We rode for a moment in silence.

“I used to drive cab, you know.”

'Oh shit!' I muttered under my breath. “That explains it.”

“That explains what?”

“It explains why you know the city so well.”

“Yes ... I came to know it rather well.”

“Who’d you work for?”

“Your company - I remember you.”

I looked at him closely.

“I don’t remember you.”

“I wasn’t there that long ...”

I stayed silent hoping the conversation would die a natural and lovely death.

“Yes,” He said. “I was fascinated with playing the radio. That’s all I did. My first night I had took 37 calls.”

Thus my response to his statement about being an ex-driver. When an "ex" brings up his (I’ve never had a woman driver pull this on me) former career, I know I’m in for absurd claims about his driving prowess.

One ex-driver told me that he made $500 a shift. Another one declared that he knew a way to get $100 rides out of a nightclub every night. I could never see the point of this. Yes, of course, they want to assert their superiority. But what’s the point of telling a ridiculous lie to somebody who knows that you’re lying?

This guy’s fantasy was a little better than most. It was remotely possible. Remotely! My best night over a twenty year career was taking 30 radio calls but there was always the chance another driver was better or faster or luckier than I was.

“That’s great,” I said. “So your first day was your best?”

“Oh hardly,” he laughed, “I had many many days better than that - it might have been my worst.”

Great. Another psycho. More gridlock ahead. I took a left on Octavia to go around it.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m driving up Octavia to avoid a traffic jam.”

“I didn’t see any traffic.”

“Well - you weren’t looking - besides, I’d forgotten. There’s construction on Franklin.”

“Van Ness. The construction is on Van Ness.”

“That was yesterday. Today it’s on Franklin.” 

“Take a right on Page. We’re going Franklin.”

“That’s where the construction starts,” I said as I blew by Page.

“Did I mention that I used to be a driver?!” He bust out. “I know the rules. You have to do what I say.”

“Within reason,” I retorted. “They say I have to do what you say “within reason.” “Driving into gridlock does not fit a reasonable definition of reason.”

“Turn right here!” He commanded. “The construction’s on Van Ness!”

I blew by the intersection saying. “Franklin’ll still be blocked.”

He glared at me. Started to say something. Then sat angrily back in his seat.

I took the next right. “Should be clear now.”

It was. I took a left on Franklin with almost no cars in front of me.

“Take a look behind you,” I said, “You’ll see the construction.”

He refused to look and just sat glaring blankly out the front window.

“Be sure not to tip me,” I said when we arrived, stealing his thunder.

“Don’t worry,” he snarled as he paid me the exact fare and climbed out of the cab. He closed the the rear door and came around to my side.

“Carl and I are friends,” he said ominously.

“I assume you mean the dispatcher.”

He shook his head up and down knowingly and threatening.

“Really? I didn't think Carl had any friends?” I said as I let the cab roll slowly away. "He must be desperate."

I watched him in the mirror standing hunched over and staring after me with impotent pique.