Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Shift #7

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 20 -- 2:30 p.m. -- (Bus zone)

in the shift and if I haven’t yet given away a free ride, I sometimes have to take matters into my own hands. I don’t actually have to -- no one’s keeping score, this practice is entirely my own creation -- but if I’m going to say I give away a free ride every day, well, hey, shouldn’t I actually do it?

At 2:10 PM I drop a passenger at SFO and head back to town. Today I have to pick my daughter up at the Rockbridge BART station in Oakland at 4:15 PM, so quitting time for me is around 3:45. Before I clock out, I have to gas up and vacuum out the cab for the next driver, so I’ve got about an hour left.

Returning from the airport I can sometimes catch a lucky radio order out near the city limits, but today’s dispatcher, David, is absolutely silent. I take the Army Street exit and thread my way over to Potrero Avenue. I scan the bus zone at 24th Street, but it’s crowded. I have found that it’s awkward to slide into a crowded bus zone and single out one or two people for a free ride (my pretty little Prius holds a maximum of four). A person considering a weird proposal from a cabdriver doesn’t really need the added complication of an eavesdropping crowd around him or her.

At the 21st Street bus stop I see two young men talking. They have happy expressions on their faces and I’m just about to swing over when they both raise lit cigarettes to their mouths…

But at the 16th Street bus stop, there he is, my free ride for the day, standing all by himself. “Well, sure,” he says. “Thank you very much.” He’s headed over to Market and Church. He works for the federal Food and Drug Administration. His job is to determine the “admissibility” of foreign container shipments coming into the Port of Oakland. “This time of year most everything comes from Asia. It’s like a fast-flowing river -- lots of things get in that probably shouldn’t, but you can’t catch everything.”

He does not own a car. Mostly he takes the bus, but every now and then he finds himself in a cab. “I love riding cabs, but they are an indulgence. I prefer to save my money for my only real vices, my television and my iPhone. I have a 40-inch HDTV.”

Me: “My family has a small, 20-year-old television at home, but when we visit friends, we see some jaw-dropping setups.”

“Mine is so worth it to me,” he says. “Once you get used to this new world, you just can’t go back. My cable/internet bill every month is $160, but it’s worth it to me. And my iPhone -- that’s a whole new world, too. I pay $130 a month for that, and it’s so worth it. Altogether I’m paying $290 a month for communications and entertainment. If I don’t go out to dinner ever again, that’s fine with me, but I’m not giving up my TV or my iPhone.”


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