Wednesday, January 6, 2010

* * SPECIAL BONUS: Ride of the Year? * *

(NOTE: This fare transpired during mid-afternoon on SUNDAY, JANUARY 24, and I include it here because I just love it when this happens...)

FROM THEIR HOME on a quiet street in the Mission District, a couple in their late twenties is heading across the Golden Gate Bridge to Cavallo Point, the Bay Area’s newest resort, where they will unpack their two small suitcases and spend a couple of days celebrating their third wedding anniversary.

Halfway through the ride, as we’re driving down Fulton, skirting the groves of looming Douglas Firs along the edge of Golden Gate Park, the woman (I will soon learn that her name is Desiree and her husband’s name is Frank) says to me: “About ten years ago I read a book written by a cab driver who took a trip around the world, and in the Philippines he met a rice farmer and invited him to America. I forget the name of the book. Do you know it?”

I say, “Take Me With You.”

That’s it!” she says. “Have you read it?”

“I wrote it.”

A ripple of shock runs through the cab’s cozy interior. I feel my face go flush. When Take Me With You was published, in the year 2000, I believed it had a very legitimate shot at becoming a bestseller, and that it just might transform and wildly enrich not just my own life but, by extension, also the life of my Filipino friend, Tony. But ten years later, my life, although quite rich indeed, is still very much the same as it was before. Ninety-eight percent of my income comes from cab driving. I need this job. Depend on it. Love it, too… But whenever someone in my cab mentions my book -- and this happens only every other year or so -- I am immediately flooded by a flash recollection of my fifteen minutes of book-tour-national-media fame. It’s a dislocating rush, a weird combination of pride and embarrassment, and then I’m back in my real life, back behind the wheel of my cab again…

Desiree is from the Philippines, and shortly after Take Me With You was published she read the hardcover version. She remembers lots of it, in detail, and now she lists her favorite parts. But only the paperback version, published a year after the hardcover, contains the punchline: the story of my longest fare, a sixteen-day, cross-country journey in a taxi loaned to me -- for free! -- by my old friend Jamie Maddox, who at the time owned a small San Francisco cab company, Service! Taxi (yes, the exclamation mark is intentional)...

Desiree has not heard any of this, does not know that Tony and I cruised from the Golden Gate Bridge all the way to the Philippine Embassy in Washington DC, to which we had been summoned a few minutes after the Philippine ambassador read about us on the front page of his newspaper one morning. Just for fun, Tony and I kept the meter running the whole way, even while we slept, and by the time I clicked it off (in the driveway of my mother’s house in Alexandria, Virginia, with a reporter from NPR’s All Things Considered in attendance) it had registered $20,644.90.

On Park Presidio Drive, a red light stops Desiree, Frank, and me. I slip the cab into Park, jump out, go around back, open the hatch, and rummage through my Prius’ tiny trunk to fetch my emergency paperback copy of Take Me With You. Desiree is delighted with the gift, says she can’t wait to read it.

“For years,” she tells me, “I would ask cab drivers if they knew you, or if they’d heard of the book, but no one had. So I quit asking a long time ago. Until now.”

Frank, a chef who is thinking of starting his own bakery -- maybe in San Francisco, maybe on Maui -- has never heard of my book, and understandably seems a bit mystified by the sudden sea change in the tenor of his anniversary celebration. At Cavallo Point, while the doorman whisks their bags away, Frank hands me a wad of bills. On my way back to the Bridge I sort and count them: Fifty-five dollars, including a twenty-dollar tip, my biggest of the year so far...