Monday, February 1, 2010


Shift #17

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 12 -- Clay and Montgomery to BART

AND WHAT’S YOUR WORK?” I ask them, after I’ve dragged them into my cab and they’ve asked me a few questions about my own work.

(They’re locals, headed to BART and then the airport for a flight to a weekend in Las Vegas… Moments earlier they were standing on the sidewalk just a few feet from the looming Trans-America Pyramid Building, fully engaged in a private conversation while waiting for the traffic signal to indicate WALK. The man had a duffel bag strapped to his back, the woman a suitcase on wheels on her feet. And suddenly a cab driver at their right elbows called, “Excuse me -- looks like you’re headed to BART. May I offer you a free ride?”)

The woman says she works in PR in the world of hi-tech. “A year ago, in the middle of the downturn, we were acquired by a bigger company, and for months we were all afraid we were going to lose our jobs, but now we’ve got the big Hewlett-Packard account, and it looks like we’re safe…” A year ago everyone in my cab seemed worried about their jobs; these days everyone seems to think they’re safe.

“And you?” I ask the man.

“I’m a professional skydiver."

I turn and look at him. He’s smiling confidently. He looks like he's never worried about a thing in his life.

Me: “I’ve been asking that question for many years, and that’s the first time I’ve heard that answer…”

He laughs. “I first jumped as a teenager, and right away I was hooked…”

I ask the woman if she’s ever skydived.

“Once,” she says. “I really liked it, but I didn’t get hooked.”

I say, “Me, too. Once. Thirty years ago. Really liked it. Never did it again. Thirty years ago you pretty much dropped from the sky and hoped you could figure out a way to land without breaking an ankle.”

Duck and roll,” the man says. “That’s what the old landing technique was called. But now, with all the new gear, even first-timers can float right in and land standing up.”

I want to ask more questions -- for instance I’d like to know if there’s a parachute tucked away in his duffel/backpack -- but here we are at BART, and now they’re gone.

In 1979, 27 years old, I wrote an article about my one sky-diving experience. The last line went something like this: “If I ever need another serious adrenaline rush, I know where to find it.” And now, at 58, I remember the pounds and pounds of bulky gear, the furious rush of air, the tiny-looking meadow 3,000 feet below, and I ponder my fare’s words -- “float right in and land standing up” -- and I wonder: Is it time again?


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